The Nazi Expulsion of Professors

Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Expulsion of the Professors from the Universities in Nazi Germany, 1933-1941


The expulsion of scholars from the countries of their birth has occurred repeatedly in the course of human civilization. Notable examples are the migration of the Greek scholars from Constantinople to Italy both before and after the capture of that city by the Turks in 1453, the expulsion of the Huguenots from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and their subsequent influence on the culture of the court at Brandenburg, Prussia. Another example is the expulsion and migration of the Russian scholars from the universities of that country during the Stalinist purges of the Academy of Sciences in 1937 when that institution was ...remodeled on Communist lines.”

These examples indicate that revolutionary movements frequently promote the flight of academicians. This occurs because such movements threaten the future of learning and scholarship according to the traditions of the affected civilization, or because the new masters of the subject civilization view intellectuals with suspicion and hostility and as possible centers of resistance.  Scholars are often identified with religious or political beliefs not acceptable to the conquerors, in which event these scholars leave or flee because of their religious, rather than their scholarly functions. The latter was undoubtedly the case with the Byzantine scholars who left Constantinople just before and after 1453 when the Moslems conquered that outpost of Christianity.

There were, of course, a number of Christian German professors who left their teaching posts for similar reasons after the Nazi assumption of power in 1933. Thus, a celebrated mathematician, said to be one of the few who at that time was able to keep pace with Albert Einstein, resigned his univer­sity post as protest against the removal of Jewish faculty members from all German universities. Another prominent member of the philosophic faculty of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin gave up his career as a protest against the practice of Hitlerian authorities of removing professors for any but scholastic reasons. Another professor at the University of Rostock demanded from the German government, which controlled all univer­sities, that he be given a clear guarantee that an oath requiring all faculty to support the principles of the National Socialist government leave unimpaired his freedom to seek and teach the truth. Despite his prominence in his field, he was ousted from his position.

Still others left because they would not subject their conscience to the dictates of the National Socialist ideologies as preached by the govern­ment. Since all German professors were public employees, responsible to the Minister of Science, Art and Public Education at Berlin, the following letter of resignation is a good example of the motivation of those who left voluntarily.


May 5, 1933

To:    The Minister for Science, Art and Public Education, Berlin

I hereby advise the Minister for Science, Art and Public Education that I am unable, for the time being, to continue my lectures. I have the honor of adding these reasons:

Since I have always adhered to the tradition of German Humanism; and since these traditions have now been abandoned at the Prussian universities to an extent and in a manner not known heretofore; and since the University and its affiliates have ceased to function as fighters for its very ideals; and since I have been asked to make sacrifices of conscience by way of my official duties which I cannot view as valid in the light of German traditions, I consider my­self presently deprived of the opportunity to administer my teaching post in a sensible fashion.

It is my hope to give a more detailed statement of my views at another occasion.



This letter was sent by Professor Karl Reinhardt of the faculty of law at the University of Frankfurt am Main to the government. However, the number of letters supporting the Nazi policy of “Gleichschaltung” far exceeded the stand taken in the above example. In fact, the evidence indicates that most of the former “Humanists” became “Nazis” almost over­night and hastened to swear allegiance to their new masters.

Such evidence is visible through a brief review of some of the writings of German professors of the 1930’s. Particular emphasis should be given to the views of the professors of law because the German government clothed many of its acts of persecution in a weird legalism as it sought to undergird its expulsion of Jewish and other professors from the universities with a pseudo— legalistic literature which the law professors readily endorsed in Nazi—style commentaries. The following excerpts from the writings of some prominent German professors highlight the widespread acceptance of the Nazi regime, not only among the law faculties, but also in all academic circles.

In 1933, Professor Ernst Forsthoff, a lawyer by profession, wrote as follows: “The great political names of modern times are related to the politics of domestic affairs: Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Stalin. What has happened so far is annunciation and prophecy, not finality and fulfillment. A new era has erupted, a new Europe is being created. No European people is capable of escaping the law of these times. The European peoples must fulfill the 19th Century in a true National state or disintegrate.” A year later, Otto Koellreutter, another professor of law suddenly interpreted the purposes of a legal education in the following manner: . . . The education and schooling of the young jurist in the German leader—state [Führerstaat] must be placed on a different basis.

