German University Name Pays Homage to Inspiration for Nazis

On March 17, the governing academic senate of the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Greifswald formally rejected the proposal of a student initiative that had pleaded for the name of the university to be changed. The university thus chose to continue to bear the name of the 19th century German nationalist firebrand whom Léon Poliakov in his monumental History of Anti-Semitism describes as one of “the two great apostles of Germano-Christian racism” and of the two, the one who “the Nazis saw as their great ideological precursor.” (The other “apostle” is the German chauvinist gymnastics instructor Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a.k.a. “Father Jahn.”)

Arndt is an emblematic figure of so-called “völkisch” German nationalism. The term derives from the German word Volk, which is commonly translated as either “nation” or “people.” But unlike these English words, it typically carries a strong ethnic or indeed “racial” connotation. As numerous passages attest, Arndt’s writings combine Germanomania and an obsession with racial purity in about equal measure. As Poliakov notes, Arndt regarded the “wild” and “powerful” Germans to have provided “the right stock into which the divine seed could be implanted to produce the most noble fruits” -- as manifest, among other things, by the Germans ruling over the “surrounding peoples of alien kind.”

The student initiative Uni ohne Arndt [University without Arndt] cites the following passage from Arndt:

The Germans have not been bastardized by alien peoples [Völker]. They have not become half-breeds [Mischlinge]. More than many other peoples they have preserved their innate purity and they have been able to develop themselves slowly and surely … out of this purity of their kind and nature. The lucky Germans are an original people [Volk]. ... Every people can only become the best and most noble … inasmuch as it selects the most powerful and the most beautiful [specimens] of its stock and has them breed with one another.

Anti-Semitism and xenophobia -- and in Arndt’s case, a particularly virulent hatred of the French -- are correlates of such racially obsessive Germanomania. In Arndt’s favor, it has sometimes been argued that he defended the acceptance of baptized Jews as members of the German nationalist fraternities known as “Burschenschaften.”

But in his classic study of the language of the Third Reich LTI, the philologist Victor Klemperer cites the following passage from Arndt’s 1848 volume Reden und Glossen:

Jews…, whether baptized or unbaptized, work tirelessly … towards the corruption and dissolution of that which we Germans have hitherto seen as the embodiment of what is both most human and most holy for us, toward the dissolution and destruction of love for the fatherland and the fear of God. ... Just listen and look around you a little, [and you will notice] where this poisonous Jewish humanity [Judenhumanität] would take us if we did not have anything properly German to oppose to it.

The initiative Uni ohne Arndt, furthermore, cites Arndt from 1814 as follows:

One should simply prohibit and prevent the introduction of foreign Jews in Germany. ... Jews as Jews do not belong in this world and in these states, and that is why I do not want their numbers to be increased in an undue fashion in Germany.

I also do not want this, however, because they are a thoroughly alien people [fremdes Volk] and because I want as much as possible to preserve the purity of the German stock and to keep it free from alien elements.

In the same year, 1814, Arndt published his poem “Of the German Fatherland.” With its continuous refrain “No! No! No! My fatherland must be bigger!” -- “O Nein! Nein! Nein! Mein Vaterland muß größer sein” -- it would, needless to say, become a favorite of generations of great German nationalists laying claim to far-flung territories all across central Europe.

The decision of the University of Greifswald to retain the name of Arndt gives particular cause to pause in light of the fact that the university was first so christened in 1933, shortly after the National Socialist party came to power in Germany. The name change was authorized by none other than the Prussian prime minister, one Hermann Göring. As documented by the initiative Uni ohne Arndt, both the town of Greifswald and the university were Nazi strongholds even before 1933.

The website of the initiative quotes the speech given in June 1933 by university rector Heinrich Laag on the occasion of the ceremonial rechristening of the university:

Only if we think [like Ernst Moritz Arndt] will we also act as the Führer of our nation [Volk] intends. ... What Ernst Moritz Arndt desired is in large part being fulfilled today. In no small measure, the present lives from his spirit.

It should be noted that in opting to retain Arndt’s name, the academic senate merely upheld the results of a January vote of the University of Greifswald student body. According to results published by the initiative Uni ohne Arndt, 23% of the university’s some 12,000 students took part in the vote, of which 50% voted to retain Arndt’s name and 43% to have it removed.