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“This Story Is about Something Fundamental”: Nazi Criminals, History, Memory, and the Reichstag Fire

  • Benjamin Carter Hett (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

For more than eighty years there has been controversy about who set the fire that destroyed the plenary chamber of the Reichstag fire on the evening of February 27, 1933—thereby handing the Nazis a pretext to gut the democratic Weimar constitution through the emergency “Reichstag Fire Decree.” Since the 1960s there has been a consensus among historians that the fire was set by Marinus van der Lubbe, a twenty-four-year-old Dutch journeyman stonemason supposedly acting alone—with no Nazi involvement. Few historians, however, have been inclined to investigate the motives behind the development of this single-culprit narrative, or the reasons for its generally positive reception among postwar German historians. With the aid of newly discovered sources, this article examines the legal and political interests that have underpinned this narrative. The single-culprit narrative was developed by ex-Nazis, whereas accounts of the Reichstag fire stressing Nazi complicity came almost invariably from former resistance fighters and victims of Nazism. Postwar historians responded to these accounts in much the same way they have responded to perpetrator and victim accounts of the Holocaust: with a markedly greater preference for those of the perpetrators. This tendency has shaped the debate over the Reichstag fire in the same way it has shaped other areas of research on the Third Reich.

Seit nunmehr über achtzig Jahren streiten sich die Geister darüber, wer genau am Abend des 27. Februar 1933 den Reichstag in Brand gesetzt und dabei den Nationalsozialisten den Vorwand geliefert hat, die Weimarer Verfassung durch die sogenannte Reichstagsbrandverordnung auszuhebeln. Unter Historikern besteht seit den 60er Jahren der Konsens, dass es sich bei dem Brandstifter um einen Einzeltäter—den niederländischen Maurergesellen Marinus van der Lubbe—gehandelt habe; die Nationalsozialisten selbst hätten dagegen nichts mit dem Brand zu tun gehabt. Interessanterweise haben nur wenige Historiker die Motive hinter der These, dass es sich um einen Einzeltäter gehandelt haben soll, sowie die Gründe für die allgemein positive Rezeption dieser Behauptung unter deutschen Nachkriegshistorikern beleuchtet. Der hier vorliegende Artikel jedoch wendet sich—unter Einbeziehung neu entdeckter Quellen—bewußt den juristischen und politischen Hintergrundsinteressen der These vom Einzeltäter zu. Diese wurde nämlich von ehemaligen Nationalsozialisten entwickelt, während Versionen des Reichstagsbrandes, die eine Komplizenschaft der Nationalsozialisten nahelegten, fast ausschließlich von ehemaligen Widerstandskämpfern und Opfern der NS-Diktatur vorgetragen wurden. Aus diesen Gründen reagierten Nachkriegshistoriker auf diese Versionen der Geschichte auf eine ganz ähnliche Weise wie auf Berichte von Tätern und Opfern des Holocausts, nämlich mit einer bemerkenswerten Neigung den Berichten der Tätern mehr als denen der Opfer zu glauben—eine Tendenz, die bis vor kurzem nicht nur die Debatte über den Reichstagsbrand, sondern auch andere Forschungsgebiete des Dritten Reiches beeinflusst hat.

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1 Gisevius Hans Bernd, Bis zum bitteren Ende (Zurich: Fretz und Wasmuth Verlag, 1946); Idem, Bis zum bitteren Ende. Vom Reichstagsbrand bis zum 20. Juli 1944 (Hamburg: Rütten & Loening Verlag, 1960); Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH [Federal Institute of Technology, Archives of Contemporary History]), Nachlass (NL) Gisevius 16.24, judgment, Feb. 20, 1962; ETH NL Gisevius 16.27, letter from Gisevius to Sommer, Feb. 24, 1962.

