I've written about the scandalous role Harvard University played in promoting the "science" of eugenics at the turn of the 20th century - the research of which found its way into Nazi ideology and ultimately Mein Kampf. Certainly a university as old and influential as Harvard - a institution I love dearly - has many skeletons in its closet. But there were also Harvard students and alumni who recognized the threat of Nazism and risked their lives to combat it. I've written about Varian Fry - the young Harvard graduate who single-handily secured safe passage to America for Alfred Döblin, Heinrich and Golo Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Hannah Arendt, and scores of other writers, artists and intellectuals. But there were other Harvard students and faculty who did what they could to ward isolationist America in the 1930s and early 1940s about Nazi Germany.
One of the great things about subscribing to the New York Times is having access to its "Time Machine" - access to all issues of the newspaper dating back to the 1890s. For August 6, 1939 one comes across this short article:
The competition was organized by Harvard sociologist Dr. Edward Hartshorne, who had written his doctoral thesis on Germany universities under National Socialism. Hartshorne received over 200 manuscripts - mostly from Jews who were forced to flee Germany - from the US, Great Britain, Palestine, and Shanghai. Many of the "Nazi Stories" dealt with the events surrounding Kristallnacht - the November 1938 pogrom that resulted in the destruction of Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues throughout Germamy. Hartshorne selected 34 manuscripts for publication for a book - Nazi Madness. November 1928 - which however was not published until 2012 (The Night of Broken Glass: Eyewitness Accounts of Kristallnacht by Uta Gerhardt). The recollections of that terrible night are indeed chilling:
For Hugo Moses, a former bank official, the behaviour of the drunken mob of stormtroopers who broke into his apartment on the night of 9 November, overturning his furniture and smashing his ornaments and pictures, while an SS man held a loaded revolver to his head[...]Sofoni Herz, a teacher at a Jewish orphanage in Dinslaken, a mining town in the Ruhr, hurriedly took 32 children outside while a gang of 50 men systematically destroyed everything in the building, "shattering window panes, throwing books, chairs, beds, tables, linens, maps, valises, piano parts, etc out of the windows and doors" before setting the orphanage's synagogue on fire. A Nazi official announced "that we have ordered that the cow belonging to the orphanage, which is taken care of by a German farmer, will continue to be fed. Animals must not suffer on this day." [...] A Nazi teacher persecuted Hugo Moses's nine-year-old son in the classroom, making him sit on a bench on his own, refusing to correct his work and banning him from using the school swimming pool: "You are not allowed to contaminate German water." The boy later told his father he would have thrown himself under a train had this continued much longer. The head teacher, though sympathetic to the father's protests, confessed he could do nothing, because he would lose his job if he did. [...] particularly harrowing are the stories of what happened to the Jewish men arrested and taken off to the camps. The shopkeeper Karl Schwabe endured "a series of endless physical and mental sufferings" at Buchenwald. In the first days they were deprived of food and drink – "our mouths dried out completely, our throats burned". They were forced to stand outside in rows for hours, with the SS mercilessly hitting and kicking anyone who fell over. Many were beaten to death; others, unable to bear the torture, ran into the electrified barbed wire fences. Elderly men were forced to do squats until they dropped from exhaustion. "The sanitary conditions", Schwabe wrote, "defy description."
But the events - as awful and chilling as they are to read - are just a taste of horror that would soon follow.
As for the Harvard sociologist Hartshorne, he was instrumental in the de-nazification of German universities just after the war ended, but was assassinated while driving on the Autobahn from Munich to Erlangen in August 1946. His killer was never identified.