What was the attitude of the Scientific community when Hitler accessed power?

What was the attitude of the Scientific community when Hitler accessed power?

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What was the attitude of the scientific community when Hitler accessed power, between 1933 and 1939 ? Did the scientists boycotted the meetings (if any ?) in Germany ?

Update: I don't imagine that the whole "scientific community" had one unified reaction. I'm looking for any concrete examples of scientists that declined to attend a meeting in Germany, or on the other side, scientists who have said that boycotting a meeting was worthless.

You should read about the Gleichschaltung, the Nazi attempt to take control of the entire German society. They managed to suppress most visible oppositon, which also applied to the sciences.

  • The Nationalsozialistischer Deutsche Dozentenbund organized university lecturers.
  • The Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund organized Teachers.

Some scientists were or became Nazis, many went along with them, a few emigrated.

I am aware of two Nobelists in physics becoming enthusiastic nazis (Stark and Lenard); perhaps not insignificantly they were from an older generation, pre-relativity. On the other hand Heisenberg's devotion to nazism I think is not clear. There is at least one quote which makes him sound fairly sympathetic to the cause.

In math there were numerous nazis some of whom betrayed Jewish mentors although some tried to help despite being nazis. Hilbert, a man whose position was pretty safe was certainly not a nazi and when asked by a nazi functionary about math in Gottingen, said, there is really no math at all -- this was after many top mathematicians had been forced out.

I would say that other fields were similar with scientists on both sides.

An Agreement with the Catholic Church

In 1933, almost 40% of Germany’s population was Roman Catholic. As a minority in a country with a Protestant majority, Catholics had always felt vulnerable to accusations that they were not “true Germans” because of suspicions that they “took orders from Rome.” Over the years, they had protected their rights by organizing and supporting the Catholic Center Party. Now, as the Nazis were outlawing opposing political parties (see reading, Outlawing the Opposition), Catholics had to decide whether to continue to support the party.

Church leaders and clergy held a range of opinions about National Socialism. Some Catholic leaders welcomed Hitler’s call to “overcome the un-Germanic spirit” and feared that “atheistic communism” was more of a threat to the Catholic Church than the Nazis were. Others opposed the Nazis. According to historian Doris Bergen, “Many German Catholic clergy were initially suspicious of Nazism. They saw Nazi ideas as anti-Christian, especially the emphasis on race and blood and the obvious disrespect for human life . . . some priests had refused to administer the sacrament of communion to church members in Stormtrooper or SS uniforms." 1 Some who opposed the Nazis also urged great caution they were fearful of attacks on priests and nuns. That concern prompted officials of the Vatican to discuss with Hitler the possibility of an agreement: the Church would pledge to abstain from political activity in Germany in exchange for the Reich’s promise not to persecute the Catholic Church and its members.

As word of these talks spread, Edith Stein wrote an urgent letter to the pope. Stein, born a Jew, had converted to Catholicism in 1922 and had become a nun and a respected Catholic educator. In her letter, she argued:

Everything that happened [in Germany] and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself “Christian.” For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of fearful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ [the Roman Catholic Church] to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? . . . Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? 2

Pope Pius XI did not respond to Edith Stein, nor did his successor, Cardinal Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939. As for the Nazis, they considered her a Jew despite her conversion to Christianity she was eventually murdered in a death camp as part of the Holocaust.

In July 1933, Hitler and Pope Pius XI signed a concordat, or treaty. Historian Fritz Stern explains:

On the face of it, the Vatican had scored a great triumph. No government under Weimar had been willing to sign such a concordat, which would recognize the principal rights of the church—rights that presumably would render it immune from the kind of persecution it had suffered [in the past]. By the terms of the concordat the church renounced all political activities and in turn the state guaranteed the right to free worship, to circulate pastoral epistles, to maintain Catholic schools and property. The Vatican had reason to be satisfied: Catholic rights had been put on a new basis and at the same time a regime had been strengthened that seemed to correspond to the Vatican’s sense that Mussolini and Hitler were indispensable bulwarks against Bolshevism.

Hitler had even more reason to be satisfied. The concordat was his first international agreement, and it vastly enhanced his respectability in Germany and abroad. A great moral authority had trusted his word. But did the Vatican . . . really believe that National Socialism would abide by the concordat, was there really much likelihood that the regime would leave untouched a rival organization with its own dogmas and with such sweeping power over education? 3

In the months and years after the concordat was signed, the Nazis regularly violated the agreement by shutting down some Catholic organizations, confiscating church property, interfering with Catholic newspapers, and imprisoning or murdering clergy and other Church leaders. But the pope did not openly criticize the Nazis until 1937. By then it was too late. Roman Catholic opposition at this point was limited to isolated individuals who could easily be removed from their positions and lacked the support of their Church. According to Bergen: “The Concordat pulled the rug out from under potential Catholic opposition in Germany. How could parish priests criticize a chancellor who had been recognized by their pope?" 4

Structure of the German Government

At the end of World War I, the existing German government under Kaiser Wilhelm II collapsed. In its place, Germany’s first experiment with democracy, known as the Weimar Republic, commenced. One of the new government’s first actions was to sign the controversial Treaty of Versailles which placed blame for WWI solely upon Germany.

The new democracy was primarily composed of the following:

  • The president, who was elected every seven years and vested with immense powers
  • The Reichstag, the German parliament, which consisted of members elected every four years and based on proportional representation—the number of seats was based on the number of votes received by each party and
  • The chancellor, who was appointed by the president to oversee the Reichstag, and usually a member of the majority party in the Reichstag.

Although this system put more power in the hands of the people than ever before, it was relatively unstable and would ultimately lead to the rise of one of the worst dictators in modern history.

What was the attitude of the Scientific community when Hitler accessed power? - History

Adolf Hitler
Mein Kampf

In 1923 Adolf Hitler was arrested for attempting to overthrow the government in Munich. His National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazi party) was still relatively small, and he used his trial to attract national attention. In due course he was convicted and sentenced to prison while there he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), outlining his political ideas. Mein Kampf was not taken seriously at first, but it includes many of the ideas the Nazis put in practice in the 1930s and 1940s. -smv

Volume One, Chapter Six: "War Propaganda"

<1>The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses' attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.

<2>The whole art consists in doing this so skillfully that everyone will be convinced that the fact is real, the process necessary, the necessity correct, etc. But since propaganda is not and cannot be the necessity in itself, since its function. . . consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, and not in educating those who are already educated or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect. . . .

<3>The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. The fact that our bright boys do not understand this merely shows how mentally lazy and conceited they are. . . .

<4>The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. In this way the result is weakened and in the end entirely cancelled out.

<5>Thus we see that propaganda must follow a simple line and correspondingly the basic tactics must be psychologically sound. For instance, it was absolutely wrong to make the enemy ridiculous, as the Austrian and German comic papers did. It was absolutely wrong because actual contact with an enemy soldier was bound to arouse an entirely different conviction, and the results were devastating for now the German soldier, under the direct impression of the enemy's resistance, felt himself swindled by his propaganda service. His desire to fight, or even to stand film, was not strengthened, but the opposite occurred. His courage flagged.

<6>By contrast, the war propaganda of the English and Americans was psychologically sound. By representing the Germans to their own people as barbarians and Huns, they prepared the individual soldier for the terrors of war, and thus helped to preserve him from disappointments. After this, the most terrible weapon that was used against him seemed only to confirm what his propagandists had told him it likewise reinforced his faith in the truth of his government's assertions, while on the other hand it increased his rage and hatred against the vile enemy For the cruel effects of the weapon, whose use by the enemy he now came to know, gradually came to confirm for him the 'Hunnish' brutality of the barbarous enemy, which he had heard all about and it never dawned on him for a moment that his own weapons possibly, if not probably, might be even more terrible in their effects. . . .

<7>The function of propaganda is . . . not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.

<8>It was absolutely wrong to discuss war-guilt from the standpoint that Germany alone could not be held responsible for the outbreak of the catastrophe it would have been correct to load every bit of the blame on the shoulders of the enemy, even if this had not really corresponded to the true facts, as it actually did. . . .

Volume One, Chapter Ten: "Causes of the Collapse"

<9>The easiest and hence most widespread explanation of the present misfortune is that it was brought about by the consequences of the lost War and that therefore the War is the cause of the present evil.

<10>There may be many who will seriously believe this nonsense but there are still more from whose mouth such an explanation can only be a lie and conscious falsehood. . . . Didn't these apostles of world conciliation . . . . glorify the benevolence of the Entente, and didn't they shove full blame for the whole bloody struggle on Germany? . . . Will you claim that this was not so, you wretched, lying scoundrels?

<11>It takes a truly Jewish effrontery to attribute the blame for the collapse solely to the military defeat. . . .

<12>The foremost connoisseurs of this truth regarding the possibilities in the use of falsehood and slander have always been the Jews for after all, their whole existence is based on one single great lie, to wit, that they are a religious community while actually they are a race - - -and what a race! . . .

[The text continues, asserting a connection between Jewish businessmen and the process of industrialization and modernization.]

<13>In proportion as economic life grew to be the dominant mistress of the state, money became the god whom all had to serve and to whom each man had to bow down. More and more, the gods of heaven were put into the corner as obsolete and outmoded, and in their stead incense was burned to the idol Mammon. . . .

<14>Unfortunately, the domination of money was sanctioned even by that authority which should have most opposed it: His Majesty the Kaiser acted most unfortunately by drawing the aristocracy into the orbit of the new finance capital. . . . It was clear that once a beginning had been made in this direction, the aristocracy of the sword would in a short time inevitably be overshadowed by the financial aristocracy. Regarded purely from the standpoint of blood, such a development was profoundly unfortunate: more and more, the nobility lost the racial basis for its existence, and in large measure the designation of 'ignobility' would have been more suitable for it.

<15>A grave economic symptom of decay was the slow disappearance of the right of private property, and the gradual transference of the entire economy to the ownership of stock companies.

<16>Now for the first time labor had sunk to the level of an object of speculation for unscrupulous Jewish business men the alienation of property from the wage-worker was increased ad infinitum. The stock exchange began to triumph and prepared slowly but surely to take the life of the nation into its guardianship and control. . . .

<17>What food did the German press of the pre-War period dish out to the people? Was it not the worst poison that can even be imagined? Wasn't the worst kind of pacifism injected into the heart of our people at a time when the rest of the world was preparing to throttle Germany, slowly but surely? Even in peacetime didn't the press inspire the minds of the people with doubt in the right of their own state, thus from the outset limiting them in the choice of means for its defense? Was it not the German press which knew how to make the absurdity of 'Western democracy' palatable to our people until finally, ensnared by all the enthusiastic tirades, they thought they could entrust their future to a League of Nations? . . . Did it not ridicule morality and ethics as backward and petty-bourgeois, until our people finally became 'modern'? . . . Did it not belittle the army with constant criticism, sabotage universal conscription, demand the refusal of military credits, etc., until the result became inevitable?

<18>The so-called liberal press was actively engaged in digging the grave of the German people and the German Reich. We can pass by the lying Marxist sheets in silence to them lying is just as vitally necessary as catching mice for a cat their function is only to break the people's national and patriotic backbone and make them ripe for the slave's yoke of international capital and its masters, the Jews. . . .

<19>And what did the state do against this mass poisoning of the nation? Nothing, absolutely nothing. A few ridiculous decrees, a few fines for villainy that went too far, and that was the end of it. Instead, they hoped to curry favor with this plague by flattery, by recognition of the 'value' of the press, its 'importance,' its 'educational mission,' and more such nonsense - - -as for the Jews, they took all this with a crafty smile and acknowledged it with sly thanks. . . .