2 On the controversy, see Gisevius, Bitteren Ende (1960); Tobias Fritz, Der Reichstagsbrand. Legende und Wirklichkeit (Rastatt: Grote, 1962); Mommsen Hans, “Der Reichstagsbrand und seine politischen Folgen,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (VfZ) 12, no. 4 (1964): 365413; Backes Uwe, et al. , Reichstagsbrand. Aufklärung einer historischen Legende (Munich: R. Piper, 1986); Kellerhoff Sven Felix, Der Reichstagsbrand. Die Karriere eines Kriminalfalls (Berlin: be.bra, 2008); Giebeler Marcus, Die Kontroverse um den Reichstagsbrand. Quellenprobleme und historiographische Paradigmen (Munich: Martin Meidenbauer Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2010); Bahar Alexander and Kugel Wilfried, Der Reichstagsbrand. Geschichte einer Provokation (Cologne: PapyRossa Verlag, 2013); Hett Benjamin Carter, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich's Enduring Mystery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Another useful resource is the collection of essays, reviews, and other articles available at http://www.zeitreisen.de/kulturbox-archiv/brand/.

3 The postwar Reichstag fire debate really began with Tobias's articles (ghostwritten by Gunther Zacharias), “Stehen Sie auf, van der Lubbe!,” Der Spiegel, Oct. 21, 1959–Jan. 6, 1960, followed by Tobias's 1962 book Der Reichstagsbrand and Hans Mommsen's 1964 article in VfZ. On the pointless polemics of the debate, see Graml Hermann, “Zur Debatte über den Reichstagsbrand,” in Der Reichstagsbrand und der Prozeß vor dem Reichsgericht, ed. Deiseroth Dieter (Berlin: Verlagsgesellschaft Tischler, 2006), 28. For the historians’ consensus on the subject, see, inter alia, Kershaw Ian, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 456–60 and nn111–28, 731–33; Evans Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich (New York: Penguin, 2004), 519n58.

4 Hett, Burning. The core of my argument there is twofold: 1) Various pieces of evidence and expert analysis establish beyond a reasonable doubt that one person with the time and equipment available to van der Lubbe could not have set the fire that destroyed the plenary chamber; and 2) a circumstantial case establishes on the balance of probabilities—thus, certainly, with room for doubt—that a group of storm troopers led by Hans Georg Gewehr set that fire.

5 See Hett, Burning; Berg Nicolas, Der Holocaust und die westdeutschen Historiker. Erforschung und Erinnerung (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2003), and the interesting forum on the book at http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/forum/id=412&type=diskussionen.

6 Fraenkel Ernst, The Dual State: A Contribution to the Theory of Dictatorship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), 3.

7 Diels Rudolf, Lucifer ante Portas. Zwischen Severing und Heydrich (Zurich: Interverlag A.G., 1949); Institut für Zeitgeschichte (IfZ) ZS/A-7, Anonymous (Schnitzler Heinrich), “Der Reichstagsbrand in anderer Sicht,” Neue Politik 10 (1949).

8 Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde (BABL) R. 3003/1, Zirpins's final report, March 3, 1933; Spiegel Archive (SpA) Tobias Papers, vol. 8, “Zacharias,” “Anmerkungen zum Hefter 11.”

9 Tobias, Reichstagsbrand, 88. Tobias thought the paper was called the Algemeen Handelsbladet.

10 “Van der Lubbe had geen Medebrandstichters,” Het Vaderland, March 11, 1933; BABL R. 3003/2, Justizpressestelle to RGR Vogt, March 15, 1933; “Brandstichting in Het Rijksdaggebouw,” Algemeen Handelsblad, March 11, 1933.

11 BABL R. 3003/199, letter from Diels to Goering, Aug. 11, 1933; BABL R. 3003/3, correspondence from Braschwitz to all Landeskriminalpolizeistellen, March 27, 1933; BABL R. 3003/156, memo, Sept. 25, 1933; Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen, Duisburg (LNRW-D) Rep. 372/992, testimony by Zirpins, July 6, 1961; LNRW-D Rep. 372/990, examination of Zirpins, Jan. 4, 1960. Tobias seems, not for the last time, to have threatened Zirpins with exposure of his wartime record if Zirpins did not amend this story. See IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 7, letters from Tobias to Zirpins, Jan. 16 and Feb. 13, 1960, and from Zirpins to Tobias, Feb. 9, 1960.

12 Rabinbach Anson, “Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, New German Critique 35, no. 1 103 (Spring 2008): 97126; Reed Douglas, The Burning of the Reichstag (London: Victor Gollancz, 1934), 299; Hays Arthur Garfield, City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942), 377–78; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Oct. 18, 1933.

