You would not think to look at him
that he was famous long ago
for playing the electric violin
down on Desolation Row
At least this much appears certain, namely, that a government agency has actually put forward the suggestion to close down a part of the German universities. Other educational tasks are held to be more important, and it is believed that greater financial resources have to be freed for them. Since these resources are unavailable, it is thought that a number of universities should be abolished in order to found a type of civil service school where persons who have not attended a university would be educated so that they could administer the official posts allotted to them.
One year ago, eight days after Haeckel's death, an obituary notice in the Berliner Tageblatt by Dr. Adolf Heilborn made the first mention of the martyrdom inflicted on Haeckel during the last ten years of his life as a result of the conduct of Professor Ludwig Plate. On April 1, 1909, Haeckel had relinquished the chair of zoology at Jena, which he had occupied for forty-eight years, and the directorship of the Zoological Institute and Phyletic Museum to his former pupil Ludwig Plate, for which the latter expressed his heartiest thanks to “his highly honored Excellency.” Upon settling down in his new positions, one of Plate's first official acts was to demand that Haeckel clear out his workroom in the Zoological Institute without delay. When Haeckel protested, [ Note 80 ] Plate's explanation was: “Since April 1, I have been sole director of the Phyletic Museum, and you are to comply without question to all my directions.” This prelude and the further developments of the conflict were related in simple words by Heilborn, who was Haeckel's pupil and friend, with the result that Professor Ludwig Plate brought an action of libel against him at the District Court in Jena. Following this, Dr. Heilborn made public all the relevant facts in a small brochure, The Lear-Tragedy of Ernst Haeckel (Hoffman & Campe, Hamburg/Berlin 1920), based on Haeckel's unpublished letters and notes, and on official documents. Heilborn could make use of a turn of phrase that a witty advocate once used before the court: “I move for the condemnation of my respected opponent on the same grounds which he himself has brought forward.” Nothing weighed more against Plate than his own remarks. From Haeckel, who had made endowments to the University of over a million marks, who had donated his large library and collections representing fifty-five years of work to it, Plate demanded the return of a number of allegedly missing books, and at another time the return of a considerable number of cardboard boxes. Furthermore, Plate stated the following: “This grave injustice which has been done to me can never be erased; however, in recognition of his great services to science and because he is my former teacher, I shall forgive him.” — and “No one will hold it against me that after all these experiences I have broken off all personal contact with Haeckel.”
Indeed, from the standpoint of present-day science, there is actually nothing more to be said about Schiller as a historian. If I nevertheless do say something more, it will be on behalf of the High Senate and my honored colleagues.
“ In the academic world of Jena, Plate stood quite alone.”
The anatomist Schwalbe once wrote: “It is unbelievable ... how Plate behaved. I am amazed that the students in Jena did not react. It would be a really good deed if they could make it too hot for him in Jena.”
Heinrich Heine once said that Lessing's opponents, due to their association with him, were preserved, like an insect in amber, from vanishing without a trace. Now it would be discourteous to apply this comparison to living persons, however well it would fit in a scientific context. We will therefore content ourselves with Heilborn's remark to the effect that nothing will remain of Plate's name and work except the sinister remembrance of the martyrdom that he inflicted on Haeckel.
Some days ago I had the opportunity to take a look at a 10,000 ruble note in possession of a representative of the Soviet Republic. What astonished me was not so much its high denomination; rather, what struck me was that in the center the bank note bore a finely and clearly drawn swastika.