Heidegger and Nazism - Heidegger's Rectorate at The University of Freiburg

Heidegger's Rectorate At The University of Freiburg

Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Heidegger was elected rector of the University of Freiburg on April 21, 1933, on the recommendation of his predecessor von Möllendorf, who was forced to give up his position because he had refused the displaying of an anti-Jewish poster, and assumed the position the following day. He joined the "National Socialist German Workers' Party" ten days later, on May 1 (significantly the international day of workers' solidarity : Heidegger told after the war he supported the social more than the national). He co-signed a public telegram sent by Nazi rectores to Hitler on May 20, 1933. Otto Pöggeler relativizes this engagement : "He wasn't alone to be mystified. Toynbee too after an audience in 1936 noted about Hitler: "he has beautiful hands". (...) Mein Kampf had hardly been read and absolutely not taken seriously. (...) Roosewelt was stoked at Hitler's manners, the Times in London supported Hitler's demands, and it soon occurred in view of the new stock exchange prices that people applaud in London's cinemas when the newsreel showed Hitler's image."

In Germany the atmosphere of those days has been described by Sebastian Haffner, who experienced it himself, as "a widespread feeling of deliverance, of liberation from democracy." Rüdiger Safranski explains: "This sense of relief at the demise of democracy was shared not only by the enemies of the republic. Most of its supporters, too, no longer credited it with the strength to master the crisis. It was as if a paralyzing weight had been lifted. Something genuinely new seemed to be beginning — a people's rule without political parties, with a leader of whom it was hoped that he would unite Germany once more internally and make her self-assured externally. (...) Hitler's "Peace Speech" of May 17, 1933, when he declared that "boundless love and loyalty to one's own nation" included "respect" for the national rights of other nations, had its effect. The London Times observed that Hitler had "indeed spoken for a united Germany." Even among the Jewish population — despite the boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1 and the dismissal of Jewish public after April 7 — there was a good deal of enthusiastic support for the "National revolution". Georg Picht recalls that Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, in a lecture in March 1933, declared that the National Socialist revolution was an attempt by the Germans to realize Hölderlin's dream. (...) Heidegger was indeed captivated by Hitler in this first year." Jaspers noted about his last meeting with him in May 1933: "It's just like 1914, again this deceptive mass intoxication."

The new rector Heidegger was sober enough to refuse like his predecessor the displaying of the anti-Jewish poster (he argued after the war that he joined the Party to avoid dismissal), and he forbade the planned book-burning that was scheduled to take place in front of the main University building. Nevertheless, according to Victor Farias, Hugo Ott, and Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger implemented the Gleichschaltung totalitarian policy, suppressing all opposition to the government. Along with Ernst Krieck and Alfred Baeumler, Heidegger spearheaded the Conservative Revolution promoted (in the beginning) by the Nazis. But according to others such as François Fédier and Julian Young, Heidegger "called for, not the subordination of the university to the state, but precisely the reverse", and "did indeed seek to protect students from indoctrination by the crasser form of Nazi propaganda". Young quotes the testimony of a former student, Georg Picht :

The way Heidegger conceived of the revival of the university, this became clear to me on the occasion of a memorable event. To give the first lecture within the framework of „political education“ - a compulsory measure introduced at the universities by the Nazis (...) - Heidegger, rector at that time, invited my mother's brother in law, Victor von Weizsäcker. Everyone was puzzled, because it was well-known that Weizsäcker was no Nazi. But Heidegger's word was law. The student he had chosen to lead the philosophy department thought he should pronounce introductory words on national socialist revolution. Heidegger soon manifested signs of impatience, then he shouted with a lout voice that irritation strained : "this jabber will stop immediately !" Totally prostrated, the student disappeared from the tribune. He had to resign from office. As for Victor von Weizsäcker, he gave a perfect lecture on his philosophy of medicine, in which national socialism was not once mentioned, but far rather Sigmund Freud."

Picht recalls his uncle Weizsäcker told him afterwards about Heidegger's political engagement:

I'm pretty sure it's a misunderstanding - such a thing happens often in history of philosophy. But Heidegger is a step ahead : he perceives something is going on that the others don't.

Heidegger's tenure as rector was fraught with difficulties. He was in conflict with Nazi students, intellectuals, and bureaucrats. Philosophical historian Hans Sluga wrote:

Though as rector he prevented students from displaying an anti-Semitic poster at the entrance to the university and from holding a book burning, he kept in close contact with the Nazi student leaders and clearly signaled to them his sympathy with their activism.

Some National Socialist education officials viewed also him as a rival, while others saw his efforts as comical. His most risible intiative was the creation of a Wissenschaftslager or Scholar's camp, seriously described by Rockmore as a "reeducation camp", but by Safranski as rather a "mixture of scout camp and Platonic academy", actually "to build campfires, share food, have conversation, sing along with guitar... with people who were really a little beyond Cub Scout age". Safransky tells how a dispute occurred with a group of SA students and their military spirit. Some of Heidegger's fellow National Socialists also ridiculed his philosophical writings as gibberish. He finally offered his resignation on April 23, 1934, and it was accepted on April 27. Heidegger remained a member of both the academic faculty and of the Nazi Party until the end of the war, but took no part in Party meetings. In 1944, he don't even have the right to teach anymore, considered as a "completely dispensable" teacher, and is ordered up the Rhine to build fortifications, then drafted into the Volkssturm, "the oldest member of the faculty to be called up". In 1945 Heidegger wrote of his term as rector, giving the writing to his son Hermann; it was published in 1983:

The rectorate was an attempt to see something in the movement that had come to power, beyond all its failings and crudeness, that was much more far-reaching and that could perhaps one day bring a concentration on the Germans' Western historical essence. It will in no way be denied that at the time I believed in such possibilities and for that reason renounced the actual vocation of thinking in favor of being effective in an official capacity. In no way will what was caused by my own inadequacy in office be played down. But these points of view do not capture what is essential and what moved me to accept the rectorate.

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