13 BABL R. 3003/199, Sommerfeldt report on press conference, Oct. 6, 1933.

14 Some examples include the killing of Horst Wessel in 1930, the shooting of police officers Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenk at Bülowplatz in 1931, and the deadly fight at the Felseneck cottage colony in 1932. See Siemens Daniel, Horst Wessel. Tod und Verklärung eines Nationalsozialisten (Munich: Siedler Verlag, 2009); Hett Benjamin Carter, Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

15 Wallbaum Klaus, Der Überläufer. Rudolf Diels (1900–1957)—der erste Gestapo-Chef des Hitler-Regimes (Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 2010); Hett, Burning, 33, 87, 346n19; BABL BDC RS Film C 198 Heisig; BABL ZA VI/372, record 7, Heisig, reference for Schnitzler, Oct. 26, 1933.

16 Walter Zirpins, “Das Getto in Litzmannstadt, kriminalpolizeilich gesehen,” Kriminalistik. Monatshefte für die gesamte kriminalistische Wissenschaft u. Praxis 15, no. 9 (Sept. 1941) and no. 10 (Oct. 1941); Bundesarchiv Außenstelle Ludwigsburg (BA-L) B 162/5302, statement by Siegfried Koehrer, Nov. 25, 1959, and preliminary final report, April 5, 1960; BA-L B 162/2973, Schüle, Aktenvermerk, April 9, 1959; BA-L B 162/5303, progress report, April 13, 1963; Hett, Burning, 221, 226–27.

17 It worked on the prosecutor, though, who dropped the charges concerning the Reichstag fire and the deportation of Jews from Würzburg. In the end, the denazification tribunal placed Heisig in Category III, i.e., among the “less incriminated,” the least favorable denazification outcome for any of the former Gestapo men connected to the Reichstag fire. See Bundesarchiv Koblenz (BA-Koblenz), Sammlung Tobias (hereafter “Sammlung Tobias”; for more information see note 35), letter from Heisig to Diels, Oct. 12, 1948; Staatsarchiv München (StM), Spruchkammer Akten Karton 666, interrogation records of Heisig, Aug. 17, 1948; StM, Spruchkammer Akten Karton 666, protocol, Feb. 7, 1950.

18 Walter Zirpins, “Wir fanden Halacz,” Der Spiegel, Dec. 19, 1951; IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 7, letters from Zirpins to Bayerischer Rundfunk, Feb. 4, 1952, and from Zirpins to Wolff, July 28, 1955; Hett, Burning, 246.

19 Mommsen, “Der Reichstagsbrand”; Richard J. Evans, “The Conspiracists,” London Review of Books (LRB), May 8, 2014, and “Letters,” LRB, June 5, 2014.

20 LNRW-D Rep. 372/991, Braschwitz deposition, April 5, 1961.

21 LNRW-D Rep 372/993, JM NRW to GSTA Hamm, Aug. 23, 1960.

22 Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover (NHH) NDS 171 Hannover Nr. 28640, Entwurf der Anklageschrift; LNRW-D Rep. 372/278, Anklage, Nov. 1, 1950; NHH NDS 171 Hannover Nr. 28640, Entnaz. Hauptausschuss der Stadt Hannover, Entscheidung, March 31, 1952, and Verfügung, April 3, 1952; Sammlung Tobias, Schulz-Koffka to the court, Feb. 4, 1954.

23 Sammlung Tobias, Rudolf Diels Materials, memorandum, Hanover, Dec. 8, 1949; Hett, Burning, 226–28. The minister was Walter Menzel, son-in-law of former Prussian Interior Minister Carl Severing, one of the democratic politicians against whom Diels had conspired in the early 1930s.

24 NL Schnitzler (papers in the possession of Schnitzler's sons, copies with the author), letters from Schnitzler to Diels, March 20, 1948, from Sommerfeldt to Schnitzler, Dec. 26, 1952, from Schnitzler to Janich, March 3, 1948, from Diels to Schnitzler, Feb. 18, 1947, from Diels to Nina Faber-Castell, Feb. 23, 1948, and from Schnitzler to Diels, Feb. 29, 1948.

