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TODAY'S VIEW OF THE THIRD REICH AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN
GERMAN HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DISCOURSE
ULRICH SCHLIE
The Historical Journal / Volume 43 / Issue 02 / June 2000, pp 543 - 564
DOI: null, Published online: 08 September 2000
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0018246X9900120X
How to cite this article:
ULRICH SCHLIE (2000). TODAY'S VIEW OF THE THIRD REICH AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN GERMAN
HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DISCOURSE. The Historical Journal, 43, pp 543-564
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TODAY S VIEW OF THE THIRD REICH AND
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN GERMAN
HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DISCOURSE
ULRICH SCHLIE
Bonn, Germany
.ns 1n.1. This review summarises the current state of knowledge and present trends in German
historiography on the Third Reich. In Germany, assessment of the Nazi past has moved rst from
silence, and then from an emotionally charged engagement, to the more critical analyses of today. There
has been a closer examination of the involvement of particular professional groups during the Nazi era,
such as historians and lawyers. The ideological background of Hitler and the Nazi elite are being
examined closely. Particular interest has also been shown in the ordinary aspects of living and coping
in Hitlers Germany, the daily struggle and the moral dilemmas. An enormous interest in the German
opposition against Hitler continues. In unied Germany, the memory of the struggle of the German
resistance is kept alive in public consciousness as a positive line of continuity.
I
The Go$ ttingen historian Hermann Heimpel once wrote that every present begins with
the last catastrophe." More than fty years since it ended, memory of this last
catastrophe, the Second World War, is still alive in various ways in Germany, even
though only a proportion of todays Germans actually lived through Nazism and the
war. Despite the caesura of 18, 1 still remains the dening moment for the present.
German politics continues to be inuenced by the Nazi heritage. The politics of history
is concerned, above all, with the Nazi period. The past is constantly catching up with
German society it is a past that will not go away. Even after fty years the possibility
that public gures may have some sort of Nazi past is pounced upon by the media.
Statements and attacks are examined minutely for signs of an extreme-right agenda.
Public debates about commemoration days and memorials in Germany are in-
comprehensible without the Nazi heritage. Meanwhile suspicions of fascist tendencies
have become an instrument in domestic political conict, where the reputation of a
political opponent can be called into question without any solid evidence of Nazi
connections. However, this review is not about the present role of Nazism in society or
its instrumentalization in everyday politics. It is about the level of knowledge and
present trends in German historiography on the Third Reich and the Second World
War.
In the 1os in Germany ignorance and deliberate silence prevailed as far as Nazism
was concerned. However, by the mid-16os at the latest, inuenced by an increasingly
" Hermann Heimpel, Der Mensch in seiner Gegenwart (Go$ ttingen, 1), p. 1.

nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
critical Zeitgeist and the penetrating questions of the younger generation, a more
enlightened approach set in which led to a ood of publications. Beyond the narrow
connes of the historical profession, especially in the early days of television, questions
about the past were addressed, about an era which in Germany had, with a sense of
shame, come to be called the most recent past . This interest, which has endured
undiminished ever since, accounts for the fact that the state of research on Nazism in
Germany today has advanced to a level that can be considered exemplary for other
areas of history. There are several constants in German research on Nazism: public
interest, the demand for enlightenment, and the certainty that anyone who can discover
new twists and put forward his thesis in a new way will undoubtedly attract attention.
This is part of the reason why the debates about Nazism in Germany are far from
nished.
Historical research cannot be seen in isolation from its overall political context and
the intellectual mood of its time. The questions it poses arise from the present within
which it occurs and the answers it provides must take account of the possible extent of
contemporary inuence. This is why analysis of the major new publications in German
on the Nazi period also makes it possible to say something about present-day attitudes
to Nazism in Germany, and how it is anchored in the Germans public consciousness
and understanding of history.
Worth noting, rst of all, is something seemingly obvious. Serious political literature
in Germany has not produced anything that could remotely be considered a justication
of Nazism or an attempt to diminish Hitlers responsibility for the outbreak of the
Second World War.# After the German catastrophe (Friedrich Meinecke) Nazism
was so utterly discredited as an ideology that no one who wants to be taken seriously in
the political discourse can embrace it. In todays Germany Hitlers supporters are
marginalized, restricted to a handful of eternal yesterdays men, socially degraded,
political illusionists. As an independent political force Nazismhas disappeared fromthe
scene. It is alive in political consciousness only in an entirely negative sense. In German
society Hitler and his accomplices have become the paradigm of evil, the exact anti-
image, invoked as a salutary lesson whenever the basis of the democratic community
appears threatened.
Precisely because serious historical literature in Germany has produced nothing to
exonerate Hitler and the Nazi leadership, new, supposedly revisionist approaches
adopted by a so-called New Right have attracted great attention. After all, they were
suspected of picking up the baton fromthose accused of apologetic tendencies during the
Historikerstreit (historians dispute) of the 18os.$ But just as those accused of such
tendencies by Ju$ rgen Habermas at that time did not constitute a homogeneous group,
indeed included historians whose writings and methodological emphases were as diverse
as Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hillgruber, Michael Stu$ rmer, and Klaus Hildebrand, so there
can be no talk of an organized New Right in the German historical profession today.
It would certainly be going too far to describe the ceaseless eorts of Rainer Zitelmann,
# The unorthodox or apologetic interpretations of Hitlers war aims by A. J. P. Taylor (The
origins of the Second World War (London, 161)) and David Hoggan (Der erzwungene Krieg: die
Ursachen und Urheber des .. Weltkrieges (Tu$ bingen, 161)) were clearly rejected in Germany and
not only there. See Gotthard Japer, U
$
ber die Ursachen des Zweiten Weltkrieges : Zu den Bu$ chern
von A. J. P. Taylor und David Hoggan, Vierteljahrshefte fuWr Zeitgeschichte, 1o (16i), pp. 11.
$ See the tendencious article by Jacob Heilbrunn in Foreign Aairs (16), pp. 8o.
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
a former Ullstein copy-editor born in 1, as representative of an intellectual trend
worthy of the epithet New Right . Zitelmann, like a political nomad, has wandered
from Marxist beginnings to the attempt to create a right-wing conservative Berlin Free
Democratic Party (FDP). In the early 1os, he and a few of his comrades set about
promoting the idea of a more independent Germany, no longer trapped one-sidedly in
the Western alliance, and therefore more self-assured. This turned out to be little more
than a stormin a teacup.% That Germany, even a reunied Germany, will remain rmly
anchored in the West is not open to question as far as the German public is concerned.
One of Rainer Zitelmanns journalist comrades, of virtually the same age, is the
Go$ ttingen Studienrat Karlheinz Weimann. He did a PhD on the political symbolism of
the German Right, and in 1i set tongues wagging with an essay entitled RuWckruf in die
Geschichte.& So it was a fair bet that critics would have a go at Weimanns all-embracing
portrayal of the Nazi period published in the famous series PropylaWen Geschichte
Deutschlands. When some of the series co-editors retrospectively distanced themselves
from the decision to give the volume on Nazism to Weimann when Hans Mommsen
had let themdown, a stormwas unleashed in the German media that suggested the very
worst. Even before the book was published in autumn 1 it was already a much-
discussed scandal.' But on closer inspection this historical scandal turns out to be a
media hype which more than anything sheds light on dubious practices by publishers
and reviewers and raises questions as to the Germans intellectual state and
understanding of history.
The suspicion where Weimann is concerned is that he wants to whitewash the Nazi
past. Political imputations, such as those by the emeritus Zurich historian Walther
Hofer, namely that Weimann was writing a history of Nazi Germany from the
perspective of the perpetrators( rather than objectively assessing the material, are
typical of how the book was reviewed. When a new managing director took over at
Propyla$ en, the decision was taken to remove the book from the series and thus from the
book trade: a quite unprecedented action in the German media landscape. Weimann
took Propyla$ en to court and was granted a nancial settlement. Then, in the summer
of 1, he managed to get his controversial book back on to the market, virtually
unchanged but with evidence of his sources, this time with Herbig-Verlag in Munich.)
This ramied pre-history suggested that the book could indeed be an attempt to
whitewash Hitler, a suspicion not borne out, however, by reading it carefully.
Weimann has produced a uently written, readable interpretation of the years under
Hitler, based on a sound knowledge of the era, and which takes account of the current
state of research. Weimann does say that the Nazis were responsible for murdering the
Jews and he does not fall for the right-wing hobby-horse, namely the assertion that in
1 Hitler was merely badly advised by Ribbentrop when he ordered the attack on
% Rainer Zitelmann et al., eds., Westbindung, Chancen und Risiken fuWr Deutschland (Frankfurt\M.,
1).
