The Search for the Silver Lining: The American Academic Establishment and the "Aryanization" of German Scholarship

by Karen J. Greenberg

In 1938, Julius Streicher, publisher of the virulently antisernitic newspaper Der Stfirmer, posed the following question:

If one weighed the brains of all university professors on one side of a scale and the brains of the Fuhrer on the other, which side, do you believe, would sink?1

Streicher addressed the question to an audience assembled at the University of Berlin. The statement itself, as well as the expectation that good German people would answer "Der Fuhrer," indicated that the traditional role of the German professor, and with it the prestige of the German universities, had altered under the pressures of National Socialist rule. In the words of later historians, the Nazis had succeeded in bringing about the "amputation" or "decapitation" of a once vital scholarly tradition.2

Outside Germany, and particularly in the United States, the reaction to the plight of German scholarship was cautious. The rampant destruction on Kristallnacht in November 1938, as well as the annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland earlier that year, shocked foreigners into an awareness of the farreaching treachery of the Third Reich. Prior to 1938, however, many scholars, like the politicians around them, clung to the hope that the Nazi regime would relax its antisernitic and anti- intellectual policies, or even that it would crumble as had the many governments preceding it. Assuming a patient pose, most educators in the United States conducted business-as-usual with their colleagues in Germany. The respect that Germany had commanded in the American educational imagination prior to 1938 persisted and paved the way for the American response to the scholarly setbacks caused by National Socialism.


Gleichschaltung, or the "synchronization' 3 of the German universities to accord with National Socialist ideology, began soon after Hitler's assumption of power. In this takeover of the universities were reflected elements of Hitler's thought that had persisted from the days of his imprisonment after the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had written that "in times when not the mind but the fist decides," the traditional professors in Germany were inadequate educational leaders. Their physical weakness and political alienation had made them "gravediggers of the monarchy." Hitler intended to replace those "walking encyclopedias" with proper youth leaders. Chosen for their political reliability, professors acceptable to the Reich were to focus first on building healthy bodies, and second on developing character. "Only in last place" would professors in Hitler's ideal state turn their attention to "scientific schooling."4 A In Mein Kampf, and in the plans of the Third Reich, education was considered essential to the establishment and maintenance of a populace that understood its racial superiority as a biological and historical truth. Accordingly, National Socialist ideologues and policy makers attempted to synchronize various aspects of higher education. Authorities took aim at the composition of the faculty, the power of professors, and the content of scholarship.

Official synchronization began soon after Hitler's assumption of power with a purge from the universities of all "unreliable elements." On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the German Civil Service ordered the dismissal of persons whose political and religious backgrounds made them unfit to work as civil servants of the Reich. In four crucial articles, the law specified the categories for "cleaning up" the civil service, to which professors belonged. Article 3 called for the ousting of all "non-Aryans," defined as persons with one or more Jewish grandparent. In deference to President Hindenburg, exemptions from this article were granted to persons who had fought for Germany during the Great War or who had lost a father or a son in that debacle. Article 4 demanded the termination of the appointments of civil servants who were considered politically unreliable, a clause that applied to alleged communists and socialists. Article 5 permitted the transfer of personnel, and thus the lowering of the rank and salary of a civil servant. Article 6 sanctioned dismissals that would simplify administrative affairs. Under the April 7th law, all security of position, including tenure, was eradicated.5

By early May of 1933, the April 7th law had resulted in the dismissal of over three hundred members of university faculties and research institutes. The many interpretations to which the law was subject ensured that the threat of dismissal came in a variety of forms, and from many directions. The historian Hans Rothfels, although a Jew according to Nazi definitions, escaped dismissal on the grounds of his wartime service. Yet he received orders to cease teaching pending his transfer to another university, and since notice of the new university post never arrived, he was effectively retired.6 Students often demanded the removal of those professors whom they deemed unworthy teachers in the National Socialist order. At the University of Kiel, students presented the rector with a list of twenty-eight professors who had not yet been dismissed and demanded their resignation.7 Elsewhere students disrupted lectures, as at the University of Leipzig, where student protest caused the historian William Goetz to leave his post even though he had permission to remain until his replacement arrived.8 To ensure the purity of the new university staff, Reich officials, rather than professors as had been customary, made decisions about new appointments. Though Werner Heisenberg and Arnold Sommerfeld had expected that Heisenberg would succeed to Sommerfeld's chair in physics at the University of Munich, government authorities saw fit to award the coveted position to Wilhelm Muller, author of the pamphlet "Jews and Scholarship."9

Those who came through the purges with their jobs intact found their daily lives colored by the National Socialist presence. The mandate to express commitment to the Reich affected the social intercourse as well as the scholarly presentations of professors. Aspiring professors were required to attend training camps where intellectual work was strictly forbidden. Instead, manual work and party ideology were used to build proper character in the young German scholar. When at their universities, professors were expected to use the "Heil Hitler" salute, to remain silent when their classes were suspended for party meetings, and to attend National Socialist celebrations.10

The process of synchronization was not limited to internal university affairs but extended to the field of publishing and the operation of scholarly organizations. Publishers retained their jobs only as long as their authors' racial or political backgrounds and the content of their scholarly submissions passed scrutiny. Directors of academic organizations were subject to the same regulations. An illustration of the possible impact of both aspects of National Socialist censorship is Friedrich Meinecke, who lost his job as editor of the Historische Zeitschrift, as well as his position as president of the Historische Reichskommission, for paying insufficient tribute to the new regime. As in the case of Heisenberg, Meinecke was replaced at the Historische Zeitschrift by an ardent Nazi, in this case, Karl Alexander von Muller. Meanwhile, the Historische Reichskommission was eventually dissolved and replaced by a National Socialist organization called the Reichsinstitut fur Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands.11

As the cases of Meinecke and Heisenberg illustrated, and as Mein Kampf had predicted, the professors who replaced the dismissed scholars were selected for their political biases. Accordingly, Erich Jaensch took over the editorship of the Zeitschrift fur Psychologie after having applied Nazi definitions to the study of personality. Eugen Fischer became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Hereditary Teaching, and Eugenics after having compiled an impressive record as a student of racial hygiene, genetics, and eugenics. Johannes Stark became the president in 1933 of the Imperial Institute for Physics and Technology after having joined the Nazi party in 1930 and having cultivated a relationship with Philipp Lenard, the leading exponent of "racial science."