25 NL Schnitzler, letters from Schnitzler to “Willy,” March 19, 1948, and from Diels to Schnitzler, May 30, 1949.

26 Hett, Burning, 231.

27 Schnitzler, “Reichstagsbrand.”

28 Schnitzler, “Reichstagsbrand”; Rudolf Diels, “Die Nacht der langen Messer … fand nicht statt,” Der Spiegel, May 12-July 7, 1949; Diels, Lucifer, 147.

29 Karl-Heinz Janßen, “Geschichte aus der Dunkelkammer,” Die Zeit, Sept. 14, 1979, and “Unter falscher Flagge,” Die Zeit, Oct. 5, 1979; Backes et al., Reichstagsbrand.

30 Sammlung Tobias, Fritz Tobias, “Kurzer Rückblick auf die ersten fünfzig Jahre meines Lebens,” July 1, 1962; Bahar and Kugel, Reichstagsbrand: Provokation, 301; Friedrich Winterhager, e-mail to the author, May 10, 2013.

31 On Hofmann, see Böttcher Dirk et al. , Hannoversches Biographisches Lexikon (Hanover: Schlütersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2002), 175; on the ex-Nazi connections in the Lower Saxon postwar governments, see Nentwig Teresa, Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf (1893–1961). Ein konservativer Sozialdemokrat (Hanover: Hansche Buchhandlung, 2013), esp. 835–41, 738–809.

32 Sammlung Tobias, Rudolf Diels Materials, memoranda, Hanover, Dec. 8, 1949, and Feb. 22, 1951.

33 Wagner Patrick, Hitlers Kriminalisten. Die deutsche Kriminalpolizei und der Nationalsozialismus (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2002), 10, 171; IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 7, letters from Tobias to Zirpins, Jan. 16, 1960, and Feb. 13, 1960; SpA Tobias Papers, vol. 1, “Dr. Wehner,” letters from Wehner to Tobias, Jan. 18, 1951, and Dec. 21, 1951.

34 Fritz Tobias, interview with the author, Hanover, July 20, 2008.

35 Sammlung Tobias, Ordner Kripo-Zirpins, Tobias to Abteilung I, March 9, 1963. I am grateful to Dr. Alexander Baumgarten and Alexandra Kosubek of the BA-Koblenz for sending me a copy of this document. According to Dr. Baumgarten, who is in charge of the Nachlass section of the archive, the Sammlung Tobias, including this document, should be available to researchers sometime in 2015 or 2016; a full citation for this and other documents from Tobias's collection will not be available until Bundesarchiv staff have fully processed the materials.

36 I am grateful to Frau Dr. Karola Hagemann, of the Lower Saxon Landeskriminalamt, for explaining this distinction to me.

37 Ibid. Tobias did not make clear in this memo that, in 1951–52, the questions about Łódź—unlike those about the Reichstag fire—were internal to the interior ministry and not public. See Hett, Burning, 245–46, 263, 270–71.

38 Sammlung Tobias, Ordner Kripo-Zirpins, Tobias to Abteilung I, March 9, 1963.

39 Ibid. See also Hett, Burning, chaps. 8 and 9.

40 Sammlung Tobias, Ordner Kripo-Zirpins, Tobias to Abteilung I, March 9, 1963.

41 Richard J. Evans has criticized me severely on this point, writing that the involvement of people like Zirpins in war crimes was not “of any relevance to the fire, or to their alleged fear of being prosecuted in connection with it, though Hett makes their supposed anxiety the principal reason for Tobias's authorship of a 700-page book allegedly aimed at exculpating potential Nazi objects of prosecution for the fire.” To “portray Tobias as an old Nazi out to protect his former comrades from prosecution is to fly in the face of the evidence of his firm Social Democratic convictions as expressed in the concluding paragraphs of his book,” he continued. “If anything could be described as grossly flouting the core values of serious historical practice, it's surely this.” See Evans, “The Conspiracists,” and “Letters.” In my book on the fire, I raised the possibility that Tobias had written his book as an official assignment for the defense of Zirpins (see Hett, Burning, 272–82); the March 1963 memo cited here came to my attention after my book's publication and puts the matter beyond any doubt. I did not portray Tobias as “an old Nazi,” however (see the more nuanced discussion in Ibid., 272–73). In any case, abundant recent literature (some cited here), of which Evans is apparently unaware, shows that being a Social Democrat was hardly a guarantee of rigorous efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazis in postwar Germany. For other examples of Evans's disregard for the evidence, see the discussion on my website, “Reichstag Fire Debate,” at http://urban.hunter.cuny.edu/~hett/index.html. Evans was invited to read and respond to the present article in this journal, but declined.

42 Höhne Heinz, Mordsache Röhm. Hitlers Durchbruch zur Alleinherrschaft 1933–1934 (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1984), 286. I am grateful to Rainer Orth for this reference.

43 Fischler Hersch, “Neues zur Reichstagsbrandkontroverse,” in Der Reichstagsbrand und der Prozeß vor dem Reichsgericht, ed. Deiseroth Dieter (Berlin: Verlagsgesellschaft Tischler, 2006), 115; Fritz Tobias, interviews with the author, July 20, 2008, and July 4, 2009; Hett, Burning, 270, 277–80; SpA, 1958 Allgemeine M-Z, letter from Tobias to Augstein, Nov. 4, 1958; SpA Tobias Papers, vol. 8, “Zacharias,” letter from Tobias to Zacharias, Jan. 5, 1959 [incorrect date: likely 1960 or 1961].

44 Sammlung Tobias, Ordner Kripo-Zirpins, Tobias to Abteilung I, March 9, 1963.

45 Nentwig, Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf, esp. 835–41.

46 I am grateful to Constantin Goschler for this information. Goschler is presently working with Michael Wala on the officially commissioned investigation of the history of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

47 Weinke Annette, Eine Gesellschaft ermittelt gegen sich selbst. Die Geschichte der Zentralen Stelle Ludwigsburg, 1958–2008 (Darmstadt: WBG, 2008), 17. Examples of Social Democrats with dubious records of complicity with the Nazi regime and a willingness to shelter Nazis afterward (particularly in cases of crimes against Jews) were far from rare. See, for instance, the story of the Social Democratic prosecutor Wilhelm Kühnast in Pendas Devin, “Anatomie eines Skandals. Die Ermittlungen im Mordfall Dr. Hans Hannemann im Kontext der deutschen Nachkriegsjustiz,” Kritische Justiz 46 (2013): 245–56.

48 Tobias, Reichstagsbrand, 89–91; Sammlung Tobias, letter from Heisig to Diels, Oct. 12, 1948. On Zirpins, see BA-L B 162/21252, Ermittlungsverfahren gegen Oberregierungs- und Kriminalrat Dr. Zirpins wegen Verdachts der Beihilfe zum vielfachen Morde (Ghetto Łódź); on Braschwitz, see BA-L B 162/2973, Anzeigesache gegen Dr. Rudolf Braschwitz wegen Aussageerpressung u.a.; BA-L B 162/5302, Ermittlungsverfahren über Einzel- und Massenerschießungen in Luzk und Umgebung in den Jahren 1941 bis 1943.

49 Hett, Burning, 111–21, 360–61n110.

50 On Tobias's misunderstanding of the course of the fire, see Hett, Burning, 118–19; BABL R. 3003/250, 6 VT 62, Zirpins's testimony; Tobias, Reichstagsbrand, 77; IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 1, letter from Hans Flöter to IfZ, March 21, 1956; Tobias, Reichstagsbrand, 12, 15, 565–66; Tobias, “Der angebliche ‘positive Beweis’ für die NS-Brandstifterschaft durch die ‘wissenschaftliche Dokumentation,’ Bd. 2,” in Backes et al., Reichstagsbrand, 140–41.

51 SpA Tobias Papers, vol. 8, “Zacharias,” letters from Tobias to Zacharias, May 27, July 29, Aug. 11, Aug. 25, and Oct. 14, 1962; ETH NL Gisevius 10 Correspondence, letter from Hoch to Gisevius, Sept. 12, 1962; IfZ ID 103/100, letter from Krausnick to Mommsen, Sept. 30, 1963.

52 Letter from von Aretin to the author, Oct. 17, 2011.

53 Fischler Hersch, “Hans Schneiders unvollendetes Manuskript ‘Neues vom Reichstagsbrand?’ Ein unbequemer Forschungsbericht und seine Unterdruckung im Münchener Institut für Zeitgeschichte,” in Schneider Hans, Neues vom Reichstagsbrand? Eine Dokumentation. Ein Versäumnis der deutschen Geschichtsschreibung (Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2004); IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 3/I, memorandum from Hans Mommsen, Nov. 1962.