I know that many will be appalled by my contention that political education must constitute the A and 0 of the young jurist in the leader—state, while legal—technical training must take second place and can only have meaning upon that basis. The jurist in the German leader—state must first be a political man because the idea of the state and the idea of justice, politics and law are only variations of the expression of the people’s unity. . .What we need is only the political, national socialist [Nazi] man. To educate him in the spirit of the ‘Führer’ and to contribute thereby building blocks to the foundation of the German leader—state, that seems to me to be today’s most urgent task for all German professors. Heil Hitler.”

While this type of knee—bending and “kow—towing” to a ruthless dictator may appear in the main as an effort to hold one’s job, the following excerpt from a German academic journal exhibits far more than that; namely an unreal, pseudo—religious invocation which one would hardly expect from an academician trained in the German tradition of free inquiry and scientific humanism.

         “… the Italians showed their leader their gratitude for his success in saving them from Bolshevism and confusion in that they call him [Mussolini] a ‘gift from God’ and honor him accordingly. At one time, the Jews, honored their Savior and Healer as the ‘Son of God.’ For the German soul it would be appropriate to envisage in the ‘Führer’ a hero and guiding light who leads the German soul from the depths into the light, and shows it the way to its Walhalla, to God the Father by living as an example to his brethren in the true Gothic manner, allowing them help to help themselves, so that all Germans can become brothers before God the Father. . . . The gothic soul becomes embodied in a great ‘Führer,’ who becomes the savior of his nation in their need. He feels his calling to Gothesize his people and knows with the eye of genius the way which leads to the nation. This way is now Politics: National and Cultural politics. . .

Many, many more examples of a similar nature are available to indicate the manner in which the Hitlerian cult replaced genuine scholarship. Further, it is also evident that the Nazi Measures against Jewish professors were welcomed and abetted by some of their non—Jewish colleagues, many of whom hastened once more to endorse the actions of the Nazi fanatics with pseudo—scholarship such as the following which was written in 1933, some years before all German universities were made completely “Judenrein”:  

… leadership as a total life process is only possible on the basis of existential similarities of a kind as it develops from the mutuality of race, history and national fate. When these prerequisites are absent, then an orderly community must limit itself to outer discipline . . folk is a community which rests upon a similarity of kind and similarity of being. This similarity emerges from a similarity of race and national fate. The political nation grows from the final unity of the will which develops from a consciousness of kind. Consciousness of kind and national relationship becomes realistic pri­marily in the ability to discern differences in types and to distinguish friends from enemies. Thus, it is of particular importance to recognize differences of kind where it is not easily recognizable through membership in a foreign nation, as in the Jew who attempts to develop the illusion of a similarity of kind and membership in a people by his active participation in cultural and economic affairs. The rebirth of the German people had to make short shrift of this deception, and take from the Jews the last hope of living in Germany under any other circumstances than in the knowledge of their typological difference, that is, with the recognition to live as a Jew.

Humanity is categorized into a large number of typologically different peoples. Between these peoples there are friendships and enmities. Typological distinctions do not therefore mean enmity——they only become enmities when typological differences and existential differences touch upon the living space, or the peoplehood, the spiritual living space of a nation. That is why the Jew became an enemy, without regard to his good or bad intentions, good or bad beliefs; and that is why he had to be made harmless.”

Other German professors called Jews “roaches,” held that so—called foreign races had no legal status, that concentration camps were a legitimate exercise of power and that Jews were unproductive and no room could be found for them in any German setting. Innumerable examples of similar views can be found and documented, so that there seems little doubt that the prepon­derance of German professors who made any comment on Berlin’s policies, favored the Nazis and furthered the aims of the movement.

It therefore becomes necessary to explain how the tradition of German humanism, embodied in the concepts of “Lernfreiheit und Lehrfreiheit,” was so readily abandoned by professors who themselves became persecutors of their colleagues and perverters of the very principles they once professed.



