Universität WienAn Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

 
Archiv der Universität Wien

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UNIVERSITY OF THE "REICH", 1938-1945

The poverty of the post-war period and the hyperinflation of the early 1920s had a very damaging effect on the situation of the University of Vienna. The University's assets shrank drastically. Because of the national financial crisis money for scholarly work was unavailable. The political disagreements in Austria, that verged on civil war, also affected academic life. Among graduates German nationalistic feelings ran high - either because there were doubts as to the viability of the Austrian state, or because they were attracted by the idea of the Reich, the illusion that daily political strife, the breakdown of political parties and social strife would all 'automatically' vanish on entry into a German empire. Among the student body German national feeling was also strongly represented, often in combination with antisemitism. The high court's abolition of Rector Wenzel Gleispach's study regulations of 1930, that had led to a de facto restriction of the numbers of Jewish students, resulted in vicious battles and attacks on Jewish and socialist students. Among the teaching body there were very few colleagues who spoke up for a democratic state - Hans Kelsen may be mentioned here as representative of a tiny number. Powerful voices, on the other hand, opposed everything associated with democracy and egalitarianism. It was not the majority opinion but the 'better' opinion that won the day. In the University of Vienna the social scientist Othmar Spann and his followers were forerunners of an authoritarian-conservative course of events.

The suspension of Parliament in 1933 gave the government a free hand to take action not only against the minority of liberal-democratic Professors but also against those who openly promoted National Socialism. The outcome was a strengthening of the authoritarian-conservative rather than democratic elements in the universities. No doubt there were downright opponents of National Socialism, but there were also many who tried - without success - to bring about a reconciliation between Catholicism and National Socialism.

The National Socialists' seizure of power after the entry of the German armed forces in March 1938 had devastating consequences for the University and for Austrian scholarship. The results of the intellectual blood-letting can hardly be measured even today. The National Socialists immediately set about bringing the University of Vienna 'into line' and carried this out with remarkable efficiency. This also included measures against Jewish professors and students. During the period of National Socialist rule 45% of all the professors and other teachers at the University of Vienna were dismissed for political and 'racial' reasons. Many of them finished up in concentration and extermination camps, while others had to seek salvation in emigration or felt compelled to take their own lives. Some went voluntarily because, under the present circumstances, they saw no possibility to continue their scientific work. The extent of this loss can best be illustrated by listing a few names: the physicist and Nobel prize-winner Erwin Schrödinger (1838 Honorary Professor of the University of Vienna), the chemists Hermann Mark and Friedrich Feigl, the mathematician Kurt Gödel, Karl and Charlotte Bühler (Philosophy, Psychology), the physicist Hans Thirring, and many more (in all there are 322 documented cases) were removed from office during the period of National Socialist rule.

The need to supplement the teaching body was accordingly very high and many scholars oriented their career plans to the schemes of the new authorities. The demands of 'total war' led to large sectors of the population being drafted into military service or productive work. 'The Student Conformity Service', the 'Student Auxiliary Service' and ultimately conscription into the Volkssturm had a considerable impact on student life. In September 1944 the University was first bombed, and by the end of the war 30% of all its buildings and 65% of its roofs had been destroyed. There was not a single building of the University that escaped serious damage.

Lit.: Kurt Mühlberger, Dokumentation: Vetriebene Intelligenz (Wien, 2. Aufl. 1993); ¾ Willfährige Wissenschaft. Die Universität Wien 19381945, hg. v. Gernot Heiss, Siegfried Mattl u. a. (Wien 1989)

 

The Main Building after 12th March, 1938

After the unification of Austria with the German Reich swastika flags were affixed to the Main Building as a visible sign of the take-over and conformity of the University. National Socialists had seized all the important administrative positions and had also established the "Führer-principle" in the University. (Photo in the Archive of the University of Vienna)

 

Ceremonial Re-opening of the University on 25th April 1938

During the critical March days after the entry of the German armed forces the University remained closed. At the ceremonial re-opening the Gauleiter Joseph Bürckel (centre) was present. From now on Jewish students could only enter the University with an entry permit. (Photo in the Documentary Archive of the Austrian Resistance)

 

The "Lawyers' Staircase" in the Main Building, 1945

During the 52 allied air raids on Vienna the main building and most of the adjacent university buildings were severely damaged. Bombing destroyed the staircase to the Law Faculty wing. The head was broken from Kaspar Zambusch's immense statue of Emperor Franz Joseph. (Photo in the Archive of the University of Vienna)