To the Editor:

What contribution the intellectuals driven to this country by Hitlerism are making and will make cannot be easily answered. That they are actually making an important contribution is not questioned by any American intellectual whose opinion is worth recording. But how much of a contribution? Intellectual achievement is a plant of slow growth, and the emigré intellectuals have been here for too brief a time to bring achievement to full maturity.

I am a member of a small organization, the American Committee for Emigré Scholars, Artists, and Writers. To a certain extent we follow up the work of the late Emergency Committee, but, in the main, we look after types the Emergency Committee passed by as not falling into the category of eminent professors. We are poor as crows, and can make only small grants of $100 a month for a limited number of months. But we also have a competent service organization, unpaid except for clerical help, which makes arrangements with publishers, arranges introductions for painters and musicians, and canvasses minor educational institutions for teaching positions. We are ruthlessly selective, and extend our service only where we have good reason to think that the beneficiary is at the point of making a contribution.

In the last three years some two hundred men and women have availed themselves of our assistance. Thus I have had an excellent opportunity to estimate the potential value of a group you never hear of. It is my judgment that this value is great.

We have placed some thirty persons in teaching positions where the institution needed them very much. Forty or fifty manuscripts are well on the way, and more than half have been accepted for publication. These books range widely over the subjects of human interest. They are good, but they will be succeeded by better and better books by the same authors. We could show comparable progress for the painters and musicians.

The professors brought over by the New School, and those maintained for a time by the Emergency Committee, are in a more mature class. That they have made their adaptations well is indicated by the fact that relatively few have been dropped. That they have instituted new tendencies, enriching our thought, is beyond dispute. To take a few instances, Wertheimer’s Gestalt Theory is exerting a wide influence upon our teaching of psychology. Ulich is influencing educational theory notably. Kogbetliantz is preparing a text book of mathematics that starts with Einstein instead of with Euclid. I’ve seen enough of his work to be convinced that when he gets it out the student will be able to go to the heart of modern mathematical thinking, unencumbered by the gropings of early times. Tillich has imported a new and vital note into the teaching of theology. Speier has made important contributions to the theory of propaganda. Lowe has greatly extended our competence to deal with world affairs.

If we could send a group of competent critics from university to university, from one art and music center to another, and could take the time to find out what these emigré scholars and artists are doing and how they stand with their associates, colleagues, and students, we should have, I am sure, an extremely impressive showing of the gains we have won from this small but highly select addition to our population. And yet, the whole group must be appraised as merely a field of promising young grain, destined to yield a rich harvest when time enough has elapsed for the diffusion of ideas and technique among our native intellectuals. . . .

One may ask, is there any reason for expecting more from the few thousand emigré intellectuals than from an equal number of American intellectuals of parallel training and interests? I do expect more of them. They have labored under handicaps, and intellectualism seems to need handicaps to thrive well.

Alvin Johnson
The New School
New York City

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