‘The fraternity of brains?’: The Leeds Academic Assistance Committee 1933-39

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In the drive to Nazify the public sector, one of the earliest legislative measures in Germany’s “Third Reich” was the Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service from 7 April 1933. Its intent was to remove “non-Aryan” and politically non-compliant civil servants from their posts. While this did not affect the administration too much – the civil service in Weimar Germany was already rather conservative and right-wing and thus not very welcoming to Jewish Germans or socialists — it had a major impact on academia. German universities are public, and thus professors have civil servant status. Jewish and left-wing academics consequently lost their jobs and were among the first wave of refugees leaving Nazi Germany. Given the good international networks in academia – established through international conferences, scientific societies etc – these academic refugees experienced a good degree of solidarity from their international colleagues, including British academics. In the summer of 1933, the Academic Assistance Council (AAC, renamed to Society for Protection of Science and Learning, SPSL, in 1936) was set up in London to help the German academics who had been dismissed from their posts find new employment internationally.
In Leeds, professors from the University of Leeds set up the Leeds Academic Assistance Committee (LAAC) in June 1933, which operated independently from the national AAC/SPSL until early 1939. Its mission was to create and fund three fellowships at the university so that German academics would qualify for visas to come to Leeds for a limited amount of time, and find employment elsewhere eventually. This talk will give a history of the LAAC, its main actors, the struggles it had to face (it relied entirely on donations from the public, which often were not forthcoming), and the fates of the three German scientists who came to Leeds in 1933/34. The talk will also give some insight into scientific networks, group identity among scientists, and solidarity among academics.
Period3 May 2023
Held atUniversity of Leeds, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational