The 12,000 students enrolled in the college in Greifswald were asked by a group calling itself 'University without Arndt' to vote in favour of striking the famed writer's name from the university's title.
Arndt was a German patriot and nationalist scholar generally viewed today as an extremist. When group spokesman Sebastian Jabbusch publicly recited some of Arndt’s texts to promote the campaign, horrified pedestrians called the police.
Arndt’s writings contain furious condemnations of “toxic Jewish humanity” and resound with anti-foreigner sentiment, especially against the French, the hatred of whom he calls the “religion of the German people”.
The controversial name was bestowed to the university in 1933 by Hermann Goering.
"In his books we find racism and nationalism, and his anti-Semitism stretches out chapter after chapter”, Jabbusch says. “Can you forgive all this in the context of his time? Does the fact that his writings supported the abolition of peasant serfdom in Pomerania really make up for all this hatred? How can such a person be an idol for our generation?”
The renaming of schools and famous places is not an uncommon practice in Germany. In 2008, the Erich Hoeppner-Gymnasium in Berlin dropped the name of the Wehrmacht general, and in April of 2009 the Hindenburg-Gymnasium in Trier changed its name to Humboldt-Gymnasium because parents were unwilling to send their children to a school named after the man who appointed Hitler as chancellor.
However this case is deemed more complex than those regarding streets and schools named after Nazis authority figures, focusing on the question of whether 19th century German nationalism and its prominent representatives were forerunners of Nazism.
In his time, Arndt was considered a combatant of Napoleonic occupation and in favour of national unity, says the Pro-Arndt Camp, a group of students who battled in favour of keeping the name. They add that he could not have foreseen Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
Numerous streets, squares, and schools all over Germany carry Arndt's name, without anybody objecting to it, the group says, and adds that if xenophobia against Jews and French were the only criteria to be taken into consideration, one would have to dismiss Heinrich von Kleist, Martin Luther and Richard Wagner as well.
The German Senate is not bound by the students' vote, but it is very unlikely that it will ignore the result. Jabbusch expects 60 percent of the students to take part in the ballot.
"As a patron, Arndt is not acceptable anymore," he says. “Especially not for a university that sees itself as a place of science, with worldwide contacts ranging to France and Israel as well.”