Escaping Germany after the Fall of the Weimar Republic
The end of the Weimar Republic. Adolf Hitler greets President Paul von Hindenburg, in Potsdam, Germany, on March 21, 1933, in a pose designed to project an image of Hitler as non-threatening to the established order. / U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum, Wikimedia Commons
Rather than being obliterated this culture was exported and preserved on the other side of the Atlantic.
By Dr. Claus-Dieter Krohn / 07.08.2015
Former Professor of History
Leuphana University Lüneburg
National Socialism destroyed and displaced the unique culture of the short-lived Weimar Republic The forced emigration of most of its representatives meant that rather than being obliterated this culture was exported and preserved on the other side of the Atlantic, where (in the USA) it still has something of a mythical status. It is no mere coincidence that it was Peter Gay who coined the term “Weimar Culture” in his seminal study “Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider”. Gay was born in 1923 in Berlin and fled in 1939 with his parents from Nazi Germany to the United States, where he went on to become a prominent American historian.
Profile of the Movement to Escape after 1933
Weimar culture is associated with modern, avant-garde movements within art and literature, with urban life, the development of film as medium, Americanization, Westernization and mass culture, but also with the analysis of modernity within the social sciences, a trend that had emerged definitively in Germany following the disruption of the World War I. These social movements and reorientations contradicted National Socialist ideologies. The aura which still surrounds the culture of the Weimar Republic today is rooted in the debate over social and intellectual questions which remain relevant to contemporary society. This is even more remarkable when one considers the deplorable collapse of the first German democracy.
Beginning in summer 1933, German ciizens were systematically stripped of their citizenship by the Nazi government. These expatriation lists were published in the government journals Deutscher Reichsanzeiger and Preußischer Staatsanzeiger. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, these lists were compiled by émigrés in Paris and published as a supplement to the emigrant newspaper Pariser Tageszeitung.
About 500,000 people fled or were driven from the area controlled by the National Socialists after 1933, a rather insignificant number compared with other modern migrations. Around 360,000 of these were from Germany itself and another 140,000 from Austria after the annexation of 1938. The émigrés included primarily social democrats and members of the inner circle of the liberal bourgeoisie as well as communists and avant-garde writers and artists and, finally, a considerable number of scholars. In the wake of the “Restoration of Professional Civil Service Act” (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums), passed in early April 1933, German institutions of higher education lost about a quarter of their instructors – roughly 3,000 individuals. Many were discharged for political reasons or because they were of “non-Aryan” descent. Shortly thereafter, the competing political parties were banned, and in the summer of 1933 the first expatriation list was released. By early 1945, there had been another 358 such lists..1
Intellectual Emigration: Arthur Kaufmann’s triptych depicts some of the most celebrated German and Austrian émigrés, including Albert Einstein, Fritz Lang, Arnold Schönberg, Kurt Weill, Arnold Zweig and the brothers Thomas und Heinrich Mann. Kaufmann also added his own likeness to the group portrait. / Kunstmuseum Mülheim an der Ruhr, © VG Bild-Kunst
The National Socialist definition of “non-Aryan” need no further attention here, for those affected usually had completely different ideological alliances and their Jewish ancestry played a role in only that, faced with the crumbling assimilation in Germany, they had tended to develop into social critics par excellence. As a result, those classified as such were especially prone to be involved in the modern scholarly disciplines which had just become established in the 1920s: sociology, economics, psychology, political science and, within the natural sciences, biochemistry and nuclear physics. Without exaggerating, Peter Gay (1923–2015) could claim that “[t]he exiles Hitler made were the greatest collection of transplanted intellect, talent and scholarship the world has ever seen.”2 The triptych which the émigré painter Arthur Kaufmann (1888–1971) created between 1939 and 1963 depicts a representative sample of the émigrés.
