A proportionate response (1 of 2)

April 14, 2011

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky needs to get a sense of proportion about conflicts of interest (Letters, 7 April). If I had recently applied for, or were currently in receipt of a grant from the Toepfer Foundation, then there might be a conflict of interest if I were asked to advise on allegations that it was covering up a supposed Nazi past, because I might be influenced by the desire to obtain, or keep, the grant. But to suppose that I would be influenced by the fact that I had a scholarship from the foundation 40 years ago is preposterous.

At its first meeting, the subcommittee set up by the University of Oxford to consider Pinto-Duschinsky's allegations offered to replace me with an expert historian from another university; Pinto-Duschinsky turned this offer down. He never asked for my resignation or that of any of the subcommittee's members. On 28 February 2010, he acknowledged to its chair that "the members of your subcommittee...are pre-eminent in their fields" - in short, declared himself satisfied with its composition. In his Standpoint article, he raised no objection to the subcommittee.

His refusal to appear at a meeting of the subcommittee was not because he did not trust it but because the director of the Toepfer Foundation would also be present. The subcommittee rightly considered that to deny the foundation the chance to respond to Pinto-Duschinsky's allegations would violate natural justice. The meeting went ahead. Pinto-Duschinsky raised objections to the subcommittee's composition only at the end of the review process, when he realised that it would not report in his favour.

His claim that the Hanseatic scholarships were funded by "tainted money" and his refusal despite all the evidence to accept that the foundation has acknowledged its "problematic provenance" (as Standpoint put it) make the conclusion inevitable that he wants them discontinued.

On one point only he is right: I did indeed misremember a conversation in 1970 with Hans-Joachim Riecke, who was not, as I had supposed, a war criminal; of course, this makes Toepfer's employment of Riecke somewhat less reprehensible than I had thought.

Richard J. Evans, Cambridge

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