Freddy Litten
(Frederick S. Litten)


Wissenschafts- und Universitätsgeschichte / History of science and universities

Hermann Strebel ‒ Lichttherapeut und Sonnenforscher [Hermann Strebel ‒ light therapist and sun observer]; in: Sterne und Weltraum, 31. Jg., Heft 3, 1992, S. 154-157.
[Volltext (ca. 2,5 MB)]

Hermann Strebel (1868-1943) was born in Munich where, after receiving his doctorate in medicine from Erlangen University in 1892 and for some years working in Regensburg, he practiced as a physician specializing in the then new field of light therapy, also holding some patents in that field. Presumably because of this specialization he also became interested in solar research, so in 1926 he began building an observatory in Herrsching near Munich. Unusually for the time, he used mirror telescopes, built by the famous B. Schmidt, for his solar observations. His best observations, resulting for example in the recognition of the polygonal structure of solar granules, were of an equal quality with the stratospheric observations made in the 1960s.
However, Strebel also produced quite a weird theory of the sun's structure, ignoring the results of concurrent academic research. In 1932 Strebel bequeathed his observatory to the Munich-Bogenhausen observatory which was then still part of the Administration of Scientific Collections of the (Bavarian) State. In 1937 he stopped observing, and most of the instruments were brought to Bogenhausen where not much use was made of them, however. His publications of observations in the 1930s provoked renewed interest in solar granulation ‒ eg, by H. H. Plaskett ‒, but then soon became forgotten. Yet, he was one of the most successful astronomical practitioners in Bavaria between the World Wars.
The article is based on various unpublished sources from German archives and on several, mostly contemporary publications.

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Die Trennung der Verwaltung der Wissenschaftlichen Sammlungen des Staates von der Bayerischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften ‒ Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Wissenschaftsorganisation in Bayern [The separation of the Administration of Scientific Collections of the (Bavarian) State from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences ‒ A contribution to the history of academic organizations in Bavaria]; in: Zeitschrift für Bayerische Landesgeschichte, Jg. 55, Heft 2, 1992, S. 411-420.

The Administration of Scientific Collections of the (Bavarian) State (VWSS, in short; nowadays it is called "Bavarian State Natural History Collections") was established in 1827 as the third large scientific organization in Munich, besides the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Munich University, the latter of which had just moved there from Ingolstadt. Originally meant to be independent, the VWSS was connected in many ways with these two institutions, not the least by having as its director the president of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Under its wings fell, for example, the Anthropological Collection, the Botanical Garden, the Chemical Laboratory, the Ethnological Museum and the Bogenhausen Observatory. The Bavarian State Library had become independent in 1832, the Zoological Institute was transferred to Munich University in 1932/33.
In 1934, only one year after the Nazis had come to power, the Giessen zoologist Max Dingler proposed to completely reorganize the VWSS and completely separate it from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Dingler, homesick for Bavaria and sensing a good position as "director general" of the VWSS, received the support of several ns-organizations, notably the staff of Hitler's deputy. Therefore the Bavarian Ministry of Culture was forced to ponder his proposals and finally concluded to do as he wished, although he only received the title "first director of the state collections for natural history" in 1936. On 18 March 1938 (dated back to 1 April 1937) several institutes (Chemical Laboratory, Bogenhausen Observatory, etc.) were transferred to Munich University, all "biological" and "geological" institutions remained in the VWSS, as well as several ill-assorted institutions such as the Egyptological Collection. However, Dingler's plan to build a "biological museum" never took off; the following two decades saw further changes in the make-up of the VWSS; and the connections especially with Munich University remained strong.
The article is based mainly on records of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture.

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Max Dingler ‒ Die andere Seite [Max Dingler ‒ The other side]; in: Literatur in Bayern, Nr. 43, März 1996, S. 10-23.

