Georg Schlesinger (1874-1949) was appointed professor of the newly created chair of machine tools and factory operations at Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin in 1904 - the first academic chair in this discipline in Germany. In 1907, the chair acquired a testing site for machine tools. Schlesinger went on to run the chair for 30 years, during which time it achieved an outstanding international reputation. He was also greatly valued for his expertise.
Hitler’s emergence as chancellor in 1933 represented a major turning point in the history of the Königlich Technische Hochschule, at that time the biggest institution of its type in Germany. An alliance of external and internal forces conspired to transform the university as quickly as possible into a model institution of the Nazi era. The first step in this process was to remove “racially foreign” professors and their assistants.
As part of this drive, an invidious campaign was conducted against Georg Schlesinger. On 18 March 1933, members of the regular police assisted by auxiliary police from the SA forced their way into Schlesinger’s home, work rooms, and experimental lab, without either an arrest warrant or search warrant, and confiscated documents relating to his work. Appalled by this wanton act, the deputy rector, Professor Krecker, and Professor Orlich, dean of the faculty, intervened on Schlesinger’s behalf with the minister of culture, Bernhard Rust. They provided a character reference for their colleague and demanded his official reinstatement. However, instead of this, the presidency of the university was actually instructed to distribute questionnaires to ascertain the racial ancestry of the university’s teaching staff.
On 21 April, a list was submitted to Rust’s ministry stating Schlesinger’s “non-Aryan” status. One week later he was “placed on leave” with immediate effect. Schlesinger’s home was searched for a second time on 30 April 1933 and he was taken into “preventative custody”. He had already spent six days in prison before an arrest warrant was issued against him on 5 May 1933 for the betrayal of military secrets. Investigations only began two months after his arrest and the charge turned out to be unsubstantiated. Proceedings against Schlesinger were stayed on 15 September 1933 and his protective custody officially terminated. However, Schlesinger was not released. This time his accusers were the Gestapo and the charge was “conducting fraudulent business”. This charge also proved unsubstantiated and Schlesinger was finally released on 26 November 1933 after seven months in custody. He was formally retired as a civil servant in 1934, but received no pension.
Throughout this period of humiliation, Georg Schlesinger received support from some colleagues from the university as well as the German Machine Tool Builders’ Association. On the whole, however, the “Schlesinger Affair” demonstrates the complete failure of the German intelligentsia to act in its hour of existential danger. Schlesinger left Germany forever in January 1934. He started his new life teaching in Zürich and Brussels before moving to Great Britain in 1939, where he worked at the College of Loughborough until 1944. Georg Schlesinger died in 1949. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Günter Spur, emeritus professor at TU Berlin, Schlesinger’s life work has now been thoroughly researched and rescued from oblivion.