Käthe Leichter Forum to be Opened: New Centre for Doctoral Students

Named after a student of Max Weber who earned her doctorate at Heidelberg University and was murdered by the National Socialists in 1942

Käthe Leichter (1895-1942), who did her doctorate with the eminent sociologist Max Weber, was a social scientist and pioneer of the modern women’s movement; she was involved in political resistance to the Nazi dictatorship and a victim of National Socialist persecution. Now a new centre for doctoral candidates at Heidelberg University is being named after her. The Käthe Leichter Forum - centrally located on the Im Neuenheimer Feld campus - is intended to be a place of advice and encounter with a specific university profile for the over 8,700 doctoral candidates at Ruperto Carola. They are to receive greater visibility as a status group both inside and outside the university. University Rector Bernhard Eitel will perform the opening ceremony for the new centre on 13 December 2022 in the presence of Käthe Leichter’s son Franz and his daughter Kathy.

Käthe Leichter, née Pick, is closely linked with the changeful history of Heidelberg University in the 20 century. Born in 1895 into a well-to-do Jewish family, she began studying governance and public policy at the University of Vienna. She transferred to Ruperto Carola for the 1917/1918 winter semester. Here she studied under the sociologist and national economist Max Weber and earned her doctorate in summer 1918 in the field of political economy. In the 1920s she headed the Women’s Affairs Office of the Vienna Chamber of Labour and, using modern methods, conducted research on the living and working conditions of women. In 1934, following the rise of a fascist regime in Austria, Käthe Leichter fled to Switzerland, along with her husband, the journalist Otto Leichter, and their sons Heinz and Franz. The couple returned, however, and became involved in political resistance. Whereas Otto Leichter managed to flee to the United States with their two sons after the "Anschluss", the annexation of Austria to National Socialist Germany in 1938, Käthe Leichter was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for female prisoners in 1940 and killed in the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in March 1942.

In the wake of her arrest by the Gestapo, Heidelberg University revoked Käthe Leichter’s doctoral degree. After the end of National Socialism this academic title was restored to her in 1946 by the Senate of Ruperto Carola in an act of annulment: the Nazi practice of withdrawing doctorates for political reasons - and that was the case with Käthe Leichter - had to be "regarded as annulled", the Senate stated. In November 2014, while visiting Heidelberg, her son Franz Leichter, who lives in the United States, received a facsimile of the doctoral certificate, which Rector Bernhard Eitel presented to him in a symbolic gesture. Today Käthe Leichter is regarded as one of the pioneers of the modern women’s movement - particularly in Austria.

The new centre in the building INF 370 contains the Graduate Academy, the central coordinating body for all transdisciplinary services related to general advising, professional and academic development and financial assistance for doctoral candidates at Heidelberg University. Also located here is the Doctoral Convention, which represents the interests of doctoral candidates within and outside the university. "Heidelberg University has set out to find new ways of supporting doctoral candidates. These include, in particular, the optimising of all general conditions that will lead to the excellent scholarly development of young researchers in their doctoral phase; that is also expressed in the establishment of the Käthe Leichter Forum," says Prof. Eitel. There are currently over 8,700 doctoral candidates at Ruperto Carola. According to the latest survey of the Federal Statistical Office, published in summer this year, this is the highest number at any university in Germany.

The Rector of Heidelberg University will speak at the opening of the Käthe Leichter Forum, addressing questions of quality assurance in connection with support for young researchers. Dr Helke Hillebrand, director of the Graduate Academy, will report on its work. Then Joey Rauschenberger, a doctoral candidate at Ruperto Carola’s Department of History, will give a short talk on Käthe Leichter. The music for the opening ceremony will be provided by members of the Collegium Musicum, the university orchestra.

The opening of the Käthe Leichter Forum in the building INF 370 will take place on 13 December 2022, beginning at 5.30pm. Media representatives are warmly invited to attend and report. Please register with presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de.