Harnack House under National Socialism

Most Jewish researchers and those of Jewish ancestry were expelled from the Dahlem Institutes from 1933 onwards. A significant number of Harnack House’s regular guests were therefore lost. Only those who held a foreign passport, like Lise Meitner, were initially able to stay and remained welcome at Harnack House. The biologist Victor Jollos emigrated from Germany in 1933, before which he had worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Dahlem. He visited his colleagues in Dahlem in 1934 as a scientific guest from Edinburgh and stayed at Harnack House.

Max Planck at the lectern in the Goethe Auditorium at the 25th anniversary of the KWG, 1936.

The KWG’s official policy on invitations to Harnack House nevertheless increasingly fell into line with the regime. The KWG endeavoured to establish good links with the new leadership from 1933. Although Max Planck was sceptical of the Nazis, he made many compromises as President of the KWG. After his retirement, the KWG introduced the Führer principle in 1937.

Being a clubhouse, Harnack House was also a key place for cultivating political and social networks with the new holders of power. At the invitation of Duke Eduard von Coburg, who the KWG appointed to its Senate in 1933 owing to his good contacts with the Nazi leadership, high-ranking Nazis visited Harnack House as dinner guests, including Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler. Amongst the external event holders, Nazi organizations increasingly appeared alongside the longstanding scientific and cultural institutions which booked the facilities at Harnack House.

In 1935, the international film world descends on Harnack House for a convention. Little wonder, as Berlin, with its UFA studios in nearby Potsdam, is one of the most important locations worldwide in the booming entertainment industry. Henny Porten is also among the stars. However, her star is already on the wane, as her husband and producer is considered "half-Jewish" under Nazi criteria. A forced divorce is out of the question for the film star and she prefers to relinquish the major parts that she previously played alongside stage idols like Emil Jannings and Gustaf Gründgens. more

Whether playing a snob, the devil or the King of Prussia alongside Henny Porten – Gründgens, the much-celebrated star of the stage, is the charismatic intellectual of German theatre. Gustaf Gründgens is regarded as a fascinating but equally dubious face of German art. Despite being homosexual, he enjoys a meteoric stage career in the Third Reich and the patronage of those in power. However, he also uses his position as the Nazis’ star performer to help persecuted colleagues. more

Otto Hahn (1879 – 1968) was the first President of the Max Planck Society, which was founded in 1948 from the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and whose principal site was in Berlin-Dahlem. more

Harnack House’s founding spirit based on internationality and tolerance nevertheless lived on subversively even during the Nazi period outside of the official invitation policy. After Harnack’s death in 1930, the house named in his honour became an important place for many of his family members, who used it for private events. This saw Democrats like Theodor Heuss and his wife Elly Heuss-Knapp visit Harnack House as well as Adolf von Harnack’s nephew Arvid and his American wife Mildred Fish-Harnack. The couple were executed in 1942 and 1943 respectively as enemies of the state. The memorial held for Fritz Haber in 1935 is an example of a symbolic act of intellectual resistance. Haber was one of the most important Institute Directors in Dahlem and died abroad in 1934 having left Germany because of anti-Semitism.

The various lecture series and the operation of the venue as an international hotel were stopped in 1943 owing to the ongoing conflict. The only overnight guests were employees of Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes abroad or those moved from Berlin owing to the war, and some special contacts. Employees who had been bombed out and their friends and relatives occasionally also stayed at Harnack House.

The venue’s history as the KWG’s academic clubhouse came to an end when the Red Army marched into southern Berlin in April 1945.

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