At the center, then, of the threat of dismissal lay the equation between politicized scholarship and one's livelihood. Accordingly, scholars who foresaw a future for themselves in Germany began to emphasize those themes that would satisfy the new educational authorities. Ministers of culture, newly appointed rectors, and the Reich Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust, made clear their expectations of scholarship in the Third Reich. As Rust reportedly declared in April of 1933, "it is less important that a professor make discoveries than that he train his assistants in the proper view of the world."12 Applying the same dictum to research, Hans Schemm, Bavarian Minister of Culture, declared that the value of study lay not in its dedication to truth but in its adherence to "the spirit of the National Socialist revolution."13

In education as in politics, it was important for the Nazis to establish antitheses. Thus "Aryan" scholarship was opposed to "non-Aryan" scholarship. Proper Aryan scholarship subscribed to a glorification of primitive, irrational, and emotional forces. The rationality of the Enlightment as well as the objectivity of the twentieth century were considered taboo. As Walter Frank, director of the newly established Reichsinstitut fur Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands, declared at the opening of the Institute in 1935, "Will, Faith and Passion" would in future be considered the necessary ingredients of good history.14 In the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences, when cold intellect reigned supreme, the scholars necessarily erred. However, they also believed that the infusion of emotion and subjectivity into study would help attest to the superiority of the Aryan race, the degeneracy of the Jewish race, and the legitimacy of the Fuhrer's imperialistic claims.

The application of "Aryan" methods often entailed deletions from the accepted body of modern scholarship. Aryan physics rejected the name of Einstein as well as the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics on the grounds that excessive "mathematical calculation," typically Jewish, was "inimical to the proper spirit of natural research."15 For similar reasons, advocates of "mathematical apartheid" encouraged discrimination against algebra scholars such as Emmy Noether.16 In psychology, the field of psychoanalysis, the brainchild of a Jew, was deemed anathema to the purposes of the Nazi state. 17

In place of non-Aryan scholarship, Nazi scholars attempted to create "Aryan studies." In some instances, this meant establishing new areas such as racial biology and military science. Often, trends in scholarship that had existed prior to 1933 rose to prominence under the Nazis. Such was the case in philosophy with Lebensphilosophie and the trend towards realism and in the field of history with the glorification of state power, a strong military, and a strong national leader.18 In many cases, the "Aryan science" directive effected a change in the focus of research and teaching. Sociologists turned their attention to the "structure of the Folk Community," anthropologists to "racial hygiene," and psychologists to characterology.19 In all areas of science and scholarship, research into the "Jewish question" was encouraged. Thus one of the major projects of Frank's Reichsinstitut was the multivolume study entitled "Forschungen zur Judenfrage, 1937-44."20

Nazi requirements in regard to education and research in Germany also applied to the behavior of German scholars outside Germany. The very concept of internationalism was antithetical to the Nazi compulsion to build a unified national spirit among the German people. As one American observer at the time noted, "anything that smacks of internationalism is suspect."21 Like anything that was "objective," anything "international" was consigned to the category of things "Jewish." With this conviction, the Aryan physicist Lenard proclaimed, "Whoever ... defends the internationality of natural science means ... the Jewish science."22 To ensure that German intellectual exports carried the proper bias, articles appearing in foreign journals had to be submitted to the Minister of Education for approval, as did requests to lecture and attend conferences abroad.23

Despite all the measures taken to control scholarly inquiry in Nazi Germany, many Nazi educational authorities remained disillusioned about the success of their policies. Some scholars, among them Friedrich Meinecke, were able to retreat, in what has been called an "inner emigration," to their private intellectual worlds and there to produce works that did not necessarily reflect the Nazi mandate. In this way, Meinecke in 1936 completed his monumental Historicism.24 In perhaps the greatest scholarly triumph of the Nazi period, German physicists successfully protested against the reign of Aryan physics and won the right to pursue research in relativity and quantum mechanics unhampered by the Nazi bias against those areas of study.25

But the few instances of significant research conducted in Germany during the Nazi period were the exception, not the rule. Thus Heisenberg developed his theory of cosmic rays during this "time of endless loneliness" in which he was denied his anticipated position and deprived of contacts with foreign colleagues.26 In 1938, the physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann split the atom, proving that fission was possible and a chain reaction probable.27

Nor were German scholars insensitive to the dissolution of their once great intellectual tradition. The loss of approximately fifteen to twenty-one percent of the nation's university professors and the imposition of strict censorship laws could not but have a dire effect.28 As Fritz Haber reported to the Rockefeller Foundation, "like the pieces of a broken glass" the spirit of German scholarship had been shattered.29 Surveying the course of scholarship during the early Nazi years, other notable German scholars concurred. In perhaps the most famous example, David Hilbert, the dean of German mathematics, gave a damning report to Bernhard Rust when asked about the state of mathematics at Gottingen: "There is no mathematics left at Gottingen."30 German industrialists became so alarmed at the evident deterioration of German academic physics that they began to envision a way for doctoral candidates to complete their training within industry.31 The historian Gerhard Ritter labelled the first two years of courses in history under the Nazi government "pseudo-history." Meanwhile, his colleague Hermann Oncken made a speech discrediting Nazi abuses of the historical profession. Oncken's critique not only caused him to lose his teaching position at the University of Berlin but provided the final impetus for the dissolution of the Historische Reichskommission. Meinecke lost his editorship by defending Oncken.32 By 1936, the consensus of many leading German scholars was that, at least for the present, the quality of their nation's scholarship was on the decline.


