Termination of Employment Letter to Ladislaus Farkas from Fritz Haber

Over 100 scientists were forced to leave large research institutes beginning in 1933, most due to their Jewish origins

In 1911, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the support of scientific research was founded in Berlin. The goal of the society was to encourage research in various fields, mainly the natural sciences. As was the practice at that time, the society was named after the German Kaiser Wilhelm, patron of the initiative. Although Kaiser Wilhelm resigned in 1918 and left Germany, the society and its network of institutes continued to bear his name until after World War II. The first two institutes established were the institute for chemistry and the institute for physical chemistry and electrochemistry, both in Berlin.

The various research projects were usually financed through private donations, to no small degree from wealthy German Jews, while the state paid the researchers’ salaries. The researchers had the special privilege of investing all of their time in research alone, and were not required to teach in any academic institution.

Over the years, additional research institutes were established, ultimately totaling 28 different institutes, a substantial portion of which were in Berlin, but also in other German cities.

Many Jews were among the outstanding researchers in these institutes. Among the well known names were Albert Einstein, Karl Neuberg and Max Bergmann, but also Fritz Haber and Laudislaus Farkas. The story of these two scientists is an example of the fate of over 100 scientists who were forced to leave large research institutes beginning in 1933, most due to their Jewish origins, but also sometimes as a result of their political beliefs.

Fritz Haber, Ladislaus Farkas

The first director of the institute for physical chemistry and electrochemistry was Jewish chemist Fritz Haber (1868-1934). While Haber was one of the most gifted scientists in his field, as a Jew, he was unable to advance in his academic career, and as a result, in 1892, he converted to Christianity. One of Haber’s great scientific achievements was discovering how to create ammonia through the synthesis of hydrogen and nitrogen, a discovery that was a breakthrough for the mass production of agricultural fertilizers, but also enabled the relatively simple production of explosives for military use. Following the discovery of nitrogen fixation, Haber won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1919, despite his more recent developments in the means of chemical warfare, which were widely used in the battles of World War I, as a result of which tens of thousands of British and French soldiers were killed. Haber’s wife, chemist Clara Immerwahr, could not make peace with her husband’s role in the development of these means of warfare in his institute in Berlin, and took her own life in 1915.

In the framework of the institute for physical chemistry and electrochemistry, Fritz Haber gave young and talented scientists a place to work and opportunities to conduct research in their fields. One was the chemist Laudislaus Farkas (1904-1948), descendant of a Jewish family from Hungary. In 1928, Farkas completed his studies in Berlin and immediately joined the staff of scientists in Haber’s institute. The talented scientist was greatly admired by the director of the institute.

Following the Nazi rise to power in January 1933, all members of the academic staffs of German academic institutions were fired already in the spring of that year. As director of the institute, Fritz Haber was forced to fire the Jewish researchers and other Jewish employees from their jobs. This can be seen from his letter of dismissal to Laudislaus Farkas on April 29, 1933. In the letter, whose tone is very personal, Haber expresses his deep regret that he is being forced to take such a step, and explains that he has no choice, given the new legislation. A day later, Haber met with the president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, physicist Max Planck, and submitted his resignation from the directorship of the institute. Planck tried to convince Haber to remain in his job, but Haber explained that under the new circumstances, he was unable to continue in his research, since his very work was affected by racist considerations. Haber left Germany. Already in 1933 he was appointed as a professor at Cambridge University in England, but the drastic change in his life led to a deterioration in his health, and the famous chemist died in January 1934 at a Swiss sanatorium.

Termination of Employment Letter to Farkas from Haber

Laudislaus Farkas also emigrated from Germany, initially to England, but in 1936 he was awarded a professorship at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in physical chemistry. Under his influence, this field began to develop in Israel, and Farkas is considered the father of this science in Israel. On December 30, 1948, when Farkas was en route to a work trip in the United States, his airplane crashed over Italy, and the young scientist met his death. His personal archive is located in the archival collection of the National Library.

The “Degenerate Art” Exhibit, 1937

Every work of art that did not conform to the Nazi definitions was declared “degenerate art” (Entartete Kunst), art that in the opinion of the German rulers from 1933-1945 was not art, but rather a scribble that was mocking of the German people

The cover of the “Degenerate Art” exhibit brochure, 1937

It is no secret that the Nazi’s view of art was contrary to conventions and prevailing attitudes that were accepted among leaders in the art world just prior to the Nazi period. With their rise to power in 1933, the Nazis were given an opportunity to implement their approach, which placed on a pedestal what they referred to as “German art.”

