University of Breslau – faculty

I decided some time ago to write something about anyone whose name appeared in my father’s documents. My reasons are given on this page.

Exploring the paperwork for Breslau was different, however – and strange – for this was the first time I encountered people who were not only not Jewish, but who in some cases, and to varying degrees, would have been part of the National Socialist machinery of state. Academics were members of the Civil Service, and from 1933 all Civil Service personnel had to swear an oath of allegiance to the state and its leader.

My father’s university page on this website is written chronologically, and the further down the page I went, into the later 1930s, the more the nature of the people and their work changed. By the time I was researching the staff of 1935-1936 – the last year in which Werner was allowed to attend Breslau – all Jewish faculty had been dismissed, and those who were left would have taken the Civil Service Oath of Loyalty.

I wondered whether I should delete these pages; it felt wrong to have them here.

However, re-reading these pages, there is also much interesting and useful context given in relation to my father’s life and studies at Breslau by 1935/1936.

Helfritz, for instance, taught finance and tax law in 1930/1931, but by 1935/1936 was teaching courses on Volk und staat (The people and the state) and Prussian history. That change is telling, and sheds light on the changes that Werner must have experienced over his university years. In another instance, a maths colleague, Hoheisel, contributed to the journal Deutsche Mathematik, which had as its aim the promotion of ‘German mathematics’ – that is, of ‘eliminating the Jewish influence’. How to imagine my father being taught mathematics by someone who presumably thought this way? There was also a Deutsche Physik (German physics) movement, opposed to ‘Jewish physics’, including the work of Einstein and his colleagues…

As well as lending further understanding and context to the time in which my father was working at Breslau, this made me pause and wonder what the course of the war might have been had so much important work not been dismissed and discarded.

In addition, by the later 1930s, around forty-five percent of academic staff had been dismissed from German universities – mostly because they were Jewish, but also if they would not align with the National Socialist state and its policies: here, there is the example of Hans Rademacher, dismissed in 1934 for his pacifism and human rights activism. In our present context, this mass dismissal of Jewish academics can be seen in the very much reduced numbers of staff listed as working at Breslau from 1930 to 1936.

All this builds a picture, then, of the world in which my father and his family and friends were having to live and work as best they could in increasingly restricted circumstances.

Thus, I have decided to retain this information about the academics who taught my father – not least as a show of some hope for humanity: for whatever else took place within Breslau’s walls in the 1930s – and much of it was very dark indeed – these twenty-four teachers – however reluctantly – signed off on my Jewish father’s education, which allowed him to complete at least one degree, and to come within a term of gaining his doctorate before he was finally forbidden further access.

Werner left Breslau with a fierce pride in his intellectual standing, and with an extraordinary depth of understanding of his field, and no account of him would be complete without a thorough account of his time at this university.

Rather than omit information about those who in the end wore a nazi uniform, then, I have tried to steer these accounts towards my father’s experience of this time and place and people  – as much as I am able to, at this distance in time. Hence the focus on timetables and courses – the stuff of which an undergraduate’s life would have been constructed.

I think it’s the best I can do.

As a one-time academic myself, I have a remaining puzzle, to which I have no answer.

I am no mathematician and I am no physicist, but even I have heard of the work of, for example, Johann Radon. I have no idea (yet) to what extent Radon went along with state politics and actions. I do know that these Breslau faculty members included and worked with some of the greatest scientific minds of our times – Albert Einstein, Max Born, Erwin Schrödinger, and Max Planck among them. How to account for the academic brilliance of a Radon – alongside what we know Breslau was so enthusiastically a part of, and morally complicit in? This puzzle is perhaps what made me stop when I was about to delete the pages mentioned above. What would it say – to delete these achievements? For better than anyone, we children of holocaust survivors know where the path leads that omits and deletes and ignores and dismisses.

Somehow, despite everything, we – especially, perhaps – have to be better than that.

I don’t think that there is an answer to this. I will try simply to allow whatever documents I can find to speak for themselves.