54 IfZ ID 8/14, Ergebnisprotokoll der Sitzung des Wissenschaftlichen Beirats des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte München, Aug. 2, 1963; IfZ ID 8/15, report, July 1, 1964 to May 31, 1965; on details of the right-wing critiques, see Hett, Burning, 289–97.

55 Hett, Burning, 295.

56 As early as July 1962, Krausnick could write to Rothfels: “Regarding the core question, that of culpability, [Mommsen], however, comes to the greatest extent to the same result as Tobias”; see IfZ ID 90/73, letter from Krausnick to Rothfels, July 7, 1962. Mommsen published a criticial review of Tobias's book in the Stuttgarter Zeitung (“Der Reichstagsbrand. Ein ungelöstes Problem der Forschung,” July 3, 1962), but he plausibly told me in an interview that this was because, as a young scholar, he did not yet have the nerve to support Tobias publicly against the historical establishment; he said, furthermore, that he thought the Reichstag fire provided a good opening for the functionalist viewpoint: Hans Mommsen, interview with the author, Feldafing, April 20, 2010.

57 IfZ ID 90/73, letter from Krausnick to Rothfels, July 6, 1962; Mommsen, “Reichstagsbrand”; Tobias, Reichstagsbrand, 592–93. The drastically shortened and sanitized 1964 English translation tellingly omitted the entire “Afterword” in which these lines appeared.

58 Peter Brandes (pseudonym for Curt Riess), “Feuer über Deutschland,” Stern, nos. 43–52 (Nov./Dec. 1957); Richard Wolff, “Der Reichstagsbrand 1933. Ein Forschungsbericht,” in Das Parlament (Politics and History supplement), Jan. 18, 1956 (also in IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 9); “Ein Toter spricht,” Weltbild 12, no. 23 (Nov. 1, 1957); Erich Kuby, “Unternehmen Reichstagsbrand,” Stern, nos. 45–50 (Oct./Dec. 1969) (also in IfZ ZS/A-7, vol. 9); generally, Hett, Burning, 251–56, 309–16.

59 BA-Koblenz NL Fraenkel N 1274, vol. 65a, letter from Fraenkel to Tobias, Aug. 14, 1971.

60 See Winter Jay, Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); Reynolds David, The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (New York: Norton, 2014).

61 According to Reynolds, the most comprehensive bibliography lists 2,225 “English” poets of World War I, of whom fewer than one-fifth saw active service in the armed forces. Yet, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, and others have become the literary voices of the war experience. See Reynolds, Long Shadow, 336, 339. John Keegan writes that there was “something Treblinka-like” about the first day of the Somme offensive; see Keegan J., The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 255.

62 For a discussion of this point, see, e.g., Reynolds, Long Shadow, 359.

63 Campt Tina M., Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 15.

64 Jay Winter, Remembering War, 115. By contrast, Christopher Browning, while noting that scholars often emphasize the “authenticity” rather than the “factual accuracy” of survivor accounts, was equally concerned with factual accuracy in his work on the Starachowice labor camp; see his Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011), 7.

65 Berg, Holocaust, 594–614; see also Peter Longerich, “Schwierigkeiten mit dem Holocaust,” H-Soz-Kult (web forum), Feb. 23, 2004, http://www.hsozkult.de/debate/id/diskussionen-425, in which Longerich characterizes Berg's argument in these terms; Wulf Josef, Das Dritte Reich und seine Vollstrecker. Die Liquidation von 500,000 Juden im Ghetto Warschau (Berlin: Arani Verlag, 1961). Interestingly, Wulf's publisher, Arani Verlag, was founded by the Social Democrat Arno Scholz, who also founded the Berlin newspaper Der Telegraf. Scholz's publications intervened in the Reichstag fire debate on the side of Nazi responsibility.

66 Ian Kershaw, “Beware the Moral High Ground,” H-Soz-Kult (web forum), Feb. 24, 2004, http://www.hsozkult.de/debate/id/diskussionen-418.

67 This, for instance, is very much the theme of Diels's Lucifer, and, in general, of most writings and testimony of civil servants, police officers, and soldiers after the war.

