How a professor's heroic speech led to the closing of The Netherlands' famed 365-year-old University of Leyden was last week revealed by Leydeners in Manhattan who had just received a full report smuggled from their home town.
As reward for their bravery in fighting Spanish rule, William of Orange three and a half centuries ago offered Leyden's burghers the gift of i) a university, or 2) freedom from taxation. They chose the university. Last November Nazis took over the university and promptly fired one of its most brilliant and popular professors, 61-year-old Eduard Maurits Meyers, a Jew.
Appointed to take Meyers' classes was an Aryan colleague, once his pupil, Professor Rudolph Pabus Cleveringa, 47. Professor Cleveringa wrote a speech to deliver to Professor Meyers' next class, read it to his wife. "Excellent," said Mevrouw Cleveringa. "Good," said the professor. "This, then, is the way I will speak. But you'd better pack up my suitcase tonight."
Having given copies of his speech to two colleagues, so that they might finish if he were stopped, big, blond Professor Cleveringa marched into class, announced Dr. Meyers' dismissal, added:
"In this moment we should realize with unmistakable clarity who it is that, after 30 years of fruitful labor, was pushed aside by a power that has no other support in heaven or on earth than brute force alone. . . . [Professor Meyers was] one of the greatest lawyers of many countries and many periods. . . . This noble and true son of our nation . . . has been ousted from his post by the stranger who rules over us as our enemy. . . . We can but bow before superior power."
When he finished, Leyden's students cheered wildly. Next morning Nazis arrested Professor Cleveringa and sent him to a concentration camp. Instead of bowing, students paraded and shouted in Leyden's streets, raised such a commotion that the Germans closed the university.