The Nazis were opposed to avant-garde artists and certainly to those who were not from Germany and operated outside of it. The new rulers supported native German artists who adapted their style to the official requirements set by the leading Nazis, and foremost, by Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. They preferred the realistic style, which was sometimes even monumental, manifested, inter alia, in grey and cold architecture that created enormous spaces planned for an anonymous mass. Examples of this architecture can be found in a scattering of German cities, such as Berlin, Nurnberg, Weimar, Munich and others.

In contrast, every work of art that did not conform to the Nazi definitions was declared “degenerate art” (Entartete Kunst), art that in the opinion of the German rulers from 1933-1945 was not art, but rather a scribble that was mocking of the German people.

Modern artists were in the direct line of fire, as well as entire streams of modern art, such as expressionism, dada, as well as artists’ associations such as “The Bridge” (Die Brücke), “The Blue Horseman” (Der blaue Reiter) and others. Many artists who worked in these styles were banned and forbidden to continue in their artistic work. Nazi clerks “purified” the museums, fired many directors – among them, of course, all of the Jews – as well as those who did not agree with the new direction.

The Nazis raided museum storehouses and emptied them of thousands of works of classical modern art. A small portion was selected for an exhibition called “Degenerate Art,” which opened on July 19, 1937 in Munich. However, most of the other works were sold to foreign clients or disappeared.

By acting in this manner, the Nazis created a painful lacuna in the documentation of modern art in the German museums, which in some cases has not been filled to this day. Among the artists adversely affected by the confiscation of their works and the prohibition against creating were important names that prior to 1933 had been held in high esteem in many museums in Germany, and are today valued around the world: Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, George Mucca, Oskar Schlemmer (the five were lecturers in Bauhaus), Oscar Kokoshka, Franz Mark and others.

The Nazis wanted to blacken the name of modern art and to convince the German public that it was not proper and true art. To this end, they prepared the famous exhibition in Munich, which in the course of five months attracted over two million visitors. Some of the visitors certainly came in order to part forever from important works, but there are reports that most of the visitors actually agreed with the Nazi opinions and complained about what in their eyes was not art, and for the fact that prior to 1933, large sums had been paid for acquiring them. The exhibition featured 600 works by 112 artists, including only six Jews. At the same time, the Nazis opened the formal art exhibition, the “The Exhibit of Great German Art,” also in Munich, attended by 600,000, a number that is less than one third of the number of visitors to the “Degenerate Art” exhibit.

Reproduction of photographs with “racial” indications​
“Jewish” sculptures and photographs

Following closure of the exhibit in Munich in November 1937, it wandered among 12 other cities in Germany and Austria until 1941. Each time, the collection of works featured was changed, and propaganda material was also produced such as announcements and booklets (some of which can be found in the holdings of the National Library of Israel), all with the goal of intensifying the effect on visitors to the exhibit.

The texts of the pamphlet present a very clear picture: the authors felt that art prior to the Nazi rise to power had reached the first chapter in its history, which was rotten, distorted and influenced by Bolshevism and of course, by Jews. Absurdly, the Nazis in this manner helped to define the canon of classical modern art, which after 1945 regained its valued position, even in German museums.

German Opposition to Hitler and the Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944

The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime

Left: Pamphlet by Wolfgang Müller about the overthrow, 1947, Right: Pamphlet by Karl Strölin, 1952

In the last general elections in Germany in March 1933, some 44% of the national electorate voted for Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialist party. This means that despite the strong show of support in this election, in which other parties had been suppressed by the Nazis even earlier, most Germans did not vote for Hitler. In theory, this situation might have given reason to hope that broad portions of the population had begun – at a certain stage – to act against the undesirable, cruel regime. And yet, during the entire Nazi period, from 1933-1945, opposition to the terrible dictatorship remained proportionately very small, and never led to tangible results. The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime. New studies note that no more than 7,000 people took active steps against the Nazi dictatorship during these years. The academic world employs the somewhat sarcastic term of “an opposition without a people.”

The opposition activists hailed from all sectors of the German population: Communists, Social Democrats, laborers, students (the White Rose in Munich and in Hamburg), members of the bourgeois and elite (the Kreisau Circle), Jews (the group led by Herbert Baum), Catholics and Protestant Christians, individuals and groups, women and men. A few of them are somewhat well known, for example, Georg Elser (1903-1945), a carpenter from southern Germany, who already at an early stage had clearly understood the Nazi’s goals and refused to accept the reality. He prepared a bomb in Hitler’s favorite beer cellar in Munich where, every year on November 8, the Nazi leader gave a speech commemorating the overthrow attempt of 1923. Elser’s bomb exploded at the planned time on November 8, 1939, but Hitler, contrary to all expectations, had left the site approximately fifteen minutes earlier. This failed attempt was only one in a continuous series of similar events. But Hitler and his cronies survived them all almost unscathed.