68 Friedländer Saul, “An Integrated History of the Holocaust: Possibilities and Challenges,” in Years of Persecution, Years of Extermination: Saul Friedländer and the Future of Holocaust Studies, ed. Wiese Christian and Betts Paul (London: Continuum, 2010), 23; Frei Norbert, “Farewell to the Era of Contemporaries: National Socialism and Its Historical Examination en Route into History,” History and Memory 9, nos. 1–2 (Fall 1997): 5979; Herbert Ulrich, Best. Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft, 1903–1989 (Bonn: Dietz, 1996); Conze Eckart et al. , Das Amt und die Vergangenheit. Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik (Munich: Karl Blessing Verlag, 2010); Wette Wolfram, Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

69 Bartov Omer, “Germans as Jews: Representations of Absence in Postwar Germany,” in Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories, ed. Bartov Omer (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 216–36.

70 Ibid., 223–25.

71 Moeller, War Stories (Oakland: University of California Press, 2003), 7. Thomas Kühne has made the striking argument that it was the mass involvement of Germans in Nazi crimes that, to a great degree, created this sense of community. See his Belonging and Genocide: Hitler's Community, 1918–1945 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).

72 Bartov applies the point specifically to the work of Broszat, Mommsen, and Andreas Hillgruber, noting the ways in which a lack of empathy for victims structured the way they wrote about the Third Reich, mainly by representing the absence of those victims; see Bartov, “Germans as Jews,” 231–35.

73 Broszat Martin, “A Controversy about the Historicization of National Socialism,” New German Critique 44 (Spring/Summer 1988): 9091. Christopher Browning opens his book on Starachowice with an account of a judge acquitting an alleged Nazi perpetrator despite eyewitness testimony from several dozen Jewish survivors; according to the judge, eyewitness testimony is “the most unreliable form of evidence,” and none of these particular witnesses reached the necessary standards of an “indifferent, attentive and intelligent observer” who could view events in a “disinterested” and “distanced” way; see Browning, Remembering Survival, 1–3. I am grateful to Pamela Swett for this reference.

74 Bartov, “Germans as Jews,” 232.

75 Broszat Martin, Nationalsozialistische Polenpolitik 1939–1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1961), 6567; Broszat Martin, The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich, trans. Hiden John W., 6th Eng. ed. (New York: Longman, 1989), 92, 284, 294, 354.

76 Broszat Martin, “Nationalsozialistische Konzentrationalager 1933–1945,” in Anatomie des SS-Staates, ed. Buchheim Hans et al. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999), 326.

77 Berg, Holocaust, 596–97, 606, 610; Kempter, Wulf, 260; Wulf, Das Dritte Reich und seine Vollstrecker, 334–35.

78 Martin Broszat, “Massendokumentation als Methode zeitgeschichtlicher Forschung,” VfZ (1954): 202–13. See also the discussion of this project in Moeller, War Stories, 51–87.

79 Broszat, Hitler State, 70; Martin Broszat, “Zum Streit um den Reichstagsbrand. Eine grundsätzliche Erörterung,” VfZ 3 (1960): 277.

80 Mommsen, “Reichstagsbrand,” 365, 353, 355, 385n143, 358, 358n18, 357; Hett, Burning, 307–8. Looking back, Mommsen commented in 2010 that he thought he and his fellow historians in the 1950s had considered former Nazi functionaries too biased to be valuable interview subjects. This does not seem to apply to his use of written sources. Based on the extensive interviews the IfZ actually conducted and its huge collection of “witness” documents from perpetrators, it was not a commonly held view among IfZ historians in the 1950s either. Hans Mommsen, interview with the author, Feldafing, April 20, 2010.

81 Friedländer, “An Integrated History,” 21; letter from Tobias to the author, March 3, 2010; Jesse Eckhard, “Reichstagsbrand und Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” Recht und Politik 22, no. 4 (1986): 194.

82 Jesse Eckhard, “Die Kontroverse zum Reichstagsbrand. Ein nicht endender Wissenschaftsskandal,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 14 (1988): 524–25; Backes Uwe, “Objektivitätsstreben und Volkspädagogik in der NS-Forschung. Das Beispiel der Reichstagsbrand-Kontroverse,” in Die Schatten der Vergangenheit. Impulse zur Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus, ed. Backes Uwe et al. . (Frankfurt: Propyläen, 1990), 614.

