Academies of Sciences in the Nazi Era

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The academies of science in the Nazi era were faced with several guidelines and expectations.

For the Academies of Sciences was Bernhard Rust as Minister of Education in charge. The “ leader principle ” was only partially implemented. The academies tried to maintain traditional operations - for this purpose they were ready to take steps to adapt, among other things. a. to delete their "Jewish members". The proportion of NSDAP members in the academy fluctuated between a quarter and a half. To characterize the academies during the Nazi era as " synchronized " would be an exaggeration. On the other hand, there were only a few fundamental protests against Nazi measures within the framework of the academies - this applies to both Germany and abroad.

Exclusion of Jewish members

While the universities were made “ free of Jews ” as early as 1933 , it took several years for the academies to be confronted with the “ Jewish question ” by the Minister of Education . The universities as places of student education were much more important to the National Socialists than the more “harmless” academies. First the Minister of Education was confronted by the Heidelberg Academy . Since the winter semester 1935/36, some National Socialist members tried to force the Jewish members out. Since the academy felt overwhelmed by this question, it turned to the Baden Ministry of Culture, which in turn asked the Ministry of Education . It turned out that there had not yet been a decision in this regard (mid-1936). The fact that the academies left their Jewish members relatively late has nothing to do with resistance, but with the insecurity of the Nazi regime in weighing up the pros and cons of this measure.

The Minister of Education did not take action until 1937: on February 10, he asked the academies to report the number of “non-Aryan members”. The academies reacted by announcing their - unfounded, as it later emerged - fear that the expulsion of their Jewish members would lead to mass resignation of their foreign correspondent members.

In October / November 1938 a decree was issued by the Minister of Education to the individual academies, in which a consistent application of the race laws was required. In the Leopoldina , more than half of the deletions took place on November 30, 1938 (the Leopoldina is particularly suitable for quantitative considerations due to the fact that it has almost ten times the number of members compared to the other academies - it was around 800 at the time). Insofar as it could be officially proven in the case of foreign corresponding members that they were Jews, " mixed race " or "Versippte", their names should be deleted from the member lists without notifying them themselves.

The proportion of " Jews " (including all those affected by the Nuremberg Race Laws) in the members of the individual academies was about a tenth. Thus the proportion of the Jewish academy was much lower than the proportion of the university. An example: The proportion of Jews in the members of the Vienna Academy was around 7%, in the professors of the Vienna University around 15% and in the other teachers (especially lecturers) 33%.

"Leader principle"

National Socialist tendencies towards a more hierarchical structure of the academies - individually and collectively - collided with the historically developed rights of the academies and their members. A primacy of the Berlin Academy, operated by the President of the Prussian Academy and meeting the request of the Minister of Education for good "accessibility", remained in the beginning; the most important result was that the president of the Berlin academy was able to act as spokesman for the “Reichsakademie der deutschen Wissenschaft” - to which the individual academies belonged as “societies” without being restricted in their decision-making powers for their own affairs.

The “ Führer principle ” was a widespread idea during the Nazi era, but concrete changes in the decision-making structures of the academies had to be reflected in the respective statutes - which, however, hardly happened. In the Nazi era, there were considerations to unite the powers according to the “Führer principle” more strongly in the hands of the respective president. The “Provisional Statute”, which was adopted by the Vienna Academy in April 1938 and approved by the Minister of Education in July 1938 and valid until the end of the war, however, remained unaffected - and it was the currently valid statute (and the rules of procedure based on it) that were responsible for the processes in of the individual academy was decisive.

The other academies retained a similar provision in their statutes approved in mid-1939. However, there was now a new paragraph:

The President ... decides on the distribution of the work among the members and officials of the Academy. The plenary session and the departments advise the President. This makes the decision.

The delimitation of the competencies is not very clear here. In any case, the education minister himself did not agree to the radical implementation of the Führer principle, which was sometimes called for. In 1942, for example, a National Socialist could criticize the Bavarian Academy for the fact that the statutes and rules of procedure were “purely parliamentary” and that they “completely lacked the Führer principle in its current version”.

The fact that the elections for new members had to be confirmed by the Minister of Education meant that the academies were somewhat restricted in their freedom. Stronger influences in the election of new members only existed where the local authorities sought to do so - namely, the Reich Ministry of Education, which was also the Prussian Ministry, put pressure on the Berlin Academy, and the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture on the Munich. In these two academies, the respective president was also appointed by the education minister without waiting for a decision on the part of the academies concerned. This led to the leadership of convinced National Socialists in Berlin (by the mathematician Theodor Vahlen ) and in Munich (by the historian Karl Alexander von Müller ) and, accordingly, to more extensive National Socialist influences.

Few protests

In the work of the academies there was hardly any fundamental protest against NS orders. The academies argued against the expulsion of their Jewish members, fearing that such a move would result in mass resignations of foreign corresponding members. However, this consequence did not materialize. There were only a few such withdrawals. Due to the numerous layoffs of scientists in Germany at the beginning of 1933, the biologist John S. Haldane resigned from his Leopoldina membership.

Protests from residents of the country naturally entailed greater personal risk. Albert Einstein resigned from the Prussian Academy in March 1933 and from the Bavarian Academy in April. Pressure exerted by the education minister did not necessarily have to be given in: in 1941 the historian Willy Hoppe was not elected by the Prussian Academy, although the education minister insisted and threatened to appoint members without election in the future - which, however, remained an empty threat.

Share of NSDAP members

At the end of the war, about half of the regular members of the Prussian and Vienna Academy were party members - in Berlin, however, pressure had been exerted in the election of some National Socialists, in Vienna not. In the Bavarian Academy, on the other hand, “only” 26% of the regular members were party members - although there was also strong pressure here, from the Bavarian Ministry of Education. So there were significant differences between the academies.

Term “synchronization” inapplicable

From the standpoint of a National Socialist, the proceedings at the academies were unsatisfactory. In terms of content, there was little evidence of "National Socialist penetration". In 1942, the Reichsdozentenführer Walther Schultze wrote to the Bavarian Ministry of Education that the Bavarian Academy "had not even felt a trace of the National Socialist spirit even in the tenth year after the takeover of power". The characterization as "synchronized" is not suitable to describe an academy that was hardly influenced by National Socialism in terms of academic work and membership elections.

1994 symposium

The German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina organized a symposium (June 9-11, 1994 in Schweinfurt) on the German academies during the Nazi era. The Leopoldina (by Sybille Gerstengarbe , Heidrun Hallmann and Wieland Berg ), the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (by Rolf Winau ), the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich (by Monika Stoermer ), the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences ( by Udo Wennemuth ) and the Academy of Sciences in Vienna (by Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer ). In the printed conference proceedings Die Elite der Nation (→ literature) a short article about the academy of non-profit science in Erfurt was included. Which are not included in this volume Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heidelberger Akademie, in: Elite der Nation , pp. 116f.
  2. ^ Graf-Stuhlhofer, Relationship between the German Academies , p. 144.
  3. ^ Bavarian Academy, in: Elite der Nation , pp. 94f, 105f.
  4. ^ Prussian Academy, in: Elite der Nation , p. 81.
  5. ^ Bavarian Academy, in: Elite der Nation , pp. 100-104 and 95.