Blackman: Humanity strand of Rutherford legacy

Dr Allan Blackman, associate professor in the chemistry department at the University of Otago, write’s about Sir Ernest Rutherford’s support of displaced scientists from Nazi Germany, on the day commemorating 100 years since the “father of nuclear physics” received his Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Column, published in the Otago Daily Times on December 11, 2008, can be read in full here.

Some excerpts:

“Following Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, the Nazi government introduced the “Law for the restoration of the professional civil service”, the upshot of which was that only persons of Aryan descent could hold positions at German universities.

“This meant that academics with Jewish backgrounds (classified as being anyone with a single Jewish grandparent) were instantly dismissed from their positions; by May 1933, these numbered around 1500.

News of this was brought to England by William Beveridge, the director of the London School of Economics, following a conference in Vienna.

“As a result, he formed the Academic Assistance Council (AAC), an organisation designed to assist the displaced academics in obtaining university positions outside Germany, and, recognising Rutherford’s standing in the academic world, persuaded him to become its first president.

“Beveridge wrote of his first meeting with Rutherford: “As we talked he exploded with wrath at Hitler’s treatment of scientific colleagues whom he knew personally … he did everything and more to make our going ahead possible.”

“The AAC was publicly launched through a press release on May 24, 1933.

This document set out the aims of the council as being to assist “… university teachers and investigators of whatever country who, on grounds of religion, political opinion or race, are unable to carry on their work in their own country”.

“On October 3, 1933, Rutherford chaired a meeting of 10,000 people in the Royal Albert Hall to raise funds for the council, at which Einstein was the main speaker.”