<20>This poison was able to penetrate the bloodstream of our people unhindered and do its work, and the state did not possess the power to master the disease. . . . For an institution which is no longer resolved to defend itself with all weapons has for practical purposes abdicated. Every half-measure is a visible sign of inner decay which must and will be followed sooner or later by outward collapse.

<21>I believe that the present generation, properly led, will more easily master this danger. It has experienced various things which had the power somewhat to strengthen the nerves of those who did not lose them entirely. In future days the Jew will certainly continue to raise a mighty uproar in his newspapers if a hand is ever laid on his favorite nest, if an end is put to the mischief of the press and this instrument of education is put into the service of the state and no longer left in the hands of aliens and enemies of the people. But I believe that this will bother us younger men less than our fathers. A thirty-centimeter shell has always hissed more loudly than a thousand Jewish newspaper vipers-so let them hiss!

Volume One, Chapter Eleven: "Nation and Race"

<22>Any crossing of two beings not at exactly the same level produces a medium between the level of the two parents. This means: the offspring will probably stand higher than the racially lower parent, but not as high as the higher one. Consequently, it will later succumb in the struggle against the higher level. Such mating is contrary to the will of Nature for a higher breeding of all life. The precondition for this does not lie in associating superior and inferior, but in the total victory of the former. The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man. . . .

<23>The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. . . .

<24>Nature looks on calmly, with satisfaction, in fact. In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. And struggle is always a means for improving a species' health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development.

<25>No more than Nature desires the mating of weaker with stronger individuals, even less does she desire the blending of a higher with a lower race, since, if she did, her whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, night be ruined with one blow.

<26>Historical experience offers countless proofs of this. It shows with terrifying clarity that in every mingling of Aryan blood with that of lower peoples the result was the end of the cultured people. North America, whose population consists in by far the largest part of Germanic elements who mixed but little with the lower colored peoples, shows a different humanity and culture from Central and South America, where the predominantly Latin immigrants often mixed with the aborigines on a large scale. By this one example, we can clearly and distinctly recognize the effect of racial mixture. The Germanic inhabitant of the American continent, who has remained racially pure and unmixed, rose to be master of the continent he will remain the master as long as he does not fall a victim to defilement of the blood. . . .

<27>If we pass all the causes of the German collapse in review, the ultimate and most decisive remains the failure to recognize the racial problem and especially the Jewish menace.

<28>The defeats on the battlefield in August, 1918, would have been child's play to bear. They stood in no proportion to the victories of our people. It was not they that caused our downfall no, it was brought about by that power which prepared these defeats by systematically over many decades robbing our people of the political and moral instincts and forces which alone make nations capable and hence worthy of existence.

<29>The lost purity of the blood alone destroys inner happiness forever, plunges man into the abyss for all time, and the consequences can never more be eliminated from body and spirit.

Volume Two, Chapter Fourteen: "Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy"

<30>We National Socialists must hold unflinchingly to our aim in foreign policy, namely, to secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled on this earth. And this action is the only one which, before God and our German posterity, would make any sacrifice of blood seem justified: before God, since we have been put on this earth with the mission of eternal struggle for our daily bread, beings who receive nothing as a gift, and who owe their position as lords of the earth only to the genius and the courage with which they can conquer and defend it and before our German posterity in so far as we have shed no citizen's blood out of which a thousand others are not bequeathed to posterity. The soil on which some day German generations of peasants can beget powerful sons will sanction the investment of the sons of today, and will some day acquit the responsible statesmen of blood-guilt and sacrifice of the people, even if they are persecuted by their contemporaries.

<31>And I must sharply attack those folkish pen-pushers who claim to regard such an acquisition of soil as a 'breach of sacred human rights' and attack it as such in their scribblings. One never knows who stands behind these fellows. But one thing is certain, that the confusion they can create is desirable and convenient to our national enemies. By such an attitude they help to weaken and destroy from within our people's will for the only correct way of defending their vital needs. For no people on this earth possesses so much as a square yard of territory on the strength of a higher will or superior right. Just as Germany's frontiers are fortuitous frontiers, momentary frontiers in the current political struggle of any period, so are the boundaries of other nations' living space. And just as the shape of our earth's Furnace can seem immutable as granite only to the thoughtless soft-head, but in reality only represents at each period an apparent pause in a continuous development, created by the mighty forces of Nature in a process of continuous growth, only to be transformed or destroyed tomorrow by greater forces, likewise the boundaries of living spaces in the life of nations. . . .

<32>But we National Socialists must go further. The right to possess soil can become a duty if without extension of its soil a great nation seems doomed to destruction. And most especially when not some little negro nation or other is involved, but the Germanic mother of life, which has given the present-day world its cultural picture. Germany will either be a world power or there will be no Germany. And for world power she needs that magnitude which will give her the position she needs in the present period, and life to her citizens.


Romanticism proper was preceded by several related developments from the mid-18th century on that can be termed Pre-Romanticism. Among such trends was a new appreciation of the medieval romance, from which the Romantic movement derives its name. The romance was a tale or ballad of chivalric adventure whose emphasis on individual heroism and on the exotic and the mysterious was in clear contrast to the elegant formality and artificiality of prevailing Classical forms of literature, such as the French Neoclassical tragedy or the English heroic couplet in poetry. This new interest in relatively unsophisticated but overtly emotional literary expressions of the past was to be a dominant note in Romanticism.

Romanticism in English literature began in the 1790s with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the second edition (1800) of Lyrical Ballads, in which he described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” became the manifesto of the English Romantic movement in poetry. William Blake was the third principal poet of the movement’s early phase in England. The first phase of the Romantic movement in Germany was marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the mystical, the subconscious, and the supernatural. A wealth of talents, including Friedrich Hölderlin, the early Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jean Paul, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schelling, belong to this first phase. In Revolutionary France, François-Auguste-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand, and Madame de Staël were the chief initiators of Romanticism, by virtue of their influential historical and theoretical writings.

The second phase of Romanticism, comprising the period from about 1805 to the 1830s, was marked by a quickening of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, as attested by the collection and imitation of native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works. The revived historical appreciation was translated into imaginative writing by Sir Walter Scott, who is often considered to have invented the historical novel. At about this same time English Romantic poetry had reached its zenith in the works of John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A notable by-product of the Romantic interest in the emotional were works dealing with the supernatural, the weird, and the horrible, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and works by Charles Robert Maturin, the Marquis de Sade, and E.T.A. Hoffmann. The second phase of Romanticism in Germany was dominated by Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, Joseph von Görres, and Joseph von Eichendorff.

By the 1820s Romanticism had broadened to embrace the literatures of almost all of Europe. In this later, second, phase, the movement was less universal in approach and concentrated more on exploring each nation’s historical and cultural inheritance and on examining the passions and struggles of exceptional individuals. A brief survey of Romantic or Romantic-influenced writers would have to include Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, and Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë in England Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, Stendhal, Prosper Mérimée, Alexandre Dumas, and Théophile Gautier in France Alessandro Manzoni and Giacomo Leopardi in Italy Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov in Russia José de Espronceda and Ángel de Saavedra in Spain Adam Mickiewicz in Poland and almost all of the important writers in pre-Civil War America.

How 2 Pro-Nazi Nobelists Attacked Einstein’s "Jewish Science" [Excerpt]

Reprinted with permission from Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler, by Philip Ball. The University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 2014, Philip Ball. All rights reserved.

Anti-Semitism did not just deprive German physics of some of its most valuable researchers. It also threatened to prescribe what kind of physics one could and could not do. For Nazi ideology was not merely a question of who should be allowed to live and work freely in the German state&mdashlike a virus, it worked its way into the very fabric of intellectual life. Shortly after the boycott of Jewish businesses at the start of April 1933, the Nazified German Students Association declared that literature should be cleansed of the &ldquoun-German spirit&rdquo, resulting on 10 May in the ritualistic burning of tens of thousands of books marred by Jewish intellectualism. These included works by Sigmund Freud, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Marx, Stefan Zweig and Walter Benjamin: books full of corrupt, unthinkable ideas. Into some of these pyres, baying students threw the books of Albert Einstein.

It was one thing to say that art was decadent&mdashthat its elitist abstraction or lurid imagery would lead people astray. And the &ldquodepraved&rdquo sexuality saturating the pages of Freud&rsquos works was self-evidently contaminating. But how could a scientific theory be objectionable? How could one even develop a pseudo-moralistic position on a notion that was objectively right or wrong? Besides, hadn&rsquot Einstein&rsquos relativity been proven? What did it even mean to say that science could be subverted by the &ldquoJewish spirit&rdquo?

It would be absurd, of course, to suppose that most of the book-burners had given these questions a moment&rsquos thought. The simple fact was that Einstein was a prominent Jew, and his thoughts therefore fit for the bonfire. But Einstein&rsquos theory was attacked on racial grounds. This assault came not by asinine ideologues in the party whose knowledge of science extended no further than a belief in fairy tales about &ldquocosmic ice,&rdquo nor from individuals on the scientific fringe seeking official approval and support. It was orchestrated by two Nobel laureates in physics, who devised a full-blown thesis (it can&rsquot be dignified by calling it a theory) on how stereotypical racial features are exhibited in scientific thinking. They were Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, and they wanted to become the new Führers of German physics.

The story is ugly, sad, at times comic. It illustrates the complicated interactions between science and politics in Nazi Germany, for although one might expect the &ldquoAryan physics&rdquo (Deutsche Physik) of Stark and Lenard to have been welcomed by the National Socialists, its reception in official circles was decidedly mixed, and in the end it was ignored. The case of Deutsche Physik reveals how much of what went on in the Nazi state depended on how you played your cards rather than on what sort of hand you held. It shows how the German scientists&rsquo pretensions of being &ldquoapolitical&rdquo did not prevent politics from infecting scientific ideas themselves, and almost overwhelming them. Perhaps most importantly, the story explodes the comforting myth that science offers insulation against profound irrationality and extremism.

Against relativity
Lenard&rsquos anti-Semitism festered for years before the Nazi era, and as was the case with many other haters of Jews his antipathy was fuelled by a sense of exclusion and injustice. The fact is that Lenard was a rather unremarkable man: an excellent experimental scientist in his heyday, but of limited intellectual depth, and emotionally and imaginatively stunted. When circumstances contrived to carry him further than his talents should have permitted, he was forced to attribute his shortcomings to the deceptions and foolishness of others. This combination of prestige and deluded self-image is invariably poisonous. There is no better example than Lenard to show that a Nobel Prize is no guarantee of wisdom, humanity or greatness of any sort, and that, strange as it may seem, the award can occasionally provoke feelings of inadequacy.

Lenard was given the prize in 1905 for his studies of cathode rays, the &ldquoradiation&rdquo emitted from hot metals. They were manifested as a glow that emerged from a negatively charged metal plate (cathode) inside a sealed, evacuated &ldquocathode-ray tube&rdquo and made its way to a positively charged plate. Directed on to the glass walls of the tube &ndash or as researchers discovered, on to sheets of particular minerals &ndash the cathode rays stimulated bright fluorescence. Like his mentor Heinrich Hertz at the University of Bonn, Lenard at first believed these rays to be fluctuations in the ether&mdashlike light, as it was then conceptualized. But while J. J. Thomson, director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, noted in 1897 that this was &ldquothe almost unanimous opinion of German physicists&rdquo, he had results that implied otherwise. Thomson showed that cathode rays have negative electric charge, being deflected by electric and magnetic fields, and he concluded that they were in fact streams of particles. They were given the name proposed some years earlier by the Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney for the smallest possible unit of electrical charge: electrons. As Lenard put it, electrons are the quanta of electricity.

