Shortly after taking power in January 1933, Nazi authorities began to reshape German universities. As part of a widespread effort to eliminate "undesirable faculty" and bring German campuses in line with Nazi ideology, the regime passed the "Law for Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" in April of 1933. The law ordered the removal of civil servants of "non-Aryan descent"1 as well as "those whose former political activity" was suspicious in the eyes of the government.2 Although there were occasional acts of protest in support of individual scholars, resistance from peers, students, or members of the wider public was largely absent. The law had an immediate impact: by 1938, between 2,000 and 3,000 scholars had been purged from universities in Germany and Austria.3
The attempted dismissal of German Jewish professor Eugen Mittwoch is one of the few cases of successful protest against these purges. Although initially removed from his position under the 1933 law, Mittwoch—a renowned scholar and director of Berlin University's Institute for Semitic and Islamic Studies—mobilized a network of colleagues to argue for the value of his scholarship. Because he was one of Europe's few experts in Ethiopian languages, Mittwoch may have received support from Nazi ally Benito Mussolini, who saw Mittwoch as a potential asset for Italy's colonization of Ethiopia.4 Mittwoch was granted an exemption available to those whose work was seen to be "in the interest of the Reich," even in the case of "full Jews."5
But Mittwoch's exemption was only temporary. In December 1935, as indicated in this letter signed by Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring, he was finally dismissed from his position. The letter features ornate script and the imprint of an official Reich seal—unusual for this kind of letter. Also, unlike the majority of Jewish faculty who were dismissed without financial support, Mittwoch was granted a pension and status as professor emeritus.
Following the pogroms of Kristallnacht in November 1938, Mittwoch fled Germany. He died in London in 1942.