Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Third Reich In America's Ivory Towers by Stephen H. Norwood
During the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, many Americans recognized that the Hitler regime represented an unprecedented relapse into barbarism. James Waterman Wise declared in 1933, in one of the first books to be published about Germany under Nazi rule, that the Third Reich was conducting "a bloodless war of extermination" against the Jews, "which gives no quarter and recognizes no non-combatants." In May 1933 Lord Melchett described Germany as a death trap for its entire Jewish population. The Nazis had expelled Jews from the professions and university faculties, shut down their businesses, and brutally beat them in the streets, in torture cellars, and in concentration camps. They delighted in inflicting the most degrading and humiliating forms of punishment on Jews, often in full public view. Respected Americans and British journalists, reporting directly from Germany or drawing on interviews from refugees from the Third Reich in neighboring countries, regularly provided detailed accounts of Nazi antisemitic atrocities, discrimination and harassment.
As the chapters in this book demonstrate, the leaders of America's colleges and universities remained for the most part uninvolved as others in this country forcefully protested the Nazis' barbaric treatment of Jews. The Nazis' antisemitic terror in 1933 precipitated demonstrations and boycotts on an unprecedented scale, often initiated at the grassroots level. Several U.S. senators and big-city mayors joined in these protests, which the American press widely publicized. But although academicians were the Americans most conversant with European affairs, few engaged in public anti-Nazi protest.
As many working and lower-middle-class Americans marched in the streets and struggled to organize a nationwide boycott of German goods and services, American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses. America's most distinguished university presidents willfully crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich's economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazis Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press. Influenced by their administrators' example, and that of many of their professors, college and university students for the most part adopted a similar outlook, although there were significant student protests against Nazism at some schools, such as Columbia, which is analyzed in Chapter 3.
Chapter 2 considers the role of America's most prestigious institution of higher learning, Harvard University, in legitimating the Hitler regime. It focuses particularly on President James Bryant Conant; on the undergraduate newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, which reflected the outlook of the most influential segment of student opinion; and on alumni. Chapter 3 examines the role of this nation's most prominent university president, Columbia's Nicholas Murray Butler, in enhancing the image of the Third Reich, and on his highly vocal student opponents, some of whom edited the undergraduate newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. The Columbia Spectator's outlook towards Germany and antisemitism differed significantly from that of the Harvard Crimson.
Chapter 4 focuses on the Seven Sisters, the elite women's colleges, which were centrally involved in promoting student exchanges with Nazis Germany. Chapter 5 examines this nation's most prestigious foreign policy symposia, sponsored by the University of Virginia's Institute of Public Affairs. During the 1930s, these symposia provided an important forum that permitted apologists for Nazi Germany's domestic and foreign policies to reach American audiences. Chapter 6 explores the role of university German Language departments in the 1930s as disseminators of Nazis propaganda in the United States, and in hosting campus visits by Nazi Germany's diplomats. Chapter 7 analyzes the role of Catholic colleges and universities in promoting appeasement of Nazi Germany and providing a platform for propagandists for Mussolini and Franco. Chapter 8 examines the limits of protests against Nazism within academia even during 1938, a year that culminated in the Kristallnacht, when German barbarity finally instilled widespread alarm.
The Epilogue explores the role of former Harvard president James Bryant Conant in encouraging the parole of Nazis war criminals during the 1950's, as U.S. High Commissioner for Germany and as ambassador to West Germany. It also focuses on the effusive praise and respect prominent American higher education leaders accorded Mircea Eliade during his long postwar career as a professor at the University of Chicago, despite his role as a propagandist for Romania's antisemitic Iron Guard, enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazis during the 1930s and the Holocaust.