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University museum

Collections Frits Zernike (1888-1966): Life and Work

The letters of professor Herman Maximilien de Burlet

The University Museum not only has an extensive collection of objects, but also an extensive archive. From the Second World War period a lot of letters and documetns have been preserved, among which is a correspondence between two professors: anatomist and pathologist dr. Herman Maximilien de Burlet (1883 – 1957) and his German colleague Albert Fischer (1892-1969).

De Burlet was married to the daughter of an immensly rich German newspaper tycoon. Because of this marriage De Burlet may have been the richest professor in Groningen at that time. He lived in a big mansion between Haren and Glimmen, named 'De Dobbe'. De Burlet was openly ‘deutschfreundlich’ and joined the National Socialist Movement in the forties. During the German occupation De Burlet (1942 – 1945) was rector of the University of Groningen.

Fischer was dean of the Mecical faculty of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel and professor of Surgery at the University of Giessen. In order to retain his position at both universities Fischer had to join the National Socialist German Worker's Party (or Nazi Party) in 1933. Fischer was however absolutely no sypathiser of the Nazi Party, contrary to De Burlet.

Content-wise the letters are not very remarkable. Both professors wrote about their research and they invited each other for lectures. The letters with postal stamps portaying Adolf Hitler and stamps with swastika's however deserve special mention. They show that the letters dating from this period were all opened by the German authority before they were sent. This was common practice in the occupied countres.

Censuring of letters in Germany did not cause too much delay. From 16 March 1945 onwards however all letters and packages with a foreign destination had to be presented at the post office. The counter clerk would then check if no poster-stamps or labels were used to hide secret messages. Only after this check the stamps were added to a letter or package by the counter clerk.

It is unknown whether De Burlet and Fischer still corresponded after the war. Professor De Burlet was dishonourably discharged by Queen Wilhelmina and after that worked in Philadelphia. He died in Köningswinter in 1957.

Last modified:08 October 2021 4.35 p.m.
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