Most of those who fled Germany after the rise of National Socialism did not initially set out for the USA. America was seen as a point of no return, which made it unattractive to political refugees and the literati. It is this group, which was long the focus of scholarship, which is meant when one speaks of “exiles”. They mistakenly assumed that the Nazi regime would experience a quick demise and initially emigrated to countries bordering on Germany: Czechoslovakia (app. 9,000), France (app. 100,000), Switzerland (app. 25,000), the Netherlands (app. 10,000) and Scandinavia (app. 8,000). There were significant publishers of exiled authors in Prague, Paris, Zürich and Amsterdam, and politicians and writers hoped both to reach German-speakers outside of Germany and also to influence the future of the Nazi state via clandestine channels.3
The exiled party leadership of the SPD – the so-called “Sopade” – fled to the Czech capital while only a relatively small group of communists (about 3,000) found refuge in the Soviet Union due to the restrictive conditions for entry. Most of the latter later disappeared in the Stalinist Gulag. Research has shown that the leaders of the German Communist Party were just as likely to be executed in the Soviet Union as they were in Nazi Germany.4 Palestine and Turkey were further exceptions as countries of exile in 1933 to which special agreements encouraged targeted migration. In Palestine, under the British Mandate, the number of immigrants was limited. The Jewish Agency, which was responsible for organizing the immigration, reached a transfer agreement (Haavara) with the German state ensuring that the settlers, primarily Zionist pioneers from the HeHalutz association, would come from the wealthy middle class (about 60.000 individuals): the industrial goods which they brought to Palestine had been paid for with Jewish assets in Germany, while their transfer out of the country was not allowed. Turkey, on the other hand, targeted German scholars who had been dismissed (including their families, about 1,000 individuals) for backing its attempt to modernize the country under the dictatorship of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938).
The migration was initially limited to the countries named here, but 1938 brought a new wave of critical events which sparked an upsurge in migration from Europe in general: the annexation of Austria; the occupation of the Sudetenland; the destruction of Jewish property associated with Kristallnacht; the introduction of Italian racial laws modelled after those in Germany; and the looming defeat of the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Those countries which had taken the refugees in became increasingly reluctant to do so. In the spring of 1938 an international conference of the League of Nations in Evian on Lake Geneva to address the refugee question was unsuccessful. It was the only such conference convened during these years. From now on the USA, too, came more and more into focus as a refuge. Larger groups of refugees also were able to escape to Latin America (for example, about 35,000 went to Argentina and 16,000 to Brazil) and to South Africa (app. 5,500), but the only other option for those without a visa was, for the short period of Japanese occupation, the international settlement in Shanghaito which more than 18,000 individuals fled after 1938.
In contrast to his brother Thomas, Heinrich Mann thought of himself very early as a democratic and socialist writer. This was clearly demonstrated in his criticism of Wilhelminian society which reached its narrative high point in the novels Professor Unrat(1905) and Der Untertan (1918). As one of the leading representatives of the Weimar Republic (president of the section “writing and poetry” of the Prussian Academy of Art, 1931–1933) he warned against the downfall of democracy. He emigrated to France in 1933 where he wrote his literary masterpiece – the two-volume novel on the French King Heinrich IV. (1935, 1938). In 1940, Mann fled to the USA. He died just before he was to assume the presidency of the German Academy of Arts in the GDR. / S. Fischer Verlag, © Archiv S. Fischer Verlag
The political and literary exile peaked in the years leading up to 1938 and was recorded in countless books, programmatic brochures and magazines. As suggested by titles like Die Sammlung (The Assembly) or Der Gegen-Angriff (The Counterattack), these works presented the exiles as the “other Germany”. Those in exile understood themselves to be the mouthpiece of a muted nation, as “the better Germany”, guided by reason and humanity. “Without the emigration”, claimed Heinrich Mann (1871–1950), “Germany could no longer be considered rational and humane; the exiles are all that are left of a Germany that learns, thinks and works towards a future.”5
Critical, mostly leftist, writers had quickly recognized the scope of the National Socialists’ power grab and viewed their expulsion as a political provocation, even if they were unable to wield anything more powerful than their pens. In retrospect, these quite impressive movements for literary and artistic transformation had begun already in the 1920s, for they had opened themselves to Western philosophical ideologies with their urbane, civilizing impulses. These “asphalt literati” were thus targeted in a particularly aggressive campaign, and the burning of their books intended to wipe them from the collective memory. Despite their material problems and their tumultuous biographies, many found their exile to be existentially and spiritually enriching. Excluded from German society against their will, they felt obligated to raise their voices in protest. With their countless publications, they waged battle against the barbarism in Germany and against the persistent global apathy from their countries of refuge.
