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Report of the Victoria University College Council, Concerning the Case of Professor von Zedlitz

[5] Statement made by Professor von Zedlitz, when the Alien Enemy Teachers Bill was before Parliament

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[5] Statement made by Professor von Zedlitz, when the Alien Enemy Teachers Bill was before Parliament.

The following statement is intended as an explanation of the whole course of my conduct since Germany went to war.

So long as the Government showed no sign of dissatisfaction with my position at Victoria University College, I felt justified in leaving the Council entirely free to deal with me as it pleased.

Now that the Government has declared a contrary policy, I feel obliged to insist absolutely on resignation. After enjoying the protection of the Government, it is an obvious duty to obey its wishes. I have made this intention clear to the Council, to the Prime Minister, and to the Committee of the House, which questioned me on September 29th last.

G. W. von Zedlitz.

Victoria University College. Wellington,

When Germany declared war upon France and Russia, I had the gravest doubts of what I ought to do, and for a moment conceived it as my duty (in entire opposition to my interests or inclination) to go to Germany. When a few days later Great Britain entered into the war, I clearly realised that the bare claims of birthplace and paternal ancestry could not possibly create for me a duty to act in any way that might conflict with the interests of the country of my adoption, to which I am bound by every tie of habit, association and gratitude. That was in the first days of August, 1914.

Since then much has happened (after making every allowance for possible distortion or exaggeration) to fill me with shame and horror at acts commanded or sanctioned by responsible German authorities. These very acts, mean­while, were creating that popular opinion which clamoured for my punishment.

My reasons for not meeting this clamour by resignation were three:
  • (1) The wish of my employers, the V.U.C. Council;
  • (2) The action of the Government of New Zealand; and
  • (3) The action of the Imperial Government and the British Universities.
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Taking the last first: The Imperial Government (by an Act of 7th August, 1914) allows naturalization of alien enemies during the war. Many University and other teachers have taken advantage of this permission. Never­theless, British Universities have, without interference from the Imperial Government, retained the services of unnaturalized alien enemies. The Attorney-General received information to this effect from the High Commissioner, and made it public in the debate of 26th August, 1915.

Further, the Government of New Zealand endorsed this line of action, both in a general way, and in regard to my individual case: By Proclamation of 27th August, 1914 issued at the beginning of the war (and which is still in force) the Government provided for the protection of peaceable alien enemies in the ordinary discharge of their avocations.

As regards my individual case, the Minister for Internal Affairs wrote to me “semi-officially” (and also in the most courteous and friendly terms) on 2nd December, 1914. He asked me for a promise not to hold communication of any description with any alien enemy, and questioned me as to the loyalty of my conduct from the beginning of the war. I was able to assure him that in conduct and speech I had been scrupulously loyal, and in order to conceal from him nothing whatever, I went so far as to confess the mental struggle between my inclination and what I momentarily considered to be the bare claims of painful duty, which I had undergone in the first two or three days of the war as to the exact course of duty for a man in my unhappy position. I also replied to him formally, giving the assurance required, and the Minister replied:—

“Your letter of 30th ult. conveys in entirely satisfactory terms the assurance which I asked for in mine of 2nd inst.”

On January 8th the Minister let me know that he had sent copies of the entire correspondence to the Chairman of the College Council. It was before the Council, and has been in its possession ever since. It was before the Aliens’ Commission in July, when reporting on my case.

This correspondence is couched in language such as one uses in addressing and old and trusted friend. I should have written in detailed explanation had I suspected that it would be submitted even to the Council, or to such a body as the Aliens’ Commission. Still, neither the Minister nor the Council, nor the Aliens’ Commission saw in it anything to unfit me for my Professorship.

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That was in January, 1915. In June, 1915, the Council debated my case, and it was quite clear then that neither the Attorney-General nor the members of either House in the Council, nor the Government appointees in this Council, had the faintest suspicion that the Government or Cabinet regarded my retention as undesirable. Then in July the Aliens’ Commission reported on my case, and Mr. Massey publicly quoted from the report, giving no hint that it went contrary to the policy or the wishes of the Government.

I respectfully submit I had every right to suppose that the Government of New Zealand intended to adopt the attitude of the Imperial Government in such cases, and not to interfere with the decision of V.U.C. Council.

If the Government had at any time, in any shape or form, intimated to me that my retirement would be welcome to them, or that consideration of poIicy or public interest made it desirable, I should have valued the opportunity of showing my ready loyalty by immediate compliance. But absolutely the first hint of such policy or attitude or wish on the part of the Government appeared in the debate of August 25th when Mr. Massey made the announcement:—

“The Government wishes to make it clear that, if necessary, legislation will be introduced before the end of this Session, to deal with the situation.”

This was shortly followed by the announcement of the “Alien Enemy Teachers’ Bill.”

The result of their action was to unite the whole of the V.U.C. Council* in determination to resist such interference with their statutory rights.

Without making any complaint, I think I may express regret that the Government, when it adopted and formulated its new policy, did not give me the option of voluntary resignation. I had already shown my readiness to resign ; both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General referred to it in the House on August 25th. It has not been pleasant to face almost daily attacks in the Press, and to receive threatening letters couched in the vilest language.

I did so under the justifiable impression that the Government of New Zealand was endeavouring to carry out instructions from the Imperial Government, and to leave the College Council to exercise its statutory rights.

* NOTE.—The Council considers that this statement requires modification, as at least one member of the Council agreed with the Government’s action.