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Nazi Purge Sent Big Brains to U.S., Drove Science: Lewis Lapham

Jonathan R. Cole
Jonathan R. Cole. "The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why it Must Be Protected" is the latest book by Cole, former provost of Columbia University. Source: Columbia University via Bloomberg

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- Adolf Hitler came to power in January, 1933, and by spring, he had enacted a law called “The Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” to purge Jews from university jobs. By the end of October, Albert Einstein arrived in the United States, a refugee from Nazi Germany.

Up to that time, many bright scientists had headed to universities in Berlin or Goettingen to study cutting-edge developments in physics and other disciplines. Hitler had been warned about the coming brain drain, but he hated pure science almost as passionately as he hated the Jews.

In the diaspora that followed, more than 100 physicists alone came to the United States, ushering in a new era of scientific brilliance. Since the 1930s, about 60 percent of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Americans, and a 2008 global study found that 17 of the top 20 research universities were in the United States.

I spoke with Jonathan Cole, author of “The Great American University” (PublicAffairs), on the following topics:

1. Engine of Innovation

2. Visionary Educators

3. Ideology Smothers Growth

4. Guns vs. Brains

5. Reliance on Imported Talent

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s Magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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