[LEFT]: The cover of the Brown Book, published by émigrés in Paris, depicts Hermann Göring screaming, wearing a butcher’s apron and wielding an axe. The book’s authors tried to prove that the Nazis themselves had set fire to the Reichstag. 135,000 copies of the Brown Book were printed; it was translated into over 20 languages. / The Heartfield Community of Heirs/VG Bild-Kunst
[RIGHT]: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror was immediately translated into more than 20 languages; Dutch and Yiddish editions, for instance, appeared as early as 1933. / Braunbuch über Reichstagsbrand und Hitlerterror, Yiddish edition, Moscow 1933
For example, in July 1933 the emigrants in Paris had already assembled and published the Braunbuch über Reichstagsbrand und Hitlerterror (Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror).6 The National Socialists attempted to frame the Reichstag fire in February of 1933 as a communist conspiracy and sentenced the Dutch anarchist Marinus van der Lubbe (1909–1934) to death for arson, but in the Braunbuch the émigrés argued that the Nazis had set fire to the Reichstag in a ploy to eliminate their political opponents. Lacking detailed information about the proceedings in Germany, the authors influenced the international coverage by depicting the Nazis’ brutality and relying on deduction, intuition and assertion. The Braunbuchwas published in more than twenty languages, including the German edition of 135,000 copies and the French edition of 10,000.7
A bit later the communist publisher Willi Münzenberg (1889–1940) put together an international committee of prominent jurists and intellectuals to follow the judicial proceedings against Van der Lubbe following the Reichstag fire. These attempts to use propaganda to put the Nazis on the defensive on their own territory – called the “Münzenberg strategy” in the historiography – were complemented by various international writers’ conventions which sought to inform the public about the events in Germany.
The impression left by the exiled political parties – the Social Democrats and Communists, as well as some fragmentary groups – presented quite a contrast. Even before the Nazis seized power, these parties had no strategy to counter the authority of the National Socialists which had become more prominent since 1930. After 1933 their paralysis only increased as the regime became more and more entrenched, and state terror made illegal organization practically impossible, especially from beyond the borders. Constrained by their traditional frame of mind and unprepared for an illegal struggle, they became increasingly estranged from the resistance within Germany, which had soon been minimized by numerous incarcerations and the destruction of their communication network. Despite the countless appeals in the émigrés’ publications for a unified resistance, the older party mentality from the 1920s lived on in the unwillingness to compromise.8 Furthermore, divergent factions – usually of younger members – broke off of the larger parties: the Sopade could not understand the rigidity of the party leadership in Prague, and the Communist Party no longer wanted to accept the course of action dictated by Moscow.
The discussions in 1936 concerning the formation of a Popular Front along the lines of the example set in France and the Spanish Republic bogged down in the earliest phases of a “preparatory committee”, for it quickly became clear that the communists had initiated the discourse only for their own purposes. There was no attempt to develop a practical strategy for the political battle at hand.9 As a result, in contrast to the cases of those countries occupied by the German troops after 1939, the German refugees never formed an exile government. It is also doubtful, however, that the world powers would have paid much attention to representatives of this “other Germany” in the 1930s considering the British strategy of appeasement, American isolationism and Stalin’s renunciation of global revolutionary aims in favour of the creation of “socialism in one country”. Furthermore, the social elite in the industrialized West harboured considerable sympathy for fascism as a model to overcome the global economic depression and its effects on social structures. It should be mentioned, however, that several thousand mostly unknown political émigrés volunteered to fight in the international brigades for the Spanish Republic in the Civil War.
After 1938, when the aggression of the National Socialists and the likelihood of a war involving the Western nations could no longer be denied, a unified representation of the Germans living in exile could have possibly exercised an influence, if not over the decision-making process of the future coalition against Hitler, then at least by providing suggestions for the rebuilding of a democratic Germany after the war. There is no evidence to support this suggestion in the historical record, but the sources do show that during World War II neither the British nor the American government thought highly of the political organization (or lack thereof) of the Germans in exile and that they disregarded them for this reason.10
‘An Emigrant’s Vindication’: Max Hermann-Neisse’s poem is representaive of many emigrants’ attachment to German national culture.
