The Western Front

Where Have All the Nazis Gone?

Back in the 1960’s, as a graduate student at Yale, I kept hearing that the Germans had still not confronted their past.  They would do so only when they understood that Hitler, as explained by German leftist historian Fritz Fischer, was not a Betriebsunfall (operational accident) but emerged from Germany’s history, which went in a straight line from Bismarck to Auschwitz.  Fischer, a Nordic-looking Hamburg historian who died in 1999 at age 91, had set out to prove, from archival sources supposedly made available to him in East Germany, that the German imperial government had launched World War I in a quest for world hegemony.  Despite his argument having been largely refuted by the 1970’s, Fischer’s view of the Germans bearing exclusive guilt for World War I carried the day at home and abroad.  Anglophone conservatives Paul Johnson and Donald Kagan have been as enthusiastic as the German left in embracing this thesis.  Last year, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder expressed shock when German literary historian Martin Walser stated the obvious: Believing in Fischer was intended as an act of German contrition for the holocaust and had nothing to do with scholarship.

Fischer’s critics, starting with the estimable historians Gerhard Ritter, Joachim Remak, and Golo Mann, had all been anti-Nazis.  The SS arrested Ritter in November 1944 for participating in the plot...

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