The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and its role in the Third Reich

Study illuminates the Foundation’s past between 1925 and 1945

13-12-2012 — / — What part did the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as it existed between 1925 and 1945 play in Germany’s foreign policy during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich? The present-day Humboldt Foundation turned to historian Holger Impekoven, director of the Research Department of the University of Bonn, for answers to this question. His study “Die Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung und das Ausländerstudium in Deutschland 1925–1945” (The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and International Students in Germany 1925–1945), which is published today, describes how the Foundation of the time colluded with the National Socialists.

The study was drawn up under difficult research conditions: most source material had been destroyed in bombing raids during the final years of the war, as the author was able to prove. Only after Germany’s reunification did archives in East Germany become accessible which contained documents about the Foundation, and in particular its activities during the Second World War, that were crucial to the work. Together with interviews with former Fellows, these documents form the basis of a more detailed picture of the Foundation and the political aims of the time. Fellowships were awarded to gain the support of racially selected elites from abroad for the Reich in the hope that they would become part of an “intellectual army”.

“The study shows how from 1933 onwards the Foundation of the time was increasingly used as a tool to meet the propagandistic goals of the time, and ultimately also in the service of the Nazis’ racial fanaticism”, said the Secretary General of the Foundation, Enno Aufderheide, on the occasion of the study’s publication in Bonn. “These findings are a warning to remain vigilant towards all attempts to abuse even such positive measures as academic exchange”, he said. If there were a positive conclusion to be drawn from the depressing and shameful overall picture, it would be that the Nazis failed to manipulate many Fellows’ image of Germany as they had hoped, added Aufderheide: “A large number returned home disillusioned and had certainly not become friends of the Nazis. Only after the war did they become bridge builders for a democratic Germany.”

The study is published by Bonn University Press. Excerpts are available under “Further information” on the right.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 25,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 130 countries worldwide – including 49 Nobel Prize winners.


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