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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1943

Wandering Scholars

page 11

Wandering Scholars

Students Have at present lost their fame of adventures with which they added brightness to the middle ages and incited the hatred of the renaissance. In fact they have for ages been hated by nobody, considered simply polite young men who go into professions, whose main function during their apprentice period is preparing set books and examinations and engaging in the follies of youth.

Their degeneration into politeness, however, was only proceeding because it was polite to be reasonable; and after the relative victory of reason some hundred years ago it was the complete acceptance of scientific truth as the only truth that bred complacency among the learned. They began to consider their scientific bias as a policeman considers his uniform; as an excuse for ignorance on all other fields.

Science began to be associated with paleness and picture theatres began to delight in showing the superiority of glamour girls over awkward university professors who did not know how to face the facts of life.

The students is, however, not necessarily the dispassionate and eclectic albatross whose giant wings prevent him from marching. In ages past when he was hampered in the pursuit of truth he was a strong and determined adversary. In the present time, when fascism wishes to replace a large part of reason by imagination, by the rationally inassessible, he is again most intimately concerned and defends the very reason of this existence.

In Holland the demonstrations started very soon after the committees for Germanic culture introduced their various doctrines on history, ethics and ethnology. The professors gave subversive addresses, the students showed a determined anti-nazi attitude, printed bitter in memoriams of executed colleagues in their periodicals, and, also doubtless formed part of saboteur organizations.

The whole aspect of the colleges had changed. The free forum attitude upon which university life in the Netherlands had always been based gave way to a definite tendentiousness; such fascist students as there were (less than one per cent.) were entirely boycotted: with those whose creed was the insignificance of reason, whose practice was the distortion of truth, there could be no compromise.

The Germans dismissed Jewish professors: there were general student strikes, protest meetings, etc.; the universities were temporarily closed. When they opened again new chairs of astonishing descriptions had been instituted, in branches of knowledge specially and exclusively designed for the Germanic world. These positions were not offered to such worthly men as that German professor who committed suicide when ordered to give a course on the Aryan descent of the Japanese. The chairholders are unqualified men who think it quite good business, tell their simple tales and are fortunate that their subjects have been made compulsory. Sometimes the students had occasion for a little revenge such as when a lecturer said he did not wish to go into the position of peace and economic judges and somebody of the audience inquired whether the reason of this was that he considered these offices very ephemeral.

In the first two years of occupation the German routine of imprisoning professors, shooting students, appointing fascist lecturers, went on in Holland as in all other countries under Nazi rule. The most drastic instance was the appointment of one soapbox agitator from the Dutch fascist party, an amazingly unqualified barbarian, to professor of philosophy at the University of Utrecht.

It was only recently that the menace to students became more direct and that as a result of steady persecution the majority of students in Holland are now refugees roaming the countryside, hiding underground from the Secret Police, and that students have become to the Germans a special class of professional instigators and saboteurs.

During last December the Netherlands were charged by a wave of roundups due to clamours from Berlin for 45,000 workers to be delivered before the end of the year. The German authorities found page 12 themselves unable of collecting the victims at such short notice and determined to empty the universities for the occasion, which would not strengthen their Kultur propaganda but rid them of a very troublesome part of the population. The principals of Dutch Universities were told in a secret meeting that they had to provide 8,000 students from all but the science and medicine faculties, which the principals flatly refused to do.

Fearing forceful intervention from the Gestapo the college boards immediately took action. The University of Amsterdam published a notice that lectures had to be discounted owing to acute shortages of coal. The University of Delft organized a mass exodus the morning after the meeting. In Utrecht a fire broke out in the record room of which the student registers became the well selected victims and for fear of seizures university life throughout the country came to a standstill.

When they found their immediate plans impracticable the Germans had recourse to an ancient ruse and cancelled the measure. Never again would they set their hearts upon the sanctuaries of learning: the fosterers of the sciences would henceforth be safe as in Abraham's bosom; that they should return and resume their studies. The Ditch were doubtful, wavered, waited a little.

The authorities persisted in their courteous attitude. And slowly, all too unsuspectingly, the students tricked in. By the beginning of February college life had almost come back to normal; few stayed away; most students with true Dutch heedlessness of dangers, had quietly returned and were telling their friends that they thought that storm had blown over. They wished to continue their studies.

This was a tragical error. Suddenly the Germans started to empty the colleges in all University towns and drag the students out of their homes. A Dutch underground paper bitterly comments: "The unfortunates have been warned hundreds of times. In order to avoid lagging behind in studies the foolish students continued to troop to college. Now they will lose a year or will never return."*

Razzias raged everywhere: from streets, cafes, picture theatres, students were picked up and rushed to concentration camps. There would be small intervals of peace to make things settle down some-what and more savage roundups would follow. Finally it became the custom for students, when new roundups were whispered of, to take a holiday at an unusual address, to seek work in agriculture or in dairy farm. Frequently the ground grows too hot and they have to go underground. None of their relatives knows of their whereabouts. The Gestapo surrounds them everywhere, in the disguise of helpful patriots, trying to trap them with alluring proposals to help them to Switzerland or to Britain.

It was not very long before University life was once again at a complete standstill. Thousands had been arrested; thousands succeeded in hiding from the authorities; nobody had the carelessness to attend lectures. Students wrote pamphlets, planned armed resistance, and recent messages from Stockholm tell us of students shot together with the printers who multiplied their writings. The principals of the Universities issued a warning that higher education would be suspended until all imprisoned students were released.

These warnings have had no results. The Germans since granted study permits to all those who were willing to sign a declaration of allegiance to Nazi Germany, and reopened one or two of the colleges. They forbid all Dutchmen to employ the fugitives who had not signed, withheld their ration cards.

Almost no students have returned however; they keep to their fox holes from which they will issue only to pursue a free science and to fight the invader.

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Takaka Valley

Takaka Valley

J. W. Brodie

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A. R. Anderson

* The Germans had promised labour service for students would only last one year.