Angewandte Chemie International Edition

Cover image for Vol. 55 Issue 23

Editor: Peter Gölitz, Deputy Editors: Neville Compton, Haymo Ross

Online ISSN: 1521-3773

Associated Title(s): Angewandte Chemie, Chemistry - A European Journal, Chemistry – An Asian Journal, ChemistryOpen, ChemPlusChem, Zeitschrift für Chemie

For full article and contact information, see Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2002, 41 (8), 1310 - 1328

No. 08/2002

Emigrants, Followers, and Offenders

Chemists and Biochemists
in the era of the National Socialists

In 1938, the inorganic chemistry professor at the Technical College of Berlin, Arthur Schleede, complained in a letter to the German Chemical Society that some Jewish chemists were still appearing as co-editors of German scientific journals. Schleede’s letter demonstrates the position of many chemists and biochemists in Germany after 1933. Not only did nearly all of them accept the exclusion of Jews from all scientific projects, but many scientists proved their allegiance by rushing into the lead. Jews were no longer tolerated as authors and editors of scientific publications, even though this was not required by law.

It is the darkest chapter in German history that is thus examined by Cologne science historian Ute Deichmann. Her book, "Flüchten, Mitmachen, Vergessen. Chemie und Biochemie in der NS-Zeit" (WILEY-VCH, Weinheim) was published last year. The title of the book translates as "Escape, Participate, Forget. Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Era of National Socialism", and in an essay in Angewandte Chemie, Deichmann uses the same three keywords to summarize the repercussions of National Socialism for chemistry and biochemistry in German and Austrian universities and Kaiser-Wilhelm Institutes. By recounting the stories of individuals, she describes the dismissal and forced emigration of all Jewish chemists and biochemists, and the few non-Jewish colleagues that were singled out as dissidents or "friends of the Jews".

Most non-Jewish scientists opportunistically complied with the National Socialist laws. Some actively supported the National Socialists’ racial ideology and politics. Nonconformity and help for Jewish colleagues were rare. "At the end of the war, many college teachers were dismissed as a consequence of the denazification policies of the Allies. Most of them were either rehired or given emeritus status within the next five years," reports Deichmann. "Some political activists were even able to become professors again." Especially painful to those abroad was the absence of words of regret from German colleagues after 1945.

And the consequences for chemical research? The German chemistry and biochemistry communities, which were previous international leaders, lost many of their brightest lights through the expulsion and murder of Jewish researchers. Furthermore, the general silence of German scientists - an attempt to allow the joint responsibility of the individuals to fall into oblivion - hindered international exchange after 1945 and further hampered the recovery of fields that had fallen behind international standards.