Lenard discovered how to enable cathode rays to escape from the vacuum chamber in which they were created, so that they could be examined more closely. He also investigated the photoelectric effect the expulsion of electrons from metals irradiated with ultraviolet light &ndash and discovered that the energy of these electrons did not depend on the intensity of the light but only on its wavelength. When Einstein explained this result in 1905 in terms of Planck&rsquos quantum hypothesis, Lenard felt that his discovery had been stolen. That bitterness deepened when Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the photoelectric effect. This was not Lenard&rsquos only early source of resentment. He felt that he should have discovered X-rays before Wilhelm Röntgen, and was sure that he would have done so if the jealousies of senior professors had not denied him better opportunities. And hadn&rsquot he offered Röntgen advice about constructing the cathode-ray tube used for this discovery, which Röntgen didn&rsquot even have the good grace to acknowledge?

But if the German professors selfishly and unjustly hid their intellectual debts, the English were worse. Thomson should have given him more credit for his work on the photoelectric effect, for instance. This, however, was no more than one could expect from a nation of vulgar materialists&mdashLenard would surely have sympathy with Napoleon&rsquos remark about shopkeepers&mdashwho knew nothing of the heroic, selfless Germanic Kultur. James Franck later claimed that, when he was fighting at the front in the First World War, Lenard wrote to him expressing his hope that the defeat of the English would make amends for their never having cited him decently.

An operation for an illness of the lymph nodes around 1907 left Lenard less able to work, and contributed to his difficulties in keeping up with the latest developments in physics. Because he was not mathematically adept, he could not get to grips with relativity or quantum theory. As a result, he decided they were nonsense. The fact that this nonsense&mdashwhose premier architect was Einstein&mdashwas being accepted and acclaimed by physicists all over the world must therefore be the result of a conspiracy. And conspiracies and cabals were the specialty of Jews.

Einstein was the embodiment of all that Lenard detested. Where Lenard was a militaristic nationalist, Einstein was a pacifistic internationalist. Einstein was feted everywhere, while Lenard&rsquos great merits seemed to have been forgotten. Worse, Einstein was celebrated most of all in England! And he hawked a brand of theoretical physics that frankly baffled Lenard. How convenient, then, that Einstein was a Jew, so that all of these deplorable traits could be labeled Semitic. (Of course, many of Einstein&rsquos supporters were not Jewish, but as we shall see, Lenard and his ilk later contrived to make them &ldquohonorary Jews&rdquo.) Lenard decided that relativity was a &ldquoJewish fraud&rdquo and that anything important in the theory had been discovered already by &ldquoAryans.&rdquo 1

Lenard criticized the theory of relativity as early as 1910, but it was not until the 1920s that his attacks began to incorporate explicitly racial elements. He started to develop the notion that there was a Jewish way of doing science, which involved spinning webs of abstract theory that lacked any roots in the firm and fertile soil of experimental work. The Jews, he said, turn debates about objective questions into personal disputes. Ironically, this supposed preference of &ldquoAryans&rdquo for hale and hearty experiment went hand in hand with the kind of Romantic mysticism that infuses Nazi philosophy, such as it is. Lenard approved of the animistic Naturphilosophie of Goethe and Schelling, the belief in a spirit that animated all of nature. This pervasive soul of nature was the wellspring of science itself&mdashand only Aryans, said Lenard, understood this: &ldquoIt was precisely the yearning of Nordic man to investigate a hypothetical interconnectedness in nature which was the origin of natural science.&rdquo

Lenard persisted in believing in the light-bearing ether that Einstein had rejected, saying cryptically that this elusive medium &ldquoseems already to indicate the limits of the comprehensible&rdquo. He lamented the encroachment of technology in modern life: an expression, he said, of the kind of materialism that infected both Communism and the Jewish spirit, the twin enemies of German greatness. Materialistic natural science had eclipsed the &ldquospiritual sciences,&rdquo giving rise to the &ldquoarrogant delusion&ldquo that humankind can achieve the &ldquomastery of nature.&rdquo &ldquoThat influence has been strengthened by the all-corrupting foreign spirit permeating physics and mathematics, &ldquo he wrote&mdash&ldquoforeign&ldquo here meaning, of course, Jewish.

The enthusiasm of the Nazi regime for this brand of mysticism and pseudoscience has been well documented, although perhaps not enough has yet been made of the resonances between fascism, Naturphilosophie, the cultish mysticism of Rudolf Steiner 2 and anthroposophy, and the cozy certainties of some New Age beliefs. Reified worship of nature (as opposed to respect for it) has always teetered on the brink of a fundamentally fascist ideology. Several Nazi leaders, including Hitler and Himmler, endorsed the ridiculous &ldquocosmic ice&ldquo theory of Austrian engineer Hans Hörbinger, which asserted that ice is the basic ingredient of the universe. Lenard&rsquos musings on racial science and the &ldquospirit of nature&rdquo do not really rise above this level&mdashthey show that, even by the time of his Nobel award, he had nothing more significant to contribute to science, but had indeed become its opponent.

When, in the 1920s, Einstein began to experience racially motivated criticism and abuse in the German popular and academic press, Lenard joined in gleefully. At a meeting of the Society of German Scientists and Physicians in Bad Nauheim in September 1920, Einstein and Lenard were pitched head to head in a debate about relativity.

This confrontation followed an attack on Einstein at a public meeting held in Berlin the previous month, allegedly organized by the Working Group of German Scientists for the Preservation of Pure Science. There was in fact no such body, it having been concocted for the purpose by one Paul Weyland, a far-right fantasist without any real scientific training, who deplored Einstein&rsquos theory on the sort of &ldquocommon sense&rdquo grounds that cranks still choose to employ today. Weyland presaged this event with a letter in the Berlin newspaper Tägliche Rundschau recycling old accusations that Einstein had plagiarized the insights of other scientists. The meeting itself took place in the capacious Berlin Philharmonic, where Weyland&rsquos rant was accompanied by the distribution of anti-Semitic pamphlets and swastika lapel pins.

Weyland had announced that his lecture was the first in a series of twenty that would lay bare the deceptions of relativity. In the event, only one other followed, by the equally anti-Semitic applied physicist Ludwig Glaser. The whole shabby affair aroused wide indignation: the letters of support for Einstein that appeared subse­quently in the pages of the Berlin press were by no means all from his colleagues. Planck wrote to Einstein characterizing Weyland&rsquos assault as &ldquoscarcely believable filth.&rdquo He and others feared that such things would drive Einstein to emigrate from Germany.

Einstein did remain in Berlin, but he was evidently unsettled. He went himself to Weyland&rsquos meeting and, somewhat against his instincts and with rare misjudgment, he decided to respond publicly to the attack. His letter in the Berliner Tageblatt did at least contain a dash of humor to undercut the risk of pomposity, being titled &ldquoMy Answer to the Anti-Relativity Theoretical Co. Ltd.&rdquo He admitted that the feeble criticisms of his theory did not really warrant a reply, but also pointed out that the real complaint of Weyland and his acolytes was that Einstein was &ldquoa Jew of liberal international bent.&rdquo Einstein also mentioned Lenard (who supported Weyland), saying &ldquoI admire Lenard as a master of experimental physics [but] his objections to the general theory of relativity are so superficial that I had not deemed it necessary until now to reply to them in detail.&rdquo

The exchange at Bad Nauheim was no more illuminating, and certainly no more conciliatory. After the Berlin affair, this Einstein Debatte was widely anticipated, and the hall in which it took place was packed to the galleries, not just with scientists but with journalists and curious onlookers&mdashand Weyland&mdashwho must have been thor­oughly bored and mystified by the four hours of technical talks that preceded it.

Accounts of the debate differ. Some newspapers reported that it was conducted calmly and objectively, but others stated that Planck, who as the society&rsquos president was obliged to be the moderator, was forced on several occasions to intervene to prevent hecklers from interrupting Einstein. In any event, neither Einstein nor Lenard was pleased with the outcome. Einstein was highly agitated afterwards&mdashhe later admitted his regrets at &ldquolosing myself in such deep humor­lessness&rdquo&mdashand his wife Elsa seems to have suffered something of a nervous breakdown. For his part, Lenard felt compelled to resign from the DPG in protest at the event, and he fixed a sign outside his office at Heidelberg announcing that the society&rsquos members were not welcome within.

Physics for Hitler
Lenard was not the only influential scientist in the anti-Einstein camp. In 1919 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Johannes Stark for his discovery of the effect of electric fields on the energies of photons emitted from atoms as electrons jump between their quantum orbits. 3 In an electric field, the energy of an electron in a particular orbit splits into a whole series of different energies: rungs of a new quantized energy ladder. Stark&rsquos discovery of this effect was of some importance, since it revealed a further level of quantum granularity in the structure of the atom. Nevertheless, the 1919 award was perhaps one of the Nobel Committee&rsquos least auspicious decisions, for it inflated Stark&rsquos already ponderous sense of self-importance and entitlement.

Stark&rsquos situation was so close to Lenard&rsquos that it is no wonder the two men forged a firm alliance. Like Lenard, Stark was an experimentalist befuddled by the mathematical complexity that had recently entered physics. He was another extreme nationalist whose right-wing views had been hardened by the First World War. He too felt that Einstein had stolen his ideas, this time over the quantum-mechanical description of light-driven chemical reactions. (Stark never in fact fully accepted quantum theory, even though an understanding of the &ldquoStark effect&rdquo depended on it.) And being a mediocrity who struck lucky, he found himself being passed over for academic appointments to which he was convinced he had the best claim. He attributed this to the self-interest of a &ldquoJewish and pro-Semitic circle&rdquo centered on the (decidedly Aryan) Planck and Sommerfeld, the latter being the alleged cabal&rsquos &ldquoenterprising business manager.&rdquo 4 This circle included most of Sommerfeld&rsquos students, not least Peter Debye, who was given the professorship at Göttingen in 1914 for which Stark had applied. Lenard&rsquos and Stark&rsquos enemies suggested that their definition of &ldquoJewish science&rdquo was more or less anything that the two physicists could not understand, and that they placed in the &ldquoJewish cabal&rdquo anyone who threatened to outclass them scientifically. But Einstein was undoubtedly perceived as the ringleader of the whole affair.

By 1922 the situation had deteriorated to such a degree that Einstein declined to speak at a session of the Society of German Scientists and Physicians in Leipzig, fearing that his life might be in danger. This wasn&rsquot paranoia. In June the Jewish foreign minister of the Weimar government Walther Rathenau, who Einstein knew well, was assassinated in Berlin by two ultra-nationalist army officers. Lenard had refused to lower the flag of his institute at Heidelberg as a mark of respect for the murdered minister, and as a result he had been dragged from his laboratory by an angry mob of students. Lenard narrowly escaped being thrown into the River Neckar, but the distressing ex­perience only deepened his anti-Semitism. When he was reprimanded by the university, he announced his resignation in disgust. He soon withdrew it when he discovered that the shortlist for his replacement consisted of two &ldquonon-Aryans&rdquo&mdashJames Franck and Gustav Hertz, 5 who had won the Nobel Prize together in 1925&mdashand an experimen­talist sympathetic to England, Hans Geiger, who had worked with Rutherford in Manchester. In the end Lenard clung on at Heidelberg until 1929, when he was replaced by Walther Bothe. Lenard&rsquos colleagues made Bothe&rsquos life so miserable, however, that he moved to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. Lenard so dominated the physics institute at Heidelberg that it was named after him in 1935.

