April 1, 2008

When the Nazis Came to Columbia

ACADEMICS DECRIED American academia's moral bankruptcy while recalling the visit of Nazis Germany's ambassador to Columbia University and the lack of action taken to save murdered European academics, in a paneled discussion last Sunday.

The event, "Columbia and the Nazis: New Research, New Concerns," was held at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan and was sponsored by the Organization of American Historians and the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Columbia's Nazi Ties

Oklahoma University Prof. Stephen H. Norwood discussed how in 1933 Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler invited Hitler's ambassador, Hans Luther to speak on campus, despite vehement protests by students there.

Ignoring strident editorials in The Columbia Spectator admonishing Butler for extending this invitation, Butler nonetheless forged ahead, referring to Luther as "a gentleman" displaying great courtesy and respect to this high ranking member of the Third Reich.

In order to dodge hostilities by Columbia student opponents of his decision, Butler had another speaker introduce Luther, while he attended a sporting event.

Norwood is himself is an alumnus of Columbia University, having received his PhD from there in 1984.

Norwood has done extensive research on the ties between such prominent institutions of higher learning as Columbia and Harvard Universities and their support for Hitler and the Nazi party during the 1930s.

Prof Norwood revealed that Butler went so far as to have certain faculty members terminated and students expelled from Columbia because of their anti-Nazi stance.

Prof. Jerome Klein of the Fine Arts department at Columbia, was one example of a professor who was fired because of his anti-Nazi stance.

Robert Burke, a student leader of the anti-Nazi contingent was expelled for "leading pickets protesting the Columbia administration's insistence on sending a delegate and friendly greetings to a major propaganda festival the Nazi leadership orchestrated in 1936 in Germany, the 550th anniversary celebration of Heidelberg University."

Burke was a fine student, had been elected president of his class and had challenged Columbia's decision to expel him with a lawsuit, but was not readmitted.

Prof Norwood said that "like his counterparts at Harvard and Yale, Butler considered German universities in 1936 to be part of the "learned world" and claimed political concerns were irrelevant when academics interacted."

Norwood further said that the "Nazis tightly controlled Germany's universities, driving into exile many of the world's foremost scholars, propagated Nazi racial ideology and helped the Hitler regime develop anti-Semitic legislation."

Columbia students held a mock book burning in front of Butler's mansion, to reflect the very real book burning that occurred in 1933 on the campus of the University of Heidelberg.

Prof. Norwood also mentioned that President Butler was an admirer of Mussolini and had consistently violated the boycott of Nazi goods and services by taking German ocean liners to Europe, where he visited the Third Reich on a regular basis.

Parallel's to Ahmadinjad's 2007 Columbia Visit

Columbia University made international headlines in September of 2007, when Columbia President Lee Bollinger extended an invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus.

The administration, completely cognizant of the fact that the Iranian dictator has denied the veracity of the Holocaust and has repeatedly threatened to obliterate the State of Israel were not swayed by arguments presented by student protesters and other vocal opponents to cancel this invitation.

Now a delegation of Columbia University professors and deans of faculties will be accepting Ahmadinejad's offer to visit Iranian universities.

Norwood drew parallels to student and faculty exchange programs during the Nazi era saying that American university students were incessantly subjected to Nazi propaganda and eventually became "apologists for the Nazi government."

Conversely, he said that "German students came to the United States to serve as propagandists for Nazi anti-Jewish policies."

While Prof. Norwood defended the concepts of freedom of speech and academic freedom he said "you don't have to go out of your way to invite dictators and despots to American campuses."

Prof. Norwood spoke at length about the "moral bankruptcy" of the American academic community, underscoring the fact that anti-Semitism is a ubiquitous and dangerous phenomenon on Western campuses.

Norwood went on to say that, "despite the higher university degrees and brilliance of those at the helm of the academic world, there is very little or no sense of morality. Quite to the contrary, these same people display an insensitivity to morality. These people can't feel deeply enough to care about people. Their only concern is about the prestige of the university that they represent."

A 1933 Columbia Alumni Remembers Protesting

Nancy Wechsler, Esq. who attended Columbia University in 1933, was a participant at the anti-Nazi demonstrations that took place on Columbia's campus.

Now 92 years of age, Wechler recalls that as a freshman at the New College, a branch of Columbia, she joined the Social Problems Club, a leftist organization that protested the invitation to the German ambassador to speak, based on the premise that fascists had no right to speak.

It was there that she met her future husband, journalist James Wechsler who was covering the demonstration.

Mr. Wechsler "was supposed to be neutral, but he was not. He got up and made an anti-Nazi speech. We started talking and we had our first date," Weschler said.

Weschler said that demonstrators handed out leaflets while police escorted them away.

"People climbed on each other's shoulders and spoke out against Nazi fascism" she said and "three women were able to get in to the speech and disrupted and were arrested."

She added that the sister of New York Times op-ed contributor A.M. Rosenthal was one of those arrested.

Americans were Apathetic and Complicit to the Nazi Persecution of European Academics

Prof. Laurel Leff, author of the new book, Buried By the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper, told the audience that the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany and the Holocaust "presented a moral choice for elites from the United States."

Leff went on to say that despite their copious scholarship many leading American intellectuals and the US government remained indifferent and apathetic towards the plight of European scholars and intellectuals who were summarily dismissed from their positions throughout western Europe and subsequently persecuted due to their opposition to Nazi philosophies.

"Seeking to escape Nazi Europe, many European professors, lawyers, journalists and authors made their way to Prague or Brussels and were then deported to Poland for assignment in a concentration camp where many, if not all of them perished" Leff said.

The U.S. "erected obstacles to immigration from Europe during this era and it took Herculean efforts for German academics to get in to the United States," Leff said. "German scholarship was even greater than that in the U.S. and a great deal of talent and brains were lost to the U.S. because of their callousness and reluctance to condemn Nazism."

"People had clear moral choices to make when it came to allowing European scholars in to the US," she added.

Leff noted that "some Americans did try to help by signing affidavits assisting scholars in getting US citizenship and obtaining teaching positions in the US, but more could have been done, such as insisting that the US increase immigration quotas."

Leff pointed out that "Professors at Harvard did succeed in bringing 45 European scholars to the US, over the staunch objections of the university president."