Max Dingler (1883-1961) is better known as a poet and writer than as a zoologist, his original calling. Born in Landshut, he made Murnau, where his grandparents owned an estate, his "base", also helping to establish there a local cell of the NSDAP in 1922/23. Since 1926, he was a lecturer for zoology at Giessen University, yet longed to come back to Bavaria. This he managed by proposing the separation of the Administration of Scientific Collections of the (Bavarian) State from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, and by putting himself up for the post of "director general" of the Administration. By using his connections with NSDAP organizations he succeeded, though not completely to his liking. He was also made a "honorary professor" of Munich University, although the discussions show that he was not deemed worthy of this title by his colleagues. In July 1945 Dingler was dismissed from all his posts; however, his denazification, among friends, was more or less a formality. Although he had been an early member of the NSDAP, and had stridently proclaimed his National Socialist convictions from 1933 until 1945 ‒ even being lauded at the time as one of the earliest supporters of the NSDAP ‒, he finally received full pension rights and, in 1952, a high decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the early 1980s a school in Murnau was named for him, despite some discussions.
The article, which concentrates on the hitherto ignored political and scientific career ‒ while other aspects such as his literary writings and his commitment to environmental protection are quite well known ‒, is based on copious records in several archives in Munich, as well as some publications.

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"Vielleicht hilft uns Professor Röntgen mit der Zeit?" ‒ Die Korn-Röntgen Affäre ["Perhaps Professor Roentgen will help us sometimes?" ‒ The Korn-Roentgen Affair]; in: Kultur & Technik, Jg. 17, Nr. 4, 1993, S. 42-49.

Arthur Korn (1870-1945) was one of the pioneers of fax technology. In the early years of the 20th century, he was one of the leading researchers on picture transmission, gaining wide recognition and even fame. Korn had been appointed in 1903 to an associate professorship for physics at Munich University and had hoped to be appointed to the chair for theoretical physics there, which had been vacant for some years since Ludwig Boltzmann had gone to Vienna. Yet, Arnold Sommerfeld became Boltzmann's successor, and Korn was clearly miffed.
To bolster his image, he tried to persuade the university and the Bavarian Ministry of Culture to establish a chair for applied mathematics for him. Although he did not wish to be paid, he encountered serious resistance within the faculty of sciences of Munich University, especially from Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. Therefore, in February 1908, Korn left Munich University for Berlin. Nearly a year later, in January 1909, the whole affair came to light in the press. After a few weeks, pretty much everyone's reputation had suffered, but the situation had not changed. Korn remained active in his field, becoming a honorary professor at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Technical University.
Under the Nazis, Korn ‒ who was of Jewish descent, which also may have played a role in the discussions in 1908/9 ‒ was dismissed and was only able to leave Germany shortly before the Second World War broke out. A report by Walther Gerlach, physicist at Munich University at that time, was not very helpful. In the US, Korn became a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken/NJ.
The article is based on documents in the archives of Munich University and on publications.

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Die Carathéodory-Nachfolge in München 1938-1944 [The Carathéodory succession in Munich, 1938-1944]; in: Centaurus, vol. 37, nr. 2, 1994, pp. 154-172

Constantin Carathéodory was one of the most famous mathematicians at Munich University. When it became predictable in 1938 that he would soon be given emeritus status, his colleagues, especially Oskar Perron and Heinrich Tietze, but also the physicists Arnold Sommerfeld and Walther Gerlach, proposed Gustav Herglotz, Bartel van der Waerden and Carl Ludwig Siegel as possible successors. However, the Munich "Dozentenschaft" ‒ a Nazi controlled organization with groups at every university ‒, and its head, the astronomer Bruno Thuering, had different intentions. They declined van der Waerden and Siegel as politically unacceptable, and called Herglotz only barely acceptable.
The Munich mathematicians therefore supplemented their proposal with Erich Hecke, but Thuering still did not like it. He called for Anton Huber, a professor at Freiburg University in Switzerland, who was meant to be called to Vienna, however. Then the "Dozentenschaft" and the National Socialist dean of the faculty, the botanist Friedrich von Faber, proposed Alfred Klose and Karl Strubecker, about whom they had received reports from two of the leading NS-mathematicians, Ludwig Bieberbach and Theodor Vahlen. Yet Perron was able to "shoot down" Klose, so only Herglotz and Strubecker were officially nominated. However, Herglotz, who had been on nomination lists in Munich several times in the 1920s and 1930s, declined; Strubecker somehow fell out of the picture.
After some time, early in 1941, the Munich mathematicians now nominated Heinrich Behnke, Hellmuth Kneser, Franz Rellich and Herbert Seifert. Thüring had by now gone to Vienna, but the physicist and new dean Wilhelm Mueller took over from him as leading opponent of the mathematicians. He favoured Max Steck, a young mathematician at Munich Technical University. In the meantime, Oswald Teichmueller's name also appeared in the discussions. In spring 1942, the situation had become such a muddle that all proposals were withdrawn.
In July 1942 the mathematicians Carathéodory, Perron and Tietze nominated Kneser, Wilhelm Suess and Eberhard Hopf. Kneser and Suess declined, but Hopf accepted and was finally appointed professor for mathematics in April 1944(!). In contrast to the Sommerfeld succession, when the non-National Socialist members of the faculty had been defeated with the appointment of Mueller, they had a qualified success in this case, as Hopf was a competent mathematician and no Nazi, not even in name only.
The article is based mainly on documents in archives in Munich, plus some publications.

