Cornell University: Peter Debye wasn’t a Nazi Collaborator or Sympathizer

Cornell University Report by Héctor D. Abruña – Emile M. Chamot Professor and Chair Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. ‘Given the close relationship that Debye had with our Department, and his extraordinary contributions to the science of chemistry, we felt that it was our duty and responsibility to investigate and respond to this situation. However, at the same time, we did not feel that a rush to judgment was in anyone’s interest, especially when our Department did not know what the facts were, what the situation was at the time and all of the ethical complexities involved. We have looked closely at the available historical record during Debye’s time as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics (KWIP) and as president of the German Physical Society as well as after his departure from Germany to the United States and during and after the war years. This was done with the help of Mark Walker; a science historian from Union College, who coauthored with Dieter Hoffmann an article in the Dec. 2004 issue of Physics Today (pp 52-58) titled The German Physical Society Under National Socialism in which Debye’s presidency of the German Physical Society was discussed and analyzed.

Based on the information to-date, we have not found evidence supporting the accusations that Debye was a Nazi sympathizer or collaborator or that he held anti-Semitic views. It is important that this be stated clearly since these are the most serious allegations.’

Tags: Peter Debye, Cornell Report

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