In 1922, the famous German economist and sociologist, Max Weber, wrote an essay entitled, “Wissenschaft als Beruf.”  Here he put his finger, ten years before Hitler came to power, on one of the major reasons for the eventual displacement of the scholar by Nazi demagogues as pro­ponents of academic values and goals. Without reference to the Nazis or any other political party, Weber revealed how the value void arose which would permit totalitarian dictators and other fanatics to impose their iron rule over the universities.

In our time,” Weber wrote, “the internal situation, in contrast to the organization of science as a vocation, is first of all conditioned by the facts that science has entered a phase of specialization previously unknown and that this will forever remain the case. Not only externally, but also inwardly, matters stand at a point where the individual can acquire the sure consciousness of achieving something truly perfect in the field of science only in case he is a strict specialist.”

Weber went on to show how in the course of over—specialization the individual scientist and the academic community as a whole, even including the social sciences and philosophy, became more and more isolated from one another. The relationship between scientific findings to political, ethical and cultural values became matters of individual value orientation and personal decision. No unified, or even systematic explanation of the connection between that which is, i.e., objective science, arid that which ought to be, i.e., human values, was developed even in theology. Thus, in the realm of individual decision making, the arbitrariness of the demagogue became the decisive voice. Where scientists would not, or could not develop a basic orientation, dictators did. In fact, Weber pointed inerrantly to the possibility, that the very academicians who had lost any sense of philosophical orientation and idealism, would welcome the political unity which the Nazi system later provided. Therefore, the “political University” seemed to attract many German professors including the world— famous philosopher Martin Heidegger who, in 1933, delivered a speech entitled “Die Idee der Politischen Universität.”  Here Heidegger stated:  “The National Socialist revolution is not merely the taking over of an already existing power in the state by another party sufficiently large to do so, but this revolution means a complete revolution of our German existence . . . Heil Hitler!”

It is likely that this wish to replace the loss of unifying values with the power of the state totally overlooked the fact that science itself rests on value assumptions which such a state had to destroy; that is, free inquiry, critical examination of all ideas, independence of investiga­tion and investigators from force or threat of force and total devotion to truth regardless of consequences. How German professors overlooked these values became apparent when, in 1933, Heidegger and eight of his colleagues published an “Oath of Allegiance of the Professors of the German Universities and High Schools to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist State.”

In addition to this loss of value orientation and the wish to find support instead from governmental sources, the evidence suggests that Nazi attitudes were well entrenched in the German universities even before the 1933 takeover and that many professors were receptive to Fascist views because they themselves had taught and disseminated such views in the past. Thus Wilhelm Grau could truthfully admit at the opening of the Frankfurt Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question: “. . . The institute acknowledges its indebtedness to the methodical critical school which has been developed in German scholarship in the last hundred years and has enhanced Germany’s reputation in the world as well as to the great comprehensive force in exposition which the best and most gracious German scholars possessed.”

Such prototypes of Nazi attitudes were particularly common in the field of history. In an exhaustive study, entitled “German Historians and the Advent of the National Socialist State,” Oscar Ramman concludes “that the German historians, save for a republican minority, needed little ‘coordination.’ The Germany of the future which most historians had visioned and wished for approximated in many fundamental respects the Nazi state of 1941. . .

A good review of these visions and wishes is given by Professor Iggers, who writes: “. . . it is difficult to escape the thought that the political ethics of historicism in its recognition of the rights of the state and its denial of minimal universal norms of political behavior contributed in a significant way to breaking down the barriers against totalitarian aims in Germany.”

Iggers’ view is supported by quotation from several important German writers. The venerable historian Friedrich Meinecke (never a Nazi) argued that the human psyche occupies the central point in history and that this psyche was “determined not by reason or understanding but by will.” There­fore, “Meinecke’s book . . . becomes a hymn to the beneficient triumph of unreason in modern consciousness. This emphasis on the irrationality of values is found even in the works of Luther who argued that “there is no power but God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Elsewhere, Luther commented on “The Harlot Reason.” From such a view, Luther con­cluded that the Christian owes absolute obedience to the state which repre­sents the will of God. An extension of this type of teaching is found in Meinecke’s “belief in the central role of the state in human culture and in [the fact that] the spiritual character of political power was not merely a question of scholarly approach but a matter of profound religious conviction.”

