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C H A P T E R F I V E Academic Mathematical Life ALTHOUGH the Nazi regime was oppressive politically and ideologically, insisting on strict control of public expression relating in any way to governance or policy, it might be thought that work activity, so long as it was consonant with state objectives, would not be particularly affected. This might seem especially true for academics, who, as discussed in chapter 3, had a long tradition of adherence to whatever state might be, as an exchange for Lehr-und Lernfreiheit (freedom in teaching and learning) within academic and professional subject matters. Of course, some subject matters, such as history, anthropology, biology , and German letters and literature, would obviously be affected by Nazi politics and ideology; but many others, especially mathematics, with its aspect of de novo creativity, and even applied mathematics, would seem immune to such pressures. That is, the academic mathematician, both as mathematician and as academic, would not seem to be necessarily much affected by the regime , but could presumably retreat from political expression (if one had ever even been so interested) and simply continue mathematical work, while striving to keep the discipline as free of politics as possible. And there were some mathematicians who seem to have achieved this—Konrad Knopp at Tübingen is one notable example. In fact, however, Nazi ideology and politics entered the academic mathematician ’s life in both the role of professional academic and the role of creator and teacher of mathematics in particular. In this chapter, concentration will be on the former role. There has been some inkling of this in the previous chapter, for example in some of the material dealing with Gustav Doetsch or Helmut Hasse. The distinction made by Hannah Arendt between dictatorial and totalitarian regimes seems particularly appropriate here.1 The totalitarian Nazi regime, not content with assuring obedience to its wishes by the general populace through the usual dictatorial methods, wanted to isolate each individual so that no bonds other than those forged by the state connected members of the “community .” This notion appears already in Hitler’s Mein Kampf; its most lapidary expression is perhaps, “If the German people in its historic development had 1 Arendt 1980. Totalitarianism was a “revolt of the masses” that ended in all individuals being portions of the state machinery, in which each individual’s connection to others was mediated by the state. Dictatorial regimes were those that merely insisted on enforced obedience to the dictator or monarch. This distinction is still controversial; partly because Arendt’s book came out at the height of the “cold war,” and the distinction has since frequently been used by right-of-center elements in the United States to defend their actions. However, that an intellectual idea becomes adapted to political purposes that may be disapproved does not necessarily invalidate the idea. For a highly critical review of Arendt’s book that nevertheless sees it as breaking new paths, see Pierre Ayçoberry, The Nazi Question, trans. Robert Hurley (1981), 130–133. A C A D E M I C M AT H E M AT I C A L L I F E 169 possessed that hard unity which other peoples enjoyed . . . ,” and it was this that National Socialism strove to achieve.2 While National Socialism spoke of a Volk, each “atomized” member of it was defined as a member of the community by being a cog in the state machinery. Thus the life of the academic mathematician was replete with purposeful intrusions of a nonacademic nature intent on making each individual a subservient member of the state, without connections to others except as mediated by the state. Since academics had always legally been civil servants, such intrusions were easy, and perhaps even easily acceptable. Gustav Doetsch’s resignation from the board of Compositio Mathematica, and the seeming gradual acclimatization of Helmut Hasse after the conflictful beginning of his term in Göttingen, are some small particular examples already seen. Under the Nazis, academic life became a progression of increasing restrictions and continual evaluations. These latter had no respect for academic rank (in fact, were intentionally subversive of it). They also were sometimes very different for the same individual. What was important was that they were made continually. These reports were a mixture of political and academic opinions. Occasionally they were straightforward; more often they seemed to veer between the poles of outright condemnation and fulsome praise. An extreme case of...


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