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  • Weihnachten im Foyer der Neuen Uni am Sanderring. Bild: Robert Emmerich
University Archives

Rectors in the Weimar Republic and National Socialism

New Constitution and "Führer Rector"

Part 5 of 7

The university constitution, renewed after the First World War, lasted only a short time before the university was brought into line and restructured according to the Führer principle. After a short resistance, the university submitted to these changes in the sense of Nazi rule.


On March 3, 1921, the Ministry of Culture decreed the new "Constitution of the University": In addition to the Rector and the Prorector, it provided for the Senate to include the Director of the Administrative Committee, the four Deans, 10 full professors (= chair holders), two of whom were from each faculty, whereby the Faculty of Philosophy, due to its size and division into two departments, was allowed to provide a total of 4 full professors, as well as 2 non-ordained professors as members. The two senators from the ranks of the associate professors, however, received only limited powers. Rector and senators were determined by an electoral body, which was later called the Grand Senate.

Elimination of academic self-governance

Although the universities were only marginally affected by the NSDAP's transformation of the state, here, too, the ideologically motivated changes came one after the other. Seven months after the National Socialists came to power (January 1933), the universities were transformed according to the Führer principle. The free election of the rector was abolished and the senate was deprived of its power - it had only a purely advisory function. Unrestricted power was to be in the hands of the rector, directly appointed by the ministry, as the leader of the university. The rights of the Senate and the Grand Senate were transferred to the Rector, who was directly subordinate to the Reich Minister of Science. Academic self-government had been formally eliminated; instead, various party subdivisions were now given official or unofficial influence over the management of the university. In the case of appointments, for example, the Gaudozentenbund leader had to be consulted and check the ideological reliability of the candidates.

A last rebellion against Nazi paternalism

A kind of trial of strength in the struggle for academic self-government took place in Würzburg in early 1935 between the university and the National Socialist state. After the first "Führerrector" Herwart Fischer had been deposed in November 1934 following a criminal conviction, Georg Rost, a prorector who was opposed to National Socialism, temporarily took over. The university senate, which had the right to propose the rector, proposed the rector of 1931/32, Ferdinand Flury, in agreement with Rost, which was rejected by the ministry. The NSDAP University Commission, the NS Lecturers' Association and the Ministry agreed on the Erlangen Rector Johannes Reinmöller as Fischer's successor. Notwithstanding this massive influence and knowing his own powerlessness, Rost nevertheless succeeded in convincing the Senate in early 1935 to propose Flury again against the clear will of the Nazi state in a non-secret ballot with 83 of 112 votes. On April 3, 1935, the ministry appointed Johannes Reinmöller as the new rector.

How a Gauleiter ensured that the university lost its scepters

Julius Echter donated the first scepter, which became one of the most important insignia and was used at various ceremonies. Originally, the rector was not officially allowed to appear in public without the scepter carried by the pedal. The silver scepter from Echter's time was lost or discarded in the early 18th century and was replaced by a new one in 1723, which was used for the time being.


Magnificent scepter from Salzburg

The pair of scepters shown here was originally owned by the University of Salzburg, which was inaugurated in 1622. After the transfer of Salzburg to Bavaria in 1810, the Salzburg University was dissolved and the Kingdom of Bavaria, as sovereign of Salzburg, was thus the legal owner of the two scepters. The two scepters arrived in Würzburg in 1846 and were given to the university for use, subject to the reservation of state ownership of them and until they were otherwise disposed of. Since the old scepter was very shabby in the meantime thanks to a theft in the meantime and the replacement scepter made of brass sheet was quite cheap, the Salzburg scepters were accepted with thanks. In Würzburg, the care, repair and maintenance of the scepters cost quite a bit over the next hundred years. It was not until around 1920 that the origin of the scepters was recalled and various treatises were written.

A Salzburg Gauleiter takes notice

These indications and personal ambition drew the attention of the National Socialist Reich Student Leader and Salzburg Reich Governor and Gauleiter Dr. Gustav Adolf Scheel to the magnificent regalia. On July 24, 1944, he wrote to the Munich Gauleiter Paul Giesler (at the same time acting Bavarian Minister of Culture) asking for help in returning the scepters to Salzburg. Corresponding inquiries were followed by a letter to the Würzburg rectorate with the request for a report regarding the scepters, whether they were still in Würzburg and whether there were any reservations about their return. The acting rector, Prof. Ernst Seifert, regretted the imminent return of the scepters, but did not oppose it. This statement was probably made without consulting the weakened Senate. The fact that Seifert was a convinced National Socialist politically close to the Würzburg Gauleiter Otto Hellmuth may also have had a favorable effect. In October 1944, the scepters were handed over. Finally, the Salzburg Faculty of Theology kept and used the scepters until the reestablishment of the Salzburg University in 1964.

Unsuccessful repatriation attempts after the end of the war

In post-war Würzburg, the whereabouts of the scepters were initially unknown until efforts were made to have them returned in the 1950s. However, since it could not be clarified whether these were legally effective processes or National Socialist injustice, and the University of Salzburg also did not want to engage in any bartering on a collegial level, the scepters remained in Salzburg. It was only for an exhibition of the University Archives that they could be obtained again as a loan and admired in Würzburg.