Reversal of a ‘Cultural Exodus’

Der Standard (06/04/03)

Anton Zeilinger Pleads for Visiting Professorships for Researchers Expelled during NS Times and Scholarships for Young Jewish Scientists

Vienna - Anton Zeilinger, Viennese physicist, has suggested at a symposium held at the University of Vienna on "Austria and National Socialism "The Impact on Education in the Sciences and Humanities "-- that scholarships be offered to young Jewish scientists and -"as long as it still is possible - visiting professorships to researchers expelled from Austria by the Nazis. "We should do everything to make Austria again attractive to such people," said Zeilinger as one of the organizers of the symposium.

The Occasion

Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in year 2000 was born in Vienna in 1929 and, as Jew expelled from Austria in 1939 by the National Socialists, had strongly hoped that such a conference would take place. Among the numerous prominent participants in the conference was another Nobel Prize winner and colleague, Walter Kohn, who also fled from the NS Regime in Austria during his youth. The symposium emphasized the importance of the "late but not too late" opportunity to promote the initiative, explained Friedrich Stadler, Director of the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Vienna.

High Rate of Displaced Persons

Between forty to fifty percent of all members affiliated with academic life, from professors to students, were expelled from universities in 1938, according to Stadler. There are no exact numbers but one knows that out of some 130,000 - 150,000 forced emigrants, about ten percent were connected with the universities. "In the faculty of medicine alone, fifty percent of the university professors were let go within a matter of weeks," explained Kandel. Many of the forced emigrants became successful abroad, emphasized Kandel and reminded one that from those who were expelled from Vienna, three became Nobel Prize winners: apart from himself, Walter Kohn (Chemistry, 1998), and Max Perutz (Chemistry, 1962).

At the beginning of the 20th century, a "magical intellectual climate" prevailed in Vienna and Jews made a significant contribution in this regard, pointed out Kandel. "It would be wonderful if this cooperation could exist again and that’s why I wish for a thriving Jewish community in Austria and Vienna. In that way Vienna could again become an important intellectual center in the world."

Late Renewal

Austria as well as the University of Vienna began very late to work through the matter of "Science and National Socialism," explained Rector Georg Winckler. For him it is important not only to consider the times between 1938 - 1945 but also the years after 1945. "One really must ask the question why it took so long to address the matter and why one failed to bring the intellectual loss back to Austria and to the universities."

These are failures for which the university now apologizes. Thus, for Winckler the symposium was also concerned with "getting critically to the bottom of the hypothetical continuity which was generated after 1945." It concerns finding the truth rather than sugarcoating the issues.


Zeilinger justified his idea of scholarships and visiting professorships by expressing his "shock" when he met with a prominent scientist who was expelled from Austria, the physicist, Victor Weisskopf, who when asked why he never returned to Austria, answered: "Because no one ever asked me to." It is essential to pass on this experience to those of the next generation. This became evermore clear to Zeilinger while working at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, where he continually met someone who was originally from Vienna.