Otto Frisch on Hitler and being Jewish in an institute when racial laws were published.

Oral history audio excerpt

Otto Frisch on Hitler and being Jewish in an institute when racial laws were published.

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When was it during that period that it became clear to you that Hitler was going to change things and that, in fact, life would be different?


Well, very late really. I didn't take Hitler at all seriously at first. I had the feeling: "Well, chancellors come and chancellors go, and he will be no worse than the rest of them." Things began to change, and of course when the racial laws were published, by which people of partly or wholly Jewish origin had to be dismissed from the universities, I realized that my days were numbered and I went to Stern to tell him so. Stern apparently had not realized that I was of Jewish origin, the reason being partly that Lise Meitner had always kept quiet about her Jewish connection. She had never felt that she was in any way related to Jewish tradition. It was an intellectual but very liberal- minded tradition in her parents' house. Although she was, racially speaking, a complete Jew, she had been baptized in her infancy and had never considered herself as anything but a Protestant who happened to have Jewish ancestors. And when all this trouble began, she felt, perhaps partly to let sleeping dogs lie and partly not to embarrass her friends, that she would keep quiet about it. It was rather an embarrassment when Hitler forced it all out into the open, so to say, and she had to go and tell Hahn: "You know, I am really Jewish and I am apt to be an embarrassment to you," and so on. In the same way when I told Stern, he took his head in his hands and said, "Oh, my God, but then my institute is even more Jewish than I had thought," he thought that he had carefully appointed two Jews and two non-Jews as his assistants so as to keep a nice balance, and not to have let his own sympathies run away, he himself, of course, being Jewish in origin. So he suddenly realized that he had only one Aryan in his crew.