Nazis purged Jewish academics fromscience, author says

Peter Kauffner

The Nazi terror against German Jews didn’t begin with Kristallnacht, the 1938 “night of shattered glass” that inaugurated an era of unprecedented public violence against the Jews.
Rather, the terror started years earlier in the universities, with a purge of Jewish professors from the halls of German academia.
When the Nazi party took power in Germany in 1933, university instructors who were at least half Jewish immediately lost their positions, and a large portion of the Germany’s scientific community left, said Dr. Ute Deichmann to about 30 people at a seminar Friday at the University.
Deichmann, a lecturer from the University of Cologne, authored “Biologists under Hitler,” a book published by Harvard Press.
As part of her research, Deichmann did a comprehensive survey of biology and chemistry faculty members in Nazi Germany. She found that 25 percent of chemists and 13 percent of biologists emigrated or were dismissed.
“The data for physics suggests that between 16 percent and 25 percent of physicists emigrated. So it seems the emigration quota for chemistry is as high as for physics, something nobody has suspected until now,” Deichmann said.
Before the Nazis, Germany led the world in scientific research, a position it has never recovered. Deichmann has attempted to quantify the effect of the expulsions by comparing the numbers and types of journal articles published by various German scientists.
“The first result was that emigres as a whole were more successful than the non-emigres,” Deichmann said.
Deichmann also found that virtually all scientists who left did so because they had Jewish ancestry. Only a handful resigned in protest or left for purely political reasons.
The University of Berlin had the highest rate of dismissals while the University of TÅbingen had one of the lowest rates.
“TÅbingen has always known how to keep away Jewish professors without saying much about it,” said Ernst Lehmann in 1935. Lehmann was a professor at TÅbingen at the time.
One of those forced to flee was mathematician Richard Courant, father of Hans Courant, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University.
“When the Nazis came, my father lost his job and he was offered a position in the U.S., so he came here. I was eight or nine at the time, so it didn’t impact me very much. I just went along,” Hans Courant said.
The elder Courant went on to found the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.
Physicist Albert Einstein, the most famous of the emigres, joined the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, an elite institution where he was isolated from the sort of interaction with ordinary scientists that stimulated his thinking when he worked in Berlin.
Although he was not Jewish, Erwin Schr”dinger, a leading quantum physicist, was so disgusted with Nazi policies that he also left Germany and took a position in Ireland.
“For Germans of my generation, the hardest thing to accept is why there were so few people like Schr”dinger,” said Klaus Hentschel of the University of G”ttingen.
Hentschel is the editor of “Physics and National Socialism: An Anthology of Primary Sources.”
The Nazis favored the teaching of applied sciences like chemistry and agriculture against more abstract sciences like theoretical physics. “They wanted only theories that you could make pictures of that could be shown in classrooms,” Hentschel said.
Relativity in particular was denounced as “Jewish physics.”
“Some people continued to research relativity, but they had to call it by another name,” Hentschel said.
In chemistry, courses on chemical warfare and explosives were added, but otherwise the curriculum remained largely unchanged, Deichmann said.
Courant and most of the other exiles remained abroad even after the war was over. “They had new positions and there was also a psychological gap,” Hentschel said.
The scientists who were forced to leave found it difficult to forgive those who stayed behind, even after the war was long over.
“In my opinion, the German scientists as a whole lost their honor in 1933 and did nothing to get it back,” said physical chemist Frank Fineman in a 1951 letter quoted by Deichmann. “The least you could expect after all that suffering was that German scientists as a group would state publicly and clearly that they regretted what had happened. I did not notice anything of this type.” Fineman was dismissed from the University of Breslau by the Nazis.
Even scientists as prominent as Werner Heisenberg, a quantum physics pioneer and head of the Nazis’ atomic bomb project, found themselves isolated professionally after the war.