Remigration and Reparation at the University of Hamburg

Author: Dennis Hormuth, Hamburg University Archive. Translated with DeepL.

In principle, scholars at the University of Hamburg who were willing to remigrate and who had fled abroad to escape National Socialism had a legally regulated right to reemployment as members of the public service.

The remigration of Jewish academics to Germany required at least two factors: 1) The willingness on the Jewish part to return to the country and society of the perpetrators at all. 2) The facilitation of financial resources for subsistence in the destroyed and reconstructed Germany. For the latter, various regulations came into being quickly after the end of the war and, after the founding of the Federal Republic, a nationwide legal framework, the so-called "Wiedergutmachung" (reparations). This is generally understood to mean primarily financial compensation for seized property or for concentration camp imprisonment and its health consequences. Researchers in the field of history have long been concerned about the term "reparations" because financial instruments are hardly suitable for making up for persecution, deprivation of rights, physical torture and the loss of loved ones. Moreover, the term connotes an absolving of guilt. Nevertheless, scholars adopted this term as a contemporary designation for a system of coming to terms with the past in all its intentional and unintentional contexts.

Overall, the practice of reparation showed that many obstacles were placed in the way of the victims and that remigration was hardly possible due to the regulations in force, for economic reasons alone. Burden of proof, investigations, different interpretations of unclear legal regulations by different administrators and for a long time the non-recognition of psychological consequences of imprisonment in the concentration camps led again and again to renewed physical as well as mental stress for the victims. In many cases, reparations were also tantamount to a second expropriation, for example, when far too little compensation was paid.

For former civil servants who had been dismissed in 1933 for racist reasons, special regulations existed that were primarily aimed at reinstatement - with financial compensation for the usual career paths without persecution. They had a better chance of, above all, swift reparations and a privileged position compared to the private sector, because there was a shortage of personnel after the war. A large proportion of civil servants had been killed in the war, were prisoners of war, or were dismissed in the course of denazification proceedings. The noticeable shortage of personnel had to be reduced in order to maintain administrative work. Between the end of the war and July 1946, there were 1,238 reinstatements in Hamburg's civil service due to reparations, but during the same period there were also 9,400 dismissals as part of denazification efforts.

Übersicht Wiedergutmachungsfälle
Undatierte vierseitige Liste mit Wiedergutmachungsfällen an der Universität Hamburg
(German. English version coming soon)
The case of Walter A. Berendsohn
Letter by Walter A. Berendsohn to Karl Ludwig Schneider, September 1, 1965

Although universities were also public authorities, the situation here was different. The former scientists who had to be compensated were in competition with those who had fled from the separated eastern territories and the Soviet occupation zone, as well as with the almost exclusively male professors who had come from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Alsace. In addition, the particular specialization of researchers should be noted. It is true that in the scientific field, too, a whole range of personnel had to be replaced. But the academics who were willing to return had to prove that they had the right qualifications in order to be considered for reemployment. Persecuted persons had to turn to their former department for reparation, not to other institutions, because universities were responsible only for those scientists who had been dismissed from their own institutions in 1933, according to the applicable legal regulations. The likelihood that there was a vacancy for a professorship in the one department at the one university with the corresponding specialization that one had was not very high.

Moreover, the German scientific system as a whole had come to believe that it had survived the Nazi era unscathed and largely with integrity. Many therefore did not see any moral responsibility toward their expelled colleagues.

This was underpinned by law, because in addition to the background of persecution, the legal regulations determined professional aptitude as a criterion for reemployment. And: The universities themselves decided on this professional suitability. This meant that it was precisely those professors who had themselves been involved in the dismissals and expulsions from office in 1933 or who had held the former chairs of the persecuted and refugees who were responsible for the academic assessment of the remigrants. Moreover, a frequent argument against the reemployment of those who had not held full professorships in 1933 was the non-plannability of academic career paths after 1945. There was no proof that person X or Y would have made it to a professorship without the persecution. The assessment of potential career paths depended on the perspectives of individual professors employed at the faculties, which professional background, but nevertheless were subjective. A comparison of the opinions on Walter A. Berendsohn and Siegfried Landshut shows how different these could be.

Rainer Nicolaysen interprets the refusals to reinstate Berendsohn as a member of the faculty against the background of a culture of extensive silence about the National Socialist past that prevailed not only, but also, at the universities: "The politically thinking exile researcher threatened to disturb the silence about the Nazi past and was punished for this with a defamation campaign." [1]. On the other hand, Siegfried Landshut's status as a person entitled to reparations played only a subsidiary role in the appeal proposal. The core of the argumentation was the scientific quality of the candidate.

