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The Heroic Work of Academic Help Committees in the 1930s

Hans Peter Obermayer

University of Munich, LMU

After Hitler's seizure of power, scholars and intellectuals in Europe and the United States were appalled by the ruthless and rigid course of action against the academic freedom and against the sovereignty of German universities. Immediately after the Civil Service Restoration Act was passed on 7th April 1933, thousands of Jewish and politically undesirable professors were dismissed. Within a few weeks, in an impressive act of international solidarity, efficient help organisations were founded.

In late April 1933, a meeting between intellectuals and philanthropists took place in Paris at which the decision was made to found help comittees for the dismissed German colleagues in all European countries.  Today, only few of those newly founded organisations and others that already existed before 1933 endure –  like the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), Carnegie Corporation or CARA (Council for at-risk academcis, the successor of the Academic Assistance Council [AAC]) based in London –  but most of them have been long forgotten.  The aim of the paper is to close this memory gap.

Research in recent years has focused primarily on individual trajectories of scholars.  It is about time to also honor the significant efforts of the help comittees and their employees for the rescue of the scholars. They worked with incredible creativity and tireless ambition under difficult conditions.  This paper gives face and voice to some of the heroes in this story, the chairmen and secretaries of the help committees, among them Walter Adams (AAC), Stephen Duggan, Betty Drury (Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars [EC]), Fritz Demuth (Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland) and Wilbur K. Thomas (Oberlaender Trust [OT]).

Due to the lack of scholarly publications, this is only possible through a meticulous analysis of the correspondence between the help-seeking applicants and the staff of the committees or across the committees. Luckily archive collections are available at least for the more significant committees such as the Academic Assistance Council, the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars and the Oberlaender Trust.

The focus of the paper will be on the set of rules, financing and working methods of the committes: the specific differences, characteristics and strengths of the specific organisations will become clear, based on an analysis of their support of prominent and less known Classical scholars.

Year-long scholars' dependencies on English or American help committees will be illustrated in exemplary case studies: Margarete Bieber was supported during a stay in England by AAC, as well as Kurt von Fritz and Ernst Kapp. Elisabeth Jastrow received a research scholarship in her Italian exile by the American Association of University Women and was in close contact with the Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland in Zürich. Bieber's salary at Barnard College was financed for four years by RF, EC and by Columbia University’s Faculty Fellowship Fund (FFF) of Displaced German Scholars; also Kapp's appointment at the Classics Department was subsidized by Columbia colleagues via the FFF. Friedrich W. Lenz, who did not hold a habilitation, was granted a research scholarship by a Dutch Committee, Academisch Steunfonds, which enabled him to work in Italy: after his emigration to the United States he was dependent on committees (EC, OT) for five years as well as on private donations by Yale Alumni. Paul Oskar Kristeller, who applied unsuccessfully five times (!) at the EC, complained about nepotism in Jewish committees. (1) He was more successful with applications to the Oberlaender Trust, which offered a 50% subsidy for Kristeller's associate position at Columbia for two years. The trust was a foundation of German-born hosiery manufacturer and philanthropist Gustav Oberländer (1867-1936).

(1) Letter (hw.) Kristeller, Rome, to parents, Jan. 22, 1939 (CU, RBML, KP, Ser. E, 1.1939-1945).

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The Impact of Immigration on Classical Studies in North America (organized by the Committee on the Status of Women and Minority Groups

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