- Die Verwissenschaftlichung der “Judenfrage” im Nationalsozialismus by Horst Junginger
One of the more egregious and sinister undertakings of the Nazi Party during the 1920s and 1930s was the attempt to produce a supposedly “scientific” basis for their virulent antipathy towards the Jews. Although Adolf Hitler had endorsed the Catholic Church’s centuries-old anti-Judaism, a large group of radical German ideologues believed that a more secular and scholarly foundation was required. After 1918, they believed, the churches had lost credibility, and an ever-increasing number of Germans supposedly no longer felt any attachment to what had come to be regarded as an outdated and pre-modern system of beliefs. The Nazi Party radicals therefore promoted the idea that a more “rational” and religion-free set of values based on race should be fostered. These values would provide the political and legal justification for the measures against Jews that the Nazis began to introduce immediately after their seizure of power in January 1933.
The plausibility of this politically-based program was enhanced by the recruitment of numerous academics who shared the belief that National Socialist scholarship would play a leading role in the development of a Nordic master-race, freed of any Jewish “impurities.” The pursuit of a credible scholarly doctrine of race, drawing principally from the disciplines of biology, sociology, and history, is the central focus of Horst Junginger’s perceptive study.
The author begins by pointing to the readiness of so many German universities to welcome Nazism’s rise to power. More senior academics were motivated by reasons of nationalism and anti-democratic sentiment; the younger generation of students hailed the Nazis as restorers of Germany’s greatness. The Nazis would take revenge on those—particularly the Jews—who, they believed, had brought about Germany’s defeat in 1918. Political expediency and personal careerist ambitions could easily be grafted onto a secularized cultural antisemitism. The Gleichschaltung (coordination) of the German universities was virtually unopposed. Their subsequent endorsement of Nazi goals, in both theory and practice, is amply documented in Junginger’s account. [End Page 515]
The author is particularly critical of his own university, Tübingen, and devotes a whole chapter to describing in full detail the prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes within this scholarly community over the centuries. He suggests that this legacy meant that Nazi calumnies fell on eager ears. In any case, the position of Jewish studies (Hebrew, history of ancient Israel, archaeology) remained marginal in the universities. The implementation in April 1933 of the so-called Law to Reform the Civil Service, which called for the dismissal of any employee of Jewish extraction, therefore aroused virtually no opposition. If Tübingen had the lowest number of dismissals, this was due solely to the fact that the conservative institution had appointed so few Jews in the first place—and those only in low-level positions. In addition, the well-known antisemitic sentiments of the radicalized student body produced a most unwelcoming atmosphere for any progressive-minded applicants.
These moves cleared the way for Nazi zealots to propose new efforts to strengthen the general public’s awareness of the “Jewish Question,” and to stress the need for adequate measures to guard against the Jewish “danger” both politically and intellectually. For these purposes, various universities established new positions aimed at drawing attention to the “Jewish menace,” which they traced from the earliest centuries. Indoctrination sessions were designed to ensure that such a danger would not recur. Several universities readily competed to place their own favorite sons in these positions. But due to the lack of qualified, politically vetted scholars, and the very obviously propagandistic nature of the agendas being proposed, more traditionally-minded educational bureaucracies opposed the plans, and the whole scheme was rejected by the authorities on the national level.
Even so, on the initiative of prominent Nazis, five new “think tanks” were organized. The first of these was the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question, set up by the Ministry...