Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte
Accredited chemist Germar Rudolf-Scheerer* has written me to request an expert statement regarding an anthology titled Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte: Ein Handbuch über strittige Fragen des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Ernst Gauss and published in 1994 by Grabert-Verlag in Tübingen, Germany. The foremost issue was to be the question of the work's scientific, i.e., academic nature, rather than the content per se.
As an historian specializing in recent and East European history, and on the basis of my decades of professional experience and practice in the academic service of the Federal Republik of Germany, I am qualified and entitled to give an expert opinion on the matter in question.
Regarding my personal qualifications, I wish to state that I was a member of the Militärgeschichtliche Forschungsamt [Centre for Research in Military History] in Freiburg from 1960 to 1995. For almost three decades my work has focused exclusively on matters related to the German-Soviet war. Through the publication of academic books and periodical articles on this topic I am well established as an expert in my field, both at home and abroad. Accredited chemist Rudolf-Scheerer* and the co-authors of anthology at issue are not personally known to me.
The Formal Aspect
As pointed out in the anthology in question, the book does not offer a comprehensive overview of the course of the National Socialist persecution of the Jews during World War Two. Rather, the focus is on specific individual topics regarding disputed and controversial aspects of killings of the Jews. The various contributions to the book are expertly written in a predominantly investigative style. Where detail and completeness are concerned, the body of supporting and documenting references leaves little to be desired and is extremely helpful to a reader seeking further information, not least of all since sources from the opposing subject literature are also cited without reservation. It appears, therefore, that this anthology is part of the large-scale academic dispute over a serious contemporary issue which reaches far beyond its actual academic scope and into the political realm.
The individual contributions to this anthology are logically consistent and objectively descriptive in structure, even though at times a polemical note does become evident - as is perhaps inevitable in such emotionally charged topics, and as is also quite common in political and historical controversies. In any case, a striving for new understanding is tangibly apparent throughout the book. From this perspective, therefore, the anthology cannot be denied an academic character, particularly if one compares it with many a publication from its opposing side, whose academic nature is also never questioned. There is much in the various contributions that strikes one as thoroughly convincing. Much else may be merely noted with objective interest. Elsewhere, doubts and criticisms also come to mind. The issue may perhaps be simplified by pointing out that what we are dealing with in this great controversy is a rather more accusatory style of literature on the one hand, and a rather more apologetic one on the other. This is to suggest that in the heat of controversy, both sides may be overly inclined to overshoot the mark and to leave the solid ground of provable facts behind. One might perhaps summarize by saying that the time for conclusive declarations regarding the great persecution of the Jews has not yet come.
The Problem of Self-Evidentness
There can be no doubt about the fact that genocide was committed against the Jewish people by the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the SD and by the SS personnel in charge in the concentration camps in the former General Government of Poland. Hitler, Himmler and Dr. Goebbels clearly admitted these misdeeds on several occasions. The anthology's editor, Ernst Gauss, also considers this as given in his chapter. And in fact, the genocide provides an unspoken backdrop for the anthology at issue. To rule out any misunderstanding, it would perhaps have been better to spell these things out unambiguously and to clarify that an academic controversy today can no longer dispute the mass killings per se, but rather only the numbers of victims and the methods of murder. In this respect, we admittedly may expect to see far-reaching modifications as yet. In this context as well, the rather overused concept of self-evidentness is in need of limitation, or at least of a more precise definition.
Two Important Examples
We shall give two especially significant examples of this.
1) [Downward Revision of the Number of Auschwitz Victims]
From 1945 to 1990, the figure of 4 million victims in Auschwitz was considered self-evident and was accorded judicial notice in the Federal German courts. But where did this figure come from? It originated with Soviet war propaganda. On March 1, 1945, an official Soviet announcement stated for the first time that "at least five million people were exterminated" in Auschwitz. This figure was then reduced to four million in the official Soviet communiqué of May 7, 1945. This number of 4 million victims - put about by Soviet war propaganda, in other words by the NKVD, and in no way proven by any evidence whatsoever - was adopted by the public in western countries, and persisted unchanged until 1990, when it was officially reduced to 1.5 million virtually overnight. Currently the number of Auschwitz victims is set at a remaining 631,000 to 711,000, and a further reduction has not been ruled out.
2) [The Total Number of Jewish Victims]
To this day the total number of Jewish victims is generally given as 6 million. According to the current opinion of the German experts on contemporary history, this figure was first provided to the Americans by SS Sturmbannführer Dr. Hoettl in spring 1945, and repeated at the IMT in Nuremberg on November 26, 1945. It must be noted, however, that this selfsame figure was demonstrably first put forth in the foreign press as early as January 4, 1945, several weeks prior to the January 27, 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp (with its alleged 4 million victims) - put about by none other than the infamous Soviet Minister of Propaganda, Ilya Ehrenburg. Thus it was Ehrenburg who came up with the figure of six million. [cf. Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945, 5th ed., Herbig, Munich 1999, pp. 182ff.]
Regarding Ehrenburg himself, it must be mentioned that in 1941 Stalin had given him the general order to incite a boundless national and racial hatred against all Germans. Ehrenburg's years-long unbridled frenzies of hatred culminated in his call to "put an end to Germany" and in an effort which he described as "modest and honorable", namely "to reduce the population of Germany", towards which end the only thing left to decide was whether it would be better "to kill the Germans with axes or with clubs".