Meinecke therefore remained convinced that German nationalism was right, even after the catastrophe of Nazism and the Second World War. Believing that “no basic conflict exists between the power interests of the state and the principles of ethics he concluded that ‘the state could do no wrong in any fundamental sense as long as it followed its own judgement.          Interestingly enough, this comes from an historian who “abhorred” the Nazis even while participating in developing the intellectual groundwork upon which the totalitarian ideology could flourish. The rejection of reason was a thread running through centuries of German philosophy. This became particularly acute with the rise of the industrial age when reason was believed to be a mere critical instrument which hindered the creative and productive aspects of life. As the writer Wilhelm Stapel put it:

“Feelings become colder, imagination becomes weak, passion loses power and instinct becomes thin and unsure, as reason prevails. The remedy was believed to be the development of a state founded on nature, folk society, community and religion.

This attitude, which we term anti—intellectualism, is related to religious pietism. Thus Leibniz is quoted to the effect that “not only through the human naturale of reason, but also through instinct we find innate truths.” The nineteenth century historian, Johann Gottfried Herder, also denied the rational in history. Basic to his position were two concepts. First, that all values are historic and individual and second that history is a benevolent process. In other words, there are

no universally valid values but only such values as grow out of the spirit of nations. In turn, they are viewed as the only relatively stable centers in history. Consequently, Herder taught German historians to believe that an objective approach to history is not possible since "all that has grown naturally or historically is good.” This, of course, includes the nation which “has its center of happiness within it.”

Following the defeat of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806, which stimulated nationalism, the German attitude toward history developed the following three major concepts: “First, that all values and rights were of historic and national origin and that alien institutions could not be transplanted to German soil. Second, Fichte’s view that Germans are an original nation that, unlike others, had not lost touch with the original genius transmitted through its speech and thirdly Humboldt’s Memorandum on a German Constitu­tion in which Humboldt implies that in following its own interests the state acts not only in accordance with a higher morality than that represented by private morality, but also in harmony with the basic purposes of history.”

Thus, Iggers argues that “the fatal weakness of classical German historicism rested in its aristocratic bias. [Making] German historians and political theorists . . . willing to view the state as an ethical institu­tion whose interests were in the long run in harmony with freedom and morality.” This attitude led German liberal historians to prefer the state and its interests over the interests of political liberty for the individual.

The publication in 1924, nine years before the Hitler regime took power, of Lenard’s “England and Germany at the Time of the Great War” is another example. As a Nobel Prize winner in physics before World War I, Lenard’s views were quite influential. He not only believed that “England nearly always was a political monster” but also that Albert Einstein practiced “Jewish physics” which somehow differed from “German physics.” Similar views were held by the famous German physicist Johannes Stark, the zoologist Golt, the theologian Hirsch, the art historian Pinder, the surgeon Sauerbruch and countless others. It is most essential to recall that these men were not only the most famous and outstanding scholars in their fields in the world, but also that all of them held these views before the Nazi government destroyed the Weimar republic. “. . . It would be the easiest thing in the world to extend this long list of highly respectable guild scholars who fell in line with Nazism. But the names that have appeared in the preceding pages certainly prove one thing: that national socialism was in no way alien to German universities at the time of Hitler’s advent.”44

That national socialism was well entrenched in the universities before 1933 was also owing in part to the movement called “Germanophilism.” This movement in German intellectual circles began early in the nineteenth century, became Machiavellian in outlook centering upon the Weltanschauung that regarded the State “as an instrument of power which had no higher purpose than itself, a system of domination of men over men based upon force. . .”

Exponents of such views were the historian, Leopold van Ranke (1795—1886), Otto von Gierke (1841—1921), a renowned legal historian, and Erich Brandenburg, another historian, who wrote in 1917, that the state “does not exist to protect the interests of its citizens, it is rather the power organization of a people. . .

