Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Foreword

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Foreword

Article excerpt

David Stollar, in his memoir of Professor Gerhard Schmidt, has accomplished a remarkable literary feat. Embedded in this elegant study of an important scientific career are several narratives that are invaluable for anyone interested in the forces that shaped both science and history in the first half of the twentieth century. Most significant for both an American and German audience is the story of the destruction of the German university system and German science at the hands of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. There is drama, tragedy, heroism, and just plain good fortune for some in this often frightening adventure. Along the way, Professor Stollar takes us on a journey of German intellectual and social history, from pre-World War I Wilhelminean prosperity that chronicles the integration of German Jews into a society in which they thought they were welcomed; to the rollercoaster postwar world of Weimar culture, and the looming threat of German anti-Semitism, even before the coming of Hitler in 1933. Then, suddenly, hundreds of German professors, physicians, and researchers were dismissed from university positions, and within a few years most were refugees. Those who felt most German were stunned into disbelief and despair. Some, like Gerhard Schmidt, had the will and tenacity to survive; others less fortunate ended their lives at their own hands or in German concentration camps.

That is the terrible part. The happy story is that many were saved, thanks to the efforts of fellow scientists living in freedom, as well as the aid of some extraordinary organizations and universities. Out of the misery caused by dislocation and the tragedies of lives disrupted and even lost, came the remarkable intellectual explosion that placed the United States at the pinnacle of higher education and scientific research. …

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