Laue spoke on relativity in Einstein&rsquos place at the 1922 conference, earning the abiding enmity of the &ldquoAryan physicists.&rdquo His audience was supplied with pamphlets distributed by Stark decrying this &ldquoJewish theory.&rdquo

When, in the following year, the National Socialists took up arms in Munich to openly challenge the complacent decadence of the Weimar government and free Germany from the Jewish stranglehold, Lenard and Stark recognized a kindred spirit and a hope for the future. In May 1924 they wrote an article called &ldquoThe Hitler spirit and science.&rdquo Hitler and his comrades, they said, &ldquoappear to us as God&rsquos gifts from times of old when races were purer, people were greater, and minds were less deluded&hellipHe is here. He has revealed himself as the Führer of the sincere. We shall follow him. The Nazi leader noted this pledge of support, and he and Rudolf Hess visited Lenard at home in 1926.&rdquo

Stark was in fact the author of his own exclusion from the academic community. Slighted by the opposition from his colleagues at Würzburg to his acceptance of a Habilitation thesis from his student Ludwig Glaser&mdashGlaser&rsquos study of the optical properties of porcelain was regarded as mere engineering, not true science&mdashStark petulantly resigned from his professorship in 1922. He set up a private laboratory in a nearby disused porcelain factory, using the money from his Nobel Prize to fund this industrial venture (which was against the Nobel Foundation&rsquos rules). At the same time he channeled his resentment against academia generally and theoretical physics in particular into a book called The Present Crisis in German Physics. Glaser, as we saw, had already embraced his mentor&rsquos philosophy and became a vocal propagandist of Aryan physics. He was appointed assistant to the undistinguished engineer Wilhelm Müller, Sommerfeld&rsquos politically favored successor at Munich (see page 103). But Glaser was so virulently racist that he became a liability and was subsequently moved out of harm&rsquos way to the fringes of the Reich&mdashPoland and then Prague&mdashwhere he thankfully fades from history.

By the late 1920s Stark&rsquos porcelain venture had failed, and he tried to regain an academic post but was repeatedly passed over in favor of more able candidates. When Sommerfeld opposed his application for a professorship at Munich, this confirmed in Stark&rsquos mind that Sommerfeld was a spider in the Jewish web.

How Aryans created science
For Stark and Lenard, the canker at the core of German physics was not merely the nepotism of the Jews and their lackeys, nor the obscure theories and unpatriotic internationalism of Einstein. The fundamental problem lay with a foreign and degenerate approach to science itself. The popular notion that science has a universal nature and spirit, they said, is quite wrong. In an article titled &ldquoNational Socialism and Science&rdquo, Stark wrote in 1934 that science, like any other creative activity, &ldquois conditioned by the spiritual and characterological endowments of its practitioners&rdquo. Jews did science differently from true Germans. Echoing Lenard&rsquos fantasy, Stark claimed that while Aryans preferred to pursue an experimental physics rooted in tangible reality, the Jews wove webs of abstruse theory disconnected from experience. &ldquoRespect for facts and aptitude for exact observation&rdquo, he wrote, reside in the Nordic race. The spirit of the German enables him to observe things outside himself exactly as they are, without the inter­polation of his own ideas and wishes, and his body does not shrink from the effort which the investigation of nature demands of him. The German&rsquos love of nature and his aptitude for natural science are based on this endowment. Thus it is understandable that natural science is overwhelmingly a creation of the Nordic&ndashGermanic blood compo­nent of the Aryan peoples.

Just look, Stark implores his readers, at all the great scientists whose portraits are presented in Lenard&rsquos Grosse Naturforscher (Great Investigators of Nature 1929): nearly all have &ldquoNordic&ndashGermanic&rdquo features (even, apparently, Italians like Galileo).

In contrast, the Jewish spirit in science &ldquois focused upon its own ego, its own conception, and its self-interest&rdquo. The Jew is innately driven to &ldquomix facts and imputations topsy-turvy in the endeavor to secure the court decision he desires&rdquo. Of course, the Jew can imitate the Nordic style to produce occasional noteworthy results, but not &ldquoauthentic creative work&rdquo. The Jew suppresses facts that don&rsquot suit him, and turns theory into dogma. He is a masterly self-publicist, courting and seducing the press and the public &ndash just look at Einstein.

What Germany needs, then, is a truly German, &ldquoAryan physics&rdquo (Deutsche Physik) that rejects the overly mathematical fabulations of relativistic physics in favor of a rigorously experimental approach. And in a formula calculated to ingratiate him to the new leaders, Stark adds that &ldquoThe scientist does not exist only for himself or even for his science. Rather, in his work he must serve the nation first and foremost. For these reasons, the leading scientific positions in the National Socialist state are to be occupied not by elements alien to the Volk but only by nationally conscious German men.&rdquo

While the Aryan physicists were incapable of mounting a credible assault on Einstein&rsquos relativity in scientific terms, Deutsche Physik offered a new line of attack: relativity threatened to undermine the very essence of the Germanic world view. Incorrectly claiming that rela­tivity &ldquosets aside the concept of energy&rdquo, the Nazi mathematician Bruno Thüring asserted that in this aspect one can see &ldquosomething concerning the soul, world-feeling, attitudes and racial dispositions&rdquo. Einstein, he said, is not the successor of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler (the canonical Nordic&ndashGermanic scientist) and Newton, but their &ldquodetermined opponent&rdquo:

&ldquoHis theory is not the keystone of a development, but a declaration of total war, waged with the purpose of destroying what lies at the basis of this development, namely, the world view of German man . . . This theory could have blossomed and flourished nowhere else but in the soil of Marxism, whose scientific expression it is, in a manner analogous to that of cubism in the plastic arts and the unmelodies and unharmonic atonality in the music of the last several years [&ldquodegenerate science&rdquo!]. Thus, in its consequences the theory of relativity appears to be less a scientific than a political problem.&rdquo

These ideas were noted and initially welcomed by Hitler. &ldquoThat which is called the crisis of science&rdquo, he wrote, &ldquois nothing more than that the gentlemen are beginning to see on their own how they have gotten on to the wrong track with their objectivity and autonomy. The simple question that precedes every scientific enterprise is: who is it who wants to know something, who is it who wants to orient himself in the world around him? It follows necessarily that there can only be the science of a particular type of humanity and of a particular age. There is very likely a Nordic science, and a National Socialist science, which are bound to be opposed to the Liberal&ndashJewish science, which, indeed, is no longer fulfilling its function anywhere, but is in the process of nullifying itself.&rdquo

Such declarations can scarcely leave one with an impression that the Nazis had much sympathy for &ndash or understanding of &ndash true science. But neither should they be read as some kind of official doctrine that guided the Nazi government&rsquos policy on scientific research. Frequently, Hitler&rsquos grandiose statements &ndash on this or other matters &ndash had as little real influence on the way affairs were conducted at the daily, prosaic level as do the proclamations of the Pope on the dealings of a local Catholic church. Indeed, Hitler purposely maintained a distance between his own views and edicts and their practical implementation. The actual response of the National Socialist authorities to Deutsche Physik was not uncritical acceptance but something rather more complex.

Deutsche Physik under the Nazis
The anti-Einstein activism of Stark, Lenard and their fellow travellers continued through the early 1930s. In 1931 a hundred scientists and philosophers contributed to a volume denouncing Einstein and his theories. A few supporters, such as Laue and Walther Nernst, defended him publicly against such onslaughts. But typically his champions would stick up for his theories while avoiding the delicate &ldquopolitical&rdquo matter of his Jewishness.

When Hitler became Reich chancellor, the Deutsche Physiker must have felt that their moment had come. And so it seemed &ndash at first. Stark was made president of the prestigious Physical and Technical Institute of the German Reich (PTR) in Berlin in 1933, giving him new pretensions of power. He announced that the PTR would thence­forth take charge of all German scientific periodicals, and at the meeting of the DPG in Würzburg in September 1933 it seemed to Laue that Stark was trying to anoint himself Führer of all German physics. In his opening address as chairman, Laue publicly challenged the Aryan physicists by making an implicit comparison between the theory of relativity and the condemnation of Galileo&rsquos Copernican theory by the Catholic Church. Invoking the (apocryphal) story that Galileo had muttered &ldquoeppur si muove&rdquo (&ldquostill [the earth] moves&rdquo) as he rose after kneeling to hear his sentence, Laue made it clear that Einstein&rsquos theory would remain true whatever his detractors might assert.

Here once more, Laue&rsquos courage in defying Nazi demagoguery and interference was very rare among the physicists. &ldquoTo all of us minor figures&rdquo, Paul Ewald wrote later, &ldquothe very existence of a man of Laue&rsquos stature and bearing was an enormous comfort.&rdquo His resistance was not without a certain panache: he was said never to go out of doors without carrying a parcel under each arm, since that gave him an excuse not to give the obligatory Hitler salute in greeting. Laue was one of the very few scientists in prominent positions to move beyond private grumbles and little acts of defiance into open admission of his contempt for the Nazis. And unlike Planck, he came to recognize that scientists could not remain &ldquoapolitical&rdquo. In 1933 he was among those who chided Einstein for his activism, warning him that &ldquopolitical battles call for different methods and purposes from scientific research&rdquo and that as a result scientists rarely fared well in that arena. But by and by he saw that one could not simply stand aloof from National Socialism. Indeed, he implied to Einstein that he stayed in Germany only because his loathing of the Nazis made him desperate to see their downfall. &ldquoI hate them so much I must be close to them&rdquo, he told Einstein during a visit to the United States in 1937. &ldquoI have to go back.&rdquo After the war, James Franck said that Laue &ldquowas not a daredevil, blinded against peril by vitality and good nerves he was rather a sensitive and even a nervous man who never under­estimated the risk he ran in opposing Nazidom. He was forced into this line of conduct because he could bear the danger thus incurred better than he could have borne passive acceptance of a government whose immorality and cruelty he despised.&rdquo

When we hear it said in defense of German physicists that not all men can be heroes, we should bear this remark in mind: it is not a matter of how strong your backbone is, but of how much your personal sense of morality can tolerate.

Thanks in considerable measure to Laue &ndash but perhaps still more to infighting among the National Socialists &ndash Stark&rsquos attempt to rule German physics came to nothing. He could, however, at least impose his views on the PTR, where he instigated the Führer principle and sacked all Jews from the advisory committee. The following year he was appointed president of the German Research Foundation, which controlled much of the funding for science, and he promptly withdrew funds for work in theoretical physics. (Because of a shift of political power, Stark fell from grace and was forced to retire from this post two years later, whereupon funds for theoretical physics were restored.)

Prompted by Goebbels&rsquo Ministry of Propaganda, in the summer of 1934 Stark wrote to all eleven of his fellow Nobel laureates in Germany asking them to sign a letter declaring that:

&ldquoIn Adolf Hitler we German natural researchers perceive and admire the savior and leader of the German people. Under his protection and encouragement, our scientific work will serve the German people and increase German esteem in the world.&rdquo

This quasi-religious statement found no takers, although the refusals were carefully crafted. Heisenberg, for example, told Stark that he agreed with the sentiments but felt it inappropriate for scientists to make public pronouncements on political matters. That was not just a convenient excuse but a genuine statement of belief, which cut both ways: Heisenberg seemed to apply it equally to Stark&rsquos infantile gesture and to questions of moral responsibility.

