Eric Hobsbawm - Early Life and Education

Early Life and Education

Hobsbawm was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Leopold Percy Hobsbaum ( Obstbaum), a merchant from the East End of London who was of Polish Jewish descent, and Nelly Hobsbaum (née Grün), who was from a middle-class Austrian Jewish family background. His early childhood was spent in Vienna, Austria, and Berlin, Germany. A clerical error at birth altered his surname from Hobsbaum to Hobsbawm. Although the family lived in German-speaking countries, his parents spoke to him and his younger sister Nancy in English.

In 1929, when Hobsbawm was 12, his father died, and he started contributing to his family's support by working as an au pair and English tutor. Upon the death of their mother two years later (in 1931), he and Nancy were adopted by their maternal aunt, Gretl, and paternal uncle, Sidney, who married and had a son named Peter. Hobsbawm was a student at the Prinz Heinrich-Gymnasium Berlin (today Friedrich-List-School) when Hitler came to power in 1933; that year the family moved to London, where Hobsbawm enrolled in St Marylebone Grammar School (now defunct).

Hobsbawm attended King's College, Cambridge from 1936, where he was elected to the Cambridge Apostles. He received a doctorate (PhD) in History from Cambridge University for his dissertation on the Fabian Society. During World War II, he served in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps.

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