The Jewish group of Herbert Baum (1912-1942) operated within a Communist ideology and in 1942 carried out an attack on a propaganda exhibition in Berlin entitled, “The Soviet Garden of Eden,” which mocked Soviet Communism. The White Rose students’ group composed pamphlets with anti-Fascist information and in 1942-43, sent them to specific individuals and also distributed them at the University of Munich. In most cases, those who received them delivered them to the police. Similar behavior is documented in the well-known novel Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, based on a true case of opposition by a working class couple in Berlin who distributed postcards with anti-Fascist texts, but almost all of them were handed over to the police by loyal citizens. Today, it is estimated that the great success of the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) in repressing almost every opposition activity resulted not from its efficiency, but from the generous willingness of most German citizens to report views and acts that were not compatible with Nazi ideology.

The most elaborate opposition plot was that of the Wermacht officers and representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie (the Kreisau Circle and others) whose goal was to assassinate Hitler and arrest the chief leadership of the Nazis in order to halt the war. A few of them had always been opposed to Hitler’s regime, but most were ultimately pushed into action only after the defeat of the German Army at Stalingrad in January/February 1943, and following additional subsequent defeats.

The understanding that this war could no longer end in victory led many army members to a shift in direction, and to act in a manner that violated their oath as soldiers loyal to Germany and to Adolf Hitler, and this at a time when such an oath was a most serious commitment. At the focus of the plot to carry out the planned attack and overthrow were Ludwig Beck, a former general (who resigned from his job as Chief of Staff even before the outbreak of the war due to his opposition to its goals), Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig who was a liberal-conservative politician, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg, and General Henning von Tresckow. The name of the overthrow plan was Operation Walküre.

Israeli study about the 20 Movement by Dani Urbach, 2009

Following a number of failed attempts to conceal a bomb near Hitler, an additional effort was made on July 20, 1944. A large discussion was scheduled for this day to evaluate the military situation in one of Hitler’s command centers in East Prussia. Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg was invited to the discussion, and he brought with him a bomb that had been hidden in a briefcase. Due to his serious injury from the war, von Stauffenberg had only one hand, and so he did not manage to properly activate the mechanism to detonate the bomb. Moreover, one of the men present at the discussion moved the briefcase, thus distancing it from Hitler. The explosion killed four people and critically injured seven more, but Hitler was only slightly injured and left the meeting room alive and in one piece. Announcements regarding the attack spread quickly across Germany, and mainly the news that the “Führer” had escaped the attack unharmed. The entire plan thus failed, since some of the officers who had not been totally convinced of supporting the overthrow repented immediately upon receiving the news that Hitler was still alive. Already the evening of that same day, a number of officers were executed in Berlin, including Ludwig Beck and von Stauffenberg, and others were arrested and interrogated by the SS and the Gestapo. Showcase trials were held, conducted by the fanatic Judge Roland Freisler. Over 200 people were executed, many of them even in the last weeks of the Third Reich, including almost 50 senior officers of the highest ranks, diplomats, politicians and others. The assassination attempt received wide attention within and outside of Germany, and was one of the signs signaling the end of the battle of the Nazi dictatorship.

Article on the assassination attempt in the Davar newspaper, July 23, 1944

Immediately after the end of the war, public discussion regarding the significance of the attempted overthrow, the civil duty to act against a tyrannical regime, and the question of whether the officers were traitors or heroes, was renewed. The few among them who survived the interrogation, torture and trials worked to spread their version of the events, both orally and in writing. One example is the pamphlet of former Colonel Wolfgang Müller, in which already in 1947 he describes his experiences prior to July 20, 1944, and afterwards. Müller tried to operate against a recurring phenomenon (which came into existence already after WWI), of conservative forces blaming the defeat on those who opposed the regime and the war. The title of his composition was: “Against A New Lie of ‘Backstabbing’.” A further example is the composition of Karl Strölin, Mayor of Stuttgart during the entire Nazi period, and also a member of the Nazi Party, who, towards the end, was able to see Germany’s dire situation and participated in the overthrow attempt, but did so carefully, remaining in the margins of the organizing activity. He titled his composition “Traitors or Patriots”? In recent decades, many studies have been conducted in different languages about the opposition, the various groups it comprised, and mainly, the people of July 20, 1944. Today, there is no longer any discussion regarding the question of whether these people were “traitors” or heroes, but it is still asked why so few people objected to the regime, and why many of them waited until the moment it became clear that the Nazi government was poised at the brink of the abyss and the war was already a lost cause.

