Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Maria Goeppert Mayer on James Franck.

Oral history audio excerpt

Maria Goeppert Mayer on James Franck.

Mayer:

…Franck was somebody who was liked by absolutely everybody. When the Nazi doctrines came in everybody said, “Franck is an exception”, even the anti-Semites. Franck of course is something entirely else. You know that Franck resigned. On the basis of the first regulations, he could have stayed. He could have stayed for several reasons, because he had been Professor before a certain date, and because he’d been in the war. But he resigned with an open letter that he was not going to be in the University with discrimination against his race. He thought at that time he would go into industry. He didn’t, he left the country. There was a furor in Gottingen. A number of people wrote an open letter against Franck. We looked at the signatures. There was no well-known name among them. They were all ones who were second in line, you know, and hoped to get on by this method. It was a shameful affair, I mean even in history, and so on, it was not the top people. It was some lower people who hoped that by being friends with the Nazis they would get somewhere. And that I think contributed to Franck’s leaving. He was offered, at a certain stage, early in the time of the Nazis, to have his own institute not the University institute but his own institute. And he debated it very much, and he said, “If I do that, the first man whom I’m getting into the institute will be Edward Teller. He’s a Hungarian Jew and they have to swallow that. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” Well, he didn’t take it anyway because by that time it was clear that it would be better to leave.