The Kiel University in the years 1933 to 1945

The Nazi period had a profound effect on German universities. In 1933 the enforced conformity of the universities started, decreed by law, which resulted in unpopular lecturers (especially non-Aryans) and political dissidents being forcibly transferred, made to retire or dismissed. Walther Schücking is a prominent example of a scientist from Kiel who was expelled. He belonged to the German Democratic Party and became a target for Nazi hostilities even before their takeover. He was sent on leave on 25 April 1933 and died two years later in The Hague.

At the same time, the universities were hierarchically reorganised according to the “Führerprinzip” (leader principle). The institutional and staff changes ultimately had an impact on research and teaching. The Christiana Albertina, which was seen as a “borderland university” due to its proximity to Denmark, was supposed to be completely “politicised”, especially under the Rectors Georg Dahm, Paul Ritterbusch and Hanns Löhr, and thus make a contribution towards “Volkstum” work. However, neither the responsible offices in Berlin nor the regional authorities clearly specified what this contribution of the individual scientific disciplines to the Nazi leadership objectives should actually look like. The members of the universities were therefore put under immense pressure, on the one hand, to conduct research and teaching in a National Socialist sense, but on the other hand they were given no precise instructions on how to actually do this.

One section of university politics that was intensively operated by various state and party offices was staff policy. In addition to academic and teaching abilities, the candidates’ political views were also assessed. Concessions to National Socialism, including belonging to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (abbreviated as NSDAP and also referred to as the Nazi Party) or one of its sub-organisations, could accordingly advance someone’s academic career. The graph below shows the development of Nazi Party members amongst the 303 professors teaching in Kiel from 1932 to 1942:

NSDAP-Parteimitglieder unter den Kieler Professoren 1932-1942

Nazi Party member entry data amongst professors in Kiel from 1932-1942

The stepped shape increase of the curve is clearly visible, which can mainly be traced back to two incidents: the first wave of entry in 1933, when the number of members amongst the professors in Kiel quadrupled, rising from 19 to 81, was after the Reichstag elections in March of that year, when many saw joining as a career opportunity and also, for the first time, officials and state employees were allowed to be members of the party. These new members were known as the “Märzgefallene” (fallen in March) amongst the long-standing party members. A “deluge” of opportunists in the Nazi Party was feared, so an admission ban was imposed, which entered into force on 1 May 1933 and was not removed until 1937. The numbers during this time period therefore stagnated. When the ban was relaxed in 1937, the second large wave of entry ensued, resulting in the number of Nazi Party members amongst the professors in Kiel almost doubling once again (from 81 (1933) to 153 (1937)). The ban was lifted in May 1939. Since this year, acquiring state official status was also tied to party membership, which meant that many early career researchers felt obliged to join the party. In 1942, 173 of the professors at Kiel University were in the Nazi Party. During this time period overall, 181 from 303 professors were members of the Nazi Party, which corresponds to a 60% ratio. However, we need to consider the fact that party membership alone can only tell us so much about the actual political opinions of the individuals. Whether someone joined the party purely for career reasons and was thus only a member ‘on paper’ or whether this person fully or partly agreed with the Nazi ideology can - if at all - only be clarified with comprehensive biographic studies. The Kieler Gelehrtenverzeichnis could form a basis for this.

Further information:

  • Christoph Cornelißen und Carsten Mish (Hrsg.): Wissenschaft an der Grenze. Die Universität Kiel im Nationalsozialismus. Essen 2009 (Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Kieler Stadtgeschichte, 86; „zeit + geschichte“, 14).
  • Martin Göllnitz: Das 'Kieler Gelehrtenverzeichnis' in der Praxis. Karrieren von Hochschullehrern im Dritten Reich zwischen Parteizugehörigkeit und Wissenschaft, in: Jahrbuch für Universitätsgeschichte 16 (2013), S. 291-312.

Author: Lisa Kragh