Educators in the United States could not help but feel the repercussions of the intellectual synchronization in Germany. Gone from German education were the Lehrfreiheit (freedom to teach) and Lernfreiheit (freedom to learn) that Americans had incorporated into the charter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).33 Gone also was the status of university professors envied by Americans. Nor had the Nazis shown respect for the mentor-student relationship which Americans had travelled abroad to experience since the mid-nineteenth century. The dismissal policies had severed students from teachers and teachers from the university system itself. Meanwhile, the respect for internationalism and excellence that had led American educational theorists like Abraham Flexner (director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1933 to 1939) to emulate Germany in the 1920s, had been renounced by the Nazis. While the Nazis did not attack quality per se, they viewed it as merely a byproduct of scholarly service to the state. As Hitler remarked in his oft-quoted response to physicist Max Planck's plea for leniency in the case of scientists,

Our national policies will not be revoked or modified, even for scientists. If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years.34

On a more immediate level, Nazi educational policies drove a wedge between the American and German academic communities. Between 1933 and 1936, the names of scholars whom Americans viewed as colleagues appeared with increasing frequency in the lists of dismissals that littered the American press. Numerous contributors to E.R.A. Seligman's Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, including Moritz Bonn, Karl Pribram, and Wilhelm Ropke, were among those dismissed. The occupants of the Theodore Roosevelt Exchange Professorship at the University of Berlin were pressured to be present at Nazi celebrations. Centers of study such as the Economics Institute at the University of Kiel and the Deutsche Hochschule fur Politik in Berlin, in which American foundations had made substantial investments, lost members in significant numbers. Additionally, the Nazi takeover of the Deutsche Hochschule resulted in the dissolution of the school's Carnegie-endowed chair, occupied at the time by Hajo Holborn. The university affiliations of scholars whom Americans admired, among them the sociologist Karl Mannheim, the art historian Erwin Panofsky, and the Nobel laureate Fritz Haber, ceased early in Hitler's reign.

The general repercussions of the intellectual synchronization reached scholars through a variety of channels. Articles in the American press quoted the anti-intellectual speeches of Nazis and recounted the names of distinguished professors who had been dismissed; Charles Beard, among others, lamented the passing of "the old home of pedagogical luxuries."35 In reports from American scholars residing in Germany, Americans learned in greater and more disturbing detail of the Nazi attack on science and learning. George Norlin, former president of the University of Colorado, the occupant for 1932-33 of the Theodore Roosevelt Professorship of American History and Institutions at the University of Berlin, wrote to the chair's administrator, President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University, that " 'truth' was being made to order in Germany," resulting in "mental prostitution," and a form of "madness."36 The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commissioned a detailed survey of the situation of universities in 1935 and concluded that the "sacrifice" of "the high academic standard for which German universities have become famous ... seems inevitable ."37 Finally, in 1937, a thorough investigation of the German universities was published: The German Universities and National Socialism by Edward Yarnall Hartshorne, a Harvard tutor in sociology who had spent a year in Germany studying the effect of Reich policies on education and research. His book provided a reliable account of the statistical results of synchronization and a striking presentation of the decrees that regimented a professor's life in Nazi Germany.

The impact of National Socialism upon the content of scholarship was most apparent in encounters between American and Nazi scholars. Specifically, the behavior of Germans at international conferences as well as the content of German scholarly works after 1933 - reported and reviewed in American scholarly journals - acquainted Americans with the more substantial aspects of synchronization.

Americans had to confront the effects of National Socialism as early as 1933. Goodwin Watson, a Columbia psychologist, learned the meaning of politicized scholarship when he attended the October 1933 Congress of the German Psychological Association, the first conference of psychologists to be held after the Nazi takeover. The conference began with speeches by the rector of Leipzig University and the minister of education from Saxony. Both spoke of the need "for a psychology which expressed the genuine German spirit." The papers that followed illustrated the form the new psychology would take. Erich Jaensch, who became a leading academic psychologist in Nazi Germany, presented a paper that distinguished the German personality type from that of the enemy. The latter was "destructive ... distintegrative, possessed by a tendency to stage play, to extreme liberalism, juvenilism The former was a mixture of "the idealistic professor and the healthy peasant."38 Seven months later, the Psy- chological Bulletin reported that the program at the Fourteenth Con- gress of the German Psychological Association had similarly "voiced the wish of the executive committee that German psychologists offer their services to the National Socialist Government." Themes of racial discrimination and nationalism characterized the congress, which fea- tured topics such as "Race and States" and "Psychology of the Nordic Folk-Character," and discussions about the psychological importance of Lebensraum.39

Two scholarly meetings demonstrated the impact of National Socialism upon scholarship. At the thirteenth meeting of the German Philosophical Society in 1936, discussion revolved around Ludwig Klages's assertion that "spirit is the enemy of the soul." In 1937, at their first meeting after the Nazi takeover, historians assembled at their largest gathering ever. They listened as Walter Frank urged the audience "strongheartedly to proclaim great deeds and thus to help develop a people that not only understands great deeds but is also able to perform them."40

