Historians under the Nazi Regime

German Historiography and Its Relation to the "Volkstumskampf im Osten"

(Last modified December 1997)

On 11 October 1939 Johannes Papritz, as the representative of the Nord- and Ostdeutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (NOFG, North and East German Research Community), issued a memorandum on »Germanization of Poznan and Western Prussia«. In this paper, the German specialists on Eastern Europe called for the resettlement of about 2.9 million Poles from the areas ceded under the Treaty of Versailles. At the same time, they recommended that the entire Jewish population should have its property confiscated and be deported to make way for »the simultaneous settlement by a group including all classes of the German population, with a healthy social order«. This key document was the product of a large research network, loyal to Nazi goals and including representatives of various disciplines, which operated since 1934 under the auspices of the NOFG. Among its proponents were the most prominent representatives of German historiography: Hermann Aubin and Albert Brackmann, Hans Rothfels and Reinhard Wittramm, Werner Conze and Theodor Schieder. All these specialists for Eastern European history made their knowledge available to the Nazi regime, using it to justify the Germanization of the »Eastern areas« and to produce demographic expertises on the »Jewish question« which supported Germanization strategies.

In order to reconstruct the path taken by German historiography with the National Socialist regime, the project examines both the biographies and publications by historians and the bureaucratic planning processes and institutions involved. This research is related to that of a number of other, for the most part younger, historians in that it also aims to elucidate the rational processes behind the Holocaust. This analysis of source material is intended to provide the basis for breaking the collective vow of silence that has surrounded this subject and so contribute to a reappraisal of the role of historians in National Socialism. The Hamburg Institute for Social Research provided funding from October 1996 until December 1997 in the final phase of work on this study.