Stark and Lenard fretted about the KWG, which seemed to them to be decidedly lax about expelling its Jewish members &ndash no doubt, they were convinced, because it was dominated by an Einsteinian cabal. &ldquoFrom the beginning,&rdquo Lenard wrote in 1936, &ldquoit was a Jewish monstrosity with the purpose, entirely unknown to the emperor and his advisers, of enabling Jews to buy themselves respectability and of bringing Jews and their friends and similar spirits into comfortable and influential positions as &lsquoresearchers.&rsquo&rdquo Starting now to ramble inanely, Lenard proclaimed that the society&rsquos president Planck was &ldquoso ignorant about race that he took Einstein to be a real German,&rdquo doubtless because of the many theologians and pastors in Planck&rsquos family and their misguided respect for the Old Testament.

Stark and Lenard had hoped to set the society straight when Planck&rsquos first term of office came to an end in 1933: &ldquoto make something sensible of this completely Jewish business&rdquo, wrote Stark, &ldquowhich, as a start, must simply be pulled to pieces&rdquo. But Planck did not retire he stayed for a second term of office. When that was due to expire in March 1936, Stark felt sure he would be called upon as the new president. Inexplicably, he wasn&rsquot. (Bernhard Rust, who was now able to dictate the society&rsquos affairs at the Reich Education Ministry, distrusted Stark, who had aligned himself with Rust&rsquos political opponents in Nazi circles.) Well then, said Stark, it must be Lenard. Rust approved of that idea, but now Lenard himself declined, saying he was too old. No other successor was put forward, and meanwhile Planck stayed on.

It was a delicate moment, since the Aryan physicists weren&rsquot alone in regarding the KWG as ideologically suspect. After the society&rsquos twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations in January 1936, the Nazi news­paper Völkischer Beobachter called it a &ldquoplayground for Catholics, Social­ists and Jews&rdquo, while the SS journal Das Schwarze Korps had portrayed it as a &ldquorestricted circle&rdquo basking in elitist &ldquoaristocratic splendour&rdquo. Planck knew that Rust would not endorse a replacement who was too closely associated with Einstein, and would prefer someone known to be faithful to the party. The minister would also insist that the organiza­tion now adopt the Führer principle. But the KWG senate cannily identified a candidate who, as an industrialist, could retain some inde­pendence from political influence, while as a staunch patriot should be unobjectionable to the leaders: the chemistry Nobel laureate Carl Bosch. He was duly elected in 1937. But in place of the secretary Friedrich Glum, Rust appointed the Nazi official Ernst Telschow, who had some chemical training and had worked briefly under Otto Hahn. As Bosch was frequently plagued by illness, Telschow took over much of the society&rsquos practical business. Arguably this was no bad thing for the KWG, for Telschow was a canny administrator, able to form links with the Nazi regime that would benefit the society. One of those individuals who knew how to adapt to the prevailing political climate, Telschow was active in the (renamed) society after the war and was finally elected a senator in 1967.

While the KWG was not exactly Nazified in 1937, then, neither did it thenceforth mount any effective resistance to the wishes of the government. It expelled the remaining Jewish members, including Lise Meitner, even though she continued to work at Hahn&rsquos institute in Berlin.

White Jews
This outcome did not afford the Deutsche Physiker much satisfaction, and in 1937 Stark decided it was time to find another line of assault on his enemies in theoretical physics. Planck&rsquos influence was evidently waning, and now Stark found a new target: a young professor who was enjoying the fame that Stark so coveted and who had made quantum theory an even more impenetrable thicket of mathematical formalism, who supported Einstein&rsquos ideas, had been awarded a Nobel Prize at the absurdly premature age of thirty-one, and now looked about to be appointed as Sommerfeld&rsquos successor in Munich. Stark began a crusade against Werner Heisenberg.

Heisenberg had been in Stark&rsquos sights ever since he had refused to attend the rally of the National Socialist Teachers League in Leipzig in November 1933. On that occasion Stark hoped to agitate Heisenberg&rsquos students into protest, but Heisenberg defused the situation by inviting the leader of the local Nazi Students League to his house and persuading him that he was a trustworthy, albeit &ldquoapolitical&rdquo, professor. Emboldened by this victory, at the gathering of the Society of German Scientists and Physicians in Hanover in September 1934 Heisenberg defended relativity and quantum theory against Stark&rsquos accusations that they were speculative. There he even mentioned Einstein by name, earning him a reprimand from the Nazi chief ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.

But by 1935 Heisenberg was deeply disheartened by the political climate. His sense of patriotism and honor was disturbed after the Nuremberg Laws had removed the exemption from dismissal for Jewish veterans of the First World War. He had even risked damaging his reputation and prospects by registering that displeasure at a faculty meeting. His words of protest, however, show how the Nazis had already set the parameters of the debate: Heisenberg said he doubted &ldquothat the measures now being taken are consistent with the intention of the law, according to which front veterans also belong to the Volk community&rdquo. In other words, it was not the principle of an exclusive national community that he challenged, but who was selected for membership.

On that occasion Heisenberg had considered resigning (or so he claimed), but was dissuaded by Planck, who cautioned once again that this would be a futile dereliction of duty. &ldquoIt is to the future that all of us must now look&rdquo, the older man advised: they must hang on regardless, for Germany&rsquos sake. Like most of his peers, Heisenberg withdrew into physics. &ldquoThe world out there is really ugly&rdquo, he wrote to his mother, &ldquobut the work is beautiful.&rdquo

The immediate trigger for Stark&rsquos attack on Heisenberg in 1937 was a long-running dispute about the successor of Arnold Sommerfeld, who two years earlier had been due to retire from his professorship in Munich. It was no secret that Sommerfeld wanted Heisenberg to have the post, and it was said that the &ldquolist&rdquo of candidates submitted by the university to the Bavarian administration contained his name and no other.

Stark and Lenard hoped that Sommerfeld&rsquos departure could be used to free the Munich faculty from his baleful support of &ldquoJewish physics&rdquo. In an address at the new Philipp Lenard Institute for Physics in Heidelberg in December 1935, Stark called Heisenberg a &lsquospirit of Einstein&rsquos spirit&rsquo. This speech was printed in the January issue of the party periodical Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte. In February Heisenberg placed a response in the Völkischer Beobachter, although it was printed with a further comment from Stark. Concerned about the damage to his career and reputation, Heisenberg sought an audience with Rudolf Mentzel, Rust&rsquos deputy at the REM, at which he argued that theo­retical physics was important and needed to be defended against the diatribes of the Deutsche Physiker. Probably because of internal party politics rather than scientific judgement, Mentzel looked favourably on the appeal, but advised Heisenberg to send a letter to all German university physics professors asking if they took the same view. Together with Max Wien, a physicist at Jena, and Hans Geiger &ndash both carefully selected as experimentalists sympathetic to his cause &ndash Heisen­berg drafted the letter, which demanded that the attacks of Stark and Lenard should cease for the sake of Germany&rsquos international reputa­tion. Nearly all of the seventy-five professors who received the letter signed their approval.

Thus Stark had succeeded only in showing the REM that there was scarcely anyone else on his side. To make matters worse, he was forced to resign as head of the German Research Association in November 1936 after squandering its funds on a hare-brained idea to extract gold from the moors of southern Germany. But this apparent victory did little to improve Heisenberg&rsquos mood. Despite marrying in early 1937, he found himself mired in despair and gloom in Leipzig, apparently close to a breakdown and admitting that, when he was not with his new bride, &ldquoI now easily fall into a very strange state.&rdquo In March he was finally offered Sommerfeld&rsquos professorship, which he accepted but deferred until August. That turned out to be a mistake, because it gave Stark the chance to intervene again.

In July Stark published in Das Schwarze Korps a new, trenchant vili­fication of Heisenberg, along with others who colluded in the &ldquoJewish conspiracy&rdquo in physics without being Jews themselves. These people, he said, were &ldquoWhite Jews&rdquo&mdasha designation calculated to make them the legitimate targets of all the abuse previously heaped on the Jews themselves. Planck, Sommerfeld and their circle were denounced as &ldquobacterial carriers&rdquo of the Jewish spirit who &ldquomust all be eliminated just as the Jews themselves&rdquo. And none more so than Heisenberg, &ldquothis puppet of the Einsteinian &lsquospirit&rsquo in new [Weimar] Germany&rdquo. Even today, Stark claimed, the core of Heisenberg&rsquos students &ldquostill consists of Jews and foreigners&rdquo. The young pretender himself was the &ldquoOssietzky of physics&rdquo, implying that he was no less dangerous to German culture than the dissident Carl von Ossietzky who the previous year had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize&ndash and that Heisenberg, like Ossietzky, should therefore be in a concentration camp. A disgusted Peter Debye showed the article to the senate of the KWG, reporting that &ldquoit was condemned by everyone with whom I spoke&rdquo.

Heisenberg was now in a bind. He had to extricate himself from the &ldquoWhite Jew&rdquo accusation without appearing to distance himself from Einstein&rsquos &ldquoJewish&rdquo physics. His response was telling: it was not enough simply to defend his good character, he also sought official sanction from the state leaders. Thus he directed his appeal to the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, insisting that he must either have complete vindication at the highest level or he would resign and emigrate. He reminded the authorities that he had plenty of offers from abroad, in particular from Columbia University in New York. Having previously refused to &ldquodesert&rdquo Germany in the face of the Nazi excesses, he thus contemplated it, or at least threatened it, now to save his &ldquohonor&rdquo. As historian Paul Lawrence Rose argues, Heisenberg&rsquos counter-attack on Stark should not be interpreted as a rejection of Nazism or anti-Semitism it was driven by pride, anger, and fear for his reputation.

In cases like this, one needed to exploit personal connections for all they were worth. Heisenberg&rsquos mother was acquainted with Himmler&rsquos mother, and she argued her son&rsquos good character in a way that Frau Himmler would appreciate: as mother to mother. Frau Himmler promised that she would get her Heinrich to &ldquoset the matter back in order&rdquo. &ldquoThere are some slightly unpleasant people around Heinrich&rdquo, she admitted, &ldquobut this is of course quite disgusting. He is such a nice boy&mdashalways congratulates me on my birthday.&rdquo

Himmler, however, at first remained neutral. He simply requested a detailed response from Heisenberg to the accusations made by Stark, while at the same time ordering an investigation into Heisenberg&rsquos character. The Gestapo and SS bugged Heisenberg&rsquos house, placed spies in his classes, and questioned him on several occasions. This exhausting and frightening process finally resulted in a report that exonerated Heisenberg, portraying him as an &ldquoapolitical&rdquo scientist who was basically a good patriot with a positive attitude towards National Socialism. It explained that Heisenberg had initially been trained in &ldquoJewish physics&rdquo, but claimed that his work had become increasingly &ldquoAryan&rdquo. True, he did not show the antipathy towards Jews that one might hope for, but perhaps he would develop the proper attitude in due course.

Himmler received the report in the spring of 1938, but to Heisen­berg&rsquos immense frustration he did not act at once. Finally in July he was prevailed upon to write to Heisenberg, saying &ldquoI do not approve of the attack of Das Schwarze Korps in its article, and I have proscribed any further attack against you.&rdquo He invited Heisenberg to discuss the matter with him &ldquoman to man&rdquo in Berlin later in the year. The invita­tion was, despite Heisenberg&rsquos eagerness, never fulfilled, but the two men remained in cordial contact through the war. Given the other demands on Himmler&rsquos time, the attention he gave to this matter is in fact rather remarkable. Mark Walker attests that Himmler was very interested in science and considered himself something of a patron of scientists. A personal letter and invitation from Himmler was more than most of them might have expected.