If the struggle of the refugees against National Socialism is appraised solely on the basis of the actions of political parties and writers, their efforts seem to be lacking. From the perspective of deconstructive and postcolonial discourse, that “other Germany”, which lives “with its face towards Germany” – to use the formulation of the exiled SPD-chairman and editor of the party newspaper Vorwärts, Friedrich Stampfer (1874–1957) 11 – is viewed today with considerable scepticism because its vision of itself did not challenge the inherited concept of the nation as a homogenous entity. Instead of opening itself to new experiences and the future, this “Germany” remained nostalgically fixated on a past in which the Nazis had abused a national culture which remained nevertheless essentially intact. This provides perhaps a deeper explanation of why the Germans in exile were able to garner so little attention at the international level.12
The exiled groups who quickly abandoned expectations of returning to Germany and instead aimed to become quickly integrated into the countries which had given them refuge had a much different experience. These were primarily scholars, but also artists, who were not dependent on their native language. They overcame the national closed container mentality. Recently, their openness to these new experiences has increasingly been called “hybridity”, a term which exiled scholars themselves coined in the 1930s as they reflected on and processed their own experiences.13
Cultural Transfer via the Emigrants
This process of integration is most closely associated with the USA, and it began with the first wave of scholars dismissed under the National Socialists. A second wave followed at the end of the 1930s from those countries occupied by Germany. Approximately 130,000 individuals, more than a quarter of the total number of German refugees, went to the United States of America in addition to those who later fled persecution in the countries occupied during the war. Most of the latter group, however, returned to their homelands after World War II. While significant groups of those intellectuals who fled found refuge in Great Britain, they did not constitute the kind of cultural “brain gain” which became so important for the USA.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945), 32nd President of the United States of America from March 1933 to April 1945. A Democrat, he led the USA through the Great Depression and the Second World War. / FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Wikimedia Commons
After the World War I the USA had returned to its traditional isolationist politics and introduced stringent limitations on the number of immigrants to be accepted (for German migrants, about 25,000 per year) which it maintained during the European refugee crisis after 1939. These restrictions, however, did not apply to scholars and intellectuals. Exceptions were made to support the transformation of the country from what had been a purely business-oriented country into a modern cultural nation. Furthermore, in 1933, the newly inaugurated president,Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), introduced his “New Deal”, an unprecedented economic program for the United States. Well-known German social scientists experienced in such state interventions were thus seen as a valuable source of knowledge. Diverse philanthropic organizations supported this process and succeeded not only in attracting displaced intellectuals from Germany but also in facilitating their relatively smooth integration into American society despite the high level of unemployment among the native academics there during the Great Depression. While the labour market in the European countries where the exiles and emigrants had sought refuge precluded their finding work except in some cases in which they became self-employed in focused niche markets, there were no such official restrictions in the USA. The statistics there, however, dealt only with “immigrants” and did not distinguish between refugees and exiles.
While the American public largely viewed the refugees with scepticism at best, far-sighted intellectuals recognized the opportunity inherent in the displacement of German scholars after 1933. The German educational system had long been esteemed in the USA: many universities had been founded based on the German model and, in the early twentieth century, the leading American representatives of many academic disciplines had studied in Germany. As a result, the United States was much more eager than other countries to profit from this intellectual potential.
[LEFT]: The Statement of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, founded in New York in 1933, called for the financial and organisational support of exiled German scholars.
[RIGHT]: The List of Displaced German Scholars was published under the aegis of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars. It gathers details on some 1,600 scholars with the purpose of helping them find new academic appointments.
Immediately after the first academic dismissals in Germany, the director of the Institute of International Education in New York moved to form an Emergency Committee to Aid Displaced German Scholars which worked together with the Rockefeller Foundation to accommodate several hundred scholars from Germany and later other parts of Europe. The foundation worked together with the Academic Assistance Council, a parallel organization in Great Britain, and the German emergency organization Notgemeinschaft Deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland to compile a list which included over 1,600 refugee scholars settled at universities around the world. In order to avoid competition with the native academics, the Emergency Committee paid the refugees’ salaries for several years as long as an American university agreed to include the selected scholars in their later long-term budgets. The Academic Assistance Council in London had a similar program for Great Britain and the Commonwealth, but it was much less successful because it had fewer financial resources and was basically reliant on the voluntary donations of the local academic community.14
