University of Breslau – colours
Letter: Max Kaiser (student friend) to Werner: Breslau, 29th March, 1938 I think back with horror about the chess game which we had and the philosophical conversations now no longer held. Otherwise nothing has changed. Else still talks a lot, and Adolar still plays chess tournaments.
Breslau and National Socialism
In June 1933, the Jewish population of Germany was approximately 505,000 (total population: 67 million). By far the largest Jewish population lived in Berlin (about 160,000 in 1925), around 26,000 in Frankfurt, and around 20,000 lived in Breslau (source USHMM).
Over the years Werner studied at Breslau from 1930 to 1936, the situation for Jews at the university and in the city more generally (as well as across Germany) was going from bad to worse. There was violence on Breslau’s streets from 1931, with demonstrators killed and grenades thrown.
In July 1932 Hitler spoke in Breslau, drawing a crowd of around 16,000. In the elections, the National Socialists gained 43 percent of the Breslau vote – the third-highest result in Germany.
Once Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Gestapo began to take action against Jews at the university and in the city; for example, a Jewish-owned department store was attacked by the Sturmabteilung (SA) – the military wing of the National Socialist party (source: Yad Vashem).
The first officially organised violence against Jews occurred in Breslau on 11 March 1933, when Jewish solicitors and judges were assaulted by the SA: one, Ludwig Foerder (who, according to the Breslau synagogue lists, lived at Nikolaistadtgraben 23), was beaten over the head with a lead bar; one of his colleagues, Walter Eckstein, was tortured for five days until he died (Source: Yad Vashem; see also this image of Foerder’s obituary, from the AJR).
Subsequently, Breslau’s court pronounced that only seventeen out of 364 Jewish lawyers could have access to the court in future (Richard J. Evans 2004).
In June 1933, National Socialist students at the university announced a boycott of any remaining Jewish staff. Tear gas was thrown in lectures given by Jewish academics, and Jewish students were attacked. Across the city, in fact, Jews were being attacked, tortured and imprisoned.
University life in the 1930s
Despite this violent and disturbing backdrop to university life in the 1930s, my father remained proud of having attended Breslau and made some good friends, as we know from photographs and correspondence. From his grandfathers’ jobs as innkeeper and helper on the railways, to his father’s status as a businessman, he was, as far as we know, the first in the family to make it not only to university but to such an ancient and prestigious place of learning.
Letter: Max Kaiser to Werner: Breslau, 29th March, 1938 That damned quarter leaflet. 7 hrs - consisted of Radon 40 minutes, geometrics + 5 minutes theory of activities and then the rest. Definitions of the normal curves, the lecture that you once skipped, various theories, for example, K= 0 H= 0. There was a question to answer about the function and variation of computing, which was easy. Saturday was philosophy. End.
As well as clearly wearing his university colours with pride, Werner and his fellow students seem to have enjoyed student rounds of parties, dancing classes, hiking and football, as can be seen in the following photographs and extracts from letters. In addition, I can write with certainty that academic attainment meant everything to Werner. We were told that he had had to do far better than his peers and colleagues to be allowed to continue there at all.
The photographs and documents that follow provide a unique window into life at Breslau university in the 1930s: I believe I am correct in asserting that in Breslau (now Wrocław), very little survived the war by way of university documentation.
University of Breslau, 1930
A health form
University of Breslau
Institute for Practical Exercises Breslau, 30th April 1930
Medical Examination of new enrolment of students.
The student Herr Werner Weissenberg, born 7.11.1911, has been found suitable to carry out sporting activities at today’s examination.
Priv. Doz. Dr von Falkenhausen Breslau 16, Hobrechtufer 4
Testimonial: summer 1930
Werner was a keen ballroom dancer throughout his life, while his health permitted. It was a skill he learned early, and it was clearly an important part of his life at Breslau.
Photograph: 7th February 1931
Semester card: Winter 1930/1931
The card is signed by physics faculty member Hedwig Kohn: please follow the underlined links here (or in the menu) for more information about Breslau faculty members whose signatures appear on Werner’s documents.
