Alfred Nobel was an anti-Semite, and there have been many anti-Semites who have received Nobel Prizes, including Desmond Tutu (1984), Yasser Arafat (1994), and Barack Obama (2009), who were disgraceful awardees of Nobel “Peace” Prizes. But the supreme Nobel Prize-winning anti-Semite of all time may have been German physicist Philipp Lenard, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of many of the properties of cathode rays, including particularly that the energy (speed) of the electrons from a cathode depends on the wavelength of the light and not its intensity.
Lenard (1862-1947) is also renowned for his experimental realization of the photoelectric effect; for his important studies of phosphorescence and luminescence and the conductivity of flames; for his contributions in the area of conductivity of metals and the electricity of waterfalls; and for developing a model of an atom which was the predecessor of Ernest Rutherford’s better-known model, which reflected his discovery that most of the atom is empty space.
Lenard, who joined the National Socialist Party before it was popular, was a German nationalist who, as an active exponent of Nazi ideology, supported Hitler in the 1920s and ultimately rose to become the Führer’s advisor and his chief of Aryan Physics. As early as 1922, he accused German scientists of betraying their “racial allegiance” and, beginning almost ten years before Hitler’s rise to power, he became the leader of the “Deutsche Physik” movement, a political crusade which used the rhetoric of science to promote anti-Semitism.
Lenard celebrated the Deutsche Physik in Völkischer Beobachter (“The People’s Observer”), the National Socialist daily, as follows:
It had grown dark in physics. Einstein has provided the most outstanding example of the damaging influence on natural science from the Jewish side. One cannot even spare splendid researchers with solid accomplishments the reproach that they have allowed the “relativity Jews” to gain a foothold in Germany. The theoreticians active in leading positions should have watched over this development more carefully. Now, Hitler is watching over it. The ghost has collapsed; the foreign element is already voluntarily leaving the universities, yes even the country.
While regarding “Arabian physics” and “Negro physics” with utter contempt, Lenard believed that the most malignant of them all is “Jewish physics,” which in his mind became synonymous with the undermining of the German Weltanschauung and the Jewish bastardization of German culture. Rejecting the very idea that science is universal, Lenard and his Deutsche Physik supporters asserted that non-Aryan physics was fraudulent and maintained that “German physics” had been plagiarized by the English. As he writes in his four-volume textbook, German Physics (1936):
German physics? one asks. I might rather have said Aryan physics or the physics of the Nordic species of man . . . But, I shall be answered, “Science is and remains international.” That is false. Science, like every other human product, is racial and conditioned by blood.
Lenard led the national campaign to purge non-Aryan scientists from German universities and, in particular, to replace Jewish physicists with “Aryan physicists” but, by the time the Nüremberg laws were enacted in 1935, there were few Jewish scientists left to be replaced. With Einstein gone, Lenard became the “Führer” of German physics and, in recognition of his contributions to Aryan physics, he was awarded the National Science Prize by Alfred Rosenberg a year later at an important Nüremberg party rally attended by Hitler and Göebbels.
Sometimes the hand of G-d in Jewish history is unmistakable. Ironically, Lenard’s disdain for “Jewish physics” played a leading role in the failure of Hitler’s nuclear weapons program. The exodus of some 2,600 Jewish scientists – including 27 Nobel scientists to Britain and Einstein to the United States – badly damaged the Nazi nuclear program and boosted the Manhattan Project, which effectively ended WWII. One can only recoil in horror at the mere thought of what would have happened to the world – and to the Jewish people in particular – had the Nazis won the race to develop a nuclear bomb.
Lenard, whose guiding principle was that Germans must resist the deliberately misleading ideas of “Jewish physics,” made Einstein, whom he portrayed as a philosophical and scientific anarchist responsible for the “Jewish spirit” that had invaded the world of physics, his primary target. His anti-Semitism and German nationalism were at the core of his opposition to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which he branded as “the great Jewish fraud,” but the great fraud was Lenard himself, who lacked mathematical sophistication and opposed quantum physics because he was unable to understand it. He and his Deutsche Physik seemed to delight in constructing anti-Semitic nomenclature for the theory, including “the great pseudo-scientific swindle,” “Talmudic inflation physics,” “magical atheism,” and “the great Jewish world-bluff,” among other polemics.
