Escape of Science – The Emigration and Forced Migration of Scientists, Scholars and Economists from Germany 1933-1945

Seminar Paper 2009 22 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Globalization, Political Economics



1. Introduction

2. Preconditions that lead to the Emigration
2.1 Cultural and Scientific Background
2.2 Laws and Decrees of the NS regime

3. Circumstances of the Emigration
3.1 Situation in Germany
3.2 Situation in the Receiving Countries
3.2.1 Problems of the Emigration: Integration, Xenophobia and Isolationism
3.2.2 Prospects of the Emigration: Receiving Countries and Organizations start to think things over

4. Impacts of the Emigration
4.1 In the Receiving Countries
4.2 In Germany

5. The Role of the Emigration
5.1 Emigration-induced Scientific Change
5.2 Gain-and-loss

6. Conclusion


List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

On January the 30th in 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed the Chancellor of the Reich. Only a few days later, he and his party of national socialists, the NSDAP started to restructure Germany in every ambit and field in order to form a dictatorship and to control all aspects of live. “Non-Aryan” people and such with undesirable political and cultural views had to resign from their employment. This was the beginning of a huge forced and voluntary exodus of scientists, scholars and intellectuals from Germany.

At first the paper will deal with the preconditions that led to the emigration and forced migration of the German scientists. That includes several decrees as well as cultural reasons and the scientific backgrounds of the migrants. After that, the emigrant’s situation in Germany and the receiving countries is analyzed. The chapter shows dates and figures and to which countries people migrated. The next chapter deals with the multiple impacts the migrants made in their receiving countries as well as in Germany. These impacts even affected post-war Germany and the politics in the following Federal Republic of Germany. Finally there is a discussion about the role of this emigration. The paper will analyze if the common view of loss-and-gain caused by the emigration is an appropriate one and what kind of scientific change it induced. All the teachings from the former chapters are incorporated here to give an answer to these questions.

The paper analyzes several books and journals. They are of English and German origin, to find out if there are differences between them. The topic of the paper and accordingly most of the literature deals with Economists and Scientists. Their cases reveal best, that it is important do discuss these questions.

2. Preconditions that lead to the Emigration

This chapter explains the multiple reasons that led to the emigration of the intellectual elite from Germany. In the first part, the backgrounds are discussed, including the kind of thinking of the intellectuals, which was not appreciated by the national socialists. The second part gives an overview of the several decrees and laws which were introduced by the NS regime and which led to the unemployment of scientists and others.

2.1 Cultural and Scientific Background

There were multiple reasons for leaving Germany. First of all there was a direct political or racist threat on many opponents. Some had to fear an extreme menace of freedom, which is a basic condition of cultural life. But people also left the country voluntarily, because of human protest or as a sign of political refusal of the uprising regime and barbarism (Möller, 1984, p. 12). One or several causes at the same time were possible.

The removal of the academic staff was a sinister calculated maneuver. During the economic crisis of that time, a lot of academics finished their studies and were looking for work. Between 1929 and 1932 about 50 per cent of the German alumni could not find an appropriate job (Krohn, 1987, p. 26). Accordingly, the national socialists could solve two of their problems at the same time. By removing critical, socialist, progressive and Jewish academics, they made room for followers of their policies. Thus faculties and teaching stuff became reactionary and anti-democratic. This policy worked well for the national socialists (Krohn, 1987, p. 26).

In these times historicism and idealism were still present in German culture. However, most of the discharged academics represented a new critical style of thinking. The research of these scholars was pointing on a more realistic and sociological analysis. They wanted to introduce methods and strategies, that actually could change practices and hoped for democratic structures and a parliamentarian system (Krohn, 1987, p. 21). This was not in line with the national socialist university policies. They targeted on the recruitment and development of junior executives for the “Reich”. Accordingly they did not only remove single persons, but whole schools of research. The expulsion of economists often meant the eradication of a whole research tradition (Krohn, 1987, p. 20). The University of Frankfurt was one of a few modern and reformation universities that had to bewail in overall a loss of 32,2% of their academic staff, and 40% of their economists between the winter semesters of 1932/33 and 1934/35 (Krohn, 1987, p. 20). It was founded by Jewish foundations and possessed the first social and economic faculty in all of Germany. In comparison, the University of Munich lost only 8,3 per cent of their scholars and not even a single economist in the same period (Krohn, 1987, p. 20).