University of Breslau, 1931
Semester card: Summer 1931
Testimonial: summer 1931
According to the university handbook for 1930/31, sports instructor Dr Martin Hahn was part of the Akademische Ausschuß für Leibesübungen – the academic committee for physical exercises. He lived at Novastraße 3, and was a director of the sports institute. He taught courses on the methods and systems of physical exercise on Wednesdays from 8am to 9am and on Thursdays from 6pm to 7pm. He also taught methods and systems of gymnastics, with a seminar for the elderly on Mondays from 8pm to 10pm at the physiological institute. The latter is interesting in suggesting a ‘Town and Gown’ aspect to his teaching. Martin Hahn was no longer teaching at Breslau in Werner’s final year at the university, according to the handbook for 1935/36.
A physics anecdote
Werner was a mathematician and a physicist: when my husband – a space and atmospheric physicist – first met him, they started to chat about contemporary physics. My husband later observed that even at that distance of some fifty-odd years since he last studied the subject, Werner simply went back to first principles in order to work out what was going on with current physics theory and the conversation in which he found himself. A brilliant academic and thinker himself, suffice to say that my husband was – and remained – impressed with the mind he encountered when he met Werner.
Photograph: Zobten, 26 July 1931
One of the extraordinary things about extending out this project to encompass all names found in my father’s letters and documents, has been the amount of contextual detail gained about items I have seen for a long time, but knew little about. So far as I knew, these pictures taken at Zobten were simply of a group of student friends on an outing. However, having looked up some of this contextual information, on physicist Hedwig Kohn on the American Institute of Physics website, I now know that there was an annual trip made to Zobten by the physics department at Breslau. So the photograph above was probably taken on the 1931 departmental outing. One of AiP photographs shows Kohn getting off a bus at Zobten, which also solves the mystery of how they probably got there.
Practical physics courses, 1930s
Testimonial: Winter 1931/1932
University of Breslau, 1932
Police form: April 1932
Letter: Max Kaiser (student friend) to Werner: Breslau, 29th March, 1938 And so for football: if you are not already aware of this, listen. Just as I prophesised, it really happened - Gto six times master has retired; that shouldn’t have happened. We had to have two men to replace him. The other nine belong to Elf, who were winners last year. You will remember that I already foresaw the decline last year, but I never dreamt that it would really happen. Yes, yes, ever since old W. died, it’s all over. I don’t know how Saarbrucken fared. I expect they were overall winners. There are going to be some good games for you to watch. I am not going to see any of them. The Vorwarts (first team) are playing in Gleiwitz; up to now I am not satisfied. The start was bad, but it can still improve. There is no way they will ever make the first league. That will be fortunate but I think they will make the second league.
Seminar for theoretical physics: 1932
Dr Fritz Reiche
Physicist Dr Fritz Reiche had been a student of Max Planck and was a colleague of Albert Einstein. He taught physics at Breslau from 1921 to 1933, when he was dismissed under National Socialist racial laws: he was Jewish.
Semester card: summer 1932
Anmeldungs buch / Bookings book
Follow the link here for more information on Rector Hans Helfritz – the signatory above. Kölling, who is another of the signatories above, is not listed in the 1930/31 university handbook, and is only mentioned by his family name in one entry in the 1935/35 handbook. He is listed here under the title of Scientific testing office for higher education. He is Chairman and school inspector.
As well as names I have linked to for more information above, one of the signatures here is that of head of the sports institute, Bruno Saurbier.
Follow the underlined link for more information on one of the signatories given here – Fritz Arndt (chemistry).
How extraordinary – to have been taught by mathematician Johann Radon.
The top signature above is that of mathematician Hans Rademacher.
Another new faculty member name here is that of mathematician Wolfgang Sternberg. He was forced to leave Breslau in 1935.
Another faculty member given here is Hermann Senftleben (a physicist).
The only new faculty name I can work out here is that of philosopher Siegfried Marck. A native of Breslau, being Jewish, Marck lost his post here in the early 1930s.
