Friday, July 07, 2006

Science and Nazism

I read the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (or some of it), the theologian, some years ago, and discovered that his father was a psychiatrist. Working in a prominent medical library at the time, I was able to get some material about his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, who had worked in Berlin. He was an interesting man (I was going to write an article about him, but haven't done it yet). He seems to have argued in favour of sterilising mentally ill people - as did many people, and not just in Nazi Germany. But he seems not to have been a sympathiser of Hitler, and was apparently indirectly involved in a plot to kill him, when a bomb designed to do that was driven to the train station in his car.

So, my eye was caught by a piece in Science about the Dutch born chemist Peter Debye. A recently published book in Dutch took a harsh view of Debye, documenting behaviour that might indicate Nazi sympathies. The University of Utrecht has removed his name from one of its institutes. But there have also been pro-Debye books (the publication of one of which has just been halted), and others have argued that signing letters "Heil Hitler" (as he apparently did) might just have been something people did without necessarily believing in Hitler's doctrines.

Read the piece in Science.

There is also material in Wikipedia (in
English, and in Dutch - the Dutch link is not working at the moment), and I found this article in De Volkskrant written at the time of the decisions of Utrecht and Maastricht universities to stop using his name.

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