Published: | By: Stephan Laudien
Shortly after the National Socialists seized power, a wave of repression began, to which political opponents as well as Jews or other "unpopular" persons were subjected. One consequence was the mass exodus of scientists, cultural workers, and political opponents of the regime. The destinations were neighbouring countries such as France, but also Turkey, the Soviet Union, the USA or countries in South America. What effects and consequences did this emigration have for the subject of philosophy? Who were the exiles, what were their fates? Max Beck and Nicholas Coomann, both doctoral students at the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy, want to investigate questions like these in cooperation with Dr Roman Yos from the University of Potsdam within the framework of the "Digital Database on Exile Philosophy" (DDEP), which they founded. Prof. Dr Christoph Demmerling, holder of the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy, will be in charge of the editorial board.
Several hundred people turned their backs on Germany and Austria
"Surprisingly, we don't know exactly which philosophers emigrated, whereas this is quite well documented for other subjects," says Max Beck. Of course, the flight and exile of well-known philosophers such as Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno are sufficiently illuminated, but for lesser-known representatives of the discipline, the situation is mostly murky. In addition, according to Nicholas Coomann, the term "philosopher" lacks definition. The Digital Database on Philosophy in Exile, which researchers have been working on since this year, is intended to remedy this situation. Preliminary work has been done, and external experts are to be consulted for individual philosophers. "We are working on the assumption that there are several hundred people who turned their backs on Germany and Austria after 1933," says Nicholas Coomann. The aim is to make the sometimes tortuous paths into exile visible through multimedia, but also to show what impact the foreign country had on the exiles' thinking and writing. The focus is on lesser-known philosophers such as Edgar Zilsel, who fled to the USA via England in 1938. Another name: Paul Ludwig Landsberg. The philosopher with Jewish roots emigrated to France via Switzerland and joined the Resistance there. After his arrest, he suffered through several camps and eventually died in Sachsenhausen in April 1944.
Making the intermediate stages of the escape to a foreign country visible
Based on an open-source software, the website will later make it possible, among other things, to visualise the whereabouts of exiles at a certain point in time. For the early 1940s, for example, this visualisation will show the "density of philosophers" in New York, says Max Beck. But the stopovers during the escape to the saving foreign country will also be made visible.
"The database will be created digitally so that changes can be made more easily," says Nicholas Coomann. After all, there are always new findings, for example through the analysis of estates. "Nevertheless, it is planned that we will later also publish our results in the form of a printed reference work," says Coomann. The research project is financially supported by the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Research and Culture and the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria.