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Ivies, Seven Sisters Were Cozy with Nazis

While Jewish-refugee scholars went South

Gabriel Sanders
June 22, 2009

A new book on the cozy relationships leading American colleges and universities maintained with Nazi Germany is a “must read,” according to the New York Times Idea of the Day blog. In The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, University of Oklahoma historian Stephen H. Norwood argues that universities like Harvard and Columbia and smaller schools like the Seven Sisters colleges were both complicit in and indifferent to the atrocities committed against Europe’s Jews. “They just didn’t care very deeply about Jews and anti-Semitism because they were themselves involved in maintaining quota barriers against Jewish students,” Norwood said in a recent interview quoted by the Times.

It is instructive to compare Norwood’s argument with an exhibition now on view at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. In Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, the museum tells the story of how a number of German-Jewish intellectuals—shunned by the elite colleges and universities of the Northeast—found homes for themselves at the historically black colleges of the South.

The exhibition rests, at least in part, on the idea that the injustice of the Jim Crow laws sensitized southern blacks to the plight of Jewish refugees. It’s an idea Norwood’s new book seems to underscore.

Gabriel Sanders is Tablet’s director of business development.