Mediating Philanthropy in Changing Political Circumstances: The Rockefeller Foundation's Funding for Brain Research in Germany, 1930-1950

by Cornelius Borck

Jan 1, 2001
The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) was one of the first foreign institutions to react to the National Socialists' rise to power in Germany and the expulsion of Jewish scientists from their offices. With its thorough commitment to science in Germany and with its ideal of a republic of rational, liberal and free scientists, the RF found its funding in Germany in a situation which threatened both the sciences in general and the personal freedom of some scientists in particular. As early as 1933, the RF set up an emergency program, dedicating $60,000 alone for the Medical Sciences Section, to help German scientists continue their careers outside of Germany. At the same time, the RF aimed to maintain its position as an impartial and non-ideological funding organization -- a position that ruled out a complete withdrawal for political reasons from further activities in Germany. Trapped in this ambivalence, the RF attempted to react with the dual strategy of, on the one hand, critically evaluating existing funding programs and, on the other, continuing to fund new projects on the basis of sound scientific reasoning. Therefore, the RF did not cease its activities in Germany in 1933; indeed, it did not do so until the United States entered into World War II. Instead, the RF began a complex and sometimes ambivalent process of careful, individual, and critical decision-making beyond the established procedure of scientific evaluation and referencing.
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