The nature of German representation at scholarly conferences outside Germany also helped educate Americans about the extent of control that the Nazis exercised over their subjects, including professors. At the 1934 International Congress of Philosophy in Prague, Professor Hellpach of the University of Heidelberg declared to the philosophers in attendance that "instead of family or society ... Volk should be regarded as the central object of study in these [social] sciences," and that "in delimiting itself from other groups every civilized Volk had to became 'totalitarian and intolerant'."41 Revealing similar pressures from Nazi authorities, one of the German participants at the International Congress of Historical Sciences in 1936 complained about the problems of trying to combine one's scientific training with one's obligations to official ideology."42 Less explicit signs of Nazi influence were evident in the way German delegates behaved at international conferences. At the League of Nations' Sixth International Studies Conference, held from 29 May to 2 June 1933, the rules of the Nazi order were already apparent in the behavior of the German participants. As a British review of the conference's published proceedings related, it was clear that "not all the members of the Conference were, intellectually speaking, free beings." In fact, "those attending from one or two countries ... spoke as though they felt bound to be 'governmental.' " The result, according to the reviewer, was that "the members of the Conference had no common intellectual basis on which to build their corporate effort.... They were divided, above all, by their philosophies, or in some cases, by their lack of a philosophy - in other words, by their values."43 As if to give physical proof of that separateness, "the three or four German participants who had been allowed to attend the [Harvard Tercentennary in 19361 spoke to each other cautiously when they spoke at all," according to Harvard's President, James B. Conant.44 As further embarrassing evidence of their unfree status, German scholars let it be known at international conferences that they could not even be regarded as official representatives of the German Government.45

In books and periodicals produced in Nazi Germany and read by Americans, the impact of National Socialism was obvious. There was a time lag between the imposition of Nazi censorship and the resulting published work, and also between the publication of German works and reviews of them in the American periodical press; still, the themes of extreme nationalism, and, to a lesser extent, racial dogma, littered the book reviews of American journals by the mid-1930s. By 1937, such explicitly National Socialist works appeared as, for example, Eugen von Frauenholz's Das Heerwesen der germanischen Fruhzeit, des Frankenreiches und des ritterlichen Zeitalters, in which, "under the outward guise of serious and scientifically written history," the author presented pure "German war propaganda."46

American reviewers handled Nazi-influenced subject matter in a responsible and truthful manner. They took care to note the specific Nazi bias of works that, like Bernhard Laum's Die Geschlossene Wirtschaft, praised the irrational in ways "almost verbally identical with the phraseology of Nazi propaganda."47 Readers were also made aware of the perversion of facts that often accompanied biographies of nationalistic figures. Giving a thorough reading to Siegfried Kardoff's opportunistic biography of his father, the nationalist Wilhelm von Kardoff, historian Carlton Hayes of Columbia University noted that there was "no mention of the important anti-Polish agitations which characterized the Bismarckian and likewise the von Biflow era[s]." Hayes further pointed to the "wide gulf between the author's assertion that 'Kardoff was a fundamental opponent of the parliamentary system' and the manifold evidence presented by the whole volume....48 Similarly, historian Louis Snyder commented upon the "selection and placement of documents ... calculated to bolster the German case" in Fritz Berber's collection of documents on the Locarno Treaty.49 The American Historical Review also made note of the distortions of fact in a book on Herodotus that "ascrib[ed] to Herodotus a nationalistically oriented consciousness and a politico-historical pragmatism and relegat[ed] to a subordinate position the Persian motif and the ethnic-metaphysical-religious motif."50

Scholars in the United States, then, had ample information at their disposal about German universities. Educators around the country acknowledged, along with Alvin Johnson, the president of the New School for Social Research, that "the free German scholar is done for."51 The AAUP issued a statement of concern over the subordination of academic freedom "to political and other considerations ulterior if not irrelevant to true scientific research and scholarship.52 Its New York University chapter condemned the "wanton violations" of the principles for which the AAUP stood.53

In addition to statements of protest, some scholars took action to combat Nazi attempts to deprive certain scholars of their livelihoods. Stephen Duggan, the director of the Institute for International Education, and Alvin Johnson were among those who led efforts to bring German refugee scholars to the United States. But for the American academic establishment as a whole, giving support to the refugee scholars did not neccessarily mean turning its back upon scholars who remained in Germany.


A preference for maintaining ties with the German academic establishment began early in 1933 and lasted until the events of Kristallnacht; it occurred on both the administrative and the scholarly levels.

Educational philanthropies set the tone for a continued American academic attachment to Germany. In the fall of 1933, one officer of the Rockefeller Foundation concluded that despite "indicat[ions] that the [German] Government has not yet shown any weakening in carrying out the race purification program.... we are convinced of the wisdom of continuing cooperation in Germany wherever the conditions warrant."54 The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace embarked upon plans to establish a chair in Berlin which would replace the one dissolved as a result of the Nazification of the Deutsche Hochschule fur Politik.55 Despite reports of the pressures placed upon the Theodore Roosevelt exchange professors in Berlin, Nicholas Murray Butler, the director of the chair, chose to send another exchange professor in 1933-34 and tried unsuccessfully to find one for the 1934-35 academic year.56 The reluctance to sever ties with Germany was reinforced by U.S. Ambassador William E. Dodd. Disregarding his own negative impression of education under the Nazis, Dodd encouraged directors of the Rockefeller Foundation and of the Oberlaender Trust, another American educational philanthropy with investments in Germany, not to withdraw their funds from the fascist nation.57

Meanwhile, American educators continued to accept invitations to German academic conferences and celebrations, reviewed German works, and even welcomed German participants at their own scholarly events. On the administrative level, the high points of the continued American attachment to Germany occurred when leading universities, such as Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale decided to accept the offer to participate in the 550th anniversary celebration of the University of Heidelberg, and when the Harvard Tercentennary committee likewise decided to invite Germans to attend the Tercentennary celebration in the fall of 1936.58

