The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses.
The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower depicts in stunning detail how, in the 1930s, when the Nazi regime was intent on winning international legitimacy, it received a significant boost from America's leading academic institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Rutgers, MIT, the University of Virginia, and the Seven Sisters. The leaders of these institutions--presidents, provosts, and professors--did not just look the other way as Germany persecuted those it deemed its "enemies." They reached out to the new regime, hosting its professors and diplomats, engaging in student exchanges, welcoming German diplomats to their campuses, and even allowing some of them to lay swastika-bedecked floral wreaths in their central quadrangles.
Even as they reached out to the Third Reich, many universities were less than hospitable to refugees. In May '933, the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars asked Harvard's President Lawrence A. Lowell to hire a German displaced refugee scholar. The Committee offered to cover half the scholar's salary and another foundation offered to pay the remainder of the university's costs. Lowell refused because he believed that providing a place for a refugee scholar was serving the interests of propaganda.
Lowell's successor James Bryant Conant welcomed Ernst Hanfstaengl, a high-ranking Nazi official and Harvard alumnus, to the 1934 commencement, where he was treated as an honored guest despite the fact that Hanfstaengl had opined that the "Jews must be crushed" and predicted that taking 600,000 German Jews prisoner would be easy (48). Harvard Law School dean Roscoe Pound vacationed in Germany throughout the 1930s. He declared the virulently antisemitic passion play at Oberammergau "wonderful." Upon returning from his August 1934 visit he praised Germany's freedom of speech and proclaimed that "there was no persecution of Jewish scholars or of Jews" who had been in the country for an extended stay (57). Apparently persecuting newcomers was acceptable.
In May 1933, after the Nazi book burning, and for several years thereafter, Columbia's Teachers College sent a student delegation to German universities to learn educational techniques. At the same time, these institutions were firing Jewish professors and expelling Jewish students. In "933 Columbia invited German ambassador Hans Luther to speak on Germany's foreign policy. Luther told the university audience that Germany was completely "democratic" and had only "peaceful intentions." Numerous students protested. President Nicholas Murray Butler, who welcomed Luther, condemned their behavior as "mob action" (81).
In 1936, well after the Nuremberg Laws, Harvard and Columbia sent representatives to the University of Heidelberg's 550th anniversary celebration. Though the two universities insisted that this was a strictly academic matter, the New York Times described the event as one in which "Nazi troops marched; pre-Hitler Germany was criticized; present-day Germany was praised." In 1936 Harvard also invited Nazi academics to participate in its tercentenary celebrations, which were held, despite requests from Jewish students, faculty, and alumni, on Rosh Hashanah.
Throughout the 1930s, the presidents of the Seven Sisters colleges continued to urge their students to study in Germany. In 1938 Mount Holyoke's president praised the "many choice students from Germany" who spent a semester at the college. These specially selected students were mouthpieces for the new regime. An exchange student at Barnard insisted that freedom of speech prevailed in Germany and declared that "we love our leader." Another German student at the school told the campus newspaper that Jews could only be "guests" in Germany because their blood was different. These effusive evaluations did not only come from German visitors. A Vassar student who was present in Germany during the book burnings described them as "solemn, symbolic" ceremonies (112). In April 1939, six months after Kristallnacht, Smith's president assured German educators that the college would not stand in the way of students who wished to study in Germany.
After the 1938 Anschluss, many people feared that the books in Austria's national library written by Jews would be burned. Yale students urged the university to buy these books. Sterling Memorial Library's head librarian declared that under no circumstances would the university buy "non-Aryan books" because doing so constituted a political act (227). Harvard's Widener Library also refused to consider purchasing them because it assumed that they were of no importance.
Many German departments and campus German clubs were resolute supporters of Germany. In May 1939, Germany's consul-general to Boston attended the Harvard German Club's dinner dance, where he mingled with faculty and students from Harvard, Wellesley, Dartmouth, and Colby. When the chair of Cornell's German department received an honorary degree from Heidelberg in 1937, he gave the Nazi salute. In 1938, after Kristallnacht, Stanford professor of German William Alpha Cooper accepted the Order of Merit of the German Eagle from Hitler.
The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower would have benefitted from additional contextualization. The reader yearns to know more about what was going on at these universities during this period. Students on these campuses protested, as did some faculty members. Some nontenured faculty who expressed their opposition were dismissed. But the protestors generally found themselves in direct opposition to the administration. Did any of these leaders ever acknowledge their wrongs? Nonetheless, the book constitutes a powerful indictment of the institutions at the apex of American academia.
Today many of America's universities have acknowledged that their bucolic campuses were built with slave labor. It may be equally appropriate for these institutions to acknowledge that they provided Nazism a crucial imprimatur at a critical moment. They could not have predicted the murderous policies of the 1940s, but they knew of concentration camps, book burnings, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a bevy of laws ejecting Jews from schools, universities, professions and a wide array of other institutions. America's premier scholarly institutions knew enough for them to have eschewed any connection with Nazi Germany and its thoroughly Nazified institutions.
Deborah E. Lipstadt
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|Author:||Lipstadt, Deborah E.|
|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2009|
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