& Karlheinz Weimann, Schwarze Fahnen Runenzeichen: Entstehung und Entwicklung der politischen
Symbolik der deutschen Rechten zwischen .!,c und .,,, (Du$ sseldorf, 18); idem, RuWckruf in die Geschichte
(Berlin and Frankfurt\M., 1i).
' See Wilhelmvon Sternburg, Historisierende Dilettanten, Frankfurter Rundschau, 8 Aug. 1.
( Walther Hofer, Der deutsche Arbeiter, der englische Lord, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1
Feb. 16.
) Karlheinz Weimann, Der Weg in den Abgrund. Deutschland unter Hitler .,.,,, (Munich,
1).
6 nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
Poland, that Operation Barbarossa in 11 was in reality a preventative measure, or the
discussion about resistance to Hitler as simply treachery. Actually Weimann tells a
well-constructed story of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. He sets out the particular
conditions in Germany that favoured a Nazi seizure of power, the foreign policy
successes in the early years that helped to rebuild national self-esteem, but does not omit
the systematic methods by which the democratic parties, the Christian churches, and
the trade unions were brought into line, or rather excluded (Gleichschaltung), in order to
secure a Nazi party power monopoly. He charts the relentless course towards war, and
examines the mixture of racist dogma and power-political tactics that was so
characteristic of Nazi foreign policy.
In a eld of research that is both precarious and hotly disputed it virtually goes
without saying that not all of Weimanns judgements met with approval or could
claim validity. His approach, i.e. to describe the fascination which Hitler and the Nazi
movement held for many of their contemporaries and to focus on the German victims,
the suerings of the civilian population as a result of Allied bombardment, and the
horrors of expulsion, is legitimate. In no way does it relativize the crimes committed by
the Nazis. Guilt cannot be set o against guilt, the crimes committed by Germans are
too appalling for that. To accuse Weimann of this is deliberately to misunderstand his
view of the Third Reich. What Weimann rejects, however, is that dogmatic
interpretation which denies Nazism any shred of humanity, damns the regime out of
hand, and thereby sows the rst seeds of neo-Nazism because, for political reasons, it
refuses to take a dierentiated perspective. With his narrative work Weimann
attempted to contribute to the historicization of Nazism called for in 18 by Martin
Broszat, former Director of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.* His
intention, however, has been deliberately misunderstood. One of the most frightening
things about the reception of Weimanns book is the failure on the part of the critics
to distinguish between Weimanns academic work and the political objectives of the
group around Zitelmann.
The Historikerstreit of the 18os, which produced little of scholarly value, lends itself
to parallels because even at the time it was less a question of actual substance than of
political implications. In recent years Ernst Nolte, whose EuropaWische BuWrgerkrieg set the
whole controversy o, has exaggerated his somewhat eccentric theses on Nazi Germany,
and amongst other things has formulated them misleadingly in various collections of
essays. In so doing Nolte has distanced himself more and more from the mainstream of
German historians, for example when he suggested in an interviewwith the editor of the
Spiegel, Rudolf Augstein, that the Second World War could also have been conducted
as a war of European unication."! In the epilogue to his latest book"" the retired Berlin
professor passes in review the media commotion surrounding his person and the
accusations made against him, and draws the conclusion that intellectual freedom in
* Martin Broszat PlaWdoyer fuWr eine Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus (Merkun, (18)),
pp. .
"! Ernst Nolte, Der europaWische BuWrgerkrieg .,.,.,,,: Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus
(Frankfurt\M. and Berlin, 18); idem, Streitpunkte : Heutige und kuWnftige Kontroversen um
den Nationalsozialismus (Berlin and Frankfurt\M., 1). Interview: Spiegel-Gespra$ ch, Ein
historisches Recht Hitlers ? (Der Spiegel, o\1).
"" Ernst Nolte, Die Deutschen und ihre Vergangenheiten: Erinnerung und Vergessen von der ReichgruWndung
Bismarcks bis heute (Berlin, 1).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
Germany is under serious threat. Nolte has become a be# te noire of the German media
but to some extent he has caused these misunderstandings himself. He constantly makes
use of the opportunities presented by the media age, but does not always consider the
eect of his supposedly discriminating, abstract language. In the end he is mis-
understood by the media and misjudged by the reading public.
Nolte has become a victim in a dual sense and, with his typical inclination towards
eccentricity, has abandoned himself weeping and wailing to his fate. This is the only
possible explanation for the wingeing tone of the epilogue in which he states his position
in detail on the disputes regarding his person. He makes no attempt to t the epilogue
thematically into what is a generally successful essay on remembering and forgetting in
Germany. In the main text Nolte takes an informed, stimulating, and original look at
the specic diculties the Germans have with their history. He reminds us that the use
of history for a national cause, the transformation of les into weapons in everyday
politics, the instrumentalization of the collective memory, occurred as much during the
Empire as in the Weimar Republic, and reached its zenith during the Third Reich.
Over half the book, however, reects on how the Germans dealt with their history after
the Second World War. And whenever German history was the topic after the Second
World War, what was generally meant were the years 1. The unfortunate word
VergangenheitsbewaWltigung (overcoming the past) slipped into common usage, as if the past
could be overcome like a dicult mathematical problem.
Norbert Frei chose a dierent termfor dealing with the past, that of Verangenheitspolitik
(policy for the past)."# Unlike the vague notion of VergangenheitsbewaWltigung, this refers to
the specic political process that went on into the mid-1os for the benet of millions
of former Party comrades who virtually without exception returned to their social,
occupational and nationality status quo ante."$ Here Frei touches upon a topic over
which for a long time a cloak of silence was drawn. The tacit reintegration of former
Nazis was considered one of Adenauers achievements. It did, admittedly, do much to
create a peaceful society in post-war Germany, but the price was that in the immediate
post-war years the Nazi past was not adequately dealt with. Immediately after the war
there was broad consensus in Germany about an anmesty for the pardonable and less
pardonable political mistakes of the Nazi period. After all, many people had had a hand
in them, and the Allies sometimes arbitrary re-education and de-nazication policy
had done little for their popularity. The main strength of Freis work is its use of many
trial records fromthe immediate post-war period. However, given the sources he uses his
conclusions are not always logical and sometimes have more to do with political
assessments than with objective scholarship. There is certainly no denying the cult of
silence over individual guilt addressed by Frei, but there was also a whole range of other,
contrary behavioural patterns which do not t into the picture he draws. They also
fundamentally contradict Freis conclusion that the political mistakes and moral
derelictions of the period of Vergangenheitspolitik had a long-term inuence on the
intellectual climate of the Federal Republic.
Two further presentations of the entire Nazi period, from very dierent perspectives
and with very dierent approaches, showhowdicult it is to do justice to the Hitler era
in an all-embracing work. The leitmotifs of Ludolf Herbsts"% story of Nazi Germany are
"# Norbert Frei, Vergangenheitspolitik: die AnfaWnge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-Vergangenheit
(Munich, 16). "$ Ibid., p. 1.
"% Ludolf Herbst, Das nationalsozialstische Deutschland .,.,,, (Frankfurt\M., 16).
8 nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
racism and war. The main strengths of this work, orientated towards social history, are
the parts that deal with Herbsts main research interests : mobilization for total war and
the German armament industry. On the other hand he does not deal adequately with
the ambivalence so typical of Nazism between modern and anti-modern election
campaigns by aircraft on the one hand, blood-and-soil rhetoric on the other. The
history of Nazi Germany cannot be reduced to the facts of social science. Herbst
bombards his reader with details, but forgets that history should also tell a story. The
weakest section is the one on Mussolinis fall and the resistance against Hitler. It shows
a serious failure to appreciate the dicult conditions under which resistance was
practised. To interpret the resurgence of conscience among the German opposition as
the last vestige of a world politically long-dead, and to talk of the social isolation of
the German resistance groups, is deliberately to distort the picture of the German
opposition."& Equally, the judgement that the leaders of the German army were deeply
implicated in the mass annihilation and, given that the war was likely to end with heavy
casualties, had more than mere loss of prestige to fear, can hardly be regarded as the
product of soberly assessed research ndings. It says more about the authors political
leanings.
It is not so much the authors political leaning which makes Enrico Syrings"'
attempts to produce a dierentiated view of Nazi Germany a somewhat disappointing
read, but the diculty in combining skilfully an accurate resume! of diplomatic events
with a comprehensive picture of German society under Hitler. Syring seeks to blaze
a trail through the by now virtually impenetrable literature, and sums up the various
dierent positions without losing sight of his own point of view. He has, he says,
distanced himself more and more fromthe so-called intentionalists, and nowhas serious
reservations about seeing Hitlers actions as determined by a one-o incremental plan.