It was nonetheless a ruthless kind of patronage. When Himmler explained his decision on Heisenberg to the head of the Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich, he wrote with icy pragmatism that &ldquoI believe that Heisenberg is decent and we cannot afford to lose this man or have him killed, since he is a relatively young man and can bring up the next generation.&rdquo Moreover, Himmler concluded with a bathetic indi­cation of his scientific ignorance, &ldquowe may be able to get this man, who is a good scientist, to cooperate with our people on the cosmic-ice theory&rdquo. To Heisenberg&rsquos good fortune, it seems he was never asked to give an opinion on the matter.

Himmler also added chilling words of advice in his letter of exon­eration to Heisenberg, saying &ldquoI would consider it proper, however, if in the future you make a clear distinction for your listeners between the recognition of the results of scholarly research and the personal and political attitude of the researcher.&rdquo In other words, Heisenberg would do well not to mention Einstein. He got the point, and obeyed. 6 He had already indicated that intention in a letter sent in March to Ludwig Prandtl, an expert in aerodynamics at Göttingen, who had tipped off Heisenberg that exoneration from Himmler was on its way:

&ldquoI never was sympathetic toward Einstein&rsquos public conduct . . . I will gladly follow Himmler&rsquos advice and, when I speak about the theory of relativity, simultaneously emphasize that I do not share Einstein&rsquos pol­itics and world view.&rdquo

Having been granted his wish to &ldquoset the record straight&rdquo with the guarantee of an article in Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft, the house journal of the Deutsche Physik movement, he pursued this concession doggedly over the next few years, again asking Himmler to intercede when difficulties arose. That his article, &ldquoEvaluation of the &ldquomodern theoretical physics&rdquo, was not actually published until 1943 rather defeated its original object. He consented therein to the usual compromise of acknowledging Einstein&rsquos discoveries while suggesting that they would have happened anyway: &ldquoAmerica would have been discovered if Columbus had never lived, and so too the theory of electrical phenomena without Maxwell and of electrical waves without Maxwell, for the things themselves could not have been changed by the discoverers. So too undoubtedly relativity theory would have emerged without Einstein.&rdquo

These accommodations and entreaties to the Nazis may seem hard to understand today. Could Heisenberg really have imagined, after an episode like Stark&rsquos attack, that things were going to get any better? That, if he could only &ldquoclear his name&rdquo, somehow the relationship of physics with the National Socialist state could be set back on track? But it was not naïve optimism that kept him bound to the Fatherland, but rather, &ldquoan unbreakable attachment to Germany [that] his entire life and upbringing had instilled in him&rdquo, as his biographer David Cassidy puts it. To Heisenberg, Cassidy says, &ldquoremaining in Germany was apparently worth almost any price, as long as he could continue to work and teach&rdquo. What is more, Heisenberg had developed a convic­tion that his own fate was tied to that of the whole of German physics if he left, nothing would remain. But as Cassidy points out, &ldquoby seeing himself in such a grandiose rationalization for remaining in Germany, he more easily succumbed to further compromises and ingratiation with the regime&rdquo.

In fact things really did improve eventually for Heisenberg, if not necessarily for German physics: by 1944 he was celebrated in Goeb­bels&rsquo weekly propaganda newspaper Das Reich as a &ldquoGerman national leader&rdquo. This only lends weight to Rose&rsquos accusation that &ldquoHeisenberg&rsquos notion of &ldquoresponsibility&rdquo as the acquisition of influence in Nazi circles was actually a rationalization of collaboration and of self-interest.&rdquo

What of the Munich post that had prompted Stark&rsquos assault? In that regard Stark was indirectly successful, preventing Heisenberg ever from becoming Sommerfeld&rsquos heir. The position fell foul of political wrangling between the REM, the SS, the Munich faculty and the Nazified University Teachers League, out of which Sommerfeld&rsquos replacement emerged on the eve of war in 1939, in the form of an undistinguished mechanical engineer named Wilhelm Müller, who opposed the &ldquonew&rdquo physics and would teach only the classical variety. When Walther Gerlach, an expert in quantum theory at Munich, complained to the dean of the university that no theoretical physics was now being taught there, he was curtly told that &ldquoIf you only understand theoretical physics to mean the so-called modern dogmatic theoretical physics of the Einstein&ndashSommerfeld stamp, then I must inform you that this will indeed no longer be taught at Munich.&rdquo

The wrong battle?
The battle fought within German physics in the 1930s was not that of apolitical scientists against the National Socialists, but of Einstein&rsquos supporters against Deutsche Physik. One might have expected the National Socialists to embrace a view of physics that discredited Jews, but they were not quite as foolish as that. Physics under the Nazis was never really hijacked by ideology, for the political leaders were primarily interested in practical outcomes and not academic disputes. An internal REM memo to Bernhard Rust on the controversy over &ldquoJewish physics&rdquo, probably sent by the ministry&rsquos undersecretary (who here seems concerned that the blundering Rust might make a fool of himself ), advised that &ldquoIn the case of a purely scientific dispute, in my opinion, the minister should keep himself out of it.&rdquo Until nuclear fission was discovered in 1938, the new theoretical physics was of little interest to the authorities, as it seemed to be largely irrelevant to the war preparations. And once atomic power looked possible, it was clear that the Aryan physicists&rsquo advocacy of practical experiment over abstract theory could not deliver results. Rather, it was evidently the proponents of &ldquoJewish&rdquo quantum theory and rela­tivity who truly understood the secrets of the atomic nucleus, and even the Nazis could see that they were the only ones likely to put the discoveries to good use.

Deutsche Physik also floundered through the political ineptitude of Stark and Lenard. Stark in particular was apt more to antagonize than to persuade the party officials. &ldquoHad he been less crazy&rdquo, science histo­rian John Heilbron comments laconically, &ldquohe would have been much more dangerous.&rdquo The Aryan physicists made wild blunders, but more incapacitating was their failure to appreciate that to get your way in Nazi Germany you needed to do more than regurgitate approved doctrines, prejudices and formulas. You needed to be able to manipulate the competing power blocs, to exploit the right contacts and forge useful alliances. Stark often backed the wrong horse&mdashhe had no more judgment in politics than he did in science.

As a result, the attempt of Deutsche Physik to take over the academic system failed. But its opponents had to tread a fine line, so that their defence of Einstein&rsquos theories did not risk endorsing his unpopular political views. So long as they agreed to avoid too explicit an acknowledgement of the architect of the theory of relativity, they could generally get their way. During the war Heisen­berg regularly omitted Einstein&rsquos name from the public lectures that he was asked to deliver to spread German culture in occupied territories. Indeed, historians Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker suggest that Deutsche Physik collapsed partly because it was rendered otiose by the compromises made by the mainstream physics commu­nity, which demonstrated, to the leaders&rsquo eventual satisfaction, &ldquotheir willingness and ability to help further the goals of National Socialism&rdquo.

The struggle against Deutsche Physik, although frustrating for the German physicists who rejected it, offered a convenient narrative after the war by supplying a criterion for partitioning physicists into those who were Nazified and those who resisted them. In this view, if you had opposed Aryan physics, you had in effect opposed the Nazis&mdashall the guilt of the National Socialist era could be transferred on to Lenard, Stark and their supporters. Better still, one could use this division to apportion scientific competence: the Aryan physicists were universally poor scientists, their opponents always proficient.

But the truth was that, while the dispute rumbled on through the late 1930s, the Nazis tightened their grip on German science regard­less. In some disciplines, such as chemistry, scientists fell into line in short order. In a few, such as anthropology and medicine, the collu­sion of some researchers had horrific consequences. Physics was another matter: just docile enough for its lapses, evasions and occa­sional defiance to be tolerated. The physicists were errant children: grumbling, arguing among themselves, slow to obey and somewhat lazy in their compliance, but in the final analysis obliging and dutiful enough. If they lacked ideological fervour, the Nazis were pragmatic enough to turn a blind eye. Their attitude is conveyed perfectly in a description of Ludwig Prandtl sent by the local Nazi coordinator (Kreisleiter) in Göttingen to his superiors in May 1937. As we saw, Prandtl had supported Heisenberg against Stark&rsquos attacks, and he had appealed to Himmler about the damaging effects on German science of the Deutsche Physiker attacks. The Kreisleiter&rsquos letter makes it clear how indifferent the Nazis were to such arguments, and how mean­ingless or even contemptible the notion of a &ldquoduty to science&rdquo was to them. All that mattered was whether the scientists were prepared to lend their efforts to mobilization of the Fatherland, which Prandtl did willingly:

&ldquoProf. Prandtl is a typical scientist in an ivory tower. He is only interested in his scientific research which has made him world famous. Politically, he poses no threat whatsoever&hellipPrandtl may be considered one of those honorable, conscientious scholars of a bygone era, conscious of his integrity and respectability, whom we certainly cannot afford to do without, nor should we wish to, in light of his immensely valuable contributions to the development of the air force.&rdquo

In particular, Lenard began the myth that the theory of relativity had been devised by the Austrian physicist Friedrich Hasenöhrl &ndash a story still popular with Einstein&rsquos cranky detractors today.

Steiner has been defended against the charge that he held Nazi sympathies, and certainly he does not seem to have been popular with the National Socialists. They were likely, however, to find little cause for complaint in this comment of his: &ldquoJewry as such has outlived itself for a long time. It does not have the right to exist in the modern life of nations. That it has survived, nevertheless, is a mistake by world history, of which the consequences were bound to come.&rdquo

Because electrons in atoms do not in fact follow planet-like orbits around the nucleus but are instead distributed in diffuse clouds, their quantum states are more properly called orbitals.

The accusation is all the more risible when one considers that Sommerfeld was himself somewhat prejudiced. He commented to Wilhelm Wien in 1919 that the &ldquoJewish-political chaos&rdquo of the new Weimar Republic was making him &ldquomore and more of an anti-Semite&rdquo&mdashthe kind of casually bigoted statement that would raise no eyebrows at that time.

Hertz, the nephew of Lenard&rsquos mentor Heinrich Hertz, had a Jewish grandfather, which made him non-Aryan according to the 1933 rules. Although his war service exempted him from dismissal at the Berlin Technische Hochschule, he left anyway in 1934 to take up a lucrative offer from the electrical engineering company Siemens, where during the war he worked on the separation of chemical isotopes for nuclear research. As an experimental physicist he was looked on favorably by Stark, an illustration of how the Aryan physicists tended to pick and choose who was and wasn&rsquot &ldquoJewish in spirit.&rdquo

In 1942 Sommerfeld was about to publish some lectures on physics when he received a letter from Heisenberg saying (as Rudolf Peierls later recalled it) that &ldquoa political adviser and close friend of mine, also a physicist, would like to call to your attention certain guidelines which are now in use, that is, we note, the publisher noticed that you mentioned Einstein&rsquos name four times in your lectures, and we wondered if you couldn&rsquot get by with mentioning him a little less often?&rdquo Sommerfeld complied, retaining just one of the references. &ldquoI must mention him once&rdquo, his conscience obliged him to write back. Peierls adds that &ldquoafter the war the names were quickly put back in&rdquo.


Philip Ball is an editor at Nature. He also writes a regular column for Chemistry World.

