Academy probes its Nazi past

February 3, 2006

German universities are confronting their National Socialist past with projects that include finally reinstating academic titles stripped during the Third Reich.

Research has shown that many institutions did not merely acquiesce to the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies but welcomed them.

Urban Wiesing, head of the Ethics and History of Medicine Institute at the Eberhard-Karls University in Tubingen, led the institute's first comprehensive study into Jews at Tubingen during National Socialism.

"Tubingen had a long anti-Semitic tradition. Even at the start of Hitler's regime, the number of Jewish students and professors was dwindling fast,"

he said.

Weeks before the Nazis introduced a law imposing a maximum of 1.5 per cent for "non-Aryan" first-year students, Tubingen's rector, August Hegler, proudly stated that the university had "solved the Jewish question".

Professor Wiesing and his team, with the support of rector Eberhard Schaich, found that Tubingen was one of the universities least affected by the "cleansing" of Jewish professors after 1933, as there were few left to remove.

Those who remained were either fired or forced into early retirement.

"Unfortunately for the university, a Nobel prize-winner was among them,"

Professor Wiesing said.

Physicist Hans Bethe, sacked in 1933, later won a Nobel prize.

Tubingen was not alone in its approval of Nazi ideology. Several other universities, including Hamburg, Cologne, Kiel, Frankfurt, Bonn and Berlin's Humboldt, have joined Tubingen belatedly trying to make amends.

Cologne has restored titles to 70 Jewish graduates stripped of them by the Nazis 60 years ago.

One reason why it has taken so long for some universities to recognise their participation in Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns, according to researchers, is because until recently a number of professors who had been engaged in Jewish witch-hunts were still alive and working in faculties.

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