His work is neither a compact reader, nor a brilliant essay, neither an overview of
research nor an original general interpretation. This ambiguity is the basic problem
with the book. Moreover, the text is constantly interrupted by selected key documents,
which does not do much for its readability.
II
For valuable and comprehensive information on the Third Reich in all its aspects I
prefer the encyclopaedia of national socialism compiled by Wolfgang Benz, Hermann
Graml, and Hermann Weiss."( The structure of this encyclopaedia is convincing. New
literature is widely covered and the entries are generally well written, providing a dense
introduction both for beginners and specialists on Nazi Germany. The biographical
part with brief sketches of rank and le personalities in Nazi Germany is helpful as a rst
approach, but for more detailed and exhaustive information one can turn to an
extremely valuable biographical dictionary edited by Hermann Wei.")
"& Ibid., p. .
"' Enrico Syring, Das nationalsozialistische Deutschland .,.,,,: FuWhrertum und Gefolgschaft (Bonn,
1).
"( EnzyklopaWdie des Nationalsozialismus, ed. Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml, and Hermann Wei
(Stuttgart, 1).
") Hermann Wei, ed., Biographisches Lexikon zum Dritten Reich (Frankfurt, 18).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
The debate about the Third Reich has always centred around the person of the
German dictator. Nazism is inconceivable without Hitler. The rst popular reaction to
Hitlers indescribable crimes, the extent and details of which gradually became known
after the war, was an attempt to portray Hitler as a foreigner. That helped to counter
the Anglo-American occupiers preoccupation with continuity in German history.
Hitler was regarded as a foreigner who did not belong to German history. After 8 May
1 the Hitler-myth, which endured until the last days of the Third Reich, and was
used to excuse Nazi excesses, disappeared as completely as the regime itself. The dead
Fu$ hrer could thus be used by his former accomplices as a scapegoat, a deection from
their own responsibility for the evils committed.
A really good Hitler biography has rightly been called the most important task of
German contemporary historiography. But the rst to accept the challenge were, in
fact, British historians. Alan Bullocks 1i portrayal of Hitler as an unscrupulous,
machiavellian politician, an opportunist acting without any rm plan, was the rst
serious scholarly biography of Hitler and set the tone for many years in Germany too.
He was not the only one to revise his view under the inuence of Hugh Trevor-Ropers
revelations about Hilters monomaniac obsession with Lebensraum in the East and the
establishment of a German continental empire, rst explored in the 16os."* Building on
Trevor-Ropers research the intentionalist school emerged, according to which an
incremental plan was drawn up which Hitler then followed. This viewhas had a crucial
impact on German research on Hitler ever since.
In 1, however, it was initially an outsider, Joachim C. Fest, whose Hitler
biography lled the literary gap. With his feeling for psychology and historically trained
eye for detail, Fest managed to plumb the depths of Hitlers personality and to produce
a brilliant literary portrait. Fest shows the dictator in the context of the intellectual
trends of his time, without ignoring the question of Hitlers signicance for the Germans
and for German history. The challenge of a major biography the delicate balance
between the life of an individual and the fate of a nation is met brilliantly by Fest. So
it is good news that a new edition of his classic Hitler biography was published by
Propyla$ en in 1, with a new foreword by the author which attempts to make the
incomprehensible comprehensible.#!
Fests work makes it clear that even fty years after his death Hitler has not become
historical, but in a strange way is projected into the present : a myth rather than an
object of normal historical observation. One way in which history takes its revenge is
that the powerful wrecker (Jacob Burckhardt) often achieves the exact opposite of
what he intended. In his assessment of Hitler the TV journalist Guido Knopp#" also
emphasizes the paradox that much, and at the same time little, remains of Hitler.
Although he has no supporters amongst the Germans of today, he has, in many ways,
had a crucial impact on the relationship between the Germans and the world. Knopps
six-part Hitler lm and the follow-up series about Hitlers accomplices were a brilliant
success. Previously unknown footage including shots of the young Hitler at a meeting
"* Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitlers Kriegsziele, Vierteljahrshefte fuWr Zeitgeschichte, 8 (16o),
pp. i . Alan Bullock, Hitler : eine studie uWber Tyrannei : VollstaWndig uWberarbeitete Neuausgabe, Parallele
Leben (Kronberg and Taunus, 1; orig. publ. in 1i as Hitler : a study in tyranny). In the double
biography Hitler und Stalin (Berlin, 11), Bullock completely retracts his original view.
#! Joachim C. Fest, Hitler (Berlin, 1; 1st edn 1).
#" Guido Knopp, Hitler : eine Bilanz (Berlin, 1).
o nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
of the left-wing socialist Workers and Soldiers Councils in the Munich of the
RaWterepublik coloured pictures of the Berghof, eye-witness interviews and special eects
such as distortion of picture and sound contributed to the compulsive nature of these
lms. They also sustained for a younger generation the mixture so characteristic of the
Nazi period of fascination and blindness, seduction and violence. The individual
sections on Hitler as a private person, as seducer, conqueror, dictator, and criminal not
only describe the metamorphoses of a politician, but show the various facets of one and
the same person. The dierent characteristics are not always seen with the same
intensity, but vary according to the time and the person; perceptions of Hitler often
depend on the perspective. The lm gives a good impression of the inner contradictions
within the German dictatorship, the juxtaposition of the modern and the old-fashioned
mentioned earlier. The book of the lm is not, of course, based on any original research
and is more of a compendium, a reader produced in a hurry, which raises more
questions than it answers and lacks cohesion. Knopp and his team avoid denitive
conclusions as regards the main research disputes for example whether Hitler was a
strong or a weak dictator. Rather they present already-known material exhaustively a
tendency which continues in the much weaker follow-up volume on Hitlers
accomplices Go$ ring, Goebbels, Hess, Speer, Bormann, and Do$ nitz a work of little
scholarly value which combines poor research with an appalling style.##
The lance-corporal of the First World War, the deracinated Adolf Hitler, set out on
that remarkable quest for ideological substance that led him temporarily to extreme
left-wing groups during the Munich RaWterepublik. This was already typical of the
stranded good-for-nothing and occupant of a mens hostel in n de sieZ cle Vienna.
Certainly none of his biographers have ever doubted the signicance of these crucial
years before the First World War for Hitlers Weltanschauung, but so far none has ever
bothered to trace these inuences in detail in a cultural history. With great diligence,
sensitivity, and literary skill Brigitte Hammann has now lled this gap with Hitlers
Wien.#$ She has created an intricate panorama of this Vienna of the little people, who
had no comprehension of Viennese modernity and rejected it as degenerate, too
remote fromthe people, too international, too Jewish, too free-thinking. The author
circumvents the extraordinary inadequacy of sources by presenting the lives of some of
Hitlers contemporaries and a detailed picture of the world in which he lived. She draws
too heavily, however, on the recollections of Kubiczek, a friend of Hitlers during his
youth, which are not always a reliable source. Hitler carved out a world for himself with
the revolutionary zeal of the deTclasseT and the eclecticism of the autodidact. Its main
pillars were already in place in the early years ; all it needed was to nd an active form
of expression in a political ideology. For all their inner cohesion, Hitlers thought
processes also reveal contradictions which correspond with his tentative attempts to
gain approval. Thus, for example, it emerges that the young Hitler had far more Jewish
acquaintances amongst themvarious gallery-owners who accepted his pictures than
has so far been realized. However, Brigitte Hammann also fails to answer the crucial
question. How did the stranded occupant of a mens hostel during the Vienna years
become the man who has left his mark upon and changed our era like none other, except
perhaps Lenin, and in whose head the most horrendous deeds of this century were
conceived?
## Idem, Hitlers Helfer (Munich, 16).
#$ Brigitte Hammann, Hitlers Wien: Lehrjahre eines Diktators (Munich, 16).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws 1
Hitler is anything but an easy subject for his biographers, as the Geneva political
scientist Marlis Steinert was also to discover in her 1 biography.#% She has certainly
failed in her objective to show the interaction between Hitlers person and his
environment . In Steinerts book Hitler remains a stranger, whose dire personality is
closed to her and whose portrait lacks clear contours. In a sort of handbook style
Steinert describes the revisionism in foreign policy in the years 18, implying a
logical consistency which does not do justice to the uidity of historical events. Nor is the
attempt to portray Hitlers Weltanschauung as the world-view of a revolutionary
successful, because it is restricted to a description of the ideology of Mein Kampf and
leaves unanswered the great controversial questions of Hitler research. Steinert sums up
the sort of knowledge contained in handbooks, while she should have given clear
opinions. To be fair, its meticulousness, sober style, and lack of accusatory moralizing
makes this a readable history of Nazi Germany, but it does little to solve the mystery of
Hitler.