83 Janßen, “Unter falscher Flagge.” Ernst Fraenkel, who presided over Calic's doctoral examination, had responded indignantly in 1969 to an earlier version of the accusation regarding the degree: “Dr. Calic's doctoral title is only ‘unexplained’ for those who take a skeptical stance toward the restitution of injustice which is granted to the victims of National Socialism.” See BA-Koblenz NL Fraenkel N 1274, vol. 49, letter from Fraenkel to Bracher, Oct. 30, 1969. Janßen's suggestion that Calic invented his imprisonment seems highly unlikely: he had met his friend Gregoire there, and Gregoire would surely have objected to such a false claim. Janßen does not seem to have made an attempt to check this fact with Gregoire, who is not quoted in the article—even though he was still alive in 1979 and Janßen had questioned other sources about Calic's past. In 2014, Sven Felix Kellerhoff reported that, in late 1961, Calic revealed to the Stasi an escape route from East to West Berlin, but the evidence he has presented in support of this claim only shows that, at worst, Calic's betrayal was indirect and careless rather than direct and malicious; see Kellerhoff, “Geschichtsfalscher verriet Fluchtweg an die Stasi,” Die Welt, March 9, 2014. Other documents in the Stasi archive (Bundesbeauftragter für die Stasi-Unterlagen, BStU), show that a few years later, Calic declined to work as a Stasi IM when approached by several officers; see BStU MfS Allg. P 6117/74, report, April 18, 1971; HA XX AP Nr. 22.217/92, handwritten note, Feb. 20, 1974.

84 Ritter Gerhard, Europa und die deutsche Frage (Munich: Münchner Verlag, 1948), cited in Berg, Holocaust, 128.

85 Sammlung Tobias, Rudolf Diels Materials, letter from Tobias to Anton Roesen, Aug. 23, 1961.

86 Wippermann Wolfgang, “Oberbranddirektor Walter Gempp: Widerstandkämpfer oder Krimineller? Kein Beitrag zur Reichstagsbrandkontroverse,” in Berlin-Forschungen III, ed. Ribbe Wolfgang (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1988), 228; SpA Tobias Papers, vol. 8, “Zacharias,” letter from Tobias to Mommsen, March 18, 1963; Landesarchiv Berlin (LAB) B Rep 058/10792, letter from Tobias to Braschwitz, Dec. 11, 1968; Berg, Holocaust, 128; Tobias, interview with the author, Hanover, July 4, 2009. Bahar was born in California of mixed Iranian-German parentage and has lived since infancy in Germany.

87 Friedländer, comment in discussion quoted in Martin Broszat, der “Staat Hitlers” und die Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus, ed. Frei Norbert (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag 2007), 208. More generally, see Wiese and Betts, Years of Persecution; Giebeler, Kontroverse, 225.

88 Richard J. Evans has provided some especially glaring examples of a historian's inability or refusal to see the point of the evidence regarding what these officers did in 1933 and their interest in speaking about it after 1945: “The fact that Heisig, Braschwitz and Zirpins were arresting Communists in 1933 proves nothing in relation to the authorship of the fire,” he writes, “policemen were doing this all over Germany.” But the whole point of the story these men told after the war was that they had bravely insisted on van der Lubbe's sole guilt, which was why Goering had supposedly taken them off the case and turned it over to the judicial authorities. Once Evans concedes that they arrested Communists for the fire, he has, in fact, ruined their case, even if he does not seem to realize this. He also refuses—despite clear evidence to the contrary—to concede that these officers faced any legal jeopardy for the fire after 1933. See Evans, “The Conspiracists,” and “Letters.”

89 Browning, Remembering Survival, 2.

For their helpful and thought-provoking comments, criticism, and advice, I am very grateful to this journal's anonymous reviewers, as well as to Andrew I. Port and the panelists at the 2015 AHA roundtable on the Reichstag fire: Hilary Earl, Devin Pendas, and Pamela Swett. Thanks also to Chris Ewing, Mary Roldan, Chelsea Schields, and Ky Woltering.

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Central European History
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  • EISSN: 1569-1616
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