Politics and the state


  Draft letter by Max Plank of 10 October 1938 to the Jewish members of the Academy, A. Goldschmidt, E. Norden, and I. Schur, in which he suggests their "voluntary" withdrawal.

"Highly esteemed Colleague, I am fulfilling a grave official duty in notifying you that in a decree submitted today, my superior the Minister has ordered that the Academy modify its statutes to reflect the basic ideology prevailing in political and intellectual life. In particular, the Minister wishes, among other things, that it be statutorily set forth that regular membership in the Academy require qualification as a Reich citizen. ... I believe I have done you a service, highly esteemed colleague, by informing you of this decree prior to its submission before the Academy at its next meeting, and may anticipate your decision."

  Planck's activities did not frequently leave the close confines of science. Yet his leadership role in science and the associated public exposure made him into a public figure in the political arena. His political views and his self-image were rooted in Wilhelmian times and the German Kaiserreich. They were characterized by a conservative, patriotic attitude and a naive understanding of politics.

This attitude was behind Planck's glorification of the World War in the summer of 1914; he was likewise among the signers of the infamous "Appeal to the Civilized World" in which the intellectual elite of Germany legitimized German militarism as a safeguard for German culture. Subsequently, Planck became more discriminate in his opinions and advocated that the war and political intolerance not inflict irreparable harm on international relations between scientists.

Like most of his colleagues, Planck as a professor had a conflicting relationship with the Weimar Republic. He was a "republican of reason". As such he stood helplessly aside as Hitler grabbed the reins of power in 1933. He accepted the policy of dismissals and other arbitrary measures taken by the National Socialists without public protest. However, he took pains to find individual solutions for his expulsed colleagues and to act behind the scenes to preserve the freedom of action of science. A readiness to compromise and civil courage best describe Planck's attitude during the Third Reich. His personal fame and integrity helped to soften some arbitrary measures by the Nazi but both these qualities were taken and used for the political purposes of the Third Reich.

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  "He tried to moderate where he could and never compromised anything by his deeds or words ... And yet ... even as a goy, I would not have remained president of the Academy and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society under such conditions ..."
Albert Einstein, 1934

EInvitation to the commemorative event in honor of the deceased emigré Fritz Haber in 1934. When the Reich Ministry of Education forbade attendance by civil servants, Planck commented with these words: "I am going to be at this event, unless they have the police drag me away."