Radboud University during World War II

December 7th, 2017

Jop Zegger

Did you know the Radboud University was the only university in the Netherlands that had to shut down during World War II, because the rector magnificus refused to cooperate with the Germans?

Nijmegen, like a lot of other cities, had a difficult time during the Second World War. Not only was the city destroyed by US bombers who thought it was a German city, for the Radboud University itself it was a very difficult period as well. Two famous professors of our university, Robert Regout and Titus Brandsma, were arrested because they spoke against the Germans in public and were part of the resistance against the German repression. They later both died in concentration camp Dachau. Some students, like Jozef van Hövell van Wezeveld and Westerflier (at that time praeses of student association Carolus Magnus), joined the resistance by students and also died in concentration camps. Besides the tragical deaths of these individuals, the university in general suffered too.
The rector magnificus, Bernardus Hubertus Dominicus Hermesdorf, was the only Dutch rector magnificus who, for principle reasons, refused to present the students with a loyalty statement for the Germans they could sign. Because of that, the university had to shut down from April 1943 until the end of the war. One day before the closure, the rector magnificus himself announced it through a note to the students in the central aula. Because of that, students had to work in German industries or hide from the Nazis.
Not only the people were affected, also the buildings were hit. By the end of the war, a lot of the university's buildings were destroyed. At first this was due to the bombings by the United States, later it was because of operation Market Garden. For example, the institute of psychology was destroyed on the 24th of February 1944.
Despite these events, the university managed to survive and is now one of the largest and most successful universities of the country. In 1949, the university bought the estate Heyendael for a symbolic price and the fundament of the current university was built. Currently, the expansion is still going on, and in January we will go to the brand new faculty building.