Geschichte: Wissenschaft im Dritten Reich

Die heutige Sicht auf das Dritte Reich ist oftmals eine schwarz-weiße Sicht, die eine vollständige Hegemonie und Supremacy des Nationalsozialismus annimmt, die wiederum durch die Vielzahl der staatlichen Institutionen, die zur Kontrolle und Indoktrination der Bevölkerung eingerichtet wurden, geschützt wurden. Wenigen ist bekannt, dass es Nischen gab, in denen die mationalsozialistische Ideologie und der mit der Durchsetzung regelmäßig verbundene Terror sich nicht in dem Maße durchsetzen konnte, wie man das aus heutiger Sicht wohl erwartet hätte. Eine dieser Nischen ist die Wissenschaft, das Leben an den Universitäten des Dritten Reiches, das Richard J. Evans, der wohl informierteste aller Historiker, deren Gegenstand das Dritte Reich ist, wie folgt beschreibt:

“The Nazi Students’ League was not content with attempting to change the student experience through the institution of compulsory work camps, labour service and comradeship houses. It also tried to influence what was taught in the universities themselves. It made clear in 1936

that we … will intervene where the National Socialist view of the world is not made into the basis and the starting-point of scientific and scholarly research and the professor does not of his own initiative lead his students to these ideological points of departure within his scientific or scholarly material.

Nazi Party bosses never tired of repeating this view with varying degrees of emphasis – brutally open in the speeches of a rhetorical thug like Hans Frank, seemingly moderate and flexible in the addresses of a vacillating character like Bernhard Rust. The universities, it was clear, had to pursue the same aims as the schools and to put Nazi ideology at the centre of their teaching and research. New chairs and institutes were founded at a number of universities in racial studies and racial hygiene, military history and prehistory, while additional chairs in German Folklore were founded at half of all German universities between 1933 and 1945. Most of these new positions were the result of initiatives from the university rectors rather than the Education Ministry. In 1939, Institutes for Racial Studies existed at twelve of the twenty-three universities of Germany (…). The new foundations involved a considerable investment of money and prestige in subjects that had not been well represented at the top level in German universities before 1933.

These new areas of teaching and research were backed up in many universities by special lecture courses in these subjects, and in the political ideas of National Socialism, which in some universities were made compulsory for all students before they took their exams. In Heidelberg, the leading Nazi professor, Ernst Krieck, who became Rector in 1937, lectured on the National Socialist world-view. Similar lectures were held elsewhere. After the first flush of enthusiasm, however, most of the special lecture courses on Nazi ideology were dropped from university teaching, and by the mid-1930s, fewer than 5 per cent of lectures at German universities were overtly Nazi in their title and contents. Most professors and lecturers who had not been purged in 1933 – the great majority – continued to teach their subjects as before, with only marginal concessions to Nazi ideology, leading to repeated complaints by the Nazi students. These were echoed on many occasions by Nazi Party officials: the accusation levelled in 1936 by Walter Gross, head of the Racial Policy Office of the Nazi Party, of the ‘often extremely embarrassing efforts of notable scientists and scholars to play at National Socialism’, was far from untypical.
The Nazi Students’ League had attempted to force changes by creating an alternative to the existing teaching syllabus in the form of student-run, subject-specific groups (Fachschaften) that would provide a thoroughly Nazi education outside regular academic lectures and classes. But these had not been popular with the students, not least since they could not really afford to miss regular classes and so had to work twice as hard as before if they went along. They aroused the antagonism of lecturers and had been largely neutralized by the need to incorporate the teaching staff into their work, since the students mostly lacked the necessary knowledge. In many regular classes, too, relatively open discussion was still possible, and the lecturers were able to avoid Nazi ideology easily enough when they dealt with highly technical subjects, even in subjects like philosophy, where discussion of Aristotle or Plato allowed basic questions of morality and existence to be debated without recourse to the concepts and terminology of National Socialism.

The success of the Nazis in turning the universities to their own ideological purposes was thus surprisingly limited. […] In general, however, Nazi ideology itself was too meagre, too crude, too self-contradictory and in the end too irrational to have any real impact on teaching and research at the sophisticated level at which they were pursued in higher education.
Such a sweeping generalization needs to be qualified, of course; in some universities, Nazism made greater inroads among the professoriate than in others. Jena, Kiel or Königsberg, for example, counted as relatively strong centres of Nazi teaching and research while universities in Catholic regions remained less strongly affected. Bonn University, indeed, became something of a dumping-ground for unwanted professors compulsorily relocated from other centres of higher education, while the student body here remained dominated by Catholic and conservative groupings until their dissolution by the Nazis in the mid-1930s. In Bonn, only a minority of the posts – about 5 per cent in this case – was ever occupied by fanatical Nazis, another 10 per cent by committed supporters of the Party, and the rest by either superficial sympathizers, by the indifferent, or by academics who were opposed to the regime; the fact that nearly a quarter of Bonn’s 380 professors were hostile to Nazism was unusual, but the dominance of scholarly and scientific criteria in the majority of faculty appointments even after 1933 was not, nor was it in most other German universities either. Surveying the field in 1938, the Security Service of the SS drew understandably gloomy conclusions. ‘In almost all universities’, it complained, ‘there are complaints about the passive attitude of the lecturers, who reject any political or ideological work that breaks the narrow bounds of their specialism” (Evans, The Third Reich in Power, pp.302-305)

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