In publica commoda

The postwar period and the Schlüter-Affair

After 1945 the University struggled with working through the Nazi past. Only 16 professors and lecturers were permanently dismissed in the course of the denazification, including the former Rectors Friedrich Neumann and Hans Drexler. The numbers affected were thus significantly lower than those of the Nazi cleansings, additionally the dismissals had a considerably reduced effect on the individuals, who all kept their pensions. The significance of these measures is further reduced by the fact that after 1945 politically sullied professors were on occasion readmitted to the University (e.g. the racial hygienist Fritz Lenz, who taught in Göttingen from 1946 onwards). Even rarer was a rehabilitation of those academics driven away by the Nazis. Where these had remained in Germany and had held a chair they were often able to return to their old position. Of the many emigrants however only few returned (e. g. the philosopher Georg Misch, the jurist Gerhard Leibholz, the mathematician Carl Siegel and the sociologist Helmuth Plessner who was dismissed in Cologne in 1933). The reason for the low willingness to return was not least due to the fact that the displaced persons were offered re-employment only at the old conditions, which was not very attractive to those who had forged a career in exile.

So even if the opportunity for a fundamental political confrontation with the own entanglement in the crimes of the Nazi era and above all an engagement with the victims was missed, it was also not a case of “business as usual”. Leading figures amongst the professors such as the historian Hermann Heimpel and the physicist Werner Heisenberg had learnt their own lessons from the recent past. They openly championed the firm anchoring of the University in the still young German democracy to avoid a renewed failure such as in 1933. Within the student body of Göttingen the political weights had also shifted in line with a national development. Despite their increasingly confident appearance the associations now found themselves facing a strong opposition of political groups whose breadth ranged from conservatives and liberals to the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund [German Socialist Students’ Association] (SDS) founded in 1946, in which the Göttingen group was from the outset on the left side. In the early 1950s there was additionally a communist student group.

These changes are evident from two events. On the 26th of May 1955 the newly elected Prime Minister of Lower Saxony Heinrich Hellwege appointed Leonhard Schlüter of Göttingen as Minister for Education and Culture. Schlüter, despite as son of a Jewish mother having been a victim of discrimination by the Nazis himself, was active in the extreme right-wing DRP [German Right Party] and represented this party in the council of Göttingen and in the house of representatives of Lower Saxony. Additionally he ran a publishing house in Göttingen (“Göttinger Verlagsanstalt” [Göttingen Publisher]) where he published works of extreme right-wing authors. Rectors and deans of the University of Göttingen protested against his appointment by resigning from their posts on that same day. The AStA [General Council of Students] jointly resigned and professors and students demonstrated together. In a meeting on the 27th of May the majority of the city council declared themselves to be in solidarity with the University’s stance, with the FDP [German Free Democratic Party] however – as declared by lord mayor Hermann Föge – refusing consent due to “fundamental considerations”. The growing resistance eventually forced Schlüter to resign: he left his ministerial post on the 9th of June 1955.