German rector is unmasked as a Nazi

May 19, 1995

A storm has broken out in Aachen over the Nazi past of one of its university's former rectors.

Hans Schwerte has confessed that he really was Hans Ernst Schneider, a member of the "Ahnenerbe" genealogy group in The Netherlands, which collaborated closely with the SS and whose mission was to provide proof of the Aryan ancestry of the Dutch people.

The "Ahnenerbe" Association was under the direct authority of Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler, and was responsible for experiments on human beings in the Dachau concentration camp.

However, Professor Schneider, who headed the Technical University from 1970-73, says that his activities related solely to ethnological issues. He was responsible for establishing publishing firms and journals, and maintaining links between higher education institutions.

Several members of Aachen University have declared that they are "shocked", and used to believe that allegations about Schneider were just "rumours". Northrhine-Westphalia's ministry of higher education was officially informed about the issue in April, and started an investigation at the Berlin Document Centre, which appears to have yielded no results.

Theo Bock, Schwerte's successor, told Aachener Nachrichten newspaper: "I held Schwerte in high esteem as a German studies expert, but now I do not want to have anything to do with him. He has deceived all of us." He said it was particularly painful to know that for years, Schwerte was responsible for the promotion of relations between the higher education institutions of Northrhine-Westphalia and the Benelux states - as a former SS member operating in The Netherlands.

Allegations about Professor Schwerte were already in circulation among members of the philosophy department in mid-1994. But students maintain that the university's rector, Klaus Habetha, did not investigate.

Articles about Professor Schwerte, however, were published in Dutch newspapers. It was claimed he was not only a member of the "Ahnenerbe" organisation but also conducted experiments on human beings in the Dachau concentration camp - in the framework of "military applied research".

After the Second World War, Schneider took a new identity. He enrolled for German studies, and later on became the founder of "ideology-critical German studies" at Aachen University. His appointment as rector was, at the time, seen largely as a move to pacify upcoming student rebellion with a left-liberal university head.

Around the beginning of this year, rumours about the professor reached a climax. Students of the philosophy department compared the biographies of Hans Schwerte and Hans Ernst Schneider, and subsequently got in touch with the registrar's office in his birthplace, Hildesheim.

Asking about Hans Schwerte, they learned that no such person existed. "What we can't understand is that a handful of students can find out more about Schneider than Rector Habetha has since August 1994," said representative Alexandra Lunskens. "After all, these people are academics and trained to conduct conclusive research."

At a department crisis meeting, German studies professor Gotz Beck told colleagues that information had been available in 1993. He accused them of hypocrisy in claiming that they "did not want to deal with rumours". The meeting broke up in disorder.

Aachen University is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. According to a spokesman, it is not yet clear how the institution will officially address the issue of Hans Ernst Schneider. But what is certain is that a chapter on Hans Schwerte in the university's commemorative handbook will have to be rewritten.

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