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on 18 March 2004
As an answer to the question: "How much do I owe you?" he used to reply: "In my waiting room is a box, put into the box as much as you think is appropriate." Not only because of his red beard Ernst Schmidt (born 1830 in Ebern Unterfranken, deceased 1900 in Chicago) was called "the red doctor". As a young medical student he was involved in the revolution of 1848/49, had to flee into Swiss exile, practised a few years in Würzburg, before he emigrated to the USA in 1857. Here he supported the election campaign for president for Abraham Lincoln, took part in the American Civil War on the side of the Union and became committed to the Labour Movement. 1886 he excerted himself without avail to achieve amnesty for the leader of the labour move-ment, who was accused of a bomb attack at the Haymarket in Chicago. The turbulent life of the doctor and social revolution-ary has now been snatched away from history by the administrative jurist and historian Axel W.-O. Schmidt in an exciting bio-graphy. Once more the great meaning of the "German Fortyeighters" for the American history is highlighted.

Volker Ullrich.

Christiane Harzig University of Erfurt Germany writes:

One of the most interesting personalities of Chicago's German-America, Dr.
Ernst Schmidt, finally found his biographer, or we might say Axel Schmidt
found Ernst Schmidt. The author of this impressively detailed study stumbled
across a student by the name of Ernst Schmidt (born 1830) while writing the
history of a German fraternity (Burschenschaft) at the University of Würzburg.
The author is a lawyer with a passion for history. Ernst Schmidt, his subject,
was a medical doctor and researcher, freethinking liberal turned socialist, and
active participant in the 1848 revolutionary upheaval in Germany. Further, he
was a translator, journalist and poet, promoter, and shaper of German-American
community life in Chicago; and the father of three influential sons. As a
relentless promoter of social justice in Chicago, Schmidt defended the Haymarket
martyrs, and was influential in bringing about the pardoning of those still alive
but imprisoned in 1893.
Axel Schmidt left no stone unturned to chronicle the life of this manifold
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personality. The book seems to leave no question unanswered. We learn much
about Ernst Schmidt: the genealogy of his ancestors, his student years in Bamberg
and Würzburg, his activities in the revolution, his subsequent escape and travels
through Switzerland and Italy, further training and education in hospitals
with prominent doctors such as Rudolf Virchow, marriage and emigration in
1857, his abolitionist activities and military service during the Civil War, return
to Germany, settlement and political activism in Chicago, support for Lincoln,
cooperation to build the (Catholic) Alexian Brothers hospital and the (Jewish)
Michael Reese hospital, birth of his sons, his death in 1900 and the many
praising obituaries. The biographies of the three sons, Frederick Michael, Otto
Leopold, and Richard Ernest, who later have their own successful careers (Otto
Schmidt became an equally influential community builder) blend in with the
main story. The book provides a complete bibliography of Ernst Schmidt's
publications, mainly in newspapers such as the Chicagoer Arbeiterzeitung, and
many of his more important articles and his poetry are reprinted in the book.
The book is a goldmine for historical detail--we might be tempted to say
trivia, as the author moves into any direction the sources lead him. No uncle
(never an aunt) is too remote to not follow the lead regarding the possible
influence on Ernst Schmidt's development. In the process we learn quite a bit
of German history. However, the book is totally void of any kind of historical
analysis, let alone theoretical reflections of broader implications and context:
no analysis of ethnicity and class; no concept at all of gender relations. The
wife is a total non-entity in this otherwise minute chronicle of events and
influences. The study is not embedded in German-American historiography or
in any analysis of identity: multiple, trans-, bicultural or otherwise. The guiding
principle of this book is the chronology of events and the goal is to include
each and every bit of information on Ernst Schmidt the author could possibly
access. As such it may be very useful for any historian who wants to write a
"real" biography, a study of this truly complex and remarkable personality; a
person who managed to remain uncorrupted by political power and financial
rewards and respected by (almost) everybody in the community. How did such
a personality fit within the larger context of Chicago politics, when his various
identities--German, socialist, uninterested in riches--put him so squarely outside
of the bourgeois, political mainstream of late nineteenth century urban
America? This story remains to be written. Axel Schmidt has provided the
resources for it.
Christiane Harzig
University of Erfurt
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