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Ernst Mohr ‒ Das Schicksal eines Mathematikers [Ernst Mohr ‒ A mathematician's fate]; in: Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Jg. 98, Heft 4, 1996, S. 192-212.
In Russian: Ernst Mor ‒ Sud'ba odnogo matematika; in: Istoriko-matematičeskie issledovanija, Zweite Serie, Jg. 3 (38), 1999, S. 221-248.

Ernst Mohr (1910-1989) was one of the victims of National Socialism. After he had received his doctorate at Goettingen University in 1933 (his supervisor was Hermann Weyl), he became involved with several National Socialist people at the university and in Goettingen. In 1934 this led to a strange confrontation with the newly appointed professor for mathematics, Helmut Hasse, with the result of Mohr becoming ‒ in part ‒ a scapegoat and having to leave Goettingen.
He then went to Breslau and began to specialize in hydrodynamics under the supervision of Johann Nikuradse. In 1939 he became lecturer for mechanics and applied mathematics at both Breslau University and Breslau Polytechnic. In 1942 he was provisionally appointed to an associate professorship at the German University in Prague, in 1943 he got tenure there.
All the time after 1934, Mohr had been very reluctant to speak his mind in public or semi-public, while in private he openly declared his disapproval of National Socialism. In 1944 he was denounced by a female "friend" of his wife ‒ and arrested in Prague. On 24 October 1944 his case came before the "Volksgerichtshof" ("People's Court") and he was sentenced to death for subversion, etc. Due to intensive efforts by several people (Nikuradse, Mohr's Prague colleague Hans Rohrbach, and his lawyer) Mohr was saved at the last moment, but only for half a year. He was kept in Ploetzensee jail near Berlin to do mathematical computations, observed the killings there, and survived bomb attacks. Just before the postponement of his execution ended, the Soviet Red Army freed the inmates of Ploetzensee.
After the war, Mohr's career resumed as he became professor at Berlin Technical University at the beginning of 1946. However, the fact that he had been a victim of national socialism was only reluctantly accepted by West German officials: While old Nazis were back at the university, or had their full pensions, in the early 1950s, Mohr had to wait until 1963 before he received full compensation. His death sentence was only revoked in 1958, partly by subterfuge and luck. The memories of imprisonment and waiting on death-row stayed with Mohr to the end.
The article is based on documents in archives in Berlin, Potsdam, Goettingen and Munich, and several publications.

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Die "Verdienste" eines Rektors im Dritten Reich ‒ Ansichten über den Geologen Leopold Kölbl in München [A Rektors "merits" during the Third Reich ‒ Views of the geologist Leopold Koelbl in Munich]; in: N.T.M., Neue Serie, Vol. 11, Nr. 1, 2003, S. 34-46. [Volltext (ca. 1 MB)]

Leopold Koelbl (1895-1970), professor of geology in Vienna from 1929 to 1934, member of the NSDAP in Austria since 1932 and high-ranking member of the SA, became Rektor (vice chancellor) of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians university in 1935, scarcely a year after he had come to Munich. His activity as Rektor was praised by representatives of the NS regime, but also by people inimical to this regime, such as Heinrich Wieland and Oskar Perron. When discussing scientists' behaviour during the Third Reich, it is argued, more care and a more nuanced vocabulary are necessary, than is sometimes in evidence in studies on this topic.
The article is based on documents in Munich, Berlin and Vienna, as well as various publications.

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F. Litten