The University of Greifswald during National Socialism

The University of Greifswald during National Socialism

At the beginning of 2011, the University of Greifswald’s Rectors Office decided to investigate the University’s history during the period of National Socialism [de] more thoroughly. The project was supervised by disciplinary experts from the University. The outcome is a summarised account of the University’s history during National Socialism.

In the period of National Socialism, the University of Greifswald was faced with the challenge of having to adapt to the realities of the dictatorship. During the course of this transformation process, the University developed itself into an institution which taught Nazi ideology, including arms research, and participated in Nazi injustice. As stated by Pomerania’s Gauleiter and Oberpräsident, Franz Schwede-Coburg, the University became a “valuable instrument” of the Nazi regime. This path did lead to some confrontation.
However, the only evidently discordant opinions to Nazi ideology were published by the diabetologist, Gerhardt Katsch (1887-1961) and the theologian, Otto Haendler (1890-1981). The publication of academically oppositional opinions was courageous, but no member of the teaching staff showed any resistance towards the regime.

The development of the University to a fully adapted institution was not always on the University’s own initiative. The staff restructuring was mainly driven by the Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture. The Orientation of the research topics to meet the requirements of the Nazi ideology and their integration in arms research was however conducted by the professors.

At the Service of National Socialism

The history of the University between 1933 and 1945 can be divided into three phases, each of which had a fluid transition. The Gleichschaltung period, which was shaped by the removal of unwanted teaching staff and several denunciations, stretched in some subject disciplines into 1938. The phase of self-distinction in the sense of Nazi ideology began for some academics, for example the racial hygienist, Günther Just (1892-1950), even before 1933. Its actual dynamics were unleashed by the transmission of the Nazi regime to Autarkic politics in 1936. It was in this year that the Nazi regime also turned towards the resource science, whichwas necessary for war. However, in Greifswald, that did not mean that the University was systematically prepared for the outbreak of war in 1939. The third phase - the manipulation of science for war - is also difficult to separate from the other phases.

The archive records used for the historical research did not manage to produce details of Greifswald’s scientists’ research in each individual case. As the threat of the Red Army’s occupation of the University grew in 1945, many of the directors of the University’s institutes destroyed the files and documents for the years succeeding 1943. For example, the University’s communications with the Gauleitung in Szczecin were destroyed. They couldn’t be found in Szczecin’s State Archive either. Files with details of the relations to Szczecin’s Arms Inspection also no longer exist. The archive contents of the Reichsforschungsrat and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, which can be found in the Federal Archive in Berlin, were informative. They gave answers to the question as to whether “research necessary for war” always meant military research. In some cases, the answer to this question is obvious, in others the answer is less evident. At the University of Greifswald’s institutes of Physics and Mineralogy, fundamental research was carried out whose military use had not been proven. However, it has to be considered that it was in the interests of the academic authorities to think beyond the end of the war.

The Research Project

Overall, the research project led to several new insights. These concern the use of prisoners of war and the position of the Faculty of Medicine toward the sterilisations, motivated by the ideas of racial hygiene. There is now clarification concerning the connections to further institutions, for example the Reichsforschungsrat, the Military Doctors Academy and the Marine Observatory. With regards to various questions - weapon research, regional development, military physics - research material was found, which had not yet been sighted. On the following page, you will find information in German about the state of research at the end of the project in Spring 2015.

The research project’s website presents the up-to-date state of research [de]


Project Coordinator

Dr. Dirk Alvermann
Tel.: +49 3834 86-1155
Fax: +49 3834 86-1159


Academic Advisory Board

  • Prof. em. Frieder Dünkel
    Faculty of Law and Economics
  • Prof. Thomas Konrad Kuhn
    Faculty of Theology
  • Prof. Harald J. Freyberger
    University Medicine Greifswald
  • Prof. Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann
    Faculty of Arts and Humanities
  • Prof. Klaus Fesser
    Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences