Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2000, Eric Kandel of Columbia University, a neurobiologist born in Austria, suggested to Austrian Federal President Thomas Klestil and Minister of Science Elisabeth Gehrer, along with Rector of the University of Vienna Georg Winckler, that in lieu of honors and ceremonies an international symposium be held in Vienna on "Austria and National Socialism: Implications for Scholarship in Science and the Humanities."
Following extensive planning and deliberation, to which Fritz Stern of Columbia University and Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna contributed, the Institute Vienna Circle, under the directorship of Friedrich Stadler, was asked by the Ministry of Science, section Social Sciences, to plan and organize a symposium together with the University of Vienna.
The symposium was held on June 5-6, 2003 at the University of Vienna. Its goal was to convey to the general public and to the scientific community, in particular the younger generation of scholars and students, the disastrous effects of Nazi rule in Austria - expropriation, expulsion and the Holocaust - on the entire field of education and research. The symposium also intended to place the study of the NS period, during the Second Republic and today, within an international context. Not only the academic and political aspects were addressed but also the moral dimension of coming to terms with the past. How many Austrians actually contributed to Fascist/Nazi ideology and dictatorship is one of the questions that was critically examined. A symposium with contributors such as Eric Kandel and Walter Kohn, two scientists and Nobel Prize laureates from Austria who were forced to leave their homeland, as well as a number of internationally renowned researchers and contemporaries offered a welcome opportunity to combine an (auto)biographical perspective with ongoing historical research in Austria. The symposium’s contributions were presented and discussed against the backdrop of the findings recently submitted by the Historical Commission which examined Austria’s role in the expropriation of Jewish assets during the period of Nazi rule and return of those assets along with the reform currently being implemented by the universities in Austria.