The Harvard Tercentennary also served as an extreme example of the American fascination with German scholarship in the 1930s. Scholars as well as rectors of the Aryanized universities were invited. The academic conferences held in association with the Tercentennary included numerous German scholars. At the time of their invitations in 1935, some were German nationals, though a few later became American citizens.59 A year later, in a similar show of affection, the American Journal of Psychology published a Golden Anniversary volume. In the collection, culled from editors of psychological journals around the world, the opening essay was by the ardent Aryan scholar Erich Jaensch. Three other essays by German editors appeared in the volume.60

Given the knowledge American educators had about the situation in Germany, their continued concern for relations with scholars in Germany seems surprising. Indeed, many critics of American academic recognition of the German universities under Hitler believed that leading administrators acted in this fashion only because they did not know about conditions in German universities. A letter of protest about Yale's representation at Heidelberg, signed by Yale alumni, thus supplied President James Angell with information about the Nazi educational philosophy. Among the statements reported to Angell was Ernst Krieck's assertion that "We do not recognize truth for truth's sake or science for science's sake."61 A British correspondent protested Yale's decision to attend the Heidelberg celebration by preparing documentation about the Aryanization of German scholarship. Several times in his letter, the author mentioned specific facts about Nazi educational policies with the prefatory phrase, "I do not think that you can have realized" or "I do not think that you know...."62

Those who sought continued association with Germany were not afraid that their actions would sanction Nazi policies. But the American public duly warned the universities of this possibility. The New York Post queried "Will Columbia Heil Hitler?"63 and a Nation editorial voiced the likelihood that "the Heidelberg university anniversary celebration ... will be made the occasion not for a salute to German scholarship and the pursuit of learning ... but for a bombastic tribute to the Nazi State."64 Putting the pros and cons of attendance in a more polemical form, Viking Press published a book edited by four men, including Henry L. Stimson and James Byrne. The contents of Heidelberg and the Universities of America had nothing to do with American universities, but according to the editors, the book nevertheless had a message for Americans. The short volume included selected essays from the British newspaper debate that preceded the refusal of all British universities to attend the Heidelberg celebration. At the heart of the controversy lay the assertions that "a German university under the new regime is as to one part a regiment preparing a war, as to another an intellectual concentration camp."65 How, wondered one contributor, can we, as "good Europeans," attend Heidelberg if we consider the "trusteeship of truth" to be a "serious responsibility?"66

What, then, motivated American educators to maintain ties with a nation whose universities had been taken over by a totalitarian government? The answers lay in the recent past, in what was associated with German scholarship in the American educational imagination, and in the practical realities of American educational life. A starting point for the decision was the commitment to academic internationalism. At the basis of this internationalist philosophy was the belief, embodied by men such as Nicholas Murray Butler, who was simultaneously president of Columbia University and president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that scholarship not only transcended politics but could help foster peace among nations. With this in mind, educational philanthropies such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment had funnelled considerable money into German research and teaching in the 1920s.67 A defense for attending the Heidelberg celebration, issued jointly by the presidents of Columbia, Harvard, and Yale, reflected the internationalists' idealism. In a statement drafted for the press but never released, the Ivy League triumvirate claimed, "Our participation in this celebration" bears testimony to "the unity of the world of scholarship, which is independent of the political ties prevailing in any country at any particular moment."68

Americans held fast to the principles of academic internationalism in part because the nation in question was Germany. The American and German academic communities had already parted ways once since the turn of the century. During World War I American dissatisfaction with Germany began in 1914 in response to the manifesto signed by sixty German professors entitled "To the Civilized World," which glorified German war aims. After America's entry into the war in 1917, educators in the United States responded with their own brand of patriotism. Under the auspices of George Creel's propagandistic Committee on Public Information, scholars prepared materials designed to uphold the legitimacy of American war aims. On campus, the education of students for subsequent army service invited the practice of partisan scholarship. At least twenty- three professors throughout the country lost positions due to charges of disloyalty, a crime for which the AAUP sanctioned prosecution. By the late 1920s, denunciations of such actions began to appear with some frequency.69 On the eve of World War II, the American academic preference for pursuing continued contacts with Germany resulted in part from the attempts to compensate for the anti-German scholarship of World War I.

Despite political differences with the United States, after 1933 the Germans helped reinforce the American predilection for upholding the tradition of international association among scholars. Although Nazi ideologues proclaimed opposition to internationalism, their practices contradicted their pronouncements. Not only did they invite foreigners to attend their academic gatherings, but Germans were present at international conferences throughout the years between Hitler's rise to power and the outbreak of war in 1939.

But it was not just the extent of the financial and personal investment and the concern for academic neutrality that prolonged American interest in Germany during the 1930s. More important, it was the symbolic importance that German scholarship had held in the American educational imagination since the late nineteenth century. Germany had served as the model for graduate study in the United States. Germany had been the embodiment of excellence in research and scholarly training. As the twentieth century progressed, the equation of Germany with scholarly excellence had grown even stronger. Large numbers of educators revived the image of Germany as an important model for American higher education, including Abraham Flexner of the Institute for Advanced Study and President Charles Franklin Thwing of Western Reserve University, as well as numerous contributors to The American Scholar and the Journal of Higher Education.

Having achieved a place of importance in the American educational imagination, German scholarship could not simply disappear from the scene. As Nicholas Murray Butler declared, "The world cannot do without [the intellectual leadership] of Germany, no matter how preposterous and reactionary may be its ruling policies and doctrines at the moment."70 The fear of losing Germany as an educational model caused many Americans to don blinders in regard to both the durability of the Third Reich and the dismantling of German scholarship. As a counterpart to the commonly expressed opinion that "the Jewish troubles may not continue," Americans persisted in emphasizing the positive aspects of German scholarship under the Nazis.71 Thus a 1935 Rockefeller Foundation report on the social sciences in Europe concluded, "While it is true that ... there no longer exists complete freedom of inquiry in the domain of the social sciences, the fact remains that in these very countries [Germany, Italy, and Russia] quite farreaching programs are being carried out."72 Neither abuses against civil liberties nor the undermining of the accepted canons of morality seemed able to dissuade prominent educators from their fondness for Germany.