Religion in Nazi Germany

Catholic priests offer a lukewarm Nazi salute alongside NSDAP leaders including Goebbels (far right)

Nazi attitudes toward religion and churches in Germany were complicated and often contradictory. Though unwilling to disband or directly attack major churches, the Nazis moved to curtail their political activities through agreements, pressure or persecution. As a consequence, German churches and their leaders found themselves in a difficult and dangerous position.

Hitler’s religion

Contrary to popular opinion, Adolf Hitler was not an atheist. As a boy, Hitler was introduced to the Catholic faith by his devoutly religious mother. He was educated in a Catholic school and served as a choirboy in his local cathedral.

Hitler drifted away from the church after leaving home. There is conflicting evidence about his religious views in adulthood. According to those closest to Hitler, he continued to identify as a Catholic and made regular financial contributions to the church – but he never attended Mass or received communion.

Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, contains many references to a divine creator. Hitler’s early speeches often mentioned God and emphasised the pivotal role of Christianity in German society.

Religion and Nazi ideology

After becoming leader of the NSDAP, Hitler continued to reference God and Christianity in his speeches. In October 1928, he told an audience that the Nazis “tolerate no-one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity… in fact, our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another”.

In another speech, Hitler argued that:

“Today Christians … stand at the head of [Germany]. I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity … We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre and in the press. In short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture, as a result of liberal excess.”

It is unclear whether Hitler’s support for Christianity was sincere or merely a device to win popular support from Christian Germans. In private, Hitler could be strongly critical of organised religion. He viewed Christian concerns with compassion and charity as a significant weakness.

Hitler also believed the core values of Nazism – nationalism, obedience and loyalty to the state – were contradicted by religious teachings. He feared the political influence of churches might undermine his own agenda.

The push for a Reichskirche

Christian churches were in decline in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, weakened by World War I and the secular values of the Weimar period. There was a sharp drop in religious attendance during the Great Depression. Church rolls from 1932 show that 186,000 Germans stopped attending Christian churches that year. Despite this, the vast majority of Germans still identified as Christians (according to the 1933 census, 52 per cent considered themselves Protestant and 33 per cent Catholic).

Growing Nazi totalitarianism forced German churches to take a position on Hitler and his followers. Some Protestant churches were open in their support for the Nazi movement. Some Protestant leaders even pushed for the creation of a Reichskirche: a ‘state church’ loyal to Nazism and subordinate to the state.

The Deutsche Kristen (‘German Christians’) was the largest branch of German Protestantism and the most supportive of a Reichskirche. Deutsche Kristen leaders considered Hitler a visionary, not unlike Martin Luther, the 16th-century founder of Protestantism. Hitler, they believed, had the potential to transform and revive German Christianity.

There was also a strong anti-Semitic strain within the Deutsche Kristen. Some of its leaders urged the rejection of Jewish texts and the expulsion of Christian converts with Jewish heritage. The leader of the Deutsche Kristen, Ludwig Muller, met with Hitler several times and promised the support of his church.

Opposition to Nazism

German Protestantism was a broad movement, however, and not all of its churches supported Hitler. Other Protestant leaders saw their religion as ‘above politics’ they refused to support or align with any party or to embrace nationalism or fascist values.

In September 1933, several dozen delegates from German Protestant churches formed the Pfarrernotbund (Emergency League of Pastors) to resist the creation of a pro-Nazi state religion. The Pfarrernotbund also spoke out against Nazi racial policies, criticising the ‘Aryan paragraph’, a clause inserted into employment contracts to remove Jews from certain occupations.

Within a few months, the Pfarrernotbund had the support of more than 7,000 individual Protestant clergymen. The group also elected a leader, Martin Niemoller, a Luthern pastor from suburban Berlin.

In May 1934, several Protestant churches united to form the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), which also resisted attempts to ‘Nazify’ German churches. Members of the Bekennende Kirche were critical of Nazi policies during the mid-1930s, particularly anti-Semitic measures.

The Nazis responded by arresting and detaining Pfarrernotbund and Bekennende Kirche figureheads, leaving the groups largely leaderless. Martin Niemoller was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and detained in Dachau until 1945. Other members of the Bekennende Kirche risked their lives by sheltering Jewish-born Christians, raising money and supplying fugitives with forged papers during the war.

The Catholic Church

The relationship between German Catholicism and the Nazi Party was initially conciliatory but quickly deteriorated in the first months of Nazi rule.

German Catholics had endured persecution during the late 1800s and desired a concordat – an agreement that guaranteed their rights and religious freedoms. Hitler expressed some support for this idea but he wanted a one-sided concordat to reduce the political influence of the Catholic church.

In April 1933, Nazi delegates began negotiations with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican’s delegate to Germany (also the future Pope Pius XII). As these negotiations progressed, the Nazis launched a wave of anti-Catholic intimidation, shutting down Catholic publications, breaking up meetings of the Catholic-based Centre Party and throwing outspoken Catholics into concentration camps. As Pacelli later put it, the negotiations proceeded with a pistol at his head.

The Reichskonkordat

The resulting agreement was called the Reichskonkordat. It was signed into law on July 20th 1933. The Reichskonkordat was a diplomatic and political victory for the Nazis, mainly because it banned the Catholic church and its representatives from participating in politics.

Among the other terms of the concordat:

  • Catholics were guaranteed freedom of religious belief and worship in Nazi Germany.
  • The Vatican retained the right to communicate with, and preach to, German Catholics.
  • The church retained the right to collect ecclesiastical taxes and donations.
  • Catholic bishops had to swear an oath promising to “honour” the government.
  • Catholic organisations such as charities, schools and youth groups were protected.
  • Catholic clergymen and delegates could not be members of, or speak on behalf of, political parties.

Anti-Catholic persecution

Pacelli and his colleagues were not optimistic about the Reichskonkordat. They knew Hitler and his followers would not protect the church or its rights. It was, as put by historian Hubert Wolf, “a pact with the devil – no one had any illusions about that fact in Rome – but it [at least] guaranteed the continued existence of the Catholic Church during the Third Reich”.

The Nazis began flouting the terms of the concordat, even as the ink on it was drying. In December 1933, Berlin ruled that all editors and publishers must belong to a Nazi ‘literary society’. This effectively gagged Catholic publications and prevented church leaders from protesting breaches of the Reichskonkordat.

Between 1934 and 1936, the Nazis shut down several Catholic and Lutheran youth groups many of their members were absorbed into the Hitler Youth. Catholic schools were closed and replaced with ‘community schools’, run by Nazi sympathisers. A year-long campaign against Catholic schools in Munich in 1935 saw enrolments there drop by more than 30 per cent.

Direct attacks on the church and its members escalated in 1936. Dozens of Catholic priests were arrested by the Gestapo and given show trials, accused of involvement in corruption, prostitution, homosexuality and paedophilia. Anti-Catholic propaganda appeared on street corners, billboards and in the notorious anti-Semitic newspaper, Der Sturmer.

‘Mit brennender Sorge’

This campaign produced a defensive response. In March 1937, Pope Pius XI released an encyclical (circular letter) titled Mit brennender Sorge (‘With burning concern’). The text of this encyclical was drafted by Michael von Faulhaber, archbishop of Munich, in consultation with other Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Pacelli.

Mit brennender Sorge criticised Nazi breaches of the Reichskonkordat, condemned Nazi views on race and ridiculed the glorification of politicians and the state. “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the state, or a particular form of state… above their standard value and raises them to an idolatrous level”, the letter said, “distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God.”

More than 250,000 copies of the Pope’s encyclical were distributed to German churches and read from the pulpit. This infuriated Hitler and the response was swift and intense. Gestapo agents raided churches and printers, seizing and destroying copies of the encyclical wherever they were found. Propaganda and show trials against Catholic clergy gathered pace through 1938-39 and several priests ended up behind the barbed wire at Dachau and Oranienburg.

The anti-Jehovah’s Witness campaign

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were another religious group persecuted by the Nazis. Germany had around 15,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1933. Their religious beliefs prevented Witnesses from swearing allegiance to a government or secular power. They also refused to submit to military conscription or perform the Nazi one-armed salute.

In April 1933, Nazi paramilitary groups shut down several Jehovah’s Witness offices and buildings. By the middle of 1933, the Jehovah’s Witness religion had been formally banned in most parts of Germany. Individual Witnesses were sacked from jobs in the public and private sector others were refused access to state welfare or pensions. They could restore these rights by renouncing their religion and pledging allegiance to the Nazi state, though few did.

In 1936, the Gestapo began compiling a register of all Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. By 1938, several thousand had been arrested and transported to concentration camps. Inside the camps, they were identified by a triangular purple patch on their uniform.

About 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained in camps between 1938 and 1945. Around one-quarter of this number were either murdered or succumbed to starvation or disease.

A historian’s view:
“The Catholic Church … consistently maintained an anti-Nazi attitude. In several parts of Germany, Catholics were explicitly forbidden to become members of the Nazi Party, and Nazi members were forbidden to take part in church funerals and ceremonies. The bishop of Mainz even refused to admin NSDAP members to the holy sacraments.”
Jane Caplan

1. Nazi attitudes toward religion were complex. While most of the Nazis were Christian or supported Christian values, they were strongly opposed to the political influence of churches, which threatened the Nazi program.

2. Hitler was not an atheist. He was raised as a Catholic and his writings and speeches often contained references to God, Christianity and religion, highlighting and praising their role in German society.

3. German Protestant churches were divided about Nazism. A strong faction in German Protestantism pushed for a Nazified ‘state religion’, while other Protestant leaders opposed the integration of religion and politics.

4. The Nazis signed a concordat with the Catholic church in July 1933, however it was a political ploy to minimise the church’s political influence. The Catholic church was allowed to continue in Nazi Germany but the terms of the concordat were often violated.

5. The Nazis also intimidated and marginalised Germany’s 15,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to swear loyalty to Hitler or undertake military service. Large numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained in concentration camps, where around one quarter died.

Hitler's Ethic

By Richard Weikart (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) (New in paperback, April 2011)

In Hitler's Ethic Weikart helps unlock the mystery of Hitler's evil by vividly demonstrating the surprising conclusion that Hitler's immorality flowed from a coherent ethic. Hitler was inspired by evolutionary ethics to pursue the utopian project of biologically improving the human race. Hitler's evolutionary ethic underlay or influenced almost every major feature of Nazi policy: eugenics (i.e., measures to improve human heredity, including compulsory sterilization), euthanasia, racism, population expansion, offensive warfare, and racial extermination. Hitler also believed that morality was biologically innate, so he thought that eliminating the "evil" Jews would bring moral progress.

Richard Weikart is professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus. He has lived in Germany over five years, including one year on a Fulbright Fellowship. He has published three previous books, including From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004), and his prize-winning dissertation, Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein (1999), as well as articles in German Studies Review, Journal of the History of Ideas, Isis, European Legacy, and History of European Ideas. For more information, see his professional vita. For information about speaking engagements, please contact him via e-mail (click here).

Praise for Hitler's Ethic:

There have been many attempts to provide the key to Hitler's world of ideas but Richard Weikart has succeeded in revealing what must be the central element in any understanding of Hitler's world view. The terrible paradox at the heart of the Third Reich, that biological utopia could only be created by intense physical suffering and violence, now has a proper explanation. What seemed to others bizarrely immoral appeared to Hitler an honorable duty.

