Visiting professor explains Nazi persecution of academics
Jeremy Cappello Lee | Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Dr. Zofia Golab-Meyer, professor emerita of physics at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, gave a historical account of Nazi and Soviet persecution of academics in Poland during World War II in a lecture entitled “Freedom, Tyranny and the Pursuit of Science: The Case of Poland 1918-1950.”
Following the German occupation of Poland, Nazi forces targeted Polish scientists and mathematicians as part of a plan to eliminate the intelligentsia class. In November 1939, the Nazi party required nearly 200 academics to convene at the Jagiellonian University under the pretense of discussing education reform, Golab-Meyer said.
“The rector of [Jagiellonian University] invited these professors to a meeting thinking that they could achieve good relations with the Nazis,” Golab-Meyer said. “What happened was 183 professors were imprisoned … 144 were from [Jagellonian University].”
At the same time, the Soviet invasion of Poland claimed the lives of thousands of educated Poles, Golab-Meyer said.
“On the other side, the Soviets took 17,000 Polish officers,” she said. “It was the crème de la crème of intelligentsia. … Among those killed by the Soviets was my uncle.”
Despite the repression of both Nazi and Soviet regimes, Polish academicians maintained their research, she said.
“In Dachau [concentration camp], there were a large number of physicists and mathematicians,” Golab-Meyer said. “… They organized a variety of lectures among them. From these lectures, there have appeared textbooks.”
Additionally, some academics who had not been deported to concentration camps built a secret network of underground universities in Poland, often held informally in private houses, Golab-Meyer said.
“We had this oppression, but we managed to do something,” she said. “In Krakow, in Vilnius, there were clandestine universities supported by the Polish government in exile.”
Golab-Meyer said the efforts of many dedicated teachers working to keep education accessible was a reason why Poland was able to sustain its academic progress.
“It’s not enough to have physics and mathematics,” she said. “It must be a whole atmosphere. People should have good influences, and not only concentrate on narrow problems.”
“The most important thing to survive oppression are good teachers, and I think morals and culture,” she said.
Influenced by the prolonged occupation of Nazi and Soviet regimes in Poland, Golab-Meyer said intellectual freedom should not be taken for granted.
“Culture and country can collapse,” she said. “Nothing is … forever. If we have freedom, we should care about it.”