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  • In Defence of Learning: The Plight, Persecution, and Placement of Academic Refugees, 1933-1980s
  • Lotte Bailyn and Bernard Bailyn
In Defence of Learning: The Plight, Persecution, and Placement of Academic Refugees, 1933-1980s. Edited by Shula Marks, Paul Weindling, and Laura Wintour (New York, Oxford University Press, 2011) 320 pp. $110.00

It was clear at the end of World War II that one of the enduring and consequential results of the fascist regimes, and especially the Nazi dictatorship, was the persecution and dispersal in exile of much of the top tier of Europe's scholars and scientists and the resettlement abroad of those who survived. The number of refugee scholars was not great, but their importance in the cultural life of the time was enormous. It was obvious that some account of the consequences of this intellectual migration would have to be given. The flow of publications—of memoirs, individual and group biographies, indexes of refugees by country and profession, statistical analyses, and interpretations of the importance of this phenomenon—began in the 1960s and continues to this day, the latest contribution being this volume. Largely memoiristic, the book is unique in the breadth of its coverage; although the essays concentrate on the effort to rescue the scholars persecuted by the Nazis in Germany and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, they extend beyond World War II and Central Europe to include efforts to help scholars and scientists seeking aid in the Soviet Union, in apartheid South Africa, and in post-Allende Chile.

The core of the book is the evolving history of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) founded by William Beveridge in 1933 at the urging of Leo Szilard, a peripatetic physicist, to rescue the academic victims of Nazism in Germany. The efforts of the committee, managed for forty years by Esther Simpson, herself an early refugee, were formidable—far beyond anything undertaken in the United States. Well-organized, the committee scoured the foundations and scholarly organizations for funds and for the identification of endangered scholars, set up a procedure to receive applications for aid, and through intermediaries reached out to the less notable scholars struggling to survive. The seventeen chapters include individual biographical studies of Szilard, Archibald V. Hill, Max Perutz, Karl Mannheim and Viola Klein, and group biographies of women refugees, Austrian social scientists, Central European historians, and refugee academics from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and Chile.

In the introduction, Marks presents a narrative of the evolution of CARA, assessings its accomplishments, often in comparison with institutions [End Page 301] in the United States and elsewhere that were also involved in helping the refugees. In addition, she provides an overview of the chapters, noting that they "can only go some way to capturing the often tragic but also not infrequently triumphant history of academic refugees in the twentieth century" (25).

As in any collection, the chapters vary in character, breadth, and penetration. Three of the collective studies are especially notable. Tibor Frank, an authority on Austro-Hungarian migrations and an Americanist with much experience in the United States, compares the organized rescue efforts in Europe and the United States, to the detriment of the Americans. Tracing the work of the Rockefeller Foundation, the New School for Social Research, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he notes in every case the "self-interested beneficence" of these organizations (159). The American foundations, endowments, and research institutions were always looking inward; they "primarily supported those who were viewed as having the greatest potential usefulness for the USA" (143). Indeed, "contemporary critics of the Rockefeller Foundation go as far as to suggest that it occasionally helped Nazi Germany more than it did its victims." In the end, however, Franks deems "the naked representation of American interests" in these rescue efforts as "unfair" in view of the context: the Depression, the realities of American academic life, American "hostility to foreigners and Jews," and the quota laws. "Whatever might be said," he concludes, the U.S. government and the large foundations "did save a great many lives" (159-160).

The chapter by Antoon De Baets, an authority on the censorship of history, attempts to test "Plutarch...


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