German universities under the Nazis

Historian article

By A.D. Harvey, published 26th April 2021

In this article A.D. Harvey draws out the influence that Nazism and Nazi practices had on German universities and their staff. He explores how some university professors were active members of the party while others saw a chance of advancement by becoming conduits of the Nazi ideas. Finally he considers the impact his may have had on places of learning and potentially open thinking.

After the Second World War the Allied Control Commission, which ruled occupied Germany, published 44 volumes of ‘Accounts of Investigations and Advances Made by German Scientists’, covering the period 1933-1945, but these years cannot be counted as one of the more heroic epochs in the history of German higher education. Universities were amongst the institutions that experienced the greatest upheaval during the Nazi era. About one in four – some authorities claim one in three – of German academics lost their jobs, some on account of their left-wing political affiliations but at least two-thirds because they were Jewish. From an institutional perspective perhaps the most interesting aspect of this academic purge and the resultant wave of promotions to fill the ensuing vacancies is how the university teachers who weren’t dismissed handled the situation, and the first thing to be noted is that only one politically unexceptionable, non-Jewish academic lost his job because he protested...

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