--Richard Overy, Professor of History, University of Exeter, UK, author of The Dictators: Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia

"Weikart's book is a respectable piece of research. In nine densely referenced chapters, he takes us through Hitler's guiding philosophy, based on a close reading of the Fuehrer's recorded utterances. The material examined is impressively comprehensive, ranging from the minor pieces of Hitler's early years, via the familiar core documents of Nazism, to the transcripts of secret addresses that have surfaced in recent years in Moscow (among the masses of material looted by the Russians after the war). Weikart knows his sources. What he says should therefore carry weight. He contends that Hitler's pronouncements amount to a coherent, if idiosyncratic ethical system, which guided the Nazi leader throughout his political and genocidal career. . . . If the two principal premises of Weikart's study then are familiar enough, his study still has merit. The merit lies in the way he has combined the two, and backed them up with a systematic trawl of the documents. The result is a persuasive image of Hitler's personal belief-system: a kind of secular religion, based on a cult of evolutionary progress. . . . There was, in other words, not just method in this murderous madness but moral purpose, albeit one that turned on its head the Christian precepts by which Europe had sought to live for centuries. This is an important finding."

--Gerwin Strobl, Department of History, University of Cardiff, author of The Swastika and the Stage: German Theatre and Society, 1933-1945, reviewing in European History Quarterly

"With Hitler's Ethic, Richard Weikart has written an interesting sequel to his important earlier book, From Darwin to Hitler. . . . An 'evolutionary ethic,' as Weikart argues, may well have been an important component of Hitler's belief system, helping to unite--or at least rationalize--his rabid antisemitism and anti-Bolshevism with his desire for living space. That this ethos defined Nazi theory and practice to the exlusion of most other ideological and pragmatic factors is harder to accept. In turning our attention once again to the role of 'evolutionary progress' in Nazi thinking, Hitler's Ethic is nonethelss a stimulating work of intellectual history that deserves a wide audience."

--Eric Kurlander, Department of History, Stetson University, reviewing in German Studies Review

"The elements of Nazi ideology seem diverse--racism, German nationalism, anti-Semitism, socialism, militarism, imperialistic expansionism, the "leadership principle," eugenics, and genocide. But Weikart is remarkably persuasive in showing how all of these strands of Nazi ideology are woven together by the final end of Hitler's ethic--the evolutionary improvement of the human species through the triumph of the Aryan race in the struggle for existence. Proponents of Darwinian ethics--like myself--should be honest in recognizing the impressive evidence that Weikart marshalls from Hitler's writings and speeches to show how Hitler's thought and actions were driven by a coherent view of Darwinian ethics."

--Larry Arnhart, Professor of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, author of Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature

"In this fascinating and readable book, Weikart suggests that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was not merely driven by a hunger for power as he ruthlessly sought to conquer neighboring countries and as he identified some people for an untimely death. Rather, he argues convincingly that Hitler had a coherent ethic based upon his understanding of evolution which formed a foundation and rationale for his actions before and during his time as Fuhrer. . . . With so many publications on Hitler already in print, one can ask whether it was necessary for Weikart to add his theory to the mix. Given the author's clear writing style, well-supported assertions, and excellent research evidenced in Hitler's Ethic, this reviewer believes Weikart's book is, in fact, a valuable addition to the field of modern German intellectual history. . . . Fortunately, this book is accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students as well as to a broader reading audience."

--Diane Guido, Professor of History and German, and Vice-Provost, Azusa Pacific University

"In his well-researched and fascinating book Hitler's Ethic, Richard Weikart tackles the common misunderstanding of Hitler's amorality."

Praise for Weikart's earlier book, From Darwin to Hitler:

"Richard Weikart's outstanding book shows in sober and convincing detail how Darwinist thinkers in Germany had developed an amoral attitude to human society by the time of the First World War, in which the supposed good of the race was applied as the sole criterion of public policy and 'racial hygiene'. Without over-simplifying the lines that connected this body of thought to Hitler, he demonstrates with chilling clarity how policies such as infanticide, assisted suicide, marriage prohibitions and much else were being proposed for those considered racially or eugenically inferior by a variety of Darwinist writers and scientists, providing Hitler and the Nazis with a scientific justification for the policies they pursued once they came to power."

-- Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge, and author of a three-volume history of the Third Reich: The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War

"This book will prove to be an invaluable source for anyone wondering how closely linked Social Darwinism and Nazi ideologies, especially as uttered by Hitler, really were."


There are very few people who have such a profound impact on their professions that the telling of their life story is also a recounting of the history of their time and place. Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D., (1926-2009) who provided direction and leadership to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through much of the second half of the 20th century, was one such person. This e-book by Alison F. Davis provides insight into Dr. Kirschstein's work at the NIH.
(PDF - 9 MB)

How My Light is Spent: The Memoirs of DeWitt Stetten, Jr.

DeWitt Stetten, Jr., (1913 - 1990) was a physician-scientist-administrator who served in many capacities at NIH including Deputy Director of Science. He founded the Stetten Museum in 1986. (PDF - 2 MB)

Institutional Histories

70 Acres of Science: The NIH Moves to Bethesda

Written by Office of NIH History curator Michele Lyons (2006) this ebook describes the history of the NIH in the 1930s, covering the story of research, scientists, and landscape architecture of the agency. (PDF - 11 .5 MB)

A Half Century of Peer Review: 1946-1996

This monograph by Richard Mandel, Ph.D. (1996) provides a history of the Division of Research Grants, which oversaw the awarding and administration of NIH research grants during that time period. The book can be viewed or downloaded (17 MB) at the Internet Archive.

An Administrative History of the National Cancer Institute's Viruses and Cancer Programs, 1950-1972

Written by Carl G. Baker, M.D., (2004) this manuscript (379 pages) tells the story of the background, philosophy, implementation, and outputs of these programs and concludes with the planning for the New Cancer Act. (PDF - 1.66 MB)

Beacon of Hope 1953-1993: The Clinical Center Through Forty Years of Growth and Change in Biomedicine

Written by Richard Mandel, Ph.D. (1993) this publication provides an overview of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, America's research hospital.

Early Years of NIH Research Grants

Written by Ernest M. Allen, Sc.D., in 1980, this essay tells the story of the growth and development of the NIH research grant program in the late 1940s. (PDF - 140 KB)

History of the Eye Institute: 1968-2000

Chronicles of the first 30 years of the NEI at the National Institutes of Health and its programs (2009). These first years were critical for the development and growth of the intramural research program the strong commitment to investigator-initiated research the creation of extramural program areas and the inception of clinical trials for vision and eye disease.
(PDF - 6.86 MB)

Inventing the NIH: Federal Biomedical Research Policy 1887:1937

Written by Victoria A. Harden, Ph.D. this book details biomedical research in the United States, covering the growth of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal government's chief medical research agency.

The Legacy of the 'Yellow Berets': The Vietnam War, the Doctor Draft, and the NIH Associate Training Program

This unpublished manuscript (1998) by Melissa K. Klein traces the history of the NIH Associate Training Program, exploring the impact of the Doctor Draft on medical research in the 1960s and 1970s. (PDF - 0.2MB). A more recent article is: Khot, Sandeep, Park, Buhm Soon Longstreth, W.T., Jr. The Vietnam War and Medical Research: Untold Legacy of the U.S. Doctor Draft and the NIH 'Yellow Berets,' Academic Medicine 86 (2011): 502-8.

Mind, Brain, Body and Behavior: Foundations of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institutes of Health, 2004

Edited by Ingrid G. Farreras, Caroline Hannaway and Victoria A. Harden.
A history of the intramural research conducted during the 1950s at the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness (today the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). (PDF - 14.4 MB)

NIAID Intramural Contributions, 1887-1987

This commemorative book represents a sampling of important contributions during the first hundred years of NIAID's lntramural Research Program, as seen through the eyes of several key participants. (PDF - 9 MB)

Intramural Science at the NIH, 1982

A 1982 report on the Intramural Research Program's history and future. (PDF - 10 MB)

NINR: Bringing Science to Life

The National Institute of Nursing Research celebrates the publication of the first history book in commemoration of the Institute's 25 years at NIH. Written by Philip L. Cantelon, the book explores the origins of NINR, the launching of nursing science at NIH, NINR’s advancement from a Center to an Institute, and how nursing science has progressed in the past quarter century. Bethesda, MD, National Institute of Nursing Research [NIH Publication No. 10-7502], 2010. (PDF - 7 MB)

Shining Lady in the Sky: How the Rocket Boys of Buffalo were Launched by a Government Administrator and Committee at the National Institutes of Health

The story of a committee that gave a (small) research grant to a young boy in 1957 and launched a career, as well as a rocket. (PDF - 644 KB)

NIH Publications

NIH Almanac

The information is from the NIH Almanac and is updated annually. For more information on the NIH Almanac, contact the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, Online Information Branch. The Office of NIH History holds print copies of the Almanac. Call the Office of NIH History at 301.496.8856 or information. An appointment is required for use. Contact [email protected] for questions.

The NIH Alumni Association Newsletters

The NIHAA Update was the newsletter of the NIH Alumni Association (NIHAA), which was established in 1989 after the NIH Centennial celebration. Forty issues were published from summer 1989 until spring 2007 when NIHAA officially dissolved. The Update served as a link among NIH alumni all over the world. It kept alumni apprised of important current research and scientific achievements, and informed them about happenings, personnel changes, honors received, retirements, and deaths at NIH. The Update also served as an informal record of changes in NIH’s physical and administrative structure over the years.

NIH Calendar of Events

On Friday, September 28, 1951, the National Institutes of Health sent a printed note announcing it would began issuing a weekly calendar of events occurring at the NIH.

NIH Federal Security Agency Pamphlet 1948

This pamphlet is an early publication by the Federal Security Agency announcing plans for the National Institute of Health in 1948. The title page states "This leaflet has been prepared to give these visitors a directory of buildings and a brief picture of activities at the National Institute of Health. Federal Security Agency, Public Health Service, National Institute of Health Bethesda, Md. 1948. (PDF, 3MB)

Adolf Hitler: Was Hitler Jewish?

One of the most frequently asked questions about the Holocaust and the Nazi party is whether Adolf Hitler was Jewish or had Jewish ancestors.

Though the idea may seem preposterous to some, the question seems to stem from the remote possibility that Hitler's grandfather was Jewish. Hitler's father, Alois, was registered as an illegitimate child with no father when born in 1837 and to this day Hitler's paternal grandfather is unknown. Alois&rsquo mother, Maria Schicklgruber, is known to have worked in the home of a wealthy Jew, so there is some chance, however small, that a son in that household got Hitler's grandmother pregnant.

In 1933, the London Daily Mirror published a picture of a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest inscribed with some Hebrew characters and the name Adolf Hitler, but this Bucharest Hitler could not have been the Nazi leader&rsquos grandfather. At the time, though, this picture sufficiently worried Hitler that he had the Nazi law defining Jewishness written to exclude Jesus Christ and himself.

In 2010, the British paper The Daily Telegraph reported that a study had been conducted in which saliva samples were collected from 39 of Hitler's known relatives to test their DNA origins and found, though inconclusively, that Hitler may have Jewish origins. The paper reported: A chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1 which showed up in [the Hitler] samples is rare in Western Europe and is most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews . Haplogroup E1b1b1, which accounts for approximately 18 to 20 per cent of Ashkenazi and 8.6 per cent to 30 per cent of Sephardic Y-chromosomes, appears to be one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population. This study, though scientific by nature, is inconclusive.

Despite the claims, Adolf Hitler was not Jewish.

Hitler&rsquos Family Tree (Click to enlarge)

Sources: John Toland, Adolf Hitler, NY: Anchor Books, 1992
Hitler Jewish? Huffington Post, (August 25, 2010).
Hitler&rsquos Family Tree from Wikipedia.