Press Release

Saving Lives and Ideas: IIE Presents a History of Scholar Rescue

January 2006
A more peaceful and prosperous world depends on people’s minds being opened to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Yet, throughout history, those who seek to discover and share ideas have suffered. Intellectuals and academics whose work threatens established orthodoxy have been persecuted in every age, from Socrates’ to the present day. The impact of this on retarding human progress can be vividly seen in many eras where new ideas and their proponents have been suppressed, the advancement of society has been materially impaired, and the breeding grounds for war have multiplied. Even today, authoritarians and oppressors of all stripes, knowing that the truth will undermine their power, will go to any length to maintain control. Usually, the first step involves subjecting scholars, among the most intellectually advanced in any society, to surveillance, threats, imprisonment, torture, and death.

In 2002, the Institute’s trustees committed to making scholar rescue a permanent part of its work. The Scholar Rescue Fund builds on work done by the Institute since its founding in 1919. By assuring that persecuted scholars can get to a safe place and continue their work, we shine the light on those who would terrorize them and in the process threaten world peace. We also help to preserve the intellectual capital of humanity, which is vital for progress.

What follows is a summary of major activities undertaken throughout the Institute’s history. Each scholar saved rescues not only people but also ideas.

The Russian Student Fund, 1921-1949
The Russian Student Fund helped over 600 students and scholars caught in the crossfire of the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism to reach safety in Europe and the United States. The Fund also published a directory identifying over 200 scholars still in Russia and their fields of expertise in order to assist them in finding teaching positions abroad that would remove them danger. This program continued for decades, helping many to teach freely and beyond the reach of government and security forces of the U.S.S.R.

Rescue of Scholars from Fascist Italy, 1922-1924
The rise of Mussolini also resulted in displaced scholars whom the Institute relocated to the United States where they were afforded grants as well as named to chairs at leading universities.

The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German (later Foreign) Scholars, 1933-1941
The Emergency Committee assisted scholars who were barred from teaching, persecuted, and threatened with imprisonment by the Nazis. Duggan appointed then-Assistant Director Edward R. Murrow to lead the effort. In the first two years of the Committee’s existence, Murrow received requests for help from educators and researchers across Europe. The program, consequently, expanded to include Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. The funding for such a huge undertaking was made possible by initial grants from the New York Foundation, the Nathan Hofheimer Foundation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Rosenwald Family Association. Additional funding was later provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Oberlin Trust, and numerous private donors.

Over 400 scholars were rescued. The most complete list is attached to this report; it includes Nobel Laureates and Laureates-to-be, authors, theologians, and many whose work and ideas helped shape the post-war world.

Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Scholars List of Grantees and Fellows PDF

Rescue of Scholars from the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
The Spanish civil war forced scholars into exile on both sides of the conflict. Universities in Europe and America, however, were cutting back on staff and few of the exiles had command of the English language. The Institute used its network of binational centers in Latin America to find host campuses for scholars that could not be placed in the United States.

Committee on Awards for Chinese Students, 1942-1945
The Committee assisted over 400 Chinese students stranded in the U.S. during the war and who were unable to receive funds to continue their studies. Similar programs were set up during this period to assist students and scholars from Turkey and Iran who were unable to return to their countries due to the war.

Emergency Program to Aid Hungarian University Students (in cooperation with World University Service), 1956-1958
As a result of the violent suppression of a popular uprising, thousands were forced to flee the country. A joint committee was set up between the Institute and the World University Service to aid these refugees. Together they arranged for approximately 1,000 students to receive admission to U.S. universities; many later became leading professors in the sciences and social sciences. In order to help the refugees overcome lack of fluency in English, the Institute set up two special centers for intensive training and pre-academic orientation at Bard and St. Michael’s colleges. Substantial funds to make this possible came from the Ford, Rockefeller, and other foundations as well as the business community.

The South African Education Program (SAEP), 1979-1992
This program enabled Black South Africans to have access to education denied under apartheid. The Institute arranged for nearly 200 universities to offer either full or partial scholarships and additional resources were provided by the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and 85 other corporations and foundations. Special consideration was given to those seeking to study in the fields of business administration, mathematics, education, science, and engineering. Bishop Desmond Tutu’s Educational Opportunity Committee managed the program selections inside South Africa. In 1983, USAID recognized the importance of this program, and began contributions that totaled over $29 million. By the election of Nelson Mandela, nearly 1700 SAEP fellows had completed their undergraduate, graduate, or short-term training programs and 95% had returned to South Africa.

Read more about SAEP

Rescue of Burmese Refugees, 1990-1992
In response to a Congressional mandate, the Institute organized an initiative to train Burmese who were living as refugees in Thailand. These scholars and students were exiled from Burma in September of 1988; the Institute placed them in U.S. universities for further training.

ASIA-HELP, 1998-2000
Due to the economic crises experienced in several Asian nations, many Asian students studying in the U.S. suddenly found themselves without funds to continue their education. An initial grant of $7.5 million from the Freeman Foundation provided almost 1,400 student loans over the course of its two years. Repayments of the loans enabled the Institute to help students and scholars affected by the Tsunami of 2005.

Other donors interested in Asia made possible the rescue of hundreds of scholars in the wake of the uprising in Tiananmen Square and those who were victims of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Balkan-Help, 1999-2000
In June of 1999, the Institute announced a grant from the Open Society Institute creating a new fund for the thousands of students studying in the U.S. from Albania, Macedonia, and the former Yugoslavia whose families could no longer support them financially, or those who had no home to which they could return when their degree program ended.

Scholar Rescue Fund, 2002-Present
The Fund formalizes and endows the activity that the Institute has undertaken throughout its history. It has enabled the Institute thus far to rescue 103 scholars from 36 different nations who were seeking refuge from a variety of oppressive and dangerous situations. The scholars have been placed at host universities in 16 countries.

The endowment -- made possible by contributions from the Ford Foundation, Institute Trustees and other private donors, and governmental appropriations -- ensures that there will always be a source of support and safe haven for persecuted scholar. It also enables the Institute to research and explore the root causes of repression of academic freedom around the world. These activities now include conferences and symposia bringing together persecuted scholars and human rights analysts, monitoring of situations of particular concern, research on how attacks on academic freedom can be deterred, and expert assistance to countries and institutions on how best to provide for academic freedom in transitional and on-going conflict situations. To date, gifts and pledges to the endowment exceed $15 million.

Visit the Scholar Rescue Fund Website


Tamas Aczel and Tibor Meray, The Revolt of the Mind: A Case History of Intellectual Resistance behind the Iron Curtain, (New York: Praeger, 1959)

Stephen Duggan and Betty Drury, The Rescue of Science and Learning: The Story of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948).

Institute of International Education, Annual Report, (New York, 1920-2005).

Princeton N. Lyman, Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South Africa’s Transition to Democracy, (Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2002).

James A. Michner, The Bridge at Andau, (New York: Random House, 1957).

Robert Payne, The Civil War in Spain, (New York: Putnam, 1962).

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, (New York: Harper and Row, 1973).


Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360

IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President