Germanophilism also expressed itself in the prepos­terous belief that Teutonic civilization could be divorced from interdepen­dence upon other civilizations, a view which was taught at the University of Göttingen by Professor Lagarde in the second half of the nineteenth century. This view later culminated in the Wotan—cult revivals of such writers as Felix Dahn and Ernst von Wildenbruch who wished to replace Christianity with the “God of the Germans.”          We meet such views again in the utterances of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, who pro­claimed in 1941 that “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.” Moreover Hitler himself told the former president of the German senate, Rauschning that “. . . one is either a Christian or a German. One cannot be both.” Further examples of Germanophilism can be found in the racial views of Langbehn, supported by a Jena philosophy professor, Eucken, as early as 1890 and the anti—democratic effusions of the anti—Semitic Frantz who in 1874 published “National Liberalism and Jewish Domination.” To this could be added an endless procession of both well known and lesser known professors and writers who influenced German academic thought for four generations before Hitler. In view of the foregoing, it becomes evident that the vast majority of the professors who left Germany from 1933 to 1941 were expelled by force because the government objected to them, rather than the reverse.



Almost immediately upon assuming power on January 30, 1933 Hitler and the Nazi party began to use a variety of laws as means of enforcing their views within Germany. In fact, the use of law from the Nazi point of view, accompanied even the most brutal of Nazi acts so that in Nazi theory even the later mass murders in Auschwitz and Buchenwald were given the stamp of legality.


It is therefore not surprising that the government passed a law as early as April 7, 1933 designed to exclude from the German Civil Service and hence from all universities, those persons who in the view of the Nazi party were unfit to hold office. This “Law for the Reconstruction of the Professional Civil Service”, specifically excluded from employment by the government all members of the Communist party or any “Communist Front”; all persons who in the opinion of Nazi party officials might in the future become active in either Marxist or democratic politics and persons whose past political behavior indicated that they might be politically unreliable and “do not guarantee that they would in all events stand up for the Nazi Party and the German State.” To this was added all “Non—Aryans,” i.e., Jews. Since the word “Jew” had a special meaning in the Nazi vocabulary, it is well to quote here Paragraph 3 of the law of November 11, 1933 which constituted the enabling act permitting the execution of the “Law for the

Reconstruction of the Professional Civil Service.” According to this act, published in the Reichsgesetzblatt, Part I, page 195: “Non—aryans are those who descend from non—aryan, particularly Jewish parents or grand­parents. It is sufficient, if one parent, or one grandparent is not an aryan. . . .“ In 1935 this law was further amended by the decree of November 11, 1935 in which the term “Jude,” was expanded to mean “whosoever, at the time of the passage of this law was married or later becomes married to a Jew, whosoever descends from the marriage of any Jew in the sense of the Law of November 11, 1933 with reference to the protection of German blood and German honor and whosoever was born illegitimately to a Jew in the sense of that law. Consequently it is evident that German professors, expelled for being Jewish, were frequently not Jews by religion or cultural

association. Hence, Jews were persons so defined by the pseudo— anthropological standards of Nazi belief. Therefore, a good number of the professors who later migrated to the United States did not consider them­selves Jews and were not so considered by anyone other than Nazis. “For example, one academician had to flee because he was the grandson of a niece of Felix Mendelssohn and hence a ‘non—aryan.’ Another, . . . because his wife’s grandmother was Jewish.”

As a consequence of these policies the dismissals of professors at German universities began in earnest with the academic year of 1934—35. In that year, 1,145 professors were dismissed or pensioned early. These constituted 14.3% of the previous year’s faculty at all German universities.    By the beginning of the following fall semester, 16% of the original 1934—35 faculty had been dismissed. By 1938 this figure had risen to 33% and by 1939 to 45%.

This meant, of course, that a considerable number of vacancies had to be filled in the universities if these were to function at all. This was done by appointing “reliable” persons, that is, Nazis. An excellent example of the anxiety with which the German government rid itself of professors who did not suit them was the field of International Law. This discipline, heavily influenced by Jews, had an international character by the very nature of its interest and taught therefore, matters objectionable to Fascist doctrine. Thus, in the four years subsequent to the Nazi assumption of power in January, 1933, 1,145 professors of International Law were compelled to retire or were dismissed outright. This constituted a total of 16% of the 7,000 professors in this field.

Since the laws allowing these dismissals were so vague that they could be applied almost at random, the very few female professors were dismissed simply because the Nazi system was opposed to the presence of women in institutions of higher learning, regardless of religion, political belief or “race”.