In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation developed its own aid program backed with several million dollars which made this organization the most important agency in attracting refugee scholars. It had originally been founded in 1911 to support research in medicine and the natural sciences, but following the World War I and the ensuing social and economic problems, it had expanded in the 1920s to include the social sciences. Thanks to its international support network, its office in Paris provided an accurate overview of the scientific standards in Europe, and the organization was familiar with nearly all the scholars working in the individual countries. With this knowledge it succeeded in targeting the most renowned scholars, many of whom it had already supported before 1933, and encouraging them to migrate to the USA. Altogether it was responsible for the migration of over 300 professors.15
[LEFT]: In summer 1933, the director of the New School for Social Research in New York set up the University in Exile, which took in many refugee scholars from Germany. / New York Times, 4 October 1933
[RIGHT]: Black Mountain College, a progressive liberal arts college that existed between 1933 and 1957, hired many émigré scholars. This photograph taken in summer 1946 shows faculty affiliated with the Arts Institute. From left to right: Leo Amino, Jacob Lawrence, Leo Lionni, Ted Dreier (?), Nora Lionni, Beaumont Newhall, Gwendolyn Lawrence, Ilse Gropius, Jean Varda (on the tree), Nancy Newhall (seated), Walter Gropius, Mary “Molly” Gregory, Josef Albers, Anni Albers. / State Archives of North Carolina, Creative Commons
In the summer of 1933, Alvin Johnson, the director of a small academic institution for adult continuing education in New York, the New School for Social Research, had already managed to put together funding to found a “University in Exile”. Actively involved and enthused about the New Deal, he sought especially to attract those Germans whom he thought would make a valuable contribution to the theoretical foundation of Roosevelt’s programs. By 1945 more than 170 exiled scholars from Germany and the rest of Europe had taught at this unique university. Many of them went on to teach at other institutions of higher learning. In 1940 a French University in Exile was founded here as well, but these members of the French resistance movement led by General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) returned to France after the war ended. Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, served a similar function, especially for refugee artists, for example from the Bauhaus School. It served as a springboard for their American careers and was of fundamental importance to the avant-garde after 1945 .16
In addition, countless other aid organizations targeted particular professions and diverse foundations made sufficient funding available for about two-thirds of the aforementioned 3,000 scholars exiled from Germany to emigrate to the USA. A slogan of the art historian Walter William Spencer Cook (1888–1962) soon made the rounds at New York University: “Hitler is my best friend. He shakes the tree and I collect the apples.”17 Others declared that helping these German intellectuals was neither philanthropy nor protest against National Socialism but simply in the best interest of the United States, even calculating the savings to American society, which profited from these highly qualified scholars but had not paid for their education. Soon this migration was being compared to the exodus of Byzantine scholars after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, an event which had marked an important contribution to Western European culture at the height of the Renaissance in Italy.18
The refugees were indeed responsible for important impulses in nearly all disciplines, especially in the modern social sciences and art history – which had not even previously been recognized as its own discipline in the USA. Their impact was also felt in various new subdisciplines of the natural sciences like nuclear physics and biochemistry. Scholarship in America is not only indebted to these impulses for its longstanding predominance at the international level, but also because the émigrés’ contributions to the war effort for the liberation of Europe and Asia from the totalitarian regimes of the Axis powers led to the surmounting of America’s traditional isolationism. The list of the former refugee intellectuals reads like a Who’s Who of the American scientific community. Those who fled Germany after 1933 appear noticeably less as exceptional individuals than as representatives of entire intellectual and academic schools.
Up to 1941, another 7,000 writers and artists had emigrated to the USA. This included a number of authors whose work was already known in the United States in translation: Thomas Mann (1875–1955) and Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958), to name just two. Many writers, however, gained in prominence because they quickly adopted English – Stefan Heym (1913–2001) and Thomas Mann’s children Erika (1905–1969) and Klaus (1906–1949) in the USA and Sebastian Haffner (1907–1999) in Great Britain – and published works in their new language about the necessity of the war against fascism.
More than 800 émigrés went to work in Hollywood: screenwriters like Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), George Fröschel (1891–1979) and Frederick Kohner (1905–1986); producers like Alexander Korda (1893–1956) and Erich Pommer (1889–1966) , directors like Fritz Lang (1890–1976), Otto Preminger (1906–1986), Douglas Sirk (Detlef Sierck, 1897–1987), Robert Siodmak (1900–1973) and Fred Zinnemann (1907–1997); and actors like Paul Henreid (1908–1992), Lotte Lenya (1898–1981), Peter Lorre (1904–1964) and Conrad Veidt (1893–1943). They produced not only an original genre of anti-Nazi films but also set new standards for American cinema with contributions to the genres of comedy, horror and film noir. The most significant of these include Hangmen Also Die (1943) by Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht, Fred Zinnemann’s classic films High Noon (1952) and From Here to Eternity (1953) which are still shown today and Casablanca (1942), the all-time classic directed by Michael Curtiz (Mihaly Kertecz, 1888–1962), which starred a number of émigrés.19
Of the musicians only a few can be mentioned here: the composer Kurt Weill (1900–1950) is remembered for the Dreigroschenoper (1928) which he wrote together with Bertolt Brecht in Germany and for his Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930), but he went on to have a successful career in the USA composing music for the film industry. The biography of Erich W. Korngold (1897–1957) followed a similar trajectory: his Hollywood career was preceded by success in Austria as a composer of operas including Die tote Stadt (1920) and Das Wunder der Heliane (1927). Within the genre of classical music, conductors like Erich Leinsdorf (1912–1993), Bruno Walter (1876–1962) and Otto Klemperer (1885–1973) were highly influential.
