“Reason for Dismissal? — Jewish Faith”: Analysis of Narratives in the SPSL Immigration Applications by German-Speaking Neurologists
Two months after Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) had been proclaimed the Reich chancellor, the first anti-Jewish law was passed in Nazi Germany, based on which “non-Aryan” academics and researchers were dismissed from their state-supported positions. These scholars were desperate to flee Germany, due to the appalling treatment they had been subjected to regardless of their academic status and scientific achievements. The growing socio-political tensions in Germany attracted considerable attention from British scientists, who — led by Sir William Beveridge (1879–1963) — established the Academic Assistance Council (later known as the Society for Protection of Science and Learning; SPSL). Between 1933 and 1945, the SPSL assisted several thousand scholars in need by providing stipends and placements at universities or research institutions in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Among the fortunate émigrés were world-renowned professors as well as upcoming young scientists. Regardless of their level of expertise, these young academics and physicians were equally distressed by the way they were treated and desperate to flee Germany. The SPSL immigration questionnaires and other supporting materials provide an insight today into the events, which the applicants experienced at the time. They furthermore present their hope to rebuild their lives and careers in their new host country in considerable detail.
This article analyses the work and family life of German-speaking neuroscientists as well as the political context and SPSL responses to Nazi and British policies. It focuses on applicants’ social and scientific context at the time, by also emphasizing how the drastically worsening situation in the Third Reich affected refugees’ morale and increased their efforts in escaping the country. The case of émigré neuroscientists is particularly insightful, as this group encompassed an interdisciplinary and heterogeneous group of psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists, and experimental biologists, which allows for useful cross-comparisons.