Even reports that informed Americans about the changes in academic life in the Third Reich contained optimistic statements regarding German scholarship. Goodwin Watson concluded his summary of the presentations at the 1933 Congress of the German Psychological Association, where many papers were laden with Nazi ideology, with the assertion, "Although many brilliant psychologists have left voluntarily or been forced to leave, this cultural tradition is likely to continue for many years. 'Der objectiv[e] Geist' remains relatively constant while men and parties come and go."73 In his 1937 study of academic conditions in Germany, the Harvard tutor Edward Yarnall Hartshorne presented in detail the eradication of academic freedom and the narrowing of the university's purpose in Germany, only to conclude that "science as a whole has lost by the change," but "Germany has gained something." Upholding the note of optimism, Hartshorne maintained that "Germany has succeeded in preserving her existence amid a flux of circumstances where many a lesser nation would have collapsed."74 Hartshorne's reluctance to condemn Germany along with National Socialism served as a confusing endnote to an otherwise critical book and demonstrated a willingness among American educators to withhold condemnatory judgments about Germany as long as possible.

The conviction that German scholarship still had something of value to offer the world led former associates of Germany to assume the role of defender of the mentor nation. The Rockefeller Foundation decided on this course early in 1933. As Ambassador Dodd, fresh from his position as a University of Chicago history professor, counseled the Foundation, a continued investment in Germany was important so that "real men with free minds now under horrible pressure might not be silenced for good and all."75 As one Foundation officer put it, the organization was attempting to "aid in the resurrection" of German scholarship.76

This optimism in the face of discouraging information inevitably influenced scholarly judgments. Reviewers often praised works produced in Nazi Germany in dispassionate tones, without marvelling at the ability of heavily censored scholars to produce quality work. Underlining the persistence of American respect for German scholarship, reviewers insisted that Nazi biases in the works under scrutiny did not mar the value of their contribution. A reviewer of Willy Andreas's Kdmpfe um Volk und Reich exemplified this search for the silver lining in scholarship under the Reich: "The ardent nationalistic plea with which the author concludes each of these essays does not lessen the value of his sound historical approach."77 Nor, concluded Louis Snyder in his review of an intellectual history of Treitschke, did the "strongly eulogistic tone, by which Treitschke is presented as the great praeceptor Germaniae" lessen the author's "valuable analysis of the life and work of Germany's patriot historian."78

Reviews of this sort predominated among historians, in whose field nationalistic biases had been evident among German scholars prior to the Nazi takeover and where the impact of the dismissals was not so devastating as in the social sciences. Similar trends were apparent in philosophy. In a description of the 1937 meeting of the German Philosophical Society, the reporter for the Philosophical Review summarized the proceedings of the meeting, which was "devoted to the general theme of 'Soul and Spirit.' " Although the topic itself revolved around the anti-intellectual theory of Mages that soul and spirit were opposed to one another, the reviewer maintained that "The papers presented at the meeting were entirely free from references to an ideology that is objectionable to most non-Germans. They breathed the traditional spirit of scholarly objectivity and could have been read before any audience of philosophers."79

American academic psychologists were more critical than their colleagues in history and philosophy of the scholarship produced in Nazi Germany. Only rarely, however, did their criticism directly link inadequate scholarship with the influence of Nazism. Instead, American psychologists tended to focus on the traditional conflict between American empiricism and German speculation, maintaining that specific works did "not meet the strictest canons of scientific experimentation" or that, "One had ... only wished that the importance of the [Gestalt psychology] movement which [Kreuger] founded would have been indicated more by concrete empirical investigations rather than by essays of a mostly half philosophical and abstract character."80

Even where reviewers found little to recommend in the scholarship presented in German works, they often found curiosity about scholarship in Nazi Germany an ample reason for highlighting a book. A review of Otto Buss's study of the psychologist Felix Krueger was a case in point. The reviewer for the American Journal of Psychology asserted that "The exposition of Krueger's principles makes clear how the particular brand of totality psychology ... lays the psychological foundations for the justification of the present political regime in Germany."81 The book's worth derived, at least in part, from the insights it gave into the uses of scholarship and research to justify the Nazi state.

American sociologists provided a refreshing exception to the search for quality scholarship in Nazi Germany. Sociology had succumbed early and almost completely to the educational policies of the Third Reich. The American Journal of Sociology, like the British Sociological Review, displayed pessimism about the "present drift of social writings" in Germany as early as 1934.82 Book reviews in the journal referred nostalgically to the earlier academic position occupied by German sociology "until the accession of the present regime," and to the success of National Socialism in bringing "to an end" the "first stage" of the burgeoning sociology of knowledge.83 This pessimism gained strength as the 1930s progressed. While some German works did receive notice in those years, their number was minimal. Yet even American sociologists did not wish to dissociate themselves totally from their German colleagues. In 1936, Americans contributed to a collection of essays published in Germany in honor of the eminent sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies.84


It seemed that for many educators in the United States, German scholarship had not been "decapitated" prior to 1938. Or if it had, the decapitation did not warrant the termination of American academic relations with Nazi Germany. The loss of academic freedom, of professorial power, and of the mentor- student method of instruction did not destroy the image of Germany as a nation of erudite scholars who still belonged to the international academic community. Neither perversions of scholarship nor declarations against internationalism ended German influences on American higher education. The American financial and psychological investment in German education continued despite the desecration of the practices and products of the German academic community. Not until the cataclysmic political events of 1938, which displayed to the world the war aims and uncivilized nature of the Nazi government, would a recognizable body of historians, psychologists, and philosophers in the United States agree with a prescient sociologist who declared in 1934: "Those of us who have formerly derived help from [German scholars] must hope that the future will again link up with a past full of fine scholarly achievement; and in the meantime we can only offer up sorrowfully the traditional prayer for those at sea."85


1. Cited in Karl Dietrich Bracher, "Die Gleichschaltung der deutschen Universitat," Universitdtastage, 1966 (Free University of Berlin, 1966), p. 140.

