Mission statement and history of the faculty

Statement of the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology, Göttingen in April 2015:
The Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen is painfully aware that during the National Socialist era, but also in the years before and after, a variety of injustices were done in their name, at their instigation or with their toleration. The faculty admits its guilt and commemorates the victims of hate speech, arbitrariness and forgetfulness. The faculty takes its history as an opportunity to work towards ensuring that something comparable does not happen again and that its members and relatives work towards tolerance, open-mindedness and humanity.

A child of war

The founding of the Royal Prussian Forestry Academy in Münden in 1868 was associated with the victory of Prussia and its allies in the so-called German War of 1866. In addition to the higher forestry school that already existed in Neustadt-Eberswalde, a second training center in the west of the kingdom was now considered necessary due to the considerable increase in area. The Hanoverian forest director Heinrich Christian Burckhardt (1811-1879) campaigned decisively for Münden as a location. The primary task of the forest academy was to prepare those who were dedicated to forestry for the forest administration service. The forest subjects in the narrower sense were in the foreground of the teaching. In addition, natural sciences, mathematics, law and other subjects were taught. Research played a minor role, but over time it was to become increasingly important. The chemist Alexander Mitscherlich, for example, became famous for inventing the sulfite process for obtaining pulp from wood, which he brought to practical maturity in the 1870s. The forestry students had completed a forestry internship before moving to the academy. They mostly came from a "good" family and often joined a forest association. The connections between them were not always “green”, and their “pranks” often caused displeasure in the city. In the summer of 1914, the students at the forest academy and most of the lecturers went to war, as they had done in 1870/71. Many never returned. Some professors, such as the botanist Moritz Büsgen, stayed in Münden and carried out research. Among them was the mycologist Richard Falck. He was of Jewish descent. Incidentally, Büsgen introduced “colonial” forestry into research and teaching together with his colleague Friedrich Jentsch.

Finally a forest university

After the end of the First World War, some of the professors increasingly felt that the restrictions that the autocratic system of the academy imposed on research were a deficiency and fought against them. In 1921 the "reformers" prevailed against the "preservers" and the forest academy was converted into a forest college with a democratic constitution. In addition to the newly gained scope in research and teaching and in filling professorships, doctorates and habilitations were now also possible. Richard Falck was very actively involved in this development.
So it comes as no surprise that most of the forestry institutes were not founded until the 1920s and 1930s. In 1923, when researching the so-called dry peat, i.e. the formation of raw humus layers and their effects on the forest sites, representatives of different disciplines came together for the first time to cooperate (technical mycology, silviculture, soil science, chemistry). However, the responsible ministry in Berlin refused to fund the research program with reference to the extremely poor economic situation in the state. Corresponding investigations were then only carried out after the end of the Second World War by the Soil Science Institute. The lack of an own research institute also proved to be a major disadvantage. The teaching areas of Gahrenberg, Kattenbühl, Bramwald, Escherode and Oedelsheim with their test areas in the near and far vicinity of Münden could only help to a limited extent in this regard, even if they, incidentally, in addition to the two forest botanical gardens and of course the library, which is excellent to this day, in terms of their importance for training and research could not be dispensed with.

Since his appointment to the chair for Technical Mycology created especially for him in 1910, Richard Falck has been one of the forces of reform who campaigned energetically for independent, efficient research and teaching. At the same time he was one of the most productive and successful scientists in Münden. He was close to the party program of the SPD and had high hopes for the Republic of Weimar. When National Socialist-minded forestry students launched a hate campaign against Falck and the staff at his institute in 1920, he bravely put up a fight. But although the aggressive actions of the ringleaders in particular were reprimanded by the superior Ministry of Agriculture in Berlin, Falck remained largely isolated at the forestry school ever since. He found a certain support in the soil scientist Heinrich Süchting and the chemist Edgar Wedekind. However, when at the end of March 1933 students and assistants in Münden demanded the immediate dismissal of Falck and his Jewish assistant Otto Erich Reis in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, the only option for both of them was to flee Germany. While Falck, his wife and daughter were able to save themselves from the Holocaust, there has been no trace of Reis since his arrest in France and his deportation to the Majdanek concentration camp in 1943.

Rule of Injustice

The Forestry University welcomed the "Third Reich" with open arms. Professors Süchting and Wedekind were skeptical about the development, but apparently did not comment. A courageous word from the university against the expulsion of Falck and Reis or the loss of academic independence and freedom has not survived. Various lecturers and assistants actively supported National Socialism and openly advocated its inhuman ideology. In the first place, the students drove the National Socialist “seizure of power” at the Forestry College. They were also the ones who burned "dirty and trashy literature" in front of a large audience on May 11, 1933 in front of the Münden town hall. Josef Nikolaus Köstler, who was only 32 when he was called to Münden in 1934, now did everything he could to affiliate the university, which was once again threatened with closure, to the University of Göttingen as a forestry faculty. Against the bitter resistance of his opponents, who included the entire student body, he was able to ensure that the union, which had been sealed the year before, was completed in 1939. The planned move to Göttingen, however, was suspended due to the war. Unlike their colleagues in Eberswalde, the Münden forest researchers seem to have carried out only limited investigations connected to German war aims. It should be remembered, however, that at the end of the war all institute directors were ordered to "destroy classified information and other files classified as secret upon enemy approach". There can be no doubt that this request was complied with. Documents were lost for various reasons even later. Much is therefore in the dark.

A fresh start in an old guise

The long-awaited move to Göttingen was to be delayed until 1970. For a long time now, the space in the main building of the former forest academy and forest faculty on the Werra was far from sufficient. The institute rooms were usually so cramped, so poorly equipped and often in such a miserable structural condition that the research work that was carried out nonetheless bordered on the miraculous. Only three professors attended the first faculty meeting after the end of the Second World War, in July 1945. Almost all lecturers were dismissed from service for a shorter or longer period as part of the so-called denazification process. This made it almost impossible to cope with the onslaught of forestry students who crowded into the lecture halls in the winter semester of 1945/46. Among the 248 students were 9 women. Actually, the first two women had enrolled in Münden in the fall of 1939. However, the faculty benefited from the influx of colleagues from the university institutions in Eberswalde and Tharandt near Dresden, which were now part of the Soviet occupation zone. Among them were the soil scientist Walter Wittich, the forest farmer Adolf Olberg, Kurt Mantel, who made a name for himself primarily through his work on forest history and forest law, and Arnold von Vietinghoff-Riesch, who had made a name for himself even before the end of the war through publications on nature conservation, as a wildlife researcher and forest historian. While the teachers and students were struggling with the lack of living space, heating, food, etc., and the faculty was very difficult to operate due to poor equipment and a lack of funds, conditions began to consolidate in the 1950s. The biggest challenges at that time included the planning and implementation of site mapping in West Germany, in addition to the afforestation of extensive war-related bare areas and the management of bark beetle calamities. In addition to forestry practice, forest research was also in high demand. At the same time, it was now possible to build up scientific and practical forestry relations with other countries. Still inexperienced in dealing with freedom and democracy and unable or unwilling to break away from the "Third Reich", attempts to reflect on the causes and consequences of National Socialism were hindered or thwarted by many who "were there" in post-war society. When, in the 1960s, students nationwide denounced the lack of interest in German society in dealing with its recent history and expressed their anger at the "muff of 1000 years" through sometimes spectacular actions, things remained quiet in the forestry faculty – although the 100th anniversary of the founding of the academy in 1968 in Münden offered an ideal stage for this.

In new ways

Mond In 1965 Bernhard Ulrich succeeded Wittich as head of the Institute for Soil Science and Forest Nutrition. Ulrich was involved in the so-called Solling project, an interdisciplinary pilot program for researching ecosystems, with modern material balance measurements. Among other things, his analyzes led to the conclusion that the forests were damaged or seriously endangered by long-distance air pollution. Ulrich's investigations into the new types of forest damage and his warnings of forest death caused a stir and led to improved air pollution control policies in Germany, but they did not go unchallenged. The fact that the Faculty of Forestry was able to become a center of modern ecosystem research was not least due to the significantly improved conditions for research and teaching after the move to the new buildings on the Göttingen Fassberg in 1970/72. At about the same time, an environmental movement began to form in Germany, which also began to influence the view of "classic" forestry, the forest and forest studies. Although the job prospects for foresters were not particularly favorable at the time, many young people decided to study forestry because they were particularly interested in the forest ecosystem, its living conditions and functions in the ecosystem. The faculty was asked to adapt its range of subjects to social developments as a response to environmental changes. Shortly after the Second World War, Arnold von Vietinghoff-Riesch even offered cross-faculty events on nature conservation issues, and the faculty now reacted by upgrading and expanding nature conservation in research and teaching. Forest yield science, silviculture, forest use or forest business administration also accepted the challenge and included the effects of changed environmental conditions on forest and wood in their research programs and courses. The wildlife biology seminars of the Institute for Wildlife Biology and Hunting Science, which were launched in 1972, attracted speakers and listeners from afar to the Fassberg in Göttingen. A little later, computer technology also opened up new possibilities in forest research. Computer models simulated the growth of plants or the reactions of forest stands to pollutant inputs and forest management measures. Forest policy began to describe and explain the relationships between forest and society on the basis of social science theories and models. The forest management, to name just another example, uses remotely controlled drones for forest inventory and for planning economic measures. The degree of international integration is evident not only in forest research. It is also reflected in the steadily increasing number of foreign students at our faculty.

History as a Reminder

Forest researchers such as Moritz Büsgen (1858-1921) (Botany) and Friedrich Jentsch (1854-1940) (including Forest Policy, Silviculture) undertook research trips to the former German colonies. So far, they have mostly appeared in forest historiography as pioneers of sustainable forest management in supposedly remote regions. Answering the question of whether and if so to what extent such activities, which were followed by others, promoted the ambitions to expand, secure and exploit a German-dominated colonial empire, is a desideratum of forest history research in Göttingen.
Only 70 years after the end of the Second World War did the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen publicly admit that they were to blame for the humiliation and expulsion of Richard Falck and Otto Erich Reis. This was preceded by a research project that dealt with the events at the forestry university and forestry faculty with a special focus on the period between about 1920 and 1945.

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