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The Reichstag and the Notgemeinschaft in the Founding Years of the 1920s

The foundation of the Notgemeinschaft and its ongoing activities would have been impossible without support from the Reichstag (Imperial Diet).

The Reich provided the vast majority of the Notgemeinschaft’s budget, with only comparatively meagre funds coming from the Stifterverband der deutschen Wissenschaft (Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany) or from private donations. The funds for the Notgemeinschaft came from the RMdI budget, which in turn as part of the imperial budget had to be approved by the Reichstag on an annual basis. The RMdI therefore arranged that Notgemeinschaft president Friedrich Schmidt-Ott could regularly attend the meetings of the Reichstag budget committee, which considered the RMdI budget.

The Reichstag showed great interest in issues relating to science, the humanities and research. The speakers in the plenary sessions describe in great detail the appalling conditions at individual research institutions and universities. Parliamentarians across party lines underlined the need for greater financial support from the Reich for individual scientific and academic institutions, in particular the Notgemeinschaft. Moreover, general aspects of science and the humanities were also discussed – the promotion of early career researchers, science as diplomacy and the importance of basic research.

Extract from a speech by Member of the Reichstag Hermann Strathmann (German National People's Party) (Verhandlungen des Reichstages [Reichstag Proceedings], volume 357, session 268, 16 November 1922, p. 9012).

Extract from a speech by Member of the Reichstag Hermann Strathmann (German National People's Party) (Verhandlungen des Reichstages [Reichstag Proceedings], volume 357, session 268, 16 November 1922, p. 9012).

© Verhandlungen des Reichstages, Band 357, 268. Sitzung, 16. November 1922, S. 9012

The digitised Reichstag records published by the Bavarian State Library provide an insight into speeches at the plenary sessions of the German Reichstag. The DFG funded this project from 1997 to 2009 under its “Retrospective Digitisation of Library Collections” programme. (See: Externer Linkhttps://www.reichstagsprotokolle.de/ )

One of the Notgemeinschaft’s main proponents was Member of Parliament Georg Schreiber (Centre Party), a church historian and spokesperson for the Reichstag committee on the Reich’s budget. Schreiber, as well as MPs Otto Hoetzsch (German National People's Party) and Professor Radbruch (Social Democratic Party), became parliamentary members of the main committee of the Notgemeinschaft. In his capacity as Rector of the University of Münster, Schreiber campaigned for reinstatement of the Notgemeinschaft after the Second World War. (LINK zu Kapitel „Von der Bonner Notgemeinschaft zur DFG“) The Notgemeinschaft used its 1929/1930 annual report to highlight the engagement of the three parliamentarians, “who, in addition to their heavy parliamentary workload, always took a direct part in the work of the Notgemeinschaft and kept the interest of the Reichstag alive by creating a basis of mutual trust.”

The Notgemeinschaft used a parliamentary evening in the plenary hall at the Reichstag on 23 November 1920 by invitation of Reich Interior Minister Erich Koch-Weser to attract the attention of the Reichstag and the general public. The presence of Reich President Ebert, Reich Chancellor Fehrenbach, several Reich Ministers and other prominent representatives from politics and business lent special weight to the event.

The deliberations on the Reich budget for 1920, which was not adopted until the summer of 1921 , saw the Reichstag begin to look more closely at the Notgemeinschaft. This saw the young organisation receiving support from all parties. In the plenary session on 24 January 1921, Klara Zetkin (Communist Party of Germany) felt that the budget to be negotiated for the Notgemeinschaft seemed too low, and she regretted that “the Notgemeinschaft would have to pass around its begging bowl”.

The years 1922 and 1923 were marked by inflation and a decline in all research activities was unstoppable. In its proceedings on 15 and 16 November 1922 the Reichstag dealt extensively with the “plight of science and the humanities” in reaction to an “interpellation” from the Centre Group. A wide range of research policy issues were discussed in this two-day debate and it drew a positive balance regarding the nascent Notgemeinschaft’s activities.

Special edition of the Reichstag debates on 15 and 16 November 1922.

Special edition of the Reichstag debates on 15 and 16 November 1922.