The Composer Paul Ben-Chaim and his Journey from Germany to the Middle East

Ben-Chaim’s story is the story of a German Jew who experienced the brunt of the rupture led by the upheavals of fate in his time

פאול בן חיים בצעירותו, 1914

The composer Paul Ben-Chaim was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897, and died in Tel Aviv in 1984. Ben-Chaim was a graduate of the Munich Academy of Music in composition, conducting and piano (1920) and afterwards, served as assistant conductor to Maestro Bruno Walter at the Munich Opera. In 1924 he became conductor of the Augsburg Opera Orchestra, remaining in this position until 1931. In 1933 he emigrated to Eretz Israel. Ben-Chaim’s story is the story of a German Jew who experienced the brunt of the rupture led by the upheavals of fate in his time. An artist-composer who studied and worked in Germany until the Nazi rise to power, Ben-Chaim found himself without work, without a language, and with no framework in which he could continue his work as a composer and conductor.

Upon making aliyah, Ben-Chaim sought for a way to express himself, as well as to reflect the environment he encountered in Eretz Israel prior to the establishment of the state. While seeking a new sound, he encountered the singer of Yemenite descent, Bracha Tzfira, who from her Jerusalem childhood was familiar with Sephardic, Bukharan and Yemenite melodies, as well as Arab melodies. Ben-Chaim was impressed by the melodies that Tzfira introduced him to, while Tzfira asked him to notate them for her and accompany her on piano. Paul Ben-Chaim succeeded in integrating these melodies into his works, which he wrote in the language of classical music, the language of German post-Romanticism with which he was so familiar.

The manuscript of “Ahavat Hadassah”, first page, 1958

Paul Frankenburger changed his name to Paul Ben-Chaim, but his musical language and his intended audience was that of the concert hall. On immigrating to Eretz Israel, he was forced to play and teach piano, and to make do with a handful of musician acquaintances and a limited audience who attended his concerts. In 1936, the Israeli Philharmonic was established, and began recruiting exceptional Jewish musicians. Establishment of the orchestra and the immigration of the musicians, as well as the growth in the population of Eretz Israel expanded the opportunities for Paul Ben-Chaim to write music for larger ensembles, such as those for which he had composed in Germany.

After the establishment of the State, Ben-Chaim received international acclaim for his works, which were performed by leading musicians and composers such as Jascha Heifetz, Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuchin and others. In 1957 he received the Israel Prize in Music.

It is interesting to note that Paul Ben-Chaim appointed his student, composer Ben Tzion Orgad (also German-born) as executor of his will, in which he requested that most of the works he composed in Germany prior to 1933, including many melodies set to the texts of the finest German poets: Goethe, Heine, Hofmannstahl, Eichendorff, Morgenstern and others, be destroyed.

Over the years, it appears that Ben-Chaim forgot what he had written in his will, since he asked to hear these works executed by the singer Cilla Grosmeyer, also German-born.

Paul Ben-Chaim never became proficient in the Hebrew language. The texts that he integrated into his work in Israel he received from the singer Bracha Tzfira or borrowed from scripture, with the exception of a few works such as “Kokhav Nafal,” a text written by Matti Katz, which was commissioned by the poet’s family. In honor of his 75th birthday, Ben-Chaim was invited to Munich, city of his birth, after having visited since 1933. The city of Munich organized a concert of his works, featuring “Esa Einai” (Psalm 121), four songs from his oriental compositions (based on songs of Bracha Tzfira, the song cycle “Kokhav Nafal,” and his Sonata for Violin). Towards the end of his visit in the city, he was injured in a traffic accident, from which he never fully recovered.

The Paul Ben-Chaim Archive at the Music Department of the National Library was deposited by the artist himself, in 1980. It is the only archive in which the works of a composer are divided into two series: MUS A55 contains his works written in Germany, and MUS B55 contains his works written in Eretz Israel and in the State of Israel.

As an example of the compositions of Paul Ben-Chaim and his blending of styles, two recordings are presented here of the liturgical poem “Ahavat Hadassah,” performed by the vocalist Geula Gil, and following it, a rendition by the Kol Israel Orchestra conducted by the composer (from the Kol Israel Record Collection; no precise date is stated) as well as the original sheet music notated by the composer (also from the Voice of Israel Record Collection).

Scholar Yehoash Hirshberg wrote about the life and works of Paul Ben-Chaim in Hebrew and in English, the first monograph about an Israeli composer ever published in Israel.