While the metropolitan area between New York and Boston on the east coast was the most significant centre of settlement, the region around Los Angeles became a second centre of settlement for the former German refugees, and not only for those employed in Hollywood. Roughly speaking, it was here that the “refugee artists” of all sorts settled, while the east coast remained the more important centre for German scholars looking for a new future. Like the academics, artists working in film also benefitted from special support organisations, founded by colleagues who, like Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947), had settled in Hollywood in the 1920s.
The Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, was completed in 1958 and stands at over 150 metres. It is a prime example of the so-called international style, an architectural tendency developed in the 1920s and 30s chiefly by German architects and which subsequently spread across the world. / Photo by Noroton, Wikimedia Commons
The metropolitan region around Chicago represented a third important centre of settlement, especially in the field of visual and applied arts: representatives of the Bauhaus style like Lászlo Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), Josef Albers (1888–1976) and Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956) were influential refugees who settled here, as were the famous architects Walter Gropius (1883–1969), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) , Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) and Erich Mendelssohn (1887–1953). Their vision of a complete artwork united the aesthetic and the technical, combining rational form with artistic arrangement. The fusion of impulses from Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) – who had already had an influence on Bauhaus architecture in the 1920s – with Bauhaus concepts in the 1930s led to the “international style” which is still relevant today. A local industrial association interested in design founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago under the leadership of Moholy-Nagy in 1937; in the late 1940s it was incorporated into the Illinois Institute of Technology as the Institute of Design.
Beyond these areas of considerable concentration with their intellectual giants, there were numerous scholars who should not be forgotten working at universities throughout the Midwest and in the black colleges of the South. Their research and teaching methods succeeded in increasing respect for the scientific endeavour in these regions and thus counteracted provincialism in the provinces.20 The following freelance artists were representatives of surrealism exiled from France who came to the United States and influenced the abstract expressionism which was a defining part of American art in the post-war era: André Breton (1896–1966), Max Ernst (1891–1976), André Masson (1896–1987) and Marc Chagall (1887–1985).21
Of the academics, the exiled economists were especially successful in propagating new ideas. The global depression after 1929, which could hardly be combated with the self-regulation of the markets recommended by mainstream economists, had led intellectuals in the Western industrialized world to shift politically to the left. Their demands for a realistic response to the crisis introduced the fundamental paradigm shift of the 1930s, which became known as the “Keynesian Revolution”. The New Deal was a sign of this movement. Economists from Germany, with its long tradition of state intervention, provided important impulses which went far beyond the anti-cyclical model based on the economic trend alone which had been postulated by the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946). The German economists focused their analysis more on the underlying economic structures and the development of modern technology.
They contributed to the theories of business cycles and growth, and the theory of public finance, which had been marginalized in the discipline of economics in the USA, was recognized as a subdiscipline in and of its own right. The most prominent representatives of this group at the University in Exile include Emil Lederer (1882–1939), Adolph Lowe (1893–1995), Hans Neisser (1895–1975) and Gerhard Colm (1897–1968). Colm went on to an influential career in Washington and served in Roosevelt’s cabinet; he was one of those who initiated the Full Employment Act of 1946, which was seen as a sort of Magna Carta of the New Deal and sought to integrate the GIs returning from the front into the workforce.
Although most of the émigrés were proponents of the New Deal, there was an important group of neoclassical thinkers who had had their stronghold in Austria and who vehemently criticized the New Deal. Most of them found positions at conservative Ivy League universities, like Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883–1950) and Gottfried Haberler (1900–1995) at Harvard or Fritz Machlup (1902–1983) and Oskar Morgenstern (1902–1977) at Princeton. Together with the émigré mathematician John von Neumann (1903–1957), Morgenstern developed game theory (1944) which played an important role in refining analysis of economic markets and influenced the strategies developed by numerous think-tanks during the Cold War.
Refugee scholars also contributed to the organization of the emerging disciplines of sociology and political science. These included representatives of the former Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, who were able to move as a group to Columbia University: Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) , Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969), Leo Löwenthal (1900–1993), Franz Leopold Neumann (1900–1954) and Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Other important representatives of the discipline included Sigmund Neumann (1904–1962), Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), Hans Morgenthau (1904–1980) and Lewis Alfred Coser (1913–2003), who refined the discipline of conflict studies. In the 1960s and 1970s, Arendt and Marcuse were among the most frequently-cited American social scientists.
