Nazi physics and the atom bomb

Why did Nazi Germany fail to develop an atomic bomb during World War II? After all, Albert Einstein, the man who started it all, was a German citizen until 5693/1933 and Germany had some of the finest physicists in the world even after expelling its Jewish scientists.

The answer to that question requires an article of its own, although one thing is certain –the race for the bomb was certainly not hastened by a strange anomaly that crept up in the German academic world known as Deutsche Physik (Aryan Physics).

Deutsche Physik was a strange German scientific movement of the 5690s/1930s, peopled by reactionaries who were upset that Jews, like Einstein, were taking physics down an illusionary path, fueled by what they called “Jewish over-imagination”. The name was taken from the title of a four-volume physics textbook published by a leader of the movement, Nobel Prize Laureate, Phillip Lenard. During World War I, Lenard and other scientists complained that Britain was stealing too much of the limelight in the scientific world, even having the gall to rename German-discovered phenomena with English names. For example, the Röntgen ray had become the X-ray.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity perturbed these Germans even more because it upset classical science. Many scientists fought Relativity in its early days but Lenard and a second Noble Prize Laureate, Johannes Stark, gave the battle an ideological twist. They compared Relativity to moral relativism (the belief that all morals are relative to circumstances and that there is no absolute truth), and pointed out that it was espoused mainly by Jews and their sympathizers.

PHYSICS FOR THE FATHERLAND
Deutsche Physik
proffered the notion that nations differed not only in their investigation of science but that there was a “national character” to science that affected how they approached objective truth. They claimed that Jewish nationalism made people mistakenly think there was no monopoly to the truth.

“As with everything that man creates, science is determined by race or by blood,” Lenard preached in 5695/1935. “Nations of different racial mixes practice science differently.”

“The German nation has a right to resolutely foster its own nature in science as well,” he insisted, “and this is not only for the sake of the Fatherland but because, in this way, we are cultivating the best that mankind has to offer.”

“With the massive introduction of Jews into influential positions, also at universities and academies, the basis of all scientific knowledge, the observation of nature itself, was forgotten and was no longer considered valid,” he complained. “Knowledge of things of the external world was supposed to be based upon the fancies of the human mind. These ideas, immediately called ‘theories,’ had then to be ‘proven’ by experimenters. The latter usually compiled dutifully and promptly with the most superficial research possible. With the repression of candid remarks against such proceedings, ‘freedom of research’ took on a new flavor. The results can already be felt generally: large segments of the population have lost faith in currently accepted science. Only technology, which is based upon earlier sound research achievements, could continue to earn this trust.”

After the Nazis seized power in 5693/1933, Lenard and Stark used Deutsche Physik as a rallying cry to harness the reins of German science into their hands. Stark’s goal was to install himself as the Führer of physics.

“Finally, the time has come when we can make our conception of science and research count,” he wrote to Lenard. “I used the opportunity presented by my congratulatory letter to Minister (Wilhelm) Frick, whom I know personally, to also let him know that you and I will be happy to advise him with regard to the scientific institutes under his authority.”

THE SS GETS INVOLVED
So successful was their anti-Relativity campaign that the world’s greatest physicist after Einstein, Werner Heisenberg (inventor of the famous “uncertainty principle”) was shocked, after returning home from his honeymoon in 5697/1937, when his university rector informed him that Stark had persuaded the SS weekly, “Das Schwarze Corps” (“The Black Corps”) to publish an article accusing Heisenberg of being a “white Jew.” It was not long before Heisenberg was hauled to the basement of the SS headquarters at Prinz Albert Strasse in Berlin for questioning. Although he had not been beaten up yet, he realized that things were taking a dangerous turn.

At this juncture, history took one of its strange twists and Deutsche Physik was dealt a crushing blow. It so happened that Heisenberg’s mother had grown up with the mother of SS head, Heinrich Himmler, and she decided to pay her old friend a visit. As Heisenberg related later, his mother worked on her friend’s maternal feelings, telling her, “Oh, you know, Frau Himmler, we mothers know nothing about politics, neither your son’s nor mine. But we know that we have to care for our boys. That is why I have come to you.”

The visit worked its magic. Shortly afterwards, Heisenberg received a personal letter “from the Office of the Director of the SS.”

“Very esteemed Herr Professor Heisenberg,” the letter began. “Only today can I answer your letter of July 1, 1937 in which you direct yourself to me because of Dr. Stark’s article…

“Because you were recommended to me by my family, I have had your case investigated with special care and precision. I am glad that I can now inform you that I do not approve of the attack, and that I have taken measures against any further attack against you.

“With friendly greetings, yours, H. Himmler.”

However, appended to the letter was a threatening postscript:

“P.S. I consider it best, however, if, in the future, you make a distinction for your audience between the results of scientific research and the personal and political attitude of the scientists involved.”

In other words, Heisenberg was to make maintain a strict separation between science and the wrong kind of scientists.

Himmler kept his promise. He ordered that Stark’s attacks against Heisenberg be brought to an end and, the following year, he issued a memo to the SS, commending Heisenberg as “a man of great standing in science.”

There is a debate whether Heisenberg went on to try and build an atom bomb for Germany, or whether he deliberately did his best to prevent this from happening.

OUT OF FAVOR
Deutsche Physik
fell out of favor among the Nazi hierarchy for a number of reasons, the most significant of which was that the Nazis understood that it was more important to use science to win the war rather than to distort it in the name of ideology.

A number of prominent German physicists, including Heisenberg and Max Planck, consistently lobbied against the Deutsche Physik nonsense. It was acknowledged that even believers of Jewish science could be good Nazis. For example, Pascual Jordan, one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century, who developed many details of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, was also an ardent Nazi storm-trooper, replete with brown uniform, jackboots and Swastika armband. And unlike most German physicists, Jordan was unafraid to mention Einstein by name.

As time went on, the Nazis sometimes ignored their own racial laws in the interests of science. Thus Herman Göring declared during a 5702/1942 conference, “He (Hitler) will approve and sanction exceptions (to Nazi racial laws) even more readily where prominent research projects or scientists are involved. Really, we ought to be punishable for rejecting a man of the highest intellectual capacity in the field of science for such reasons or if we refused him the opportunity to conduct research because, as I said, he has a Sarah (a Jewish wife) or is perhaps a quarter-Jew or whatever else. The prerequisite is obviously always that we get an actual advantage out of it.”

This was a drastic turnabout since the earlier days when Germany hounded out its world-class Jewish scientists.

Deutsche Physik is a prime example of how false ideology can corrupt even scientific logic that is supposedly based on empirical evidence. Unfortunately, modern variants of Deutsche Physik continue to plague society in our time.

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