Semester card: winter 1932 to 1933
University of Breslau, 1933
Mathematics and physics seminar: 16 February 1933
Certificate: 28th February 1933
University of Breslau, 1934
Assessment: 30th July 1934, signed by Schaefer
It is also interesting to note on the form above the name of Werner’s landlord – Wiener. I’m still hoping that at some point I will find out his first name.
Assessment: 31st July 1934, signed by Erich Rothe
University of Breslau, 1935
The signatory on the form above is Karl Seiler.
Certificate/Record: 29th May 1936
Regarding the scientific assessment for the teaching degree for higher schools
Mr Werner Weissenberg, born 7th November 1911 in Pless O/S., of Jewish religion, passed his A-levels at the Gymnasium in Beuthen O/S on March 12th 1930 and studied Mathematics and Natural Sciences from Easter 1930 until Michaelmas 1933 and from Easter 1934 until Michaelmas 1935 in Breslau.
In the summer terms 1933 and 1935 he was granted leave.
In the winter term 1933/34 he was a visiting student at the university of Breslau.
Given the notice from 20th May 1935 according to the ministerial accord from 7.12.1933, and being eligible for the examination for teaching in higher schools, he received the following exercises for written examination:
- Theory of the spatial problem of Lagrange (without side conditions) with two variable end points
- Contributions to the explanation of Schaefer Bergmann’schen interference experiments
He passed the oral examination on the 27th, 28th and 29th May 1936.
Herr Werner Weissenberg passed the exam for teaching in higher schools.
He received in Mathematics, his major, grade ‘Good’
EVIIa 564 38
In Physics, his second major, he received the grade ‘sufficient’ and in his minor course Chemistry, grade ‘Good’.
Given his performance in the written and oral examination the grade
Is awarded to him
Breslau, 29th May 1936
Ministry for scientific examination
I believe that Dittrich here refers to Dr Otto Dittrich, who is the only Dittrich listed in the university handbook for the 1936/36 academic year. He is a medical doctor teaching in dermatology and venerology, who lived on Kaiser Wilhelm Straße. This is all I have been able to find out about him to date.
Letter: 30th May 1936
Original German letter is here
Tost, 30th May 1936
Hurrah! I just found your lovely letter in the box. Thank God you have survived it and done so well. I am happy and congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. I prayed in the Temple on both days, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know you were having such a strenuous time. It really worked out so well for you. There was only one sentence in your last card that made me think this was what will be, will be. It will be weakened by the reference to the month of June. After the event I am still agitated, so much so that my hands are trembling. If dear God has helped up till now then he will carry on helping you. Now you can sleep during the Whitsun holidays and carry on relaxing when you get home. I am anxious to know details, of course. As for the goods you can’t get into your suitcases – get a large box and send it by train. That will be the cheapest method of transport.
Now hearty congratulations,
From your Mother
Heartiest congratulations from me also, and I am glad that at last you have got it over with. In spite of my retirement I was nevertheless worried. You can tell us all the details when you get home. Your winter sweater, you can place into the box, that way you will have less to carry. A healthy au revoir.
Lots of love, Father
Many congratulations from me too. With God’s help you have got through. I hope you will find some employment soon with a good salary. Do you not want to say goodbye to Uncle Martin? He would be very pleased with a visit from you. He will have written to you. Margot is celebrating her 21st birthday with Heinz. Looking forward to seeing you.
Lots of love, Grandmother
You will have written, hopefully, to the aunts and Uncle Kurt. You will have to pay a farewell visit by Saturday 6th, won’t you? I tried to recover my strength as a 45-year old, but in vain, unfortunately. Did you like the lady? Grandmother would like you to visit Uncle Martin Bloch, on Gartenstrasse, because he is very fond of you and very kind to us.
Greetings, from Mother
(Translation by Helga Brown BA Dip. Ed. née Steinhardt)
Certificate: 29 May 1936
Certificate: 29 May 1936
Statement under Oath: extract
German original and full English translation – here
If the political circumstances in Germany had stayed the same, according to a Professor at the University of Breslau, after an extra term I would have obtained a doctorate, which would, of course, have been very beneficial towards my professional prospects past and present.