In the first work to examine both nazification and denazification of a major German university, Steven P. Remy offers a sobering account of the German academic community from 1933 to 1957. Deeply researched in university archives, newly opened denazification records, occupation reports, and contemporary publications, The Heidelberg Myth starkly details how extensively the university’s professors were engaged with National Socialism and how effectively they frustrated postwar efforts to ascertain the truth.
Many scholars directly justified or implemented Nazi policies, forming a crucial element in the social consensus supporting Hitler and willingly embracing the Nazis’ “German spirit,” a concept encompassing aggressive nationalism, anti-Semitism, and the rejection of objectivity in scholarship. In elaborate postwar self-defense narratives, they portrayed themselves as unpolitical and uncorrupted by Nazism. This “Heidelberg myth” provided justification for widespread resistance to denazification and the restoration of compromised scholars to their positions, and set the remarkably long-lasting consensus that German academic culture had remained untainted by Nazi ideology.
The Heidelberg Myth is a valuable contribution to German social, intellectual, and political history, as well as to works on collective memory in societies emerging from dictatorship.