Lenard fought hard to ensure that Einstein, the “pure-blooded Jew,” would not win a Nobel Prize; in fact, the decision by the Nobel Committee not to award any physics prize in 1921 was due, at least in part, to anti-Semitic pressure brought to bear by Lenard. Einstein was already despised by the National Socialists for his support for the Weimar Republic and for his pacifism, but his award of the Nobel Prize a year later – not for relativity, but for his “law of the photoelectric effect” – only exacerbated the frothing frenzy of hate against him.
As early as 1920, Lenard had instigated a vicious anti-Einstein campaign. A series of lectures denouncing Einstein as a fraud and a propagandist was held that August at the huge auditorium of the Berlin Philharmonic, where anti-Semitic leaflets were distributed and swastika lapel pins were sold along with Lenard’s anti-Einstein pamphlet. The campaign escalated to violent disruptions of Einstein’s lectures, Nazi mobs surrounding his home, death threats against him, and a bounty for his murder.
On August 27, 1920, Einstein published My Answer to Anti Relativity Co., Ltd. in Berliner Tageblatt, a liberal paper published by the prominent Jew Rudolph Mosse and known in anti-Semitic circles as “The Jew paper.” He infuriated Lenard and his supporters by pondering whether the opposition to the Theory of Relativity would have been as strident were he a non-Jewish Jewish National Socialist:
A variegated society has assembled whose provisional purpose of existence seems to be to degrade, in the eyes of nonscientists, the theory of relativity, as well as me as its originator . . . I have good reason to believe that motives other than the striving for truth are at the bottom of this business. If I were a German nationalist with or without a swastika instead of a Jew with liberal international views, then [I wonder if the opposition to my theory would have been so vociferous . . .]
On September 20, 1920, Einstein publicly debated Lenard at a meeting of the German Society of Scientists and Physicians in Bad Nauheim and, while no reliable account of the event exists, we know that the most important point raised by Lenard was that Einstein needed to invent “fictitious gravitational fields” to support his Jew theories and that Einstein responded by explaining the validity of his principle of equivalence. Einstein left the debate deeply distressed by Lenard, and his wife Elsa, who had been in attendance, suffered a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter. As the result of the events in Bad Nauheim, Einstein became wary of publicity and thereafter generally shunned public appearances.
In 1931, Lenard issued One Hundred Authors Against Einstein (1931), which challenged the theory of relativity, and in Great Men in Science, A History of Scientific Progress (1933), he conspicuously omitted any mention of Einstein. He also omitted any mention of Einstein’s non-Jewish supporters, including conspicuously Wilhelm Röentgen, who had been awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of X-rays (1901). Having been credited by the Third Reich for the discovery of X-rays, Lenard had the temerity to announce:
I am the mother of X-rays. Just as the midwife is not responsible for the mechanism of birth, so was Röentgen not responsible for the discovery of x-rays since all the groundwork had been prepared by me. Without me, the name of Röentgen would be unknown today.
This instance constitutes but one of countless examples where Lenard did not let the facts get in his way. In fact, he had acknowledged in several letters that Röentgen was the discoverer of X-rays and that he, Lenard, had played only a minor role.
Exhibited here is a historic July 22, 1927, correspondence from Lenard to fellow Nobel Prize-winning physicist Wilhelm Wien, whom he apparently believes shares his anti-Semitic views. He begins the letter by referring to his upcoming publications on ”Phosphorescence” and the ”Photoelectric Effect” and segues to a complaint about Einstein’s recent acceptance into the prestigious Bavarian Academy of Sciences, which he believes is dominated by Jews.
The article on “Phosphorescence” is progressing nicely at the printers; in August, however, it will have to be paused, as I am planning to go out of town. The “Photoelectric Effect” has progressed to the point where it can still be sent off by the beginning of August, unless the so-called Compton Effect will need to be covered in greater detail. It depends on whether it is featured in detail somewhere else in the handbook, and therefore I was going to wait until I heard from you again, so that we will know in what way we will delimit the “Photoelectric Effect.” In any case, we will follow up on said effect.
My other literary endeavors are set to progress slowly due to my continued professorial activity; but I am content. If whatever I still wanted to write has any purpose, I will stay alive long enough to do so.
