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Dutch Schools Strip Nobel Laureate’s Name

March 3, 2006

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Two Dutch universities have stripped a late Nobel chemistry laureate of honors, citing new evidence that he collaborated with the Nazis to oust Jews from academic positions.

The information about Dutch-born Peter Debye, who won the Nobel in 1936, emerged a month ago in a book, ``Albert Einstein in the Netherlands.″

The book, by Berlin-based author Sybe I. Rispens, cited letters Einstein wrote to colleagues about his suspicions of Debye when the Dutchman moved to the United States in 1940, where he lived until his death in 1966.

The book reproduced a 1938 note by Debye, then director of the prestigious Max Planck Institute in Berlin, instructing Jewish members of the institute to quit.

It said: ``In light of the current situation, membership by German Jews as stipulated by the Nuremberg laws, of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft cannot be continued. According to the wishes of the board, I ask of all members to whom these definitions apply to report to me their resignation. Heil Hitler.″

Debye won the Nobel prize for his studies on the structure of molecules. His name has been adopted as a unit of measurement for an interaction of electrons called a dipole moment.

Utrecht University, where Debye was a professor of theoretical physics in 1912, said it decided to change the name of the university’s Debye Institute for physics and chemistry after learning of Debye’s actions against German Jews.

``Maybe he was forced to do it, but he did it anyway,″ said Ludo Koks, a university spokesman.

The University of Maastricht, in the town where Debye was born in 1884, said it has severed ties to an international prize named for Debye, which is awarded by an independent foundation for original research in chemistry or physics.

The Edmond Hustinx Foundation has yet to decide whether to change the name of the prize, awarded every two or three years on the recommendation of a jury selected by the university.

Both universities acknowledge the evidence about Debye’s pro-Nazi actions is inconclusive.

But it was clear ``he did not act fiercely enough to defend academic freedom,″ said Maastricht University spokeswoman Jeanine Hermans. ``A university should be an example.″

The two universities jointly turned to the authoritative Netherlands Institute for War Documentation for an opinion about Rispens’ documents before taking action. The historical institute responded that the sources cited in the book were reliable, but passed no judgment on Debye.

Nazi Germany invited Debye to return in 1941 but he remained at Cornell University in New York and became a U.S. citizen in 1946.

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