How were German psychology professors affected by the Nazi rise to power?

Very soon after Hitler was appointed German chancellor on 30 January 1933, the Nazis began to persecute political opponents and Germans who were Jewish or had Jewish heritage. Some of the more well-known measures imposed by the Nazis were the Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February 1933 and the Enabling Act of 23 March 1933. A comparatively lesser-known measure was the (euphemistically named) Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service of 7 April 1933. Despite its relative obscurity, this law had severe consequences for academics of Jewish heritage at German universities.

On the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, Wikipedia notes:

The primary objective of the law was to establish a “national” and “professional” civil service by dismissing certain groups of tenured civil servants. Individuals of non-Aryan origin, particularly those of Jewish descent, were compelled to retire, while members of the Communist Party or affiliated organizations were to be terminated from their positions. Additionally, the law forbade Jews, non-Aryans, and political opponents from holding positions as teachers, professors, judges, or within the government.

In April 1933, there were 14 full professors at German universities who were primarily occupied with psychological questions (Geuter, 1984).1 What happened to these 14 men2 when the Nazis rose to power? The table below lists them in alphabetical order, together with the university they were working at, biographical data, their religion or heritage and a brief description of how they were affected by the Nazi rise to power. The stark contrast between those with Jewish versus non-Jewish heritage is apparent: All those with Jewish heritage were dismissed, taking away their livelihood and forcing them to emigrate. Most of those with non-Jewish heritage on the other hand stayed in office.

Of the professors who stayed in office, Jaensch, Kroh and Rothacker joined the Nazi party NSDAP. Furthermore, Ach, Jaensch and Krueger signed the Vow of Allegiance of the Professors of the German Universities and High Schools to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialistic State which was published in November 1933. Despite their apparent support for the Nazi regime, it seems that Ach and Krueger did not join the NSDAP: I enquired with the German Federal Archives and was told that there are no records of them joining the NSDAP.3

However, not all professors of non-Jewish heritage remained in office:

Note that the table only lists full professors at traditional German universities. There were many other academics working in the field of psychology who were dismissed (among them Kurt Lewin and Karl Duncker) and there were full professors at other types of higher education institutions who were also dismissed. For example, Otto Selz, professor of philosophy, psychology and pedagogy at the Handelshochschule Mannheim was dismissed in 1933 and murdered in Auschwitz in 1943 (for more information on Selz, see this article about Otto Selz by Richard Ridderinkhof).


Geuter, U. (1984). Die Professionalisierung der deutschen Psychologie im Nationalsozialismus [The professionalisation of German psychology under National Socialism]. Suhrkamp Verlag.


  1. Though not all of these were formally professors of psychology (see table) due to the fact that psychology had only recently been established as an academic discipline.↩︎

  2. In 1933, there were no female psychology professors in Germany.↩︎

  3. It should be pointed out though that an estimated 20% of the NSDAP membership records have been lost.↩︎