The Munich Academy – and probably I am not telling you anything new or anything improper or unfriendly on my part – with its Einstein action, which is still in the newspapers (even now, when the deception is very clear), has given somewhat unexpected testimony of its domination by Jews (Sommerfeld, Willstatter, as far as I know). Actually, only during rare glory days, even in the past, were academies (and thus universities as well) something better than they are today. A special center of the shallow intellectuality, by the way, is always Planck; he is being pushed upwards because he is a patron of the Jews, and thus the Jews are coming back up again as well. If we take a look at his achievements in natural science, the quantum of light stands alone; this, however, was mathematically very well prepared by Boltzmann (Planck’s only merit to be considered is in mathematics). I recently studied Wiener Ber. 76, p. 373//1877 (or Wiss. Abh. Vol. II p. 1167), where quantum-like division of energy is thoroughly worked out (although here in living forces of the molecules), and the necessary mathematical art is beautifully arranged (e.g., the concept of “complexations” and their calculation). One pays too little attention to this! Who even reads and knows the sources of great progress? Wisdom is drawn from newspaper articles – possibly at the Munich Academy as well, just as at my department in Heidelberg.
You probably will not want to write anything about this to me; but it is hardly necessary anyway; I think I know that you do not see any of this differently. If you preserve this letter, however, then perhaps later years will be able to judge from a newly won perspective (provided any non-Jewish persons are still alive then), whether at our time things were different from how I describe them.
With kind regards and the best wishes for your vacations / Your / P. Lenard
Wilhelm Wien (1864-1928) was a German physicist who used theories about heat and electromagnetism to deduce Wien’s Displacement Law (1893), which calculates the emission of a blackbody at any temperature from the emission at any one reference temperature. His work was instrumental in establishing the formulation of quantum mechanics, and he received the 1911 Nobel Prize for his work on heat radiation.
Ironically, it does not appear that Wien was anti-Einstein or that he shared Lenard’s views on “Jewish physics.” In fact, he believed that the theory of relativity had become subject to an unprecedentedly unseemly, bitter, and personal discourse and that criticism of Einstein had less to do with science than with boosting National Socialism. Concerned about the unprofessional entanglement of science with politics and dogma, he helped to draft a letter to German scientists and researchers demanding that Lenard cease his attacks for the sake of Germany’s international reputation.
Lenard’s segue to complaining about Einstein’s recent acceptance by “the Munich Academy” is a reference to Einstein’s appointment on February 19, 1927, as a member of the mathematical-scientific class at the Bavarian Academy of Science, which was located in Munich. He was barely able to secure the required three-fourths vote of the membership, and his controversial election brought additional anti-Semitic attention to him. On March 28, 1933, he wrote to the Academy asking that it cancel his membership because, among other reasons, he could not condone the Academy’s acceptance of discrimination against non-Aryan scientists and that “I do not want to be a member of such a society which – however, under pressure from the outside – takes such a stance.”
The Deutsche Physik movement ultimately failed because of Lenard’s political ineptness and due to its inability to gain broader political support or backing from most physics authorities, and its usefulness to the Reich ended when Einstein and his fellow Jewish physicists were forced to leave Germany. As Allied forces approached Heidelberg, where Lenard served in an honorary position after his retirement in 1931 as professor of theoretical physics at Heidelberg University, Lenard, believing that the Allies were determined to arrest him and put him on trial, fled to Mieselhausen, a small German village.
In fact, the paranoid and narcissistic Lenard could never imagine that no one was actually interested in him and, seeking to “throw himself on the mercy of the court,” he needlessly turned himself in to American authorities. Ultimately excused by the Allies due to his advanced age, he was kept under house arrest in Mieselhausen until his death less than two years later.
Finally, it is difficult to understand how a Nobel Prize-winning scientist – even if an anti-Semite – could label a scientific discovery as “decadent” and a proven physics theory as “degenerate.” The take-away from the Lenard fiasco must be that having a sterling reputation as a prominent scientist does not guarantee sagacity or humanity; that “pure science” may not offer protection against absurdity and zealotry; that scientists, even brilliant scientists, have their own prejudices and manifest their own personal psychological and political pathologies; and that we must carefully consider their ideology, biases and agendas before ceding important civil rights to “follow the science.”