However, many of the expellees or emigrants were unable to build up a secure and professionally adequate existence in exile. Therefore they were unable to build up their scientific expertise, which would have made them appear scientifically suitable in the eyes of the faculties reviewing them, in order to be rehired.

Only since the 1980s, long after the end of the Shoah and the war and after more than one generational change among university professors, did a more widespread, conscious, open and self-critical reappraisal of the National Socialist period begin within the universities. At the University of Hamburg, after a project lasting several years, one of the first comprehensive reappraisals of the National Socialist past of a German university was presented in 1991 in the form of the three-volume work "Hochschulalltag im dritten Reich," which was to set the trend for this branch of research.

At the time when the willingness to deal with one's own National Socialist past grew at the universities and a recognition of the right to reemployment for those who had been persecuted became more generally accepted, those affected had usually already passed the threshold of emeritus status. Therefore, other forms of reparation, more idealistic than material, became the focus of the universities. Thus - often shortly before the demise of the persons concerned - honorary doctorates were awarded to

The lifeworld of emigrated Jews in the late 1940s and early 1950s did not fit the system of restitution through reemployment developed in Germany. Those who had obtained permanent and salaried jobs abroad lacked an economic incentive to reintegrate into the society of perpetrators in a country with a largely destroyed infrastructure. Erwin Panofsky, for example, refused to return to Hamburg University.

For example, honorary doctorates were awarded - often shortly before the demise of those affected - to former members of the teaching staff, who were now very old. At the University of Hamburg, stumbling blocks were laid for the victims from the circle of the so-called Hamburg White Rose. In the main building, lecture halls were named after the persecuted, the discriminated and the murdered among the former members of the university and inaugurated with ceremonial acts. The renaming of institutes, such as the "Walter A. Berendsohn Forschungsstelle für deutsche Exilliteratur" (Walter A. Berendsohn Research Center for German Exile Literature), is also intended to keep alive the memory of those persecuted and deprived of their rights and to honor them in their human dignity as well as their scientific achievements.

[1] Rainer Nicolaysen, Berendsohn, Walter Arthur, in: Dirk Brietzke / Franklin Kopitzsch (Hrsg.), Hamburgische Biografie. Personenlexikon, Bd. 3, Göttingen 2006, S. 37-39, hier: S. 38.

Select Bibliography

  • Constantin Goschler, Schuld und Schulden. Die Politik der Wiedergutmachung für NS-Verfolgte seit 1945, Göttingen 2005.
  • Michael Grüttner / Sven Kinas, Die Vertreibung von Wissenschaftlern aus den deutschen Universitäten 1933-1945, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 55 (2007), S. 123-186.
  • Eckart Krause (Hrsg), Hochschulalltag im ‚Dritten Reich‘. Die Hamburger Universität 1933-1945. 3 Bde., Berlin u.a. 1991.
  • Claus-Dieter Krohn, Unter Schwerhörigen? Zur selektiven Rezeption des Exils in den wissenschaftlichen und kulturpolitischen Debatten der frühen Nachkriegszeit, in: Bernd Weisbrod (Hrsg.), Akademische Vergangenheitspolitik. Beiträge zur Wissenschaftskultur der Nachkriegszeit, Göttingen 2002, S. 97-120.
  • Rainer Nicolaysen (Hrsg.), Auch an der Universität. Über den Beginn von Entrechtung und Vertreibung vor 80 Jahren. Reden der Zentralen Gedenkveranstaltung der Universität Hamburg im Rahmen der Reihe ‚Hamburg erinnert sich 2013‘ am 8. April 2013, Hamburg 2014.
  • Rainer Nicolaysen, Die Frage der Rückkehr. Zur Remigration Hamburger Hochschullehrer nach 1945, in: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte 94 (2008), S. 117-152.
  • Rainer Nicolaysen, Berendsohn, Walter Arthur, in: Dirk Brietzke / Franklin Kopitzsch (Hrsg.), Hamburgische Biografie. Personenlexikon, Bd. 3, Göttingen 2006, S. 37-39.
  • Christian Römmer, Entschädigung erster Klasse? Die Wiedergutmachung im öffentlichen Dienst in Hamburg nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, Hamburg 2003.