November 15, 2004
The president of Harvard University forged friendly relations with senior Nazi officials and Nazi-controlled universities in the 1930s, urged a major corporation not to hire a German Jewish refugee scientist and made antisemitic comments in his private correspondence, a prominent scholar has revealed.
Prof. Stephen H. Norwood presented his research about Harvard’s troubling ties to the Nazis at a conference sponsored by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, at Boston University on November 14, 2004. The Institute is named after the author of The Abandonment of the Jews, the definitive study of America’s response to the Holocaust.
Norwood, who is professor of history and Judaic Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is the prize-winning author of two critically-acclaimed books and numerous articles on American history. He described how Harvard president James Conant gave a warm reception to Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstangl, Adolf Hitler’s foreign press chief, when Hanfstangl attended his 25th class reunion in 1934. (Hanfstangl had graduated from Harvard in 1909, then later returned to Germany and helped bankroll Hitler’s rise to power.) The Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, urged that Hanfstangl be awarded an honorary degree.
The current managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, Elisabeth Theodore, participated in the Wyman Institute conference. After listening to Prof. Norwood’s remarks, Theodore said that the Crimson’s articles about Hanfstangl were “regrettable and abhorrent.”
The Harvard administration also hosted visits to the campus in 1934 and 1935 by Hitler’s ambassador to the U.S., Hans Luther, and the Nazi consul-general in Boston, Baron Kurt Von Tippelskirch.
When the Nazi warship Karlsruhe visited Boston, in 1934 its officers and crew were entertained at Harvard, where they were treated as honored guests. The following year, the Nazi consul, accompanied by Nazi German professors who were teaching at Harvard, was invited to place a swastika wreath in the Harvard Chapel, to honor Harvard students who fought for Germany in World War I.
In 1936, Harvard sent a representative to celebrations at the University of Heidelberg which, like all German universities at that time, had expelled all its Jewish professors and changed its curriculum to reflect Nazi ideology. Harvard also cultivated friendly ties with another Nazi German university, Gottingen.
Harvard president Conant also urged the DuPont corporation to refrain from hiring a prominent German Jewish refugee chemist on the grounds that the chemist was “certainly very definitely of the Jewish type–rather heavy.”
The panel of commentators leading the discussion of the Norwood research included Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby and Dimitry Anselme of Facing History and Ourselves.
Harvard was not the only prominent American institution to have its past scrutinized at the Wyman Institute conference. Professor Laurel Leff, of Northeastern University, discussed the New York Times’s coverage of the Holocaust, which is the subject of her forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press, ‘Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.’ Prof. Leff described how the Times consistently placed news about the Holocaust in less prominent places of the newspaper and downplayed the Jewish identity of Hitler’s victims.
Prof. Aaron Berman, dean of Hampshire College, and Martin Ostrow, director of the PBS documentary “America and the Holocaust,” were the panelists following Prof. Leff’s remarks.
Prof. David S. Wyman opened the conference with an overview of America’s response to the Holocaust. Connecticut attorney William Bingham discussed the heroic efforts by his father, U.S. diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, to rescue Marc Chagall and other Jewish refugees from Vichy France. Dr. Rebecca Kook spoke about the Holocaust rescue campaigns initiated in the U.S. by her father, Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson).
The Wyman Institute conference was hosted by Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, and the Center’s director, Prof. Steven T. Katz, was the conference emcee. Lance A. Kawesch, partner at Duane Morris LLP and general counsel of the Wyman Institute, chaired the event.