Göttingen Atomic City

Scholarship and research at the University of Göttingen has traditionally been dominated by a liberal spirit. The international reputation of the University is especially rooted in the quality of its mathematics department. The history of scientific excellence in Göttingen began with Gauss (1777-1855), Dirichlet (1805-1859), Riemann (1826-1866), Hilbert (1862-1943), Klein (1849-1925) and Minkowski (1864-1909), and had reached another height when Max Born and James Franck became heads of the Physical Institutes in the Twentieth Century. Their work attracted scholars and students from all over the world -- Oppenheimer, Pauling, Fermi, et al. In April 1933, from one day to another, scholars of Jewish ancestry where forced to retire from their functions and duties at the school, the university system, and/or the civil service.

Imagine that God had not been sleeping, but rather awake, and had shown His presence by using the same finger with which He brought Adam to life to press together the course of time. A hole in time would emerge. In the very moment when von Papen and von Schleicher were sitting over a schnapps and thinking about the whole Hitler business, the hole swallows this time. In this hole, the horrible twelve subsequent years would disappear. This is not amnesia: the years would never have happened, and history would be different.

This is the starting point for the concept for an exhibition at Göttingen‘s APEX Gallery. With this hypothesis, we are not focussing on the question of the possible course of political developments in Germany. The development of the University of Göttingen as a center of the new discipline of nuclear physics at the beginning of the last century and an important center of mathematics and nuclear research is at the foreground of our considerations and forms the basis for our artistic excursion.

Undoubtedly, Göttingen would have become a point of attraction for physicists and mathematicians interested in nuclear research and its related areas of scientific interest. Enrico Fermi would probably never have traveled to the United States after receiving his Nobel Prize. He would have taken the train to Göttingen to attend the dedication of the center of nuclear research newly founded by James Franck and Max Born, along with other prominent physicists and mathematicians of the period. A lively exchange among the researchers from Berlin (Hahn, Meitner, Straßmann, Planck, Einstein), Leipzig (Heisenberg), Hamburg, and Frankfurt would have become the foundation for a worldwide network, and such researchers as Niels Bohr and Rutherford would have returned repeatedly to Göttingen to teach.

Using the example of the University of Göttingen, we would like to move the painful losses for science in Germany to the foreground before this backdrop. The current economic and social situation in Germany demands such an interrogation of history. Far more than the forced emigration of a few scientists from the emerging field of nuclear physics occurred: the entire German-Jewish culture was destroyed. In the developing discipline of nuclear physics Jewish researchers were represented far beyond their numbers in the population. Our exhibition intends to again recall this loss. With the speculation, „What could have been, if . . . ,“ we want to provoke and promote critical contemplation.