The Great Purge of 1933

How Antisemitism Destroyed Mathematics in Germany

“If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years!” — Adolf Hilter

Prior to World War II, Germany had led the world in science for more than one hundred and fifty years. Its reputation for excellence in chemistry, physics, biology, medicine and mathematics was rivaled, if at all, only by Britain (Medawar & Pyke, 2000). Of the 100 Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 1932 (the year before Hitler came to power) 33 were awarded to Germans or scientists working in Germany. Britain had won 18, and the United States a mere six.

Then, as the result of a series of events following Hitler’s takeover of Germany in 1933 and the passing of the Berufsbeamtengesetz (“Law for the Restoration of the Professsional Civil Service”), in order to “re-establish a national and professional civil service”, members of certain groups of public employees began being dismissed from German universities. That is, civil servants who were not considered to be of “sufficiently Aryan” descent had to leave their jobs. Continue reading