In inflation year 1923 the Reichstag continued to stand by the Notgemeinschaft and raised its budget in several supplementary budgets at once. At the plenary session on 14 August 1923, the motion by MPs Schreiber, Otto Hoetzsch (German National People’s Party) and other MPs to increase the Notgemeinschaft’s budget from 4.4 billion marks to 900 billion was carried.

The following are quotations from various Reichstag debates and from the speeches at the parliamentary evening on 23 November 1920:

The Years 1920 and 1921

Reich Finance Minister Karl Joseph Wirth: It is heart-wrenching (1 July 1920)

It is heart-wrenching to hear how many scholars today, young and old, are no longer in a position to have a major work printed, even one which they have worked on for decades. I have been told that great German scholars have placed their completed work in the university library in manuscript form, since they are no longer able to have it published in print.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 344, session 5, 1 July 1921, p. 95)

MP Klara Zetkin (Communist Party of Germany): academia would have to pass around its begging bowl (24 January 1921)

The individual Länder have barely transferred the funds required to maintain university teaching. There are no funds left for the preservation and continuation of scientific research. The research material is consumed, the instruments are worn out. New purchases are impossible because materials and instruments have increased colossally in price. The publication of research journals and books is called into question by the extortionate production prices.

The Notgemeinschaft has turned to the Reich government with a request for assistance. It has calculated that 100 million are needed to cover the most urgent needs. The Reich, which has around 1 ½ billion at its disposal for policing, is wringing its hands about giving 20 million to further science and the humanities. It proposes that the Notgemeinschaft should beg the rest from the propertied classes. It is scandalous that academia must pass around a begging bowl.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 347, session 55, 24 January 1921, p. 2065 f.)

Parliamentary evening on 23 November 1920

Extract from the speech by Reich Minister of the Interior Erich Koch: an ongoing outlay

In my budget, the Minister of Finance has allocated the sum of 20 million marks for the plight of science and the humanities, and I have very good reason to hope – I may not say more – that this one-off outlay will become an ongoing one.

(From: Eine Kundgebung für die Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft [A rally for the Emergency Association of German Science and the Humanities], offprint in the journal “Internationale Monatsschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik” (International Monthly for Science and Technology), 1920, volume 15.2, p. 99 f.)

Extract from the speech by Adolf von Harnack: research needs stolidity

We know very well what genius means in research, what the little garret means in research. Yet we also know that research requires something of the wealth, the extravagance of nature. It may be necessary to conduct a hundred experiments to obtain a result; and it must be possible to replicate it. Further: only out of the richness of a plentiful and fertile soil do trees and plants develop, because they cannot develop in every place, but only in some; yet the soil must be there. Research requires a certain stolidity, simply because not every stone you strike emits sparks.

(From: Eine Kundgebung für die Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft [A rally for the Emergency Association of German Science and the Humanities], offprint in the journal “Internationale Monatsschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik” (International Monthly for Science and Technology), 1920, volume 15.2, p. 104 f.)

Extract from the speech by Fritz Haber: basic research

The wealth of invention, however, arises only from the wealth of research pursued for its own sake. There is nothing more incomprehensible than the concept of increasing performance by limiting scientific research to that which promises immediate practical results. (…) Albeit that any certainty of inventive success only accrues based on painstaking systematic effort directed solely towards the elucidation of basic research.

(From: Eine Kundgebung für die Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft [A rally for the Emergency Association of German Science and the Humanities], offprint in the journal “Internationale Monatsschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik” (International Monthly for Science and Technology), 1920, volume 15.2, p. 114)

Extract from the speech by privy councillor Professor Dr. Friedrich von Müller: epidemics

In this war, too, we had to counter all these epidemics and some new ones, yet in the main we coped with them. (…) It was discovered for instance that typhus is spread by clothes lice. (…) The German people within our borders remained unaffected by it to the extent that fewer than 150 people fell victim to this pestilence. The typhus epidemic in Germany immediately rose to a thousand or more, however, once the measures introduced as a result of research were no longer applied with the necessary rigour during the political unrest.

(From: Eine Kundgebung für die Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft [A rally for the Emergency Association of German Science and the Humanities], offprint in the journal “Internationale Monatsschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik” (International Monthly for Science and Technology), 1920, volume 15.2, p. 116 f.)