Sometimes, even professors who tried to appease the government by writing in a pro—Nazi vein were dismissed. Thus, Professors Kraus and Verdross were dismissed from the University of Berlin despite their belated efforts to write favorable comments on the recent legislation.



The consequences of these dismissals for the professors were generally severe and tragic. Some few found other employment in Germany. Specialists in chemistry, physics and other natural sciences were on occasion given positions by private industry, depending however, on their “political reliability” and on the assumption that they were not considered “suspicious by the local “Gauleiter,” i.e., county boss of the Nazi party.          Jewish professors, regardless of their field, were not employable anywhere, since all Jews, according to the laws and regulations of the period were forced out of all employment only to be forced into labor gangs, imprisoned in concentration camps and finally murdered if still in German—controlled territory.

Non—Jewish professors whose specialties did not have industrial potential were often forced to find employment in entirely new fields of endeavor, cut off entirely from their former colleagues, students and friends. Their isolation was made all the worse by the heartless dictatorial policies of the government and not merely as a consequence of their removal from educational and research activities. The Nazi regime persecuted even those who were seen in the company of “suspicious” persons, i.e., dismissed professors, particularly in small college towns where those who survived the purge did not dare deal with the dismissed group lest they too become “involved.” Thus the social life of the unemployed professors suffered severely. Consequently, a number committed suicide owing to loneliness, inability to have access to libraries and separation from students, friends and colleagues. This was particularly the case with men who were in the prime age group of 40 to 60, in the midst of their greatest productivity. Perhaps the best evidence for the decline of intellectual powers of these professors was the fact that after World War II there were hardly any manuscripts waiting for publication by those who had been deprived of their positions. Evidently, the loss of the structural relationships associated with the prestige and honor accruing to a German professor also led to a severe loss of functions ordinarily associated with academic life.

Jewish professors were of course also in physical danger, especially so after the adoption of the German government’s “Final Solution” plan. Although announced by Hitler on January 30, 1939, it actually had begun as early as 1933 and stepped up with particular ferocity on November 9—10, 1938 when a “carefully organized pogrom against the Jewish population throughout Germany was carried out. . .

After the “Kristallnacht,” 1938, it became obvious that the German government meant to rid themselves of all German Jews and all other Jews in countries that the government planned to occupy. Later, this plan was changed to mass murder. While the truth of this intention was not documented until after World War II, a good number of German professors of the so—called “Jewish” category as well as those actually professing Judaism, long suspected this intention because many of their colleagues were arrested, imprisoned in concentration camps and murdered there. That these murders were well known to many segments of the population is undeniable since the Nazi Storm Troopers often visited the widows or families of the murdered men and gave them a box of ashes; the victim in a cremated state. In addition, some of the concentration camp prisoners were released before the beginning of the war, if they could prove that they were to be admitted to another country and had the money to leave Germany forth­with. Consequently, it was obvious to all but the most unrealistic Jews what lay in store for them in case of a war, which seemed inevitable after Hitler reduced the Munich Agreement of 1938 to a scrap of paper by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, for non—Jewish professors dismissed by the government there appeared to be no choice but spiritual death or emigration. For those whom Berlin regarded as Jews, the choice was death or emigration. 

While an enormous amount of evidence exists to prove that this estimate was in fact correct, and that the systematic killing of “Non—Aryans” and others was in fact carried out by the German government, it suffices to mention the names of just a few professors murdered by the Nazis, to indicate that neither accomplishment nor age protected anyone thus marked for death.

Thus, the octogenarian Greek scholar, Otto Lenel, professor at the University of Freiburg, and his 80 year old wife, were killed in the concentration camp of Gurs, France. The famed professor of law Karl Neumeyer at the University of Munich, author of “Das Internationale Verwaltungsrecht” and other important works, was murdered in 1941 after having been expelled from his position and forbidden to so much as enter a library. The same fate befell Professor Friedrich Weissler of the University of Magdeburg, who was arrested for joining the Christian Church and trampled to death in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. An unending list of such brutalities is available. Nevertheless, at the time of the perpetration of these crimes a good number of people outside of Germany, and in fact, some inside Germany, would not believe that the Nazi regime had actually begun to carry out the genocide which is now a matter of historical record.

Shalom u’vracha.

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