The Austrian-born zoologist Karl von Frisch received a Nobel prize in 1973 for his studies of animal behavior and communication, including his discovery that bees danced in order to inform each other where sources of pollen could be found. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, Frisch, who had a professorship at the University of Munich, quickly found himself in trouble with the regime. Reviewing a new biography of Frisch, Martha Kearney writes:
[B]y the time Hitler gained power in 1933, it was possible to conduct a purge [at the university] and many Jewish members of the staff were sacked. Frisch faced anonymous accusations of hiring too many Jews, and . . . a pamphlet, The Neutral Scholar, attacked an unnamed professor for devoting too much attention to insects while neglecting his own Volk.
Far more dangerous was the accusation that Frisch himself was Jewish. It seems extraordinary now that while the Nazis prepared for war, they were devoting resources to a genealogical department designed to root out anyone of Jewish descent from the government payroll. These zealous officials discovered that Frisch’s maternal great-grandparents were Jewish converts to Catholicism. The chillingly bureaucratic letter arrived, demanding that he resign his job because he was a “second-degree crossbreed.”
Various academics tried to intervene on Frisch’s behalf without success. Help came in an unexpected form: a disease called nosema, which was wiping out German bees. . . . The president of the South Bavarian Beekeepers wrote to Nazi HQ imploring them to spare “the most successful bee researcher of the world” in order to help the “catastrophic emergency situation.” . . . [A]fter further pressure on the Ministry of Food and Agriculture citing the issue of 800,000 dying colonies, it was finally agreed that Frisch could continue his work to combat the nosema plague.
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