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C H A P T E R F O U R Three Mathematical Case Studies AS is well known, the Nazi regime did not at all fit the romantic notion of a monolithic totalitarian state in which orders are passed efficiently down a smoothly organized hierarchical system, to be carried out by successive layers of underlings. Despite the Führerprinzip (or “leadership principle”) that articulated such a system, the Nazi government fostered competing bureaucracies that struggled with one another for control, often in the name of being the true ideological standard-bearer. The reason for and possible purposiveness of this situation is still being debated.1 Needless to say, this conflict of bureaucracies also opened the way for much personal conflict and politicization of academic life.2 This politicization, however, was not necessarily only in the form of directives issued from on high; it also was a struggle among individuals, each necessarily purporting that they represented the true aims of the Nazi state in their actions. This was true in mathematics as well, and not only in so-called applied mathematics. Especially after the war began, one might have expected national service to have taken precedence over any jockeying for personal position in militarily important applied mathematics. This was not the case. Although now it is possible to recognize how some attempted to act in the best interests of their discipline, whereas others had less noble motives, nevertheless, all necessarily had to maintain that they were acting politically—that is, in the best interests of the state. This chapter describes three instances of such politicization of mathematics under the Nazis. Two are from applied mathematics and one from more “pure mathematics.” One is from mid-war, one largely from 1938–40, and one from the beginning of the Nazi regime. All demonstrate how, under the Nazis, academic infighting was, if anything, enhanced rather than reduced, and also provided with political weapons. Indeed, all weapons were political. The names that occur in each of these instances, two of them almost totally undescribed previously, will echo in others, and throughout this 1 This discussion was begun by Franz Neumann’s Behemoth (1942, 1944), a book that still demands consideration. As one example, for a detailed discussion of how these overlapping bureaucracies affected nuclear research, see Mark Walker, German National Socialism and the Quest for Nuclear Power, 1939–1949 (1989). 2 There were even two education ministry structures concerned with Wissenschaft, or learning, one run by the army and one by the ministry. See Helmut Heiber, Walter Frank, u. sein Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschland, Stuttgart (1966), 116, 645–646. A reader wishing to survey the party structure of the NSDAP can consult the fifty-three pages and charts of Rang-und Organisationsliste [der NSDAP], published by W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, pursuant to the Allied denazification law of March 5, 1946. 86 C H A P T E R F O U R book.3 I have described these incidents in very full detail in order to bring out both the Byzantine aspects of professional mathematical life under the Nazis and the qualities of the different personalities interacting. Another reason for such a detailed description is that the Nazi competition among bureaucracies and among personalities, for prestige and for funds, in situations where there might well be unpredictable political issues, produces a somewhat fragmented picture. There is no smooth history here. Consequently, brief descriptions are necessarily somewhat misleading.4 In addition, Nazi language and attitudes sometimes have to be seen to be believed. Though many of the people mentioned had no lasting mathematical impact, these sorts of detailed “case histories ” seem more likely to give a feeling for the Zeitgeist—the atmosphere of the times—as it really was than brief scattershot mentions of many incidents. THE SÜSS BOOK PROJECT This first case study stems from mid-war. It deals with a project for the creation or reprinting of mathematical books considered militarily important. This turns out not to be some straightforward, unremarkable project (if somewhat late in conception), but instead to involve tremendous personal jockeying between the two principals: Wilhelm Süss and Gustav Doetsch. What makes this even more interesting are the personalities involved. Süss had been the leader of the German Mathematical Society since 1937 and was Rektor at Freiburg. Doetsch had been, before 1933, a somewhat left-of-center Roman Catholic; after 1933, he metamorphosed into a man whom one mathematical...


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