Anton Joachimsthaler, however, has succeeded in this, by addressing a far more
narrowly dened issue.#& In his impressive and diligent work the amateur historian does
away with many of the myths surrounding Hitlers end. The main butt of
Joachimsthalers criticism is the disputed biography by Werner Maser, oft-cited
because of its rich details. After the de-mythologizing in Hitlers Ende Masers book can
only be used with great caution and careful source assessment. The last days in the
bunker, the life-loving Eva Brauns desperate ight from reality in champagne parties
in the bunker atmosphere, the reconstruction of the suicide in every minute detail, the
removal of the bodies, the dental records for identifying the remains of the Fu$ hrers
charred corpse Joachimsthaler has omitted nothing in his detective zeal and love of
detail. No doubt there will be a few passing shots from established historians, whose
research has so far been so negligent. All in all Joachimsthalers book is a gripping read,
not only because it again recaptures the eery atmosphere of that bunker-world so
divorced from reality, but also because, let us face it, the material he uses makes for
utterly fascinating contemporary history.
Alongside Hitler in recent years there has also been an upsurge in biographies of his
underlings. This is partly due to the much improved accessibility of sources and partly
because there has been an increased interest in biographies in general. Top of the list is
perhaps the most interesting of all the Nazi giants , Joseph Goebbels, engineer of the
peoples soul, murderer of his own six children, and certainly one of the most glittering
Nazis. It is hardly surprising that in recent years Goebbels has constantly been the
subject of new publications.#' This is mainly because of the excellent availability of
sources, thanks in no small measure to the work of the Munich Institute for
Contemporary History and its continuing task of editing the Goebbels diaries.#(
His diabolic vivacity and zealous enthusiasm made him a pillar of the power-
personnel without which Nazi Germany would have been unable to unleash its
destructive power. He was never, however, one of those who made the decisions about
peace and war. For a time he even fell out of favour with the Fu$ hrer because of his
#% Marlis Steinert, Hitler (Munich, 1).
#& Anton Joachimsthaler, Hitlers Ende : Legenden und Dokumente (Munich and Berlin, 1).
#' Ralf Georg Reuth, Goebbels (Munich and Zurich, 1o); Ulrich Ho$ ver, Joseph Goebbels : ein
nationaler Sozialist (Bonn, 1i).
#( Elke Fro$ hlich, ed., Die TagebuWcher von Joseph Goebbels, \rr : JanuarMa$ rz 1 (Munich, 1).
i nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
numerous love aairs. It was not until the end of the war, when the Reich lay in ruins,
that as Gauleiter of Berlin and organizer of total deployment for war he managed to rise
in Hitlers esteem and triumph over his opponents, Bormann and Go$ ring. Goebbelss
dubious strength lay in his fanatical devotion to Nazism. He was the one who was still
hammering home belief in ultimate victory to his compatriots even when the war had
long-since been lost.
Goebbels, the propagandist, wanted to secure Nazi power and behaved in keeping
with his motto: If ever we give up power, it will be over our dead bodies. Awareness
of power, sovereign mastery of the keyboard of propaganda, was, in Goebbelss case,
inextricably bound up with overestimation of his own person. The diaries also bear
witness to this. The way in which the war was progressing, the inescapable military
situation in the second half of the war, did not pass Goebbels by. He concealed his
doubts behind stylistic conceits, the use of indirect speech when reproducing statements
by the Fu$ hrer assuring victory. He attempted to give himself courage and invoked the
miracle of the House of Brandenburg when the death of Tsarina Elisabeth in 16i led
to a crucial turning-point in the Seven Years War and liberated Friedrich II from a
seemingly hopeless situation.
His diaries do not contain any secret revelations. They are written with a purpose and
with a view to later publication. Goebbelss main concern was his place in history. He
wrote, or more precisely in the later years he dictated, sub specie aeternitatis. Posthumous
fame was just as important to himas fame and recognition during his lifetime. He knew
that his diaries would have a crucial impact on historiography about Nazi Germany. As
he wrote in February 1 in a leader article for the periodical Das Reich which he
edited: We have made our mark on this century and one day it will bear our name. #)
Goebbels proved to be right in this threatening prophecy, though, of course, in a
dierent sense from the one he intended. One of the requirements of procient source
assessment is that Goebbelss diary entries should not be taken at face value. This does
not detract from their worth. The Goebbels diaries span a period of twenty years,
encompassing the rise, zenith, and decline of the Third Reich. They reveal Goebbelss
Weltanschauung and the web of intrigue so characteristic of totalitarian states, designed
to curry favour with the dictator. Goebbels involuntarily becomes the chronicler of the
sometimes quite contorted decision-making processes and the mendacity of the Third
Reich, devoid of all respect for human beings, and of the ideology of sub-humans with
its blood-and-soil rhetoric. The secret of his success is that Goebbels composed his entries
like a man possessed. They are compelling evidence of that racist mania for which
Goebbels paved the way with his defamatory talents, coldly calculating and fully aware
of the evil he was setting in motion.
In a dierent way from Joseph Goebbels Albert Speer is also a source of fascination
for historians. He stands out amongst the leading Nazi clique due to his intellectual, and
above all organizational, abilities, his close relationship with Hitler, with whom he was
more intimate than any other, and linked to this his exceptional rise within the
hierarchy. Other Nazis gave the lie to the much-proclaimed Nazi image of the new
Adam, and were more the stu of caricatures and popular jokes : the bespectacled
Reichsheini , Heinrich Himmler, the perfumed Parsifal , and renaissance man
Hermann Go$ ring or the Reichs drunkard Robert Ley. Speer, by contrast, was the
#) Joseph Goebbels, Das Jahr iooo, Das Reich, i Feb. 1.
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
embodiment of the power-conscious, innovative technocrat, whose artistic self-
perception as an architect did not preclude a special relationship with Hitler.
At the beginning of 1 Speer was given the job for the rst time of staging the mass
Nazi May Day rallies at the Tempelhofer Feld. His innovations, amongst them the
famous dome of light oodlights positioned all round the marching area which
created the eect of mammoth proportions gave the rallies the profane solemnity of
medieval military parades. Not only was Speer the imaginative director of artistic Nazi
spectacles, he was also the tireless manager of war-material production. In 1, barely
thirty-two years old, he became architect general and in 1i, as successor to Todt,
Reich minister for armaments and munitions. Speers dubious accomplishment was to
have again increased German armaments production in 1 by straining every
resource. If Goebbels invented the propaganda formula total war, Speer was the
father of total military deployment. It was not until the nal months, when Hitler
proclaimed the destruction of what remained of Germanys infrastructure with his
famous-infamous command aZ la Nero, and stated that in the war against the Slavs the
Germans had proved to be the weaker, that Speer began to wonder whether his political
activity had been correct. On the stand at Nuremberg he staged, with some success, his
belated resistance, his intention (naturally never carried out) to poison the dictator in
the bunker. He was the only one at Nuremberg to accept responsibility for the policy of
the Third Reich and to recognize the need for a trial. His relatively lenient
sentence twenty years in prison was due in no small measure to the favourable
impression he made on the judges.
During his years in the Allied military prison at Spandau Speer wrote large sections
of his memoirs. After his release in 16 they were published by Siedler and were on top
of the best-seller lists in no time. The two books, the memoirs rst published in 16 and
the Spandau diaries published in 1, have now been re-issued.#* In both cases the
motive was to get these classics back on to the market in time for the anniversaries (and
associated boom in sales), rather than to produce a critical new edition.
The importance of a critical approach to source material, and how appropriate it
would have been for these two eminently successful books, was ultimately revealed by
Gitta Serenys biography of Speer.$! Certainly, many parts of the published version of
Speers memoirs do not entirely correspond either to the published interrogation report
of Allied intelligence ocers from the summer of 1,$" or to the draft version written
during his period of captivity in Nuremberg and Spandau. And as far as the Spandau
diaries are concerned, Wolf Jobst Siedler and JoachimFest certainly did more than just
help with formulations. It is their work that has made the diaries into a cohesive whole.
Confrontation with the Nazi period became the dominant theme of Speers life after
the verdict : rst during his twenty years in Spandau after the judgement in Nuremberg,
and then for the remaining fteen years of his life until his death in 181, which Speer
used mainly for writing contemporary history. The question as to his personal guilt, his
knowledge of and part in the murder of the Jews haunted Speer more than he was
prepared to admit. He kept nding new excuses and interpretations, trying to nd a
#* Albert Speer, Erinnerungen, Neuausgabe (Berlin, 1); idem, Spandauer TagebuWcher, unveraWnderte
Neuauage (Berlin, 1). For Speers architectural plans, see the recently published reprint,
Albert Speer, Architektur. Arbeiten, .,.,,. (Frankfurt\M. and Berlin, 1).
$! Gitta Sereny, Das Ringen mit der Wahrheit : Albert Speer und das deutsche Trauma (Munich, 1).
$" Ulrich Schlie, ed., Albert Speer : Alles was ich wei (Munich, 1).
nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
way to go on living. The great achievement of Gitta Serenys biography is that it
mercilessly exposes Albert Speers battle with his conscience, his lifetime of lies, and that
she, more than any other historian, has managed to get Speer to talk about his
relationship with Hitler. Sereny has not written the usual sort of biography. She takes
the reader with her into her numerous conversations with Speer himself, with his family,
colleagues, and accomplices. This has produced an unusually vivid picture of Speers
life, captured in retrospective dialogues. Sereny was able to get the former armaments
minister to talk and Speer certainly had plenty to say, more than he was prepared to
commit to his memoirs. Most interesting is what he has to say about Adolf Hitler, to
whomhe was bound by a devotion hard to explain and quite irrational, and with whom
he, more than any other, built up a personal relationship (if one can talk of such a thing
at all where Hitler is concerned).
In future no scholar dealing with Speer and the Third Reich Hitler will be able to do
without Serenys book. But it is far from being a rounded biography. This would have
required a broader source-base, especially as regards the unpublished sources, greater
concentration on, and detailed analysis of, the German armaments industry and
production of war material, on the question of foreign workers and other aspects of rule
in the Third Reich.
Compared to the recent works on Goebbels and Speer, Stefan Kleys Stuttgart
dissertation on Hilter, Ribbentrop, and the unfolding of the Second World War$# is
clearly second rate. This is largely due to Kleys failure to penetrate the subject
intellectually and also to the fact that the study is restricted to the pre-history of the
Second World War, which has already been well researched, and the limited source
material on which it is based. Kley, whose main interest is actually Ribbentrop, does not
bother to use any new sources on Hitlers foreign minister. He only consults David
Irvings selection of Ribbentrops revealing interrogations by American ocers, and
seems completely unaware of the les on Ribbentrops defence lawyer at Nuremberg,
Fro$ schmann. The extensive literature is assessed by Kley according to criteria that are
not always apparent, and things that have been known about for ages are put forward
as new. It is therefore hardly surprising that Kley has nothing innovative to say about
the unfolding of the Second World War. None the less, his study conrms the impression
that Ribbentrops contemporaries had at the time. Ribbentrop denitely had his own
ideas, but could not get Hitler to accept them: Ribbentrop was unable to have a
decisive impact on German foreign policy because all the major decisions were taken by
Hitler. $$ In many respects Kleys work can be seen as an appendage to the two
Ribbentrop biographies published in Britain and the United States in 1i, to which he
adds very little.$%
Scholars and journalists have concerned themselves with Rudolf Hess, Hitlers
scurrilous deputy, for quite dierent reasons fromthose that attracted themto Goebbels
or Speer. More than anything, the circumstances of his decision to y to Britain in May
11 have produced a veritable ood of speculations. More than ve decades since the
end of the war, Rudolf Hesss ight to Britain remains one of the unsolved mysteries of
the Second World War. The Wurzburg Habilitation by Rainer Schmidt does little to
$# Stefan Kley, Hitler, Ribbentrop und die Entfesselung des Zweiten Weltkriegs (Paderborn, 16).
$$ Ibid., p. i6.
$% John Weitz, Hitlers diplomat : the life and times of Joachim von Ribbentrop (New York, 1i);
Michael Bloch, Ribbentrop (London, 1i).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
change this state of aairs.$& Certainly Schmidt deals in detail with the background to
the spectacular ight and has assessed all available publications on Hess. Ultimately,
however, he ends up with nothing more than a new version of the conspiracy theory,
rst put forward by David Irving in 18,$' according to which Rudolf Hess was caught
in a British secret service trap and was enticed to Britain under false pretences. In the
central chapter of the book Schmidt describes Britains role in the background to the
ight . The game of deception seems to hinge upon the fate of a letter which Albrecht
Haushofer sent from neutral territory in September 1o to the duke of Hamilton, later
Rudolf Hesss reluctant host. This letter ended up in the hands of MI and did not reach
the addressee until March 11. The conspiracy theory is not new. It was already
mentioned in the Nazi news announcement of 1 May 11 which raised the possibility
that Hess had been deliberately enticed into a trap by the English. The head of Nazi
foreign espionage, SS-Fu$ hrer Walter Schellenberg, also assumes in his memoirs that
there was considerable involvement on the part of the secret service. There are, indeed,
a number of inconsistencies which suggest that at least the ocial British version of the
Hess story cannot be true.
Schmidt does not want Hesss ight to Britain to be seen as an idiots mission or Hess
to be deemed a fool or Hitlers last emissary. Instead, he sees the ight as the
result of his (Hesss) contacts with the British upper class, which had become ever closer since the
early 1os, the outcome of his conviction that the German Reich should not run the risk once
again of a war on two fronts, [and] above all [as] the consequence of a plot by the British
secret service.
Schmidts study of Hess is a verbose and often redundant collection of conjectures,
which adds little to previous research ndings. He produces no conclusive proof. The
only good thing about the book is the knowledgeable re! sume! of Rudolf Hesss political
career in the rst two chapters. But the veil of mystery surrounding Rudolf Hesss ight
to Britain is, if anything, more impenetrable than ever.
Another biographically orientated work that has attracted attention beyond the
world of historians, and which deserves recognition for its methodological originality, is
Ulrich Herberts critically acclaimed study of Werner Best.$( Anselm Doering-
Manteuel writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) called it a great success
and Eberhard Ja$ ckel said in Die Zeit that this book opened a new era in research on
Nazism. Yet Herberts book is not a biography in the classical sense. Werner Bests life
history as such is not the main focus of attention. Best was a qualied lawyer who, in
11, drewup the Nazi counter-revolutionary plans that became known as the Boxheim
Documents. After 1 he was Staatskommissar fuWr das Polizeiwesen in the state government
of Hesse, from 1 onwards Reinhard Heydrichs colleague in the Gestapo, head of
oce 1 (organization, administration, and law) in the Reich Security Main Oce
(RSHA), head of administration on the sta of the military commander in France
(1oi), and from November 1i to May 1 Reich plenipotentiary of the
AuswaWrtiges Amt in Copenhagen, with the rank of under-secretary.
$& Rainer F. Schmidt, Rudolf He. Botengang eines Toren? Der Flug nach Grobritannien vom.c. Mai
.,,. (Du$ sseldorf, 1).
$' David Irving, Wir lockten Rudolf Hess in die englische Falle Weltwoche (i6 Apr. 18).
$( Ulrich Herbert, Best : Biographische Studien uWber Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft,
.,c.,!, (Bonn, 16).
6 nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
Werner Best is not, however, particularly well known. The dry administrative lawyer
and SS general managed, by his relatively lenient approach, to prevent large numbers
of Danish Jews from being deported. Admittedly he was put on trial in Copenhagen
after 1, but thanks to the testimony of numerous Jews who had survived with his
help, his sentence was commuted from death to ve years imprisonment.
What interests Herbert about Best, and is the focal point of his book which goes far
beyond a traditional biography is the voWlkisch mentality, the similarity of the
biographies of the leading group within the RSHA. They were almost all administrative
specialists with academic ambitions, barely over thirty, members of the war generation
who had not seen active service in the First World War, but had been crucially aected
by their experience of war and, as students in the 1ios, had had access to voWlkisch-
nationalist circles.
Ulrich Herberts objective is to combine biographical studies with more general issues
of contemporary historiography. This is all the more challenging in his chosen case
because of the specic phenomenon that the political history of our century,
characterized by numerous and far-reaching caesuras, was to some extent held together
by the life-histories of individuals and divided in a dierent way, so that what seems to
be quite separate historically and politically, was still experienced by people as a
biographical unit . Herbert also traces the continuity in the life of Best, who remained
true to himself, after 1. As legal adviser to Stinnes Best gave evidence at numerous
post-war trials as a defence witness for his former collegues, organized a campaign for
a general amnesty for former Nazis in conjunction with the FDP in North Rhine
Westfalia, and sought to inuence historiography on the Nazi period by willingly
providing information. His voWlkisch mentality remained the major constant in Bests
seventy-year political activity. He attributed the collapse of the Third Reich to mistakes
and shortcomings, particularly to the fact that Hitler did not have a voWlkisch mentality
and did not act in accordance with a voWlkisch ideology.
This biographical study is exceptional in the breadth of source material the author
uses, his masterly command of research to date and the excellent reconstruction of Bests
career. However, the method chosen does have two essential drawbacks : uncritical
acceptance of Bests contemporary statements, and overestimation of his role in the
genocide and in the Nazi hierarchy. Reviewers such as Eberhard Ja$ ckel have taken this
even further than Herbert. However, there must be serious doubts about branding Best
as one of those mainly responsible for murdering the Jews and as a formulator of Nazi
ideology. One only has to look at the structure of his personality, and at the fact that,
because of his notorious tendency towards dogmatism and insistence on legal niceties,
Heydrich could not stand him and eectively put him on the shelf. The crucial role in
the organizational development of the RSHA was played by SS-Fu$ hrer Ho$ hn and
Ohlendorf, and the most important SS-Fu$ hrer under Heydrich in later years were
Mu$ ller and Nebe, not Best who had left the RSHA in 1o.
Despite these obvious shortcomings and questionable methodology Herberts book
marks a turning point in research on the Third Reich. Its reception shows, rst, the
enhanced status of biography-type studies in present-day German historiography.
Secondly, Herbert addresses issues already raised by critical historical science, for
example those rst formulated in the 6os and os by the Bielefeld school around Hans-
Ulrich Wehler. In Germany today dealing with the Nazi past has generally become less
emotional. But the moral legacy, the inconceivable nature of the murder of the Jews,
remains the focal point of research on Nazism. Critical theses, even if connected with an
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
accusation of collective guilt as in the case of Daniel Goldhagen, have greater appeal in
Germany today than twenty or thirty years ago.
This general climatic change may also account for the fact that in the mid-os the role
of historians suddenly became the subject of critical examination. To be more precise,
it was a question of the early careers of now-prominent German historians during the
Nazi period: Karl Dietrich Erdmann, Theodor Schieder, and Werner Conze. There
had previously been no great inclination amongst German historians to delve into the
history of their own discipline during the Nazi period. But, as the baton was passed to
a younger generation, the tacit consensus that had existed for years was suddenly called
into question. The accusations made by Martin Kro$ ger and Roland Thimme$) or Go$ tz
Aly$* hit home and could not remain unchallenged. After all, the charge of having kept
quiet about brown patches in their own lives was aimed at historians who had had a
decisive inuence upon contemporary research on the Third Reich and on the
university landscape in Germany.
The Kiel historian Karl Dietrich Erdmann died in 1o. In his obituary, written by
his pupil Eberhard Ja$ ckel for the Historische Zeitschrift, he was praised for his refusal to
compromise and his Christian humanity, which had protected him from national
arrogance.%! Erdmann was born in 11o, and, having completed his studies, spent some
time from 1 onwards as a school teacher. The Nazis had banned him from a
university career. In 18\ he had several dierent jobs with various industrial
concerns, among them as a time-keeper and a French translator. With the outbreak of
war in 1 Erdmann became a soldier. In 1, wounded and decorated, he left active
service as a battalion commander and spent the last years of the war as an instructor.
After the war he completed his Habilitation under Peter Rassow (1) and then
embarked upon a glittering career: founder and editor of the periodical Geschichte in
Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 1, a chair at Kiel University, 16i, chairman of the
Verband der Historiker Deutschlands, member of the presidium (from 1o), and president
of the Internationales Kommitee der Geschichtswissenschaften (18o).
In the light of new documents Erdmann is now accused by the historians Kro$ ger and
Thimme of having fabricated parts of his curriculum vitae before 1 and of having
presented himself, wrongly, as a determined opponent of Nazism. The key element in
the accusations is Erdmanns contribution to the school textbook Das Erbe der Ahnen, in
which he wrote the section in the fourth volume on the early Bismarck era and the one
in the fth volume which ended with the Anschlu of Austria in 18. The book was
never actually published since the control authority refused permission. The style and
theme of the sections dealt with by Erdmann, the emphasis on the heroic, the national,
and the social, do bear a striking resemblance to the Lingua Terzi Imperii, as described
by Victor Klemper. Kro$ ger and Thimme liberally quote these passages, which sound so
strange today. But they fail to take account of the fact that, although the formulations
$) Martin Kro$ ger and Roland Thimme, Die Geschichtsbilder des Historikers Karl Dietrich Erdmann
(Munich, 16).
$* Go$ tz Aly, Macht, Geist, Wahn: KontinuitaWten deutschen Denkens (Berlin, 1).
%! Eberhard Ja$ ckel, Karl Dietrich Erdmann 11o1o, Historische Zeitschrift, ii (1o),
pp. i, also in Hartmut Boockmann and Kurt Ju$ rgensen, eds., Nachdenken uWber Geschichte :
BeitraWge aus der O
W
kumene der Historiker : in memoriam Karl Dietrich Erdmann (Neumu$ nster, 11),
pp. 1. The memorial volume for Erdmann, in its scholarly depth and intellectual complexity, is
testimony to Erdmanns exceptional international reputation.
8 nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
they object to can certainly be seen as evidence of Erdmanns ability to adapt to the
exigencies of his time, they do not serve as evidence of a Nazi mentality. The burden
of proof of the other documents appears to be similarly fabricated: a circular letter by
German exchange students in France composed by Erdmann as a twenty-three-year-
old student, or Erdmanns letters from the front, in which the historian expands on the
subject of how Frances future role in Europe depended on the extent of its military
involvement. To conclude from Erdmanns letters as a soldier that he shared Hitlers
views on Frances place in the new Nazi system for Europe is really contrived.
Erdmanns pupils Agnes Bla$ nsdorf and Eberhard Ja$ ckel have therefore quite rightly
vehemently rejected the interpretation of Kro$ ger and Thimme.%"
Go$ tz Aly attacks the established historians even more forcefully.%# Werner Conze,
doyen of German social history, did his Habilitation under Gunther Ipsen in 1o. In the
early 1os he was writing on population issues, and recommended in the language of
the time that Jews be removed from cities and small market towns to make room in
trade and commerce for the new rural generation, as an eective measure against the
poverty in the many over-populated rural areas of eastern central Europe.%$ Aly also
considers the Cologne historian Theodor Schieder (1o88) to be similarly discredited,
since in a memorandumof October 1 he had called for the eradication of the Jews
from Polish cities .%% Now, however dubious the traditional anti-Semitism in the above
quotations may be, individual pieces cannot as Aly, Kro$ ger, and Thimme have
done simply be taken completely out of context and blown up into a political issue. On
another page they say that Conze and Schieder, despite all they have done for German
historical science, have not, in their own recollections of their early years and works
during the Nazi period, applied the same critical method and open-mindedness that
they demand for their academic work. Lamentable shortcomings become apparent
here, which in some cases certainly lead to personal disappointments and require
unprejudiced clarication by historical science. The historical scandal which Go$ tz Aly
and other authors make of it all is not supported by evidence, but their work is
representative of a historical profession which, in its research into Nazism, is now only
marginally inuenced by personal experience, and is increasingly critical of members of
its own guild.
The diaries of the German Jew Victor Klemperer, over 1,ioo pages long, have also
enjoyed enormous public success, and this too is connected with the changed
perspectives and enduring interest in the Nazi period.%& Victor Klemperer, member of
a famous academic family and professor of romance languages at Dresden, shared the
fate of those Jews who, despite relentless harassment by the Nazis and an ever-increasing
danger to body and soul, remained in Germany. Having fought in the First World War,
he considered himself a German patriot and chose to defy the demon at the side of his
non-Jewish wife, Eva Klemperer. He sacriced his professional position and became
socially more and more isolated, made it his mission, as he wrote in July 1, to carry
on observing, noting and studying right up to the very last . The product of this process
is a unique document humain: the minute details of a hopeless struggle for spirit, culture,
%" See Diskussion: Karl Dietrich Erdmann und der Nationalsozialsmus, mit Beitra$ gen von
Winfried Schulze, Eberhard Ja$ ckel und Agnes Bla$ nsdorf , Wissenschaft und Unterricht, (1),
pp. iio. %# Aly, Macht, Geist, Wahn. %$ Ibid., p. i6i. %% Ibid., p. 1.
%& Victor Klemperer, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: TagebuWcher .,.,,, (i vols., Berlin,
1).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws
and daily survival. Klemperer was neither a hero nor a resistance ghter. For a long
time he closed his eyes to the fatal consequences of Nazi ideology. He misjudged the
banality of evil, but at the same time his eye was good enough to expose the Third Reich
mercilessly through the lens of his diary entries. In the individual fate of the educated
Jewish bourgeois, whose very existence was threatened, and in his daily struggle, the
history of Germany and the Third Reich is again unfurled before the readers eyes :
seizure of power and Gleichschaltung, rejoicing and agreement in the early years,
outbreak of war and military triumph, murder of the Jews, total war, inferno, and
twilight of the gods. The inner cohesion and merciless frankness with which Klemperer
records his life story, or rather his daily resistance, and thereby writes an inglorious
chapter of German history, are what distinguish the book. It is also a reminder that in
Nazi Germany there was only a handful of decent men and women who actually
embarked upon the road to resistance.
III
In striking contrast to proportions of this historical phenomenon is the enormous
journalistic interest since 1 in German opposition against Hitler. The way in which
resistance to Nazismis dealt with in Germany reects the historical consciousness of the
present and the contemporary political climate of the Federal Republic. The debates
about the failed coup detat of io July 1 have become a reection of the political
present. The Cold War and German Question, the great discussions of the post-war
period on rearmament, Western integration, emergency legislation, the statute of
limitations and VergangenheitsbewaWltigung, are all reected in the stages and phases of
research into resistance against Nazism.
At the time of the assassination attempt the majority of Germans may no longer have
been pro Hitler, but they had not yet really turned against him. The German resistance
was no Resistenza and no French Resistance, rebelling against an oppressive foreign
power. Under the specic conditions of the Second World War German resistance was
always tied up with the moral dilemma that the price for bringing down the regime
might be defeat of the fatherland. The stigma of supposed treachery constantly dogged
the resistance ghters after the war. Even during the war the British and Americans
found it dicult to understand the strange attitude of the German opposition: against
Hitler, but for their own nation.
The vain attempts by Hitlers German opponents to gain support from the British
and Americans have always been of interest to German resistance literature. But it has
remained the preserve of Anglo-Saxon historians and former e! migre! s from Nazi
Germany to make the crucial contributions regarding the foreign contacts of the
resistance to Hitler within Germany.%' This fact is brought home to us again by a
collection of essays recently edited by Klaus-Ju$ rgen Mu$ ller and David Dilks.%( The
essays are of variable quality: Lothar Kettenackers review of the historiography is
%' Above all Klemens von Klemperer, The search for allies abroad: the Allies and the German resistance
against Hitler, .,!.,,, (Oxford, 1i).
%( Klaus-Ju$ rgen Mu$ ller and David Dilks, eds., Grobritannien und der deutsche Widerstand,
.,.,,, (Paderborn, 1).
6o nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
masterly, Klemens von Klemperer on the foreign policy of the resistance and Peter
Homann on Stauenberg are solid. Heinz Boberach has little new to say about the
eects of the Allied air-war in the light of SD reports , Pauline Elkes says nothing
signicant about the political warfare executive, and just what Ulrich Herberts essay
on resistance by foreign forced labourers is doing in a volume about Great Britain and
the German resistance remains the editors little secret.
By and large, much the same applies to the socio-political ideas of those who opposed
Hitler as to the German resistances relations with other countries. All in all, German
historians have been much more critical of the German opposition than those in Britain.
In particular the angry young men among German historians see the men of io July as
predominantly conservative, sometimes even reactionary, notables, whose aim was not
to re-establish democracy but to transform the country into an authoritarian
corporative state and who, in their attempts to achieve peace, would have done better
to follow the motto: Less talk, more action.
Anyone interested in an accurate overview of the present trends, focal points,
controversies, and methodological problems in research on the German resistance
should take a look at the proceedings of an academic conference held in Berlin to mark
the oth anniversary of io July, which were re-published in 1.%)
In the decade since the book was rst published various details of research may have
changed, but the essence remains largely the same. The essays in this collection show
how the approach to research on the resistance has changed since the decades
immediately after the war. Nowadays it does not only focus on the conservative and
Christian opposition to Hitler. Other socially relevant groups are also looked at, and
likewise the development of resistance during the consolidation phase of the Nazi
regime, the social and political objectives of individual actors, and the relationship
between the resistance and German society. In resistance research, which has become
quite ramied, methodological questions and establishing concepts play an increasingly
important role. The themes of this collection of essays are the motives of the men of
io July, a comparison of the coup deTtat of i July 1 with that of io July 1 (Jerzy W.
Borejsza) and the ambivalent position of Canaris and the Abwehr (Heinz Ho$ hne). Thus
this collection edited by Schma$ decke and Steinbach takes up the issues rst presented
in Hermann Gramls edition of the mid-16os,%* and develops the approaches adopted
there.
The extent to which the concept of resistance in Germany is still a political issue
became apparent in the discussion that unfolded on the occasion of the oth anniversary
in July 1 as to whether the communist resistance and the Nationalkomitee Freies
Deutschland should be included in an overall view of the German opposition. This is
precisely the approach taken by Peter Steinbach who, as head of the GedenkstaWtte
Deutscher Widerstand, is responsible for the permanent exhibition in Berlin devoted to the
resistance against Nazism. He pleads emphatically for the concept of resistance to be
extended to include the men of the Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, formed in Soviet
captivity, and the Bund Deutscher Oziere. Steinbach, who is also co-editor of the
collection Der Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus, has done much to broaden our
%) Ju$ rgen Schma$ decke and Peter Steinbach, Der Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus : die
deutsche Gesellschaft und der Widerstand gegen Hitler (Munich, 1).
%* Hermann Graml, ed., Widerstand imDritten Reich: Probleme, Ereignisse, Gestalten (Frankfurt\M.,
1).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws 61
knowledge of the resistance. When it comes to acquainting a wide public with the events
of io July 1, Steinbach is one of the most prolic writers of brochures and newspaper
articles. The diverse pieces collected here bear witness to this in a most impressive way,
even if in the case of Steinbach, as so often, quantity does not necessarily equal quality.&!
This reviewer is not really convinced by Steinbachs view that resistance should be
interpreted in the broader sense. Resistance behind barbed wire and an appreciation of
the espionage activities of the Rote Kapelle do not belong in the same exhibition room as
the would-be assassins of io July.
Since it began immediately after the war, research into German resistance against
Hitler has always concentrated on the lives of outstanding personalities in the resistance
movement. The choice and emphasis allows political conclusions to be drawn and
indicates that views of the resistance can change with time. Thus it is hardly surprising
that Adamvon Trott, whose fate caused a stir in the 16os with the publication of Henry
Malones Encounter, has attracted far greater interest in Britain than in Germany. For his
personality, which matured at an early stage, displayed characteristics hardly
identiable with the German national character. He was a young genius, sensitive and
irritable, and no one found him easy to get on with, was how his friend and colleague
in the German resistance, Albrecht von Kessel, put it. Personality, background,
international friends, and understanding of the Anglo-Saxon culture predestined Trott,
the Rhodes Scholar, to be a middle-man between the German resistance and the free
world. Amember of the German Foreign Service since 1o, Trott undertook numerous
secret missions, even after the outbreak of war, in which he tried to get Britons and
Americans to listen to the voice of the other, better Germany and to sound out possible
peace conditions. In vain; he came up against a wall of silence and in 1, in the
United States, was suspected of being sent abroad by Hitler as an agent provocateur.
By the 1os Adamvon Trotts widow, Clarita, had already assembled all the written
evidence of her husbands activities on behalf of the resistance. This collection was a
treasure-trove for historians, and extracts were published in various places in 16o.
Only now, however, is it available in book form.&" The strange mixture of commentary
and original quotations taken out of context is certainly no substitute for a trip to the
archive. But this collection of material does give an impression of Trotts fascinating
personality and ceaseless commitment, the self-doubts that tormented him, his inner
tribulations, the loneliness of the conspirator, and the dilemma of a patriot who was
praying for his countrys defeat, while his main concern was Germanys future role in a
free Europe. Germany and Europe Trott was still preoccupied with this topic even in
the face of death. He wrote to his wife from prison: What pains me most is that I will
perhaps no longer be able to serve our country using the powers and experiences I have
gained by an almost excessively one-sided concentration on standing up for it amongst
the foreign powers (1 August 1). We can only hope that this material will lead to
a comprehensive biography, after Christopher Sykess failed attempt&# and Henry
Malones&$ work which, though pertinent enough, only goes up to 18.
&! Peter Steinbach, Widerstand im Widerstreit : der Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus in der
Erinnerung der Deutschen (ind edn, Paderborn, 16).
&" Clarita von Trott zu Solz, Adam von Trott zu Solz: eine Lebensbeschreibung, Schriften der
Gedenksta$ tte Deutscher Widerstand, series B: Quellen und Berichte, ed. Peter Steinbach and
Johannes Tuchel (Berlin, 1). &# Christopher Sykes, Troubled loyalty (London, 168).
&$ Henry Malone, Adam von Trott zu Solz: Werdegang eines VerschwoWrers .,c,.,, (Berlin, 186).
6i nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
Understandably, of all the men of io July 1 the one that attracts the greatest
interest in Germany is the would-be assassin himself. Amongst broad sections of the
public the name of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauenberg has, in some way, become
synonymous with resistance to Hitler. Early biographical sketches were produced in the
immediate post-war period, but recent years have seen no less than three biographies :
Kurt Finkers work, which shows his long path fromMarxist historiography to a rened
picture of the aristocratic conspirator, Peter Homanns double biography of the
Stauenberg brothers that combines denitive, scholarly meticulousness with the nose
of the detective and masterly command of the material, and, right on time for the
anniversary, Eberhard Zellers portrait, written with great sensitivity and sympathy.&%
Zeller had been to the same school as Stauenberg, had briey met himduring the war,
and crucial for his biography was a close friend of Stauenbergs colleague, Fahrner.
What distinguishes Zellers work is its proximity to the hero. It picks up sometimes
verbatim parts of the authors earlier work, including Geist der Freiheit,&& which has
since become a history of resistance in itself. Obviously Zeller, a GP by profession, could
not grapple with the state of research and source material to the same extent as someone
like Peter Homann whose double biography represents the sum of a life of research on
the German resistance. Zellers strength is his personal touch, his presentation of
Stauenbergs formative years, and his intellectual development. Personal testimonies
and numerous conversations with Stauenbergs accomplices allow the picture to
emerge of a literary-minded, highly gifted ocer, a picture which in many respects is
extraordinary.
Most extraordinary of all is the determination with which, having recovered from
injuries sustained during the Africa campaign in 1, he pushed for action as chief-of-
sta to the commander-in-chief of the reserve army. While still in the eld hospital
Stauenberg had written to his wife that he must do something to save the Reich. In his
new job he became a driving force, killing Hitler his vital objective. Via middlemen,
including Otto John and Hans-Bernd Gisevius, he took soundings abroad as to how the
Western powers would react to a Germany free of Hitler. In the last resort Stauenberg
not only took upon himself the burden of the assassination attempt, but also, on io July
1, travelled the oo km from Rastenberg to Berlin to set the coup detat in motion
himself. In the end the would-be assassin was himself unsure about his chances of
success. And at the decisive moment fortune did not favour the conspirators. But at this
stage, the main thing, as far as Stauenberg was concerned, was to have tried to save
Germanys honour by this liberating deed for the sake of his own conscience and that of
the German people.
Finally, two further collections are dedicated to the lives of the men of io July : one
by Lill and Oberreuther,&' of which a new edition came out in time for the oth
anniversary, and one by Klemperer, Syring, and Zitelmann.&( Some authors appear in
&% Kurt Finker, Der .c. Juli .,,,: MilitaWrputsch oder Revolution? (Berlin, 1); Peter Homann,
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauenberg und seine BruWder (Stuttgart, 1i); Eberhard Zeller, Oberst Claus Graf
Stauenberg: ein Lebensbild (Paderborn, 1).
&& Eberhard Zeller, Geist der Freiheit (Munich, 16).
&' Rudolf Lill and Heinrich Oberreuther, eds., .c. Juli. PortraWts des Widerstands (Du$ sseldorf and
Vienna, 1).
&( Klemens von Klemperer, Enrico Syring, and Rainer Zitelmann, eds., FuWr Deutschland : die
MaWnner des .c. Juli (Frankfurt\M. and Berlin, 1).
nr s 1onr oon.vnr .i ni\r iws 6
both volumes, for example Gregor Scho$ llgen on Hassell and Reiner Pommerin on
Witzleben. In both cases the selection of authors is not always convincing renowned
scholars alongside those who have done little original research on the topic in question.
The quality of the essays therefore varies considerably. Surprising in the case of
Klemperer, Syring, and Zitelmann is the unfortunate attempt in the introduction to
present a revisionist view of the resistance from a national-conservative perspective.
What is useful, however, is the editors decision to conclude each essay with brief notes
on sources and other literature. Both volumes make it immediately apparent that the
information available about individual members of the resistance in Germany is
extremely variable. German resistance historiography, with its inclination towards
systematics, has often concentrated too much on particular groups (Kreisau circle,
Hassell-Goerdeler-Beck group). In so doing it has lost sight of the fact that resistance
against Hitler was largely a matter of a few courageous individuals, linked to a greater
or lesser degree by bonds of friendship. This concentration on groups has meant that
research into the resistance has progressed most unevenly in Germany, and in particular
that those personalities who cannot readily be categorized as belonging either to the
regime or the opposition have not been given adequate attention. So far there is no work
on the Berlin police chief Graf Helldorf, an alter KaWmpfer and former SA lout, who was
hanged for his part in preparing the io July coup, or the Reichskriminaldirektor Arthur
Nebe, an equivocal character of dubious reputation, who only escaped Helldorf s fate
by committing suicide. Likewise there is nothing on Hans-Bernd Gisevius who went to
ground after io July and escaped to Switzerland with the help of Allen Dulles, or
another of Dulless chums, the naturalized American Gero von Gaevernitz.
Other recent works on the German resistance worth a mention are a competently
compiled lexicon&) which provides initial orientation, and a historical reader of classical
resistance texts selected by Peter Steinbach and Johannes Tuchel.&* This is likewise
intended as an introduction, though because it is based on such a broad concept of
resistance (including the Rote Kapelle) it brings with it a specic political view. Another
work is the volume of illustrations edited by Ulrich Cartarius,'! in which the vividness
of the impressive pictures is often more expressive than many of the words in the
accompanying text.
Finally, also in time for the oth anniversary, the German resistance was duly
honoured in the masterly work by Joachim Fest.'" Like the new edition of the classical
appreciation written in the immediate post-war period by Hans Rothfels'# who
returned from America and became the doyen of contemporary history the great
achievement of Fests book is that it follows the long and winding road of the German
resistance right to its bitter end, the failed assassination attempt, and presents the story
in its entirety for a wide public. Fest does not, however, produce any new material, but
relies exclusively on the existing literature, without investigating new archive sources.
&) Wolfgang Benz and Walter H. Pehle, eds., Lexikon des deutschen Widerstands (Frankfurt\M.,
1).
&* Peter Steinbach and Johannes Tuchel, eds., Widerstand in Deutschland .,.,,,: ein historisches
Lesebuch (Munich, 1).
'! Ulrich Cartarius, Opposition gegen Hitler : Bilder, Texte, Dokuments : Mit einem Essay von Karl
Othmar von Aretin (Berlin, 1).
'" Joachim Fest, Staatsstreich: der lange Weg zum .c. Juli (Berlin, 1).
'# Hans Rothfels, Deutsche Opposition gegen Hitler : eine WuWrdigung (Zurich, 1; 1st edn 18).
6 nr s 1onr .i j oinx.i
One of the surviving conspirators, Otto John, described Stauenbergs assassination
attempt as wrong and too late. But was the net result of the secret struggle against
Hitlers Third Reich really nothing more than a big zero ? In the summer of 1 the
German Reichs room for manoeuvre, both politically and militarily, was small, to say
the least. Defeat was inevitable, free choice between East and West no longer possible.
Even if the assassination attempt had succeeded, Stauenberg would have had no
alternative but to end the war by quick capitulation. At the time of the putsch the
victorious powers had already decided to divide the Reich into zones of occupation. And
yet, beyond all disappointments about the lack of support from abroad, and despite the
numerous instances of half-heartedness, mistakes, and wrong calculations in preparing
the assassination attempt, io July is still an essential part of the nations heritage as
Fest points out in his concluding remarks. By bearing witness to a decent Germany, the
men of io July played a crucial part in ensuring that after the war the Federal Republic
was embraced relatively quickly by the free democracies of the Western world. And
memory of this also has its place in the reunied Germany. The German state is aware
that the post-war democracy was built upon the ruins of the dictatorship, and that the
line of continuity in Germany history was broken by the barbarism of the Nazis. So it
has kept alive in the public consciousness the memory of the courageous struggle by a
few decent men who resisted totalitarian seduction, by the annual state ceremony to
commemorate io July 1, by declaring i January, the day on which Auschwitz was
liberated by Allied troops in 1, to be a national memorial day, and by the teaching
of history and political education. This will not change, even though in the years to
come the number of people who personally experienced the Nazi period will continue
to decline. The task of historians and the public is to make sure that interest does not
dwindle. For, as the Jewish wisdom goes, memory is the secret of deliverance.