SS officer keeps degree

August 30, 1996

A German university has decided to allow a former Nazi SS member to keep the doctorate he earned under a pseudonym to conceal his wartime activities.

The University of Erlangen-Nurnberg found no deception was involved in Hans Schwerte's academic achievement, even though the curriculum vitae submitted with his doctorate thesis had been falsified.

Furthermore Dr Schwerte, known as Hans Schneider in his SS days, had never been condemned by a criminal court so a withdrawal of his title was ruled out, an awards committee of the philosophy faculty decided. Names and biographies played only a secondary role in examination regulations, it said.

Members of the faculty had demanded he should be stripped of his doctorate after it became known that he had been a Hauptsturmfuhrer in the SS Ahnenerbe organisation. The group attempted to find scientific evidence to back up Nazi theories of Aryan racial supremacy.

Academics at Erlangen claimed the doctorate he gained for research on the concept of time employed by the Austrian lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke, damaged the university's reputation.

Dr Schwerte's doctorate, awarded in December 1948, became the foundation stone of a career that culminated in his becoming rector of the North Rhine-Westphalia Technical Academy in Aachen in the 1970s. In April last year Dr Schwerte, now aged 85, admitted his deception. He has already been stripped of his professorship by the North Rhine-Westphalia education ministry.

Gotthard Jaspar, rector of Erlangen University, supported the awards committee's decision. But some academics and students have been angered by it.

"The university has wasted the chance to tackle critically its past during and immediately after the Third Reich," said Theodor Ebert, one of the three academics who applied for Dr Schwerte's title to be withdrawn.

He said the regulations stated that a doctorate would be declared invalid if a candidate's curriculum vitae later proved to be false. "Politically, the decision is scandalous," he said. Dr Schwerte ought not to have been able to gain a degree after 1945 because he had been a member of the SS in a leading position, he added.

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