Session 267 on 15 November 1922

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): the best that academia has ever created (15 November 1922)

At this point I must say that in the days of its decline, German academia actually achieved its greatest organisational achievement by creating the Notgemeinschaft der deutschen Wissenschaft as a broad, comprehensive and significant emergency association. (…)
We were well aware in these organisationally vigorous times that German professors are highly qualified on the research side, but that they still have a lot to learn on the organisational side. Yet we have nevertheless discovered that the hardship of the times has developed forms of organisation in the German research genius that belong to the best that German academia has ever created in terms of organisation.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8994)

State Secretary Heinrich Schulz, RMdI: not from the green table of bureaucracy (15 November 1922)

And even the inner structure of the Notgemeinschaft and its way of working soon emerged. It was immediately clear that this Notgemeinschaft would need to be structured according to the principle of self-government, in other words that science and the humanities cannot be helped from the green table of bureaucracy, but that the experts themselves have to see and say where assistance can be given in individual cases.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8996 f.)

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): research as a non-partisan affair (15 November 1922)

It is the peculiarity of research that it is essentially a non-partisan affair and that it can present its needs and concerns every day and every hour, and even in these days of cabinet crisis.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8985)

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): lack of young talent (15 November 1922)

The first sad and regrettable thing to note is the lack of young talent. (…) Interest in university work as a profession is in fact waning among the young generation that is growing up before us, not because there is a lack of interest in participating in research, but rather because there is a lack of opportunities to attract potential early career researchers to the universities. (…) Time and again you will hear the answer that a part of the best and most useful talent turns to industry and enters the private sector. At first glance, this does not appear to be a loss, but rather something positive and a very favourable moment for industry. Anyone who takes a more contemplative view of these matters, however, should admit that industry also depends on a certain high standard in research for its efficiency.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8988 f.)

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): science and the humanities as a bridge to foreign countries (15 November 1922)

For, as I already stated, I see it as an exceptionally major task that it is once again science and the humanities in particular that are called upon to build one of the great moral bridges to foreign countries. When we speak of the need to improve our export figures and balance our passive trade figures, we wish at the same time to say in this regard that there is also a significant export of ideas from Germany and there is a wealth of intellectual life in Germany today which is irreplaceable, and we note with regret and deep sadness that there is a reduction in the academic substance of our national wealth, that we can no longer export ideas and German research work as we would like, that international inhibitions intervene.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8992)

MP Walther Schücking (German Democratic Party): international students as sympathisers (15 November 1922)

As stated, it is German science and the humanities even more than art that have raised our prestige abroad, and above all, it is German research that has attracted those numerous students from abroad who, in my experience, have then retained sympathies and understanding for the German way of life for the rest of their lives.(...)
Since, as reiterated at all international conferences I have so far attended, I have been able to establish that those who had gleaned their research from Germany often retained touching sympathies for Germany throughout their lives.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 268, 16 November 1922, p. 9016)

Inflation in 1923

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): price inflation (15 November 1922)

I would therefore like to share some figures with you to demonstrate how the prices for scientific instruments, apparatus and materials have risen to a horrendous extent. A microscopic apparatus for medical examinations that cost 100,000 marks eight weeks ago has now risen to 400,000 marks today. Yet just six months ago it could have been purchased for 15,000 marks (...) half a year ago you could still obtain a kilo of mercury for 200 to 400 marks; now you have to pay 25,000 marks. Consider also the apparatus used to conduct electrical measurements, such as an ammeter. Previously it cost 100 to 150 marks; now you have to spend 100,000 marks for it.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 357, session 267, 15 November 1922, p. 8987)

MP Georg Schreiber (Centre): 900 billion mark budget (14 August 1923)

With the support of all parties, however, we have tabled a motion on no. 6136 that petitions the Reich government to increase the amount for the Notgemeinschaft der deutschen Wissenschaft from 4.4 billion to 900 billion. We also reserve this motion for the plenary because it is not yet formally resolved. In essence, however, the motion has already been resolved, because in the budget committee we received a statement from the Reich Ministry of Finance that 900 billion are to be paid.

(Verhandlungen des Reichstages (Reichstag Proceedings), volume 361, session 381, 14 August 1923, p. 11862)