Due to their experiences in Germany, these scholars had developed a keen sense for modern mass society and mass culture, and they analysed the dangers which social and economic crises posed for democracy, a problem which had not been a prominent theme among their American colleagues in face of the established democratic tradition in the United States. The theory of totalitarianism, which became the most important paradigm in the confrontation of East and West in the Cold War, also emerged from this circle. After the USA entered the war in 1941, many of them became involved in the war effort, working for diverse agencies, especially for the Office of Strategic Services, the first secret intelligence agency in American history. The German experts not only contributed information necessary for the war itself, but also helped shape the plans for the post-war period in Europe.22
Such activities of the former refugees, who had in the meantime become American citizens, were markedly different than those of political exiles who had mostly fled to the USA after 1938. The latter conceived of themselves as activists fighting against National Socialism, but given the totality of fascism this was an overestimation and lacking powerful allies a total illusion. Refugee scholars, on the other hand, were much more influential. Their expertise was employed less directly for a seemingly hopeless campaign against National Socialism but rather for fundamental questions; they viewed National Socialism as a test for the entire process of civilization.
Further examples suggest the extent to which German refugees influenced the development of other disciplines including: psychology and psychoanalysis (Erik Homburger Erikson (1902–1994), Charlotte Bühler (1893–1974), Erich Fromm (1900–1980), Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) and Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990)); psychological economics (George Katona (1901–1981)); applied social research (Paul Felix Lazarsfeld (1901–1976)); legal sociology (Hans Zeisel (1905–1992)); philosophy and philosophy of science (Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), Herbert Feigl (1902–1988), Leo Strauss (1899–1973) and Erich Kahler (1885–1970)); and art history (Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) and Richard Krautheimer (1897–1994)). Due to the differences in the American legal system, refugees with a legal background were faced with the choice of either studying American law or working in other fields. Many chose the latter and founded the discipline of comparative law (Hans Kelsen (1881–1973) , Heinrich Kronstein (1897–1972), Max Rheinstein (1899–1977) and John Hermann Herz (1908–2005)).
Among this stream of intellectuals, historians were underrepresented despite the migration of scholars like Hajo Holborn (1902–1969), Felix Gilbert (1905–1991) and Hans Rothfels (1891–1976), who returned to Germany after the war. In Germany before 1933, academic historians had formed a fairly exclusive conservative nationalist society which included few Jews and democrats. As a result, not many representatives of the profession were forced to flee. It was left to members of the second generation to leave their mark on the discipline after 1945: Peter Gay, George Lachmann Mosse (1918–1999) and Fritz Richard Stern (*1926).23 One of these who stands out is Ernst Maximilian Posner (1892–1980) who, starting in 1939, created a program at the American University in Washington, DC, for the professional education of archivists.
Finally, as an example of the émigrés contributions to the natural sciences, the physicists deserve mention who worked during the war on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos as well as those who, like Albert Einstein (1879–1955), were opponents of the “the bomb”. The list of those who went on to win the Nobel Prize, established at the beginning of the twentieth century, clearly illustrates the importance of the refugees to this discipline. Albert Einstein and James Franck (1882–1964) had received the prize even before their arrival in the USA (Nobel Prize 1921 and 1924, respectively). Victor Franz Hess (1883–1964) (Nobel Prize 1936), Otto Stern (1888–1969) (Nobel Prize 1943), Felix Bloch (1905–1983) (Nobel Prize 1952), Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995) (Nobel Prize 1963) and Hans Albrecht Bethe (1906–2005) (Nobel Prize 1967) were honoured after they had fled to the United States or acquired American citizenship. Other refugees who received the price included the Italian refugees Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) (Nobel Prize 1938) and Emilio Segrè (1905–1989) (Nobel Prize 1959). Within the field of chemistry, there were similar influences from later Nobel laureates and internationally renowned scholars like Erwin Chargaff (1905–2002), who helped to lay the foundation for modern genetic analysis. More than one hundred mathematicians were driven from Germany, and over sixty of these emigrated to the United States, including, in addition to John von Neumann, Richard Courant (1888–1972), Adolf Abraham Fraenkel (1891–1965), Kurt Friedrich Gödel (1906–1978), Emmy Noether (1882–1935) and others.
The emigration of Germany’s intellectual and cultural elite, which has only been roughly sketched here by the mention of the most prominent names, should not belie the fact that those émigrés who were unknown also overwhelmingly assimilated into American society, assuming important roles. Just as in the case of the famous “Eier-Jeckes” in Palestine (“Yekkes” being the name given to German-Jewish immigrants to Israel, the term poked fun at academics and professionals who went into agriculture, especially poultry and egg production), it was German refugees who developed a system in New Jersey to provide eggs for the metropolitan area of New York, thus developing a market niche to provide their livelihood. Until just a few years ago, the newspaper Aufbau, founded by German emigrants in 1934, continued to appear; its advertising section provided even decades later a glimpse into the diversity of those middle class businesses which the migrants had built up.
