Harvard University enhanced the reputation of the Nazi regime when it sanctioned events in the 1930s attended by Nazis, a historian claimed Sunday.
“Harvard remained largely indifferent to the persecution of Germany’s Jews,” said Stephen H. Norwood, a University of Oklahoma history professor who is writing a book about the response of American universities to the Nazi party.
Norwood presented some of his findings at a conference on the Holocaust at Boston University, where he was the keynote speaker.
The university responded with a rebuttal of Norwood’s claims, which they said lacked context.
“The University was then and is now repulsed by everything that Hitler represents, and the specter of Nazism rightly inspires horror and revulsion to this day,” the university said in a statement.
Norwood claimed administrators welcomed one of Adolf Hitler’s closest deputies to a reunion, hosted a reception for German naval officials and sent a delegate to a celebration at a German university that had expelled Jews.
Harvard administrators, alumni and student leaders “remained indifferent to Germany’s terrorist campaign against Jews and indeed on numerous occasions assisted the Nazis in their efforts to gain acceptance in the West,” he said.
Norwood criticized former Harvard President James Bryant Conant for failing to speak against the Nazis despite numerous opportunities between 1933 and 1937.
He said that during that time, it was widely reported that German Jews were segregated in schools, beaten in the streets, purged from universities and their businesses boycotted. The persecution later culminated in the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews across Europe were executed in Nazi concentration camps.
Much of Norwood’s presentation focused on a campus visit by Ernst Hanfstaengl, the Nazi party’s foreign press chief.
Hanfstaengl, a Harvard graduate, attended a 25th-year reunion on the campus in 1934 — the year after Hitler became chancellor of Germany.
The reunion sparked protest in the Jewish community.
“Conant could easily have denounced the visit but did not,” Norwood said.
But the university said in its statement that Conant made it clear he did not support the Nazis. Conant showed his disdain for Hanfstaengl by coldly ignoring his greeting during a reunion receiving line, and asked for clemency for students arrested at an anti-Nazi protest over Hanfstaengl’s presence on campus, the university said.
No to donations
Later, Conant twice rejected Hanfstaengl’s attempts to donate money to the university, according to his 1970 autobiography.
Norwood said Conant welcomed the crew of the Nazi warship the Karlsruhe to campus in 1934, but Harvard said the invitation was a private one from a student or a professor, not a formal invitation on behalf of the university or its president.
Two years later, Conant sent a delegate to an anniversary celebration of the University of Heidelberg, from which Jewish faculty and students had been purged, Norwood said.
According to Harvard, Conant was torn by how to respond and decided to send an official letter and a delegate. Harvard’s acknowledgment of the anniversary was meant “not to support Nazism but to acknowledge their Faculties’ history of scholarship and to keep communication open between scholars.”