The Nazi Who Loved Harvard...

"As faras I know there are no political critieria for accepting gifts to the University, "Peter Clifton, executive director of the Harvard Fund.

Sept. 24, 1934

Dr. Ernst F. Sedgwick Hanfstaengl was a generous member of the Harvard Class of 1909 with a "perennial affection for Harvard, Boston and New England."

"Hanfy," or "Putzy," as his friends often called him, was a minor Nazi official and a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.

Those two factors caused some problems for Harvard in the spring and summer of 1934, a six-month span when "Hanfy" became as much a red flag on campus as "Engelhard" is today. The furor didn't end until September 24 1934, when the President and Fellows of Harvard University voted not to accept $1,000 from Hanfstaengl, a sum that he had hoped would be used to fund a travelling scholarship to bear his name.


As soon as the four Fellows, the treasurer of the Corporation and President James Conant '14 had voted, Conant himself dictated a letter outlining the reasons that there was to be no "Dr. Hanfstaengl scholarship". "We are unwilling to accept a gift," wrote Conant, "from one who has been so closely associated with the leadership of a political party which has inflicted damage on the Universities of Germany through measures which have struck at principles we believe to be fundamental to universities throughout the world."

The Harvard News Office released that statement of principle to the public a few days later. The Associated Press wire carried the story which appeared on October 4th in every major American paper. As several papers realized, though the background to the story was just as interesting as its outcome.

"Dr. Hanfstaengl's name first became known throughout the country last spring," the Boston Globe stated. Dr. Elliott Carr Cutler of Boston, who was to be chief marshal of the alumni at Commencement, announced he had chosen Hanfstaengl, who would be in Cambridge for his class's 25th reunion, to be an aide at commencement. The choice was a bad one as far as many Harvard students and graduates were concerned. Protests began, letters poured in, and soon Hanfstaengl sent notice from Germany that he didn't think he was going to make the reunion after all, so Cutler appointed another aide in his place.

"Hanfy" sent Conant another letter later that spring. "While I'm still not sure that I will be able to attend the reunion, I would like to offer a gift," said Hanfstaengl. The letter outlined the proposed scholarship, which was to "enable an outstanding Harvard student, preferably the son of my old classmates, to study in Germany in any field of art or science." The traveling scholarship was good for a year, six months to be spent in "Germany's cultural center" and Hanfy's native city, Munich.

The letter, which had been mailed on May 24, was made public on June 7. The scholarship offer played second controversy for a while, though, because Hanfstaengl also soon announced that he would indeed attend the reunion. He caught a plane to the coast, and set sail aboard the last steamship that could have gotten him to America in time for the ceremonies. Radical groups, including the National Student League, were unable to persuade the State Department to keep him out of the country. Debarking in New York, he was met with a demonstration, but he managed to avoid a planned protest in Boston when he arrived there the next day.

He spent the day before the reunion scouting about the University to find someone to accept two statues that he had brought from Germany. Because school was over and only Commencement left before the summer began, the Yard and surrounding buildings were deserted, and, according to one newspaper account, the tall Hanfstaengl was soon red in the face and weary from carrying the pair of busts through the June heat. Finally, in music building, he caught sight of Professor Edward Burlingame Hill, a music professor who was about to leave for a vacation in New Hampshire. Hanfstaengl, a tall, strapping man, accosted Hill and insisted that he take the statues, one of Schopenhauer, the other of Van Gluck, another German composer. Hill could find room only for the Van Gluck replica, but he did turn out to be a friendly man, and heand Hanfy spent the afternoon in Boston, antique stores.

The next day, after a restful night at his secretary Nathaniel Simpkin's North Shore home, Hanfstaengl returned for Commencement exercises, ready to do battle with waiting hordes of "newspapermen, photographers, Communists, radicals and liberals." There were some on campus, though who were more friendly to the beaming Nazi. The Harvard Crimson, for one, had recommended that "in recognition of his government," he be given an honorary degree, an idea that prompted protesters to coat the campus with signs calling on the University to award Hanfstaengl "a Bachelor of Book Burning."

Many of the old graduates were also happy to have the friendly German on hand. The entire tenth reunion class, according to the Herald, the Class of 1924, showed up dressed in Bavarian costume, right down to the Tyrolean hats. The Boston Herald reported that "because the doctor had traveled 3,000 miles there was a Harvard version of the goose step, executed with as much snap as unsteady feet could muster ....An Americanized approximation of the Nazi salute replaced the hand shake for the day."

Indeed, by many accounts, Hanfstaengl stole the show. He walked arm in arm with a Jewish classmate, and smiled for countless photographers.

But there was another faction represented at Commencement too. National Student League members and others protested throughout the ceremony, drowning out President Conant's speech. Many of them chained themselves to buildings and poles, refusing to leave or be quiet. Seven of them were arrested, and later tried in Middlesex Superior Criminal Court where on October 22, 1934, they were sentenced to six months in jail for their outburst.

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