Both examples show that new evidence can immediately overthrow something that is allegedly self-evident, and, accordingly, it is the duty of any contemporary historian to call allegedly conclusive findings into question. Even in matters involving grave charges, the principle of self-evidentness has been known to become invalidated. As an example one need only consider the claim (widely accepted in Germany in particular, but now denied by Yad Vashem itself) that the Germans had manufactured soap from the bodies of murdered Jews - a fabrication that also goes back to Soviet war propaganda. Therefore, the anthology at issue here does not commit anything unlawful, but rather engages in a justified and necessary pursuit in its attempt to critically examine allegedly self-evident issues on the basis of new evidence or findings, as it is in fact the natural task of historiography to do.
The Problem of Eyewitness Testimony
Several contributions to this anthology point out, and rightly so, that the testimony of eyewitnesses is unreliable; these contributions back their claims with numerous examples, some of which are indeed truly grotesque. Such experiences certainly agree with those of other historians of the Second World War. This is not to say that eyewitness statements are entirely superfluous, but practical experience definitely has shown that they must always be examined and corroborated with authentic documents. My personal experience has been that as early as 1970 eyewitness testimony about details of the events of the war was so unreliable that it would have been a breach of professional duties to base a historical treatise on them alone.
Joachim Hoffmann, Ph.D., born on December 1, 1930 in Königsberg, Prussia as of 1951, course of studies, first natural sciences, then recent history, eastern European history, and comparative ethnology at the University of Hamburg and the Free University of Berlin in 1959, doctorate with dissertation titled
Joachim Hoffmann, Ph.D., born on December 1, 1930 in Königsberg, Prussia as of 1951, course of studies, first natural sciences, then recent history, eastern European history, and comparative ethnology at the University of Hamburg and the Free University of Berlin in 1959, doctorate with dissertation titledDie Berliner Mission des Grafen Prokesch-Osten 1849-1852 in 1959/1960, scholarship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to research a topic of Austrian eastern politics since 1960, member of the Militärgeschichtliche Forschungsamt of the Bundeswehr, Academic Director. Publications include books and periodical articles on political, diplomatic and military history of the 19th century and on the history of the German-Soviet war. Awarded the Dr. Walter-Eckhardt-Prize for Research in Contemporary History in 1991 and the General Andrej Andrejevich Vlasov Cultural Prize in 1992.
On the whole, the contributions to the anthology here at issue frequently manifest a profound understanding of the subject and its associated literature, even though some suggestions made do appear questionable at times. However, the Establishment literature about the Holocaust also often contains factual errors. One example in this context is Benz's 1991 anthology Dimension des Völkermords, which displays a downright disarming ignorance of the state of affairs on the Soviet side. The authors of the Gauss anthology object, and correctly so, that Benz bases his studies uncritically on the announcements made by Soviet war propaganda and on the publications about Soviet show trials. The anthology edited by Benz attempts, by means of elaborate statistical minutiae, to prove the correctness of the six-million figure. Anyone who has worked with demographic statistics knows what serious errors can enter into such complex analyses even under a strictly objective agenda. Benz is entirely unaware that Ehrenburg had already introduced the six-million figure into the annals of war propaganda on January 4, 1945. Thus, he will have to accept the charge that, though unwittingly, he has really only worked to confirm a propaganda figure of Ehrenburg's. From this perspective, his and his co-authors' research findings offer a foothold for fundamental criticism.
The mass execution of Jewish inhabitants of Kyiv, known as the massacre of Babi Yar, is also subjected to justified and necessary criticism in the anthology here at issue. Over time, the actions of Einsatzkommando 4a of the Security Police and the SD under Blobel have experienced propagandistic inflation to the point where restoring the actual facts to their real dimensions is an obligation for anyone striving for historical veracity. Of course this does not impinge on the fact that thousands of Jews were killed in Kyiv.
The overall impression evoked by this anthology edited by Gauss is that its contents must be acknowledged - with critical common sense, of course - no less than is always indisputedly and unrestrictedly done with the 'official' literature about the Holocaust. The principle of audiatur et altera pars [let the other side be heard] must apply in this case as well! A suppression of this carefully documented work would represent a forcible obstruction of the legitimate striving for scientific and academic understanding. The state of knowledge is never static. Experience has shown that exaggerations and errors always grind themselves down in the course of a normal academic controversy. One must not deny a mature and free researcher and reader his ability to exercise his critical faculties. It would then be only a small step from suppressing unpopular books, to burning them; and then, though with different motivations, we would be right back where the entire misfortune began.
As historian officially commissioned by the Militärgeschichtliche Forschungsamt I have spent two-and-a-half decades studying the Soviet military literature about the history of the Red Army and the Second World War in its original documentary texts - an endless chain of misrepresentations, fabrications, distortions and slander. But even this historical literature turned up the occasional truths. I could not have carried out my academic duties if I had rejected the Soviet publications out-of-hand as being unacademic. The same goes infinitely more for the anthology here at issue, which is on a respectable academic level and which doubtless contributes much to our understanding of aspects of the war, despite any reservations one may have.
[sgd.] Dr. J. Hoffmann, Acad. Director (retired)
[written on September 28, 1995]
On June 15, 1996, judge Burkhardt Stein from Tübingen County Court ordered the confiscation and incineration of all books Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte and all means for its manufacturing (Ref. 4 Gs 173/95). The expert reports presented by the defense were ignored. (The second report written by Prof. Dr. Ernst Nolte from Free University Berlin was similar favorable.)
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