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  November 6, 2000

Late Professor's Essays Shed Light
on Antecedent of Nazism

AUConn professor who was recognized as a pioneer in pre-DNA genetics is ironically being remembered in a book for his political essays.

More than 50 essays of the late Walter Landauer, shedding considerable light into Germany's post-World War I politics, economy and social problems, have been compiled and translated from German in a newly released book, The Antecedents of Nazism: Weimar - The Political Papers of Walter Landauer, published by the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Two UConn professors emeriti - Hugh Clark and Julius Elias - and Peter Bergmann, an associate professor of history, collaborated on the book, a task which involved an international search for some of Landauer's papers that were published in now defunct journals in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

The editors introduce the essays by providing political, historical and personal insights into Landauer's life and world events, especially in Germany.

Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1896, Landauer began penning his political observations while a student of science at the University of Heidelberg. He regularly wrote his opinions about Germany's new Weimar Republic, the tumultuous decade from 1919 to 1929 following the end of World War I.

"The written observations are not those of an unbiased reporter - they are the fearless and unequivocal opinions of a concerned citizen, a pacifist opposed to violence in any form, with strong convictions about the importance of the individual in society," begins the book's introduction.

The book may be considered a labor of love, especially for Clark, who was Landauer's colleague. Their UConn careers overlapped for a 15-year period.

"Walter was a distinguished scientist specializing in the field of poultry genetics," says Clark, 86, professor emeritus of biology and a former director of the University's Research Foundation.

"Walter came to the then Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station in 1924 and retired from the University in 1964 at the age of 68," says Clark, who in 1994 co-authored a journal article on Landauer's scientific achievements titled, "The Man and His Work." Landauer died in 1978.

The new book exposes a previously unknown side of Landauer's life.

"Walter arrived in Willimantic by train from New York with a suitcase, two Zeiss microscopes, and a formaldehyde-preserved calf's head," says Clark.

"There's no record how the calf's head made its way through customs," he adds.

Clark concedes some many consider it "puzzling" that the book is about Landauer's political papers and not his scientific achievements. But the writings, he says, are a valuable addition to the literature of Germany's Weimar Republic, a new venture in democracy that was hastily created after the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and at the end of the German Empire.

Even as a young geneticist in the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station, Landauer continued to express his views on German affairs in writing.

The son of a district court judge, Landauer was a self-described pacifist and conscientious objector. During the War, he was given leave from the University of Heidelberg and assigned to the International Red Cross, serving for two years in hospitals in France and Poland. Following the war, he returned to the university, where he earned a doctoral degree.

"Although the political papers are primarily concerned with Germany's problems, they comment, as well, on certain affairs in America, such as Prohibition and Henry Ford's assembly line methods," says Clark.

"Walter also wrote on a variety of European cultural topics," he says. "Some of his political observations on the Weimar period give indications of activities conducive to the rise of Hitler's influence."

Bergmann, who was drawn into the book project by Clark, said he became fascinated with Landauer, his moral pacifism and outrage at World War I.

Bergmann notes that, from a historical perspective, the period of World War I has assumed a greater importance since the fall of communism.

"What happened after World War I was an abortive revolution that Landauer had hoped would bring a moral renewal to Germany," says Bergmann. "The real issue was how Germany was to deal with defeat.

"On the one hand, Landauer, the idealist, knew that Germany had to accept its defeat and would then eventually thrive. On the other hand, his opponents - the so-called realists - were caught up in the delusionary myth of defeat."

Bergmann said one of the great benefits of the book is in exposing the English-language reader to the German world in the immediate post-World War I years.

Like Bergmann, Elias was brought into the project by Clark to translate the papers and immediately became fascinated by Landauer.

Elias, who taught philosophy at UConn as well as serving as dean of liberal arts and sciences and as an academic vice president, learned to speak German fluently working with refugees in Austria and Germany after the Second World War.

"Hugh gave me a few papers to translate and I became hooked," he says. "I found Landauer's writings fascinating. I could imagine the spectacle of this young man working on his doctorate and writing a string of very incisive papers attacking the country's right wing.

"Walter was a socialist and was equally disgruntled with both the country's right and left wings," Elias says. "He was a young man of great courage."

He notes that Landauer's uncle Gustav was a socialist leader in Germany and was assassinated by the country's political right wing.

Elias says the research for the book included meetings with Landauer's widow Elly, who lived in London until her death several years ago. They recovered a lot of material from her, including notebooks, papers, reviews and books.

The research also included assistance from the Thomas Dodd Research Center, where Landauer's political and scientific papers are now housed.

In addition to his scientific achievements and his political writings, Landauer's legacy to the University includes a collection of more than 100 prints and drawings by Kaethe Kollwitz, a German artist who died in the early 1940s and was also interested in social issues.

The art collection, a gift from Landauer in 1968 to the Benton Museum, includes prints on World War I and on social issues into the 1930s. It also has several drawings from his widow's estate.

"The collection is very valuable," says Thomas Bruhn, museum curator. "Anyone familiar with 20th-century European art is familiar with Kaethe Kollwitz."

At the time of his gift, Landauer said he was donating his collection for two reasons: "First, because for 40 years, I was allowed the freedom to work on my research unhampered by anyone. I feel very strongly that the University has been kind to me.

"Second, I felt that such a collection should be available to young people because of its social and artistic message."

In light of the new book, Bruhn says, the Museum may place some of the Kollwitz collection on exhibit.

Claudia G. Chamberlain