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C H A P T E R E I G H T Germans and Jews THE preceding chapters have shown that mathematics as a subject matter was in a difficult position when Hitler came to power.1 Not only was the Nazi ideology centered on nonrational process as ideal, not only was it involved in a biologistic reductionism of all learning to a fundament of “racial genetics,” but the general lay opinion of mathematics at the time was none too favorable. The mathematicians had formed an organization (the Mathematische Reichsverband) to encourage better public understanding of their discipline, but whatever headway it had been making was slow. Given its purpose, it is not surprising how quickly and smoothly it became integrated into the Nazi regime. Pedagogues like Walther Lietzmann might harp consistently on the military importance of mathematics, but this was a minor theme—even in the openly rearming Germany of 1935 and later. The initial Nazi view of German academe was a mixture of contempt and suspicion. The latter was somewhat overcome by the speed with which the universities—with, in Fritz Kubach’s words, “students in front”—became integrated into the Nazi state. The German Mathematical Society as an organization reacted initially with indifference to the new regime, provided the doing of mathematics by those remaining was not affected. Its crisis in 1934 was caused by a desire on the part of some, led by Ludwig Bieberbach, to make the society an active participant in, rather than a passive recipient of, Nazi structures and regulations. Some who initially supported Bieberbach , like Hellmuth Kneser and Wilhelm Süss, grew disillusioned with, and became opposed to, the Nazi government and its behavior. No doubt Kneser’s friendship with Theodor Vahlen and the fact that Bieberbach had been Süss’ mentor had something to do with their initial reaction, however much they may have come to change their minds. Bieberbach himself seems to have been a committed believer who carried on the ideological struggle on intellectual grounds, but his efforts “faded into nothingness.” Deutsche Mathematik as a journal became increasingly and almost totally mathematical (and less student oriented ), whatever its founder’s original purpose. Some mathematicians “biologized” in defense of their rational subject; others “militarized”; but most simply wanted to be left alone to do their mathematics. They would try to protect their subject from ideological incursions, such as they might be, but otherwise would be “unpolitical” or perhaps even tacit opponents of the Nazis. This, of course, was not what the regime would have liked. Indeed , as will be seen, so successful was Hans Petersson in his dissimulation of 1 The title of this chapter is also the title of a well-known book by George Mosse (1970); it nevertheless seems the most appropriate one for this chapter. 420 C H A P T E R E I G H T Nazi ardor that political officials praised him (to his good fortune) as an exception among mathematicians. Yet the plain fact is that a number of prominent mathematicians, while not Bieberbachs or Teichmüllers, were also not overly distressed with the regime— they were not Heckes either. Whatever the differing motivations and attitudes of men like Helmut Hasse, Georg Hamel, and Wilhelm Blaschke, they undeniably aided the regime and made propaganda for it. Many mathematicians, presumably like many academics, though, were able to retreat into their mathematics, fending off as much as possible attempted ideological incursions. Thus the Bonn faculty rejected Erhard Tornier and repeatedly suggested Erich Kamke for a professorship, while Max Steck was prevented from succeeding Constantin Carathéodory at Munich. Faculty action in the complicated case of Ernst Weinel at Jena may have been similar. Many comparable stories no doubt could be told in other mathematics departments. If the mathematicians as a society were acquiescent in the Nazi regime, as professionals they resisted interference. This seems completely in keeping with the Humboldtian tradition of the unpolitical professor; how appropriate such a response was in 1933–34 is another matter that can produce as unending an argument as any hypothetical historical event. However, the only reason such professional resistance could be at all successful was that basically the regime did not care what happened in the academic world, provided Jews and active “troublemakers” were expelled from their positions. Though someone like Max Zorn, though not a Jew, nevertheless a communist, could not hope to “habilitate ” in Nazi Germany, someone as established as Kurt Reidemeister was could...


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