Icon by Carlos LunaGerman Historians

To understand German historical thinking there are two substantially important pieces of ideology buried within all German historians. Fundamentally, German nationalism, since it's earliest beginnings, has fostered ideas of a higher German fraternity and superiority. Secondly, the idea that the individual's greatest purpose in life is to give himself up to the will and control of the community. The latter can be traced back to Wilhelm von Humboldt, German scholar, philosopher and diplomat. The spiritual German state known as Machtstaat is said to be "history's driving force" within Germany. Since the state is infallible and to a point god-like in the eyes of Germans, all Imperialist and military actions by the government is justified. Many of the prominent and highly talented German historians such as Leopold von Ranke and Freidrich Meinecke have been noted as seeing German History and what drives in this kind of ideology.

During the Third Reich the liquidation of any historian who opposed the regime was assured. For example, in 1935 the disintegration of the prestigious Historische Reichskmmission, which opposed the Nazi's, was accomplished by the young historian Walter Frank, a hard-line anti-Semitic and socialist. Frank, with the help from the Nazi's, created the Reichinstitut fur Geshichte des neuen Deutshland. This was to be the center for the historical data produced by the Third Reich. Frank set up his Institute into three departments " The Jewish Question", "Political leadership in the World War", and "Post- war History." All three departments were headed by committed Nazi historians Karl Alexander von Muller, Erich Marks and Heinrich Ritter von Srbik. The opening of the institute in 1935 was a State affair with both the SA and SD. Included was Nazi rank and file such as Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Deputy, and Alfred Rosenberg. Between 1937 and 1944 the Institute published 9 volumes on the Judenfrage alone, not including the annual conferences held to further discuss the matter. It is undoubted that the main focus of Frank's Institute was on anti-Semitism. Soon Frank, an eccentric man, had estranged his assistant Wilhelm Grau. Grau was autonomous and surpassed Frank's reputation by his initiative, which got him fired. Grau found a job working for the city of Frankfort. The mayor of Frankfort wanted to expand the cities reputation for anti-Semitic passion. Grau soon set up his own institute, Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage. Both this institute and Frank's continued to work until the end of the war.
The Nuremberg Trials-National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Photograph of the defendent's box at the Nuremberg Trial. Göring and
Hess are in the front row, extreme left.
Photo from the National Archives.

The post war period is marked with shame and guilt, most German citizens chose to deny all that had happened. However, German historians had a "professional obligation" to fulfill. Meinecke in 1946 published his book The German Catastrophe in which he argued that German National Socialism was not part of the pattern demonstrated in the past by Germany politically. He viewed it mostly as an anomaly which had occurred in Europe. In addition according to Meinecke history is made by key events or luck. As an example of this he mentions Hitler's appointment as Chancellor by Hindenburg. In addition he also attributes Hitler's rise to power to luck: it was all luck that Hitler managed to convince the German public to kill millions. How else would you explain it? Meunike fails completely in properly addressing the rise of National Socialism in Germany.

Gerherd Ritter, a contemporary of Meinecke, published a similar thesis. He, like Meinecke, saw it mainly a European problem with dictatorships that had been started by Napoleon. Ritter also failed to sufficiently cover the death of 6 million Jews within Europe under the Third Reich. In 1961, Fritz Fischer published the first definitive book dealing with World War II and the Holocaust. Fischer concluded that the German government had full cooperation and support from all classes of society to the colonization and extermination of Europe. To attain their objectives Germany prepared and launched a war. Fischer proved that both Meinecke and Ritter had based their respective thesis on fallacies. Fischer stated that National Socialism was just an extension from German hegemony in the past and that is was innate in all of Germany to be militaristic ,superior and imperialist. Fischer was the first in a new generation of German historians to acknowledge what happened in the war. His affect on modern German historians is substantial.