Columbia students rallied against Nazis — now they them on


Nearly a century ago, Columbia students staged mass protests against the university’s friendly relations with Nazi Germany.

Today, Columbia students are protesting in support of Hamas terrorists who mimic the Nazis.

How did this strange role reversal come about?

In December 1933, Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler invited the Nazi German ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther, to speak on campus.

Students staged a huge protest rally against Luther. 

Pro-Palestinian protestors at the Univ. of Texas in Austin mimic the increasingly violent tactics of their New York counterparts. AP

Some years ago, I interviewed one of those protesters.

Nancy Wechsler — later a distinguished Manhattan attorney — told me: “Hitler had been in power for almost a year already — enough was known about his totalitarian and anti-Semitic policies that his representative should not have been welcomed on campus.”

It was at the anti-Luther demonstration that Nancy met her future husband, James Wechsler, editor of the student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spector.

He would later serve as editor of the New York Post.

President Butler shrugged off the protests.

Ambassador Luther represented “the government of a friendly people” and therefore was “entitled to be received . . . with the greatest courtesy and respect,” he insisted.

Butler claimed the protests were themselves a form of “persecution.” 

Columbia continued to pursue friendly relations with Nazi Germany, as Stephen Norwood recounted in his study, “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower.”

The university participated in student exchanges with Nazi Germany — even after a Nazi official boasted his country’s students were being sent abroad to serve as “political soldiers of the Reich.”

In 1936, Columbia took part in the 550th anniversary celebration at Germany’s University of Heidelberg, even though Heidelberg had been purged of Jewish faculty, instituted a Nazi curriculum and had hosted a burning of books by Jewish authors.

Columbia’s delegate to the event, Prof. Arthur Remy, gushed about the “very enjoyable” reception, hosted by Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.

Germany’s University of Heidelberg, which held a glamorous 550th anniversary event in 1936 notable for the presence of Nazis and of Columbia University officials. Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Meanwhile, back in Morningside Heights, more than 1,000 Columbia students and faculty signed a petition opposing the university’s participation in Heidelberg.

Students staged a mock book burning with posters declaring “Butler Diddles While the Books Burn.”

They also protested in front of Butler’s mansion.

The administration responded by permanently expelling rally leader Robert Burke from the university, for the crime of having “delivered a speech in which he referred to the President [Butler] disrespectfully.” 

Now the roles have been turned on their heads.

Today, Columbia students shout “We are Hamas!,” embracing Palestinian terrorists who openly admire and mimic the Nazis.

The killers who burned, beheaded and raped Jews in southern Israel last Oct. 7 were following in Hitler’s footsteps — Arabic-language copies of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” have been found in Hamas hideouts.

The Columbia extremists now chanting “Burn Tel Aviv!” would like the Nazi-like slaughter extended to Israel’s other cities.

Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia during the 1930s who invited Nazi officials to tour his campus. Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Columbia’s timid policy of negotiating with the extremists is part of the problem.

But faculty bias is the root cause of the crisis.

Just weeks after the Oct. 7 pogrom, 179 Columbia professors signed an open letter defending the Hamas horrors as “armed resistance by an occupied people” — even though Israel withdrew all of its soldiers from Gaza more than 18 years ago.

Nearly one-fourth of the signatories teach history at Columbia, many specializing in Middle East Studies.

Almost all the others are in fields such as political science, anthropology, or media studies, where Middle East issues often arise. 

Dozens of proud Hamas supporters are now teaching their twisted version of history in Columbia’s classrooms.

If students are taught Israel is evil and Arab terrorists are heroes, it’s only a matter of time before they are marching across campus, shouting their love for Hamas and their hatred of Jews.

Clearly that time is now.

James Wechsler, a student at Columbia during those anti-Nazi protests, went on to edit the New York Post. ASSOCIATED PRESS

How should today’s Columbia administration address the current crisis?

First, by facing its past: acknowledge its mistake in befriending Nazi Germany; award Robert Burke a posthumous degree; and remove Nicholas Murray Butler’s name from the Columbia University library — just as it recently removed the name of notorious racist and eugenicist Edward Thorndike from another campus building.

Of course, those gestures will not remedy the current situation.

For that, the Columbia administration needs to treat pro-Hamas protesters exactly as it undoubtedly would treat white supremacist students shouting “We are the Ku Klux Klan” or “Burn Harlem” — by expelling the leaders, suspending the participants and disciplining faculty members who aid and abet them.

Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.



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