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A prominent Columbia University economist this week resigned from that university's East Central Europe Institute to protest the research center's sponsorship of a speech by a West German professor he believes was an apologist for the Nazi regime during World War Two.
Alexander Erlich, professor of Economics at Columbia and a former fellow at Harvard's Russian Research Center, said yesterday he dropped his affiliation with the institute after it invited Gotthold Rhode to speak.
The action is part of his "general attitutde toward people who cooperated with the Nazis and changed their minds [about the Nazis] only when it was unsafe not to change their minds," Erlich said.
Erlich said that in protesting the institute's invitation, he cited a passage from Rhode's book on Polish history published in 1941, which praised Adolph Hitler for his 1939 decison to invade Poland.
A passage from the preface of the book states, "in view of the difficult problems involved (in the relations between Poles and Germans), the desire and striving of the Fuehrer to create stable national relationships in (Poland) appears in its real greatness."
Rhode, who left the United States today to return to his post at the University of Maintz in West Germany, could not be reached for comment.
Istevan Deak, director of Columbia's East Central Europe Institute, said yesterday he does not "doubt that Rhode was a supporter of the Nazi cause."
Daek defended Rhode, however, saying that "Rhode was never accused of any crime" because of his activities during the Nazi period. He added he believes the fact that "Rhode was only 24 years of age" when he wrote his defense of Hitler made his actions "more understandable."
Rhode said earlier this week that he had to praise Hitler in the 1941 book or it wouldn't have been published, Deak said.
About 70 people attended Rhode's speech, entitled "The Future of Germany and the Germans in the Plans of the Polish Resistance Movement, 1939-1945," at Columbia Monday.
During the question and answer session following the talk, no one questioned Rhode about his actions in World War Two Germany, Deak said.
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