2. See, for example, Helge Pross, "Die geistige Enthauptung Deutschlands: Verluste durch Emigration," Universitdtastage, 1966, p. 143; Max PinI and Lux Furtmuller, "Mathematicians under Hitler," in Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook (1973): 145; and Alan Beyerchen, "Anti-Intellectualism and the Cultural Decapitation of Germany Under the Nazis," in The Muses Flee Hitler: Cultural Transfer and Adaptation, 1930-45 (Washington, D.C., 1983), p. 29.

3. Henry Friedlander suggested the translation "synchronization" in his essay "The Manipulation of Language," in The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy, and Genocide, ed. Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton (Millwood, N.Y., 1980), p. 108. Professor Friedlander contends that "synchronization" embodies the Nazi preference for technological incantation better than the more commonly used translation, "coordination."

4. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, transl. Ralph Manheirn (Boston, 1943), pp. 237, 253,407-8.

5. For a good presentation of the applicability of the April 7th law to university professors, see Amy Sims, "Those Who Stayed Behind: German Historians and the Third Reich" Ph.D. diss., (Cornell University, 1979), p. 80. For a detailed report on the various laws and amendments regarding the dismissals of university professors, see Pinl and Furtmuller, "Mathematicians Under Hitler," pp. 130-32. For the text of the law, see "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, 7 April 1933" in Dokumente der Deutschen Politik (Berlin, 1935), vol. 1, Die Nationalsozialistische Revolution 1933, ed. Arel Friedrichs, p. 172.

6. Sims, "Those Who Stayed Behind," p. 83.

7. Hans Meier, "Nationalsozialistische Hochschulpolifik," in Helmut Kuhn, ed., Die deutsche Universitfat im Dritten Reich (Munich, 1966), pp. 78-80; and Bracher, "Die Gleichschaltung der deutschen Universitat," p. 137.

8. Sims, "Those Who Stayed Behind," p. 87.

9. Alan Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Community in the Third Reich (New Haven, 1977), p. 166.

10. Edward Yarnell Hartshorne, The German Universities and National Socialism (London, 1937), pp. 127, 138, 139.

11. Amy Sims, "Intellectuals in Crisis: Historians Under Hitler," Virginia Quarterly Review (1978): 246-62. For a detailed study of Frank's Institute, see Helmut Heiber, Walter Frank und sein Reichsinstitut fur Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands (Stuttgart, 1966).

12. Cited in Hartshorne, The German Universities, p. 134.

13. Bracher, "Die Gleichschaltung der deutschen Universit5t," p. 131.

14. Dorothy Thompson, "Culture Under the Nazis," Foreign Affairs 14 (Apr. 1936): 408.

15. Pinl and Furtmuller, "Mathematicians Under Hitler," p. 139.

16. Ibid., p. 133n.

17. Goodwin Watson, "Psychology in Germany and Austria," Psychological Bulletin (1934): 768. For a comprehensive study of psychology in the Third Reich, see Ulfred Geuter, "Die Professionalisierung der deutschen Psychologie im Nationalsozialismus" (Ph.D. diss., Free University of Berlin, 1982).

18. For the field of philosophy, see the annual essays on "Contemporary German Philosophy" that Arthur Liebert contributed between 1933 and 1937 to the Philosophical Review, vols. 42-46. For a discussion of Lebensphilosophie, see Philosophical Review 46 (1937): 323. For themes emphasized by historians, see Sims, "Those Who Stayed Behind," pp. 46-60.

19. Hartshorne, The German Universities, p. 116; Frederick Wyatt and Hans Lukas Teuber, "German Psychology Under the Nazi System, 1933-1940," Psychological Review 51 (1944): 231; and Charles Beard, "Education Under the Nazis," Foreign Affairs 14 (Apr. 1936): 441.

20. Robert Wistrich has referred to the multivolume publication as "perhaps the most notorious product" of Frank's Institute. Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany (London, 1982), p. 80.

21. Tarrytown, New York, Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, RG2-1933, series 717, box 91, folder 725: J. V. Sickle to E. E. Day, 8 May 1933.

22. Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler, p. 135.

23. Hartshorne, The German Universities, pp. 139-140; Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler, p. 77.

24. See, for example, Bracher, "Die Gleichschaltung der deutschen Universit5t," p. 140; Sims, "Intellectuals in Crisis," p. 257; and Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler, pp. 206-10.

25. Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler, pp. 178-79.

26. Ibid., p. 77.

27. Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York, 1971) pp. 664-65.

28. Hartshorne, The German Universities, p. 100.

29. Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, Warren Weaver- Interviews, 24 and 25 May 1933.

30. Pinl and Furtmuller, "Mathematicians Under Hitler," p. 133.

31. Beyerchen, Scientists Under Hitler, p. 70.

32. Sims, "Those Who Stayed Behind," pp. 129-42.

33. See "The AAUP's 'General Declaration of Principles.' 1915," in American Education: A Documentary History, vol. 2, ed. Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith (Chicago, 1961), p. 861.

