In publica commoda

The “Göttingen Manifesto”

In 1957 an event of political and moral importance suddenly brought Göttingen into the headlines worldwide: the “Göttingen Manifesto”, published on April 12 of that year. In the mid-50's, the so-called “conversion” equipment of tactical nuclear weapons operated by US troops lead in Germany to an increasingly heated discussion about similar plans in the newly created German army (Bundeswehr) in the course of the year 1956 . The worries associated with this became stronger as the atomic secretary Franz Josef Strauß was named defense secretary. The attempt of the German nuclear physicists, affiliated in the “Work Group Nuclear Physics” of the nuclear commission, including Otto Hahn and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, to prevent the project in discussion with Strauß was considered failed, when on April 5, 1957 chancellor Konrad Adenauer trivialized tactical nuclear weapons in a press release as “especially harmless weapons”.
At the suggestion of Weizsäcker, who was also the main author of the manifesto, the “Nuclear Physics” commission of the German Physical Society released a statement signed by 18 nuclear scientists – aside from Weizsäcker, among them were the former or current residents of Göttingen Max Born, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Max von Laue and Wolfgang Paul. Due to their expert knowledge, they repudiated the trivializing depiction the German government had made and demanded the people be extensively informed about the dangers of nuclear weapons. The government was requested to forgo nuclear arms in the Bundeswehr, so as not to further endanger the German people. The signers refused any participation in the use of nuclear arms, at the same time, however, they clearly argued for the peaceful use of atomic energy.

This “Göttingen Manifesto” evoked a worldwide response as well as local reactions in Göttingen. The student union at Georgia Augusta showed solidarity with the demands of the scientists and the Göttingen chapter of the German Female Academics published a similar appeal. The local press reported in detail. Citizens and community politics, however, remained noticeably silent; neither the council nor the administrative committee commented, and there were no demonstrations or other rallies. In a similar manner to the example 120 years earlier with the protest of the “Göttingen Seven”, the city remained peculiarly untouched by a university protest which made its name famous worldwide. A reason for this silence may have been that it was a question of the agenda of federal and indeed world politics, and one wanted to avoid making reference to “communal political neutrality”, especially since the Bundestag elections were coming up. The “Göttingen Manifesto” signaled the “fight the nuclear death” movement, which grasped the entire Federal Republic of Germany the following year.

Böhme, Ernst: Zwischen Restauration und Rebellion. Die Georgia Augusta und die politische Kultur Göttingens in den fünfziger Jahren, demnächst in: Göttinger Jahrbuch 2005; Friedensinitiative Garchinger Naturwissenschaftler (Bearb.): 30 Jahre Göttinger Erklärung. Nachdenken über die Rolle des Wissenschaftlers in der Gesellschaft (Schriftenreihe Wissenschaft und Frieden 11), München 1987)