2.2 Laws and Decrees of the NS regime

Besides individual racism and defamation, scholars and academics were affected by several laws and decrees which the Nazi party had introduced. The paper mentions the most important of them.

After the appointment of Adolf Hitler to the Chancellor of the Reich on January the 30th in 1933 the first edict, the “Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat” or “Reichstagsbrandverordnung”[1] already took place on February the 28th. This enabled the abrogation of guaranteed basic rights, the prosecution of political opponents and the constraint of the freedom of the press. Critique on the NS government and its organizations, for example the NSDAP, could be made a punishable offense by the “Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zur Abwehr heimtückischer Angriffe gegen die Regierung der nationalen Erhebung”[2] on March the 21st in the same year. A major impact made the “Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums”[3] on April 7th. In consequence of this law, Jewish and disliked political public officials, civil servants, scholars, scientists and teachers were decapitated and it was not longer allowed to appoint them. A dramatic change for the Jewish population brought the “Nürnberger Gesetze”[4] from September the 15th. Due to that law, they had to stop all their public cultural actions and were constricted to their community. Control and guidance of culture policies and the fight against “abnormal” culture of every kind was assigned to the “Reichskulturkammer”[5] since 22nd of September 1933 (Möller, 1984, pp. 10-11).

As mentioned before, not everybody had to leave as soon as possible or due a threat on his life, but

“(…) all of this had to be a highly visible warning in the first month of the “new Germany” to the ones which stayed in Germany: Those too, which were not affected directly by the polemical attacks against the Jews, and which were still of interest for the regime – when they were willed to knuckle down – to have some international representatives for the German culture, had to ask themselves if they were willed to accept the risk of staying, and if they put on hold the solidarity with appreciated colleagues and friends which had to yield the direct threat.”

(Möller, 1984, p. 11-12).

The NS politics of foreign affairs, which aimed to enlarge the Reich also led to waves of emigration. The annexation of Austria in March 1938 and the Sudetenland in October 1938 induced many people to leave Germany. The divestiture in 1938 and the annexation in 1939 of Czechoslovakia were also push factors (Möller, 1984, p. 12).

3. Circumstances of the Emigration

Centers of German-speaking cultural emigration were first France, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, until the German army reached these countries and the emigrants had to escape even further. The European countries often acted as a springboard into the New World (Möller, 1984, p. 12).

When talking about cultural emigration, it is important to note, that this was in fact not an homogeneous phenomenon. The reasons for the emigration were very heterogeneous and even oppositional (Möller, 1984, p. 13). This had different reasons. First of all, every intellectual and high skilled worker had different occupational and personal circumstances. The political standpoint was variable too. Especially artists, but also other intellectuals had a distinct individuality (Möller, 1984, p. 13). Besides the social and political lack of orientation, the community of this cultural emigration had to face several problems. Firstly, due to frequent forced traveling, friendships had to suffer. Secondly, not everybody had the ability to integrate well in the new receiving country, especially because the duration of stay was often very short. Thirdly, guest countries were often unwilling to accommodate the emigrants. All this, led to internal tensions between the emigrants and did not help to build up a strong camaraderie between them (Möller, 1984, p. 13).

The preconditions for the mentioned heterogeneity is at the one hand the character of the culture in the Weimar Republic, the democratic period of Germany from 1919 until 1933, and on the other hand, the polemic of the national socialists against this culture (Möller, 1984, p. 14). The target of most of the undertakings of the emigrants was, to show the culture of the emigration as the one of a better and other Germany. “(...) This is where the positive cultural aim was cumulating, which was pointing at the same time, back to the years before 1933 and in the future after 1945.” (Möller, 1984, p. 14). As shown later, not only writers and authors, but also scientists and scholars tried to show, that there is a better Germany, different to the “Third Reich”.


[1] Decree of the President of the Reich for the protection of the people and the state

[2] Decree of the President of the Reich for the defense of insidious attacks against the government of national embossment

[3] Law for the Reconstitution of the Professional Civil Service

[4] Laws of Nuremberg, including the Law for the people of the Reich and the Law for the protection of German blood and honor.

[5] Chambre of Culture of the Reich




Title: Escape of Science – The Emigration and Forced Migration of Scientists, Scholars and Economists from Germany 1933-1945