34. Hartshorne, The German Universities, p. 112.

35. Beard, "Education Under the Nazis," p. 452. For additional reports on the German universities in the nonscholarly press, see Thomas Baker, "Storm Clouds Over German Universities," New York Times Magazine, 26 Mar. 1933; Otto Tolischus, "The New Germany Mobilizes her'Kultur'," New York Times Magazine, 31 Mar. 1935; and Dorothy Thompson, "Culture Under the Nazis."

36. New York, Columbia University, Columbia University Central Files, George Norlin to Nicholas Murray Butler, 14 June 1933.

37. Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Papers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, box 10, folder 716-18, p. 6: Report on present conditions in the field of education in Germany, 5 Apr. 1935.

38. Goodwin Watson, "Thirteenth Congress of the German Psychological Association," School and Society 38 (1933): 732-33.

39. L. D. Hartson, "The Fourteenth Congress of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Psychologie," Psychological Bulletin 31 (1934): 609-12.

40. "The Thirteenth Meeting of the German Philosophical Society," Philosophical Review 46 (1937):321; "Historical News," American Historical Review 43 (1937): 478.

41. "The Eighth International Congress of Philosophy," Philosophical Review 44 (1935): 49.

42. Bulletin of the International Committee of Historical Sciences 8 (1936): 506.

43. Sociological Review 26 (1934): 413.

44. James Bryant Conant, My Several Lives: Memoirs of a Social Inventor (New York, 1970), p. 151.

45. See American Historical Review 43 (1937): 323; and Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, RG 1.1, series 100, box 111, folder 1010: Tracy B. Kittredge to Professor Arnold J. Toynbee, 4 Feb. 1936.

46. American Historical Review 42 (1936): 122.

47. American Journal of Sociology 40 (1934): 393-94.

48. American Historical Review 43 (1937): 126-28.

49. Ibid., 198.

50. Ibid., 182-83.

51. Alvin Johnson, "Intellectual Liberty Imperilled," American Scholar2 (1933): 312- 19.

52. Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 19 (1933): 302.

53. Ibid., 327.

54. Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, Diary of Alan Gregg, Robert A. Lambert to Alan Gregg, 4 Nov. 1933.

55. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Annual Reports (1934): 84; (1935): 77; (1936): 100; (1937): 90.

56. See Columbia University Central Files: Nicholas Murray Butler to George Norlin, 18 Apr. 1933; and Nicholas Murray Butler to Ambassador William E. Dodd, 19 Jan. 1934.

57. William E. Dodd, Jr., and Martha Dodd, eds., Ambassador Dodd's Diary, 1933- 1938 (New York, 1941), pp. 59, 19.

58. See my article, "Academic Neutrality: Nicholas Murray Butler and James Bryant Conant, 1933-38," in Annals of Scholarship 3, no. 2 (1984): 63-76.

59. In his autobiography, Conant emphasizes the Tercentermary's recognition of refugee scholars. Conant, My Several Lives, p. 151.

60. American Journal of Psychology 50 (1937). The other German editors who contributed to the anniversary volume were Otto Klemm, Wilhelm Wirth, and Philipp Lersch.

61. New Haven, Yale University Manuscripts and Archives, James Roland Angell, Presidential Papers, box 100, folder 1017: John Crosby Brown, et al., to James Roland Angell, 31 July 1936.

62. Yale University Manuscripts and Archives, James Roland Angell, Presidential Papers, box 100, folder 1018: Charles Singer to James Roland Angell, 27 May 1936.

63. New York Post, 7 Mar. 1936.

64. Nation, 18 Mar. 1936, p. 338.

65. Charles C. Burlingham, James Byrne, Samuel Seabury, and Henry L. Stimson, eds., Heidelberg and the Universities of America (New York, 1936).

66. Ibid., p. 24.

67. Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, RG 2, series 717, box 91, folder 725: J. V. Sickel to E. E. Day, 12 May 1933.

68. Yale University Manuscripts and Archives, James Roland Angell, Presidential Papers, box 100, folder 1017: "Statement about University of Heidelberg Celebration" (unreleased press statement), 1936.

69. Carol S. Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War One and the Uses of Higher Learning in America (Baton Rouge, 1975), pp. 120-212. Dr. Gruber highlights the 1927 articles by Charles Angoff and C. Hartley Grattan as evidence of the excoriations against the partisan uses of scholarship during the Great War, ibid., pp. 1-2.

70. Columbia University, Special Collections: Nicholas Murray Butler, Collected Essays and Addresses, vol. 15, no. 25, p. 3.

71. William E. and Martha Dodd, Ambassador Dodd's Diary, p. 19.

72. Rockefeller Archive Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, RG 3, series 910, box 1, folder 3: "General Policy affecting future Social Science Programs in Europe" (report), 23 Jan. 1935.

73. Watson, "Psychology in Germany and Austria," p. 771.

74. Hartshorne, The German Universities, p. 173.

75. William E. and Martha Dodd, Ambassador Dodd's Diary, p. 59.

76. Rockefeller Archive, Center, Papers of the Rockefeller Foundation, RG 2-1933, series 717, box 91, folder 725: J. V. Sickle to E. E. Day, 8 May 1933.

77. American Historical Review 41 (1936): 385.

78. Ibid., p. 382.

79. "The Thirteenth Meeting of the German Philosophical Society," Philosophical Review 46 (1937): 321.

80. American Journal of Psychology 49 (1937): 165.

81. Ibid., vol. 46 (1934): 544.

82. Sociological Review 26 (1934): 425.

83. American Journal of Sociology 42 (1936-1937): 100.

84. Ernst Jurkat, ed., Reine und Angewandte Soziologie: Eine Festgabe fur Ferdinand Tonnies (map: H. Buske, 1936).

85. See David Mitrany's review of Bernhard Laum's Die Geschlossene Wirtschaft (Tubingen, 1933) in Sociological Review 26 (1934): 425.

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