It was not without reason that a lively discussion broke out during the Reagan era in the 1980s about the significance of those intellectuals who had migrated to the USA thirty years earlier. It culminated in the reaction to the bestseller The Closing of the American Mind (1987) by Allan Bloom (1930–1992), who strangely enough had been a student of the conservative émigré philosopher Leo Strauss. This nativist diatribe calls the former refugees to account for the allegedly disastrous influence of this intellectual “German connection”, claiming that their ideologically and socially critical methods in the social sciences had corrupted the subsequent generations and destroyed any sense of America’s free-market Christian values. As a result, American culture had become a “Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic”.24 Others argued that with its financial resources the USA would have risen to scholarly prominence even without the emigrants. While this might be true, it does not disprove that the German and European scholars came at a point at which their messages were met with great interest and attention and that they represent a tremendous “brain gain” just as the USA was emerging as an intellectual force at the international level.
Following their successful integration, most of the scholars had no reason to return to their homelands, especially because word quickly spread that they were not welcome there; for example, none of them was offered the opportunity to return to their former academic positions in Germany. These were now occupied by those who had started their careers during the Nazi era and who in most cases were able to maintain these positions after 1945. Even in cases in which there was a celebrated return – for example, the core group of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno and Friedrich Pollock (1894–1970) – most of those who returned led a sort of double existence. They all retained their American citizenship because they harboured a great deal of scepticism about the evolution of the new Federal Republic. In the other disciplines, the number of those who returned also remained well below twenty-five percent.
Politicians returned in much greater numbers and quietly accepted the post-fascist consensus to say nothing about the recent past. Of the significant number of Social Democrats in parliament, quite a few chose to refrain from mentioning the years they had spent in exile in their biographical accounts for the Official Handbook of the Bundestag.25 At first the returned Social Democrats were engaged primarily at the state and communal level in the practical work of rebuilding. After 1945, these included Wilhelm Hoegner (1887–1980), the prime minister of Bavaria, and the mayors of Hamburg and Berlin, Max Brauer (1887–1973) and Ernst Reuter (1889–1953). They thereby picked back up the political work they had been forced to abandon after 1933, but they enriched the municipalities with the experiences they had had while in exile: drawing on Scandinavian examples, they introduced the office of ombudsman to deal with parliamentary conflicts, and they adopted the practice of administering psychological aptitude tests to candidates for jobs in the public sector as was common in the USA.
- Hepp, Die Ausbürgerung 1985.
- Gay, Weimar Culture 1969, p. 12.
- See for these and the subsequent details: Krohn / Mühlen, Handbuch 2008; Röder / Strauss, Biographisches Handbuch 1980–1983, for those names mentioned in the text. The numbers cited here present approximate total numbers of refugees in the different countries, which varied somewhat and may have been lower at any given point due to the high rate of fluctuation.
- Weber, “Weiße Flecken” 1990, pp. 19ff.
- Mann, Sinn dieser Emigration 1934, p. 43.
- English versions were published by Victor Gollancz Ltd. in London and Alfred A. Knopf in New York as early as 1933.
- Krohn, Propaganda 1997.
- So, for example, Hiller, Emigranten vereinigt euch! 1935; Mann, Sammlung 1935.
- See, Anonymus, Für die deutsche Volksfront! 1937. Also, Langkau-Alex, Deutsche Volksfront 2004.
- Kettenacker, Das “Andere Deutschland” 1977.
- Matthias, Mit dem Gesicht 1968.
- Braese, Exil und Postkolonialismus 2009.
- Krohn, Differenz oder Distanz 2009.
- Duggan / Drury, The Rescue 1948; Bentwich, Rescue and Achievement 1953.
- Gemelli, “Unacceptables” 2000, p. 35 passim.
- Krohn, Wissenschaft im Exil 1987; Duberman, Black Mountain 1972.
- Fermi, Illustrious Immigrants 1968, p. 78.
- Emergency Committee, Report 1934, p. 6.
- Asper, “Etwas Besseres als der Tod” 2002.
- Barron / Eckmann, Exil 1998.
- Edgcomb, From Swastika to Jim Crow 1993.
- Katz, Foreign Intelligence 1989.
- Coser, Refugee Scholars 1984, pp. 278ff.
- Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind 1987, pp. 141ff.
- Krohn / Mühlen, Rückkehr und Aufbau 1997; Krauss, Heimkehr 2001.
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