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Dismissal Letter for Professor Eugen Mittwoch

Mittwoch Overcrowding
Bundesarchiv Berlin

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.

For more on the "Aryan" race and Nazi racial ideology, see the USHMM Holocaust Encyclopedia entry on Nazi Racism, as well as the entry Antisemitic Legislation, 1933–1939. For more on Nazi policies targeting German Jews in the years before World War II, see also the related collection in Experiencing History Exclusion of Jews in Nazi Germany.

A supplement to the law announced in the Reich Law Gazette on April 11, 1933, defined "non-Aryans": "It is sufficient if one parent or grandparent is not Aryan." The April 1933 law allowed for two exceptions: (1) civil servants appointed prior to the outbreak of World War I and (2) veterans of World War II. Those exceptions were retracted in 1935. The few Jewish professors who did retain their positions after the initial wave of purges were often subject to boycotts, disruptions of their lectures, mistreatment by colleagues, public shaming, and threats of violence by Nazi student groups.

Steven P. Remy, The Heidelberg Myth: The Nazification and Denazification of a German University (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 19.

Italy launched an invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. During World War II, the Allies ended the Italian occupation, successfully driving the Italians out of Ethiopia by the end of 1941. For more detail, see Roberta Pergher, Mussolini's Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement in Italy's Borderlands, 1922–1943 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

About 20 percent of male faculty members and 43 percent of female faculty members were ultimately dismissed under the law. The overwhelming majority of those firings—approximately 80 percent—were motivated by anti-Semitism and the remainder targeted "politically undesirable" faculty, most of whom were supporters of socialist and social democratic parties. Urban universities such as Frankfurt and Berlin were hit the hardest, each losing around 35 percent of their faculty. Tübingen, where anti-Semitic practices had long been in place, saw the dismissal of 4 percent of its faculty. For the most detailed analysis of statistics on dismissals, see Michael Grüttner and Sven Kinas, "Die Vertreibung von Wissenschaftlern aus den deutschen Universitäten 1933–1945," Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, vol. 55, no. 1: 123–186; Edward Y. Hartshorne, The German Universities and National Socialism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1937), 87–100.

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In the Name of the Reich

Under the provisions of § 4 of the Law on the Retirement and Transfer of Professors as a Result of the Reorganization of the German System of Higher Education, dated January 21, 1935 (Reichsgesetzblatt I, p. 23), I relieve you of your official obligations in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Berlin as of the end of November 1935.

Berlin, December 6, 1935

The Führer and Reich Chancellor

[official seal] 

[signature] Adolf Hitler

Document of Release from Duties
for Tenured Professor [signature] Hermann Göring
Dr. Eugen Mittwoch
of Berlin


Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Bundesarchiv Berlin
Accession Number R43II/936
Date Created
December 6, 1935
Berlin, Germany
Document Type Letter
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