Erasing the Past?

Gerhard Hirschfeld looks over the heated debate between West German historians and the Nazi past.

For almost a year now West Germany's historians have been engaged in a heated and often embittered controversy about the Nazi past and the question of how Germans ought to deal with that infamous empire which was meant to last for a thousand years but existed for only twelve. Superficially it might look as if the current 'War of the German Historians' (Gordon Craig) is just another Historikerstreit (dispute among historians) like the Lamprecht dispute (the challenge by Karl Lamprecht to the dominant school of national political history after 1900) or the Fischer controversy (resulting from Fritz Fischer's provocative theses in 1961 about Germany's responsibility for the outbreak of the First world War). But this current dispute has very little in common with a scholarly debate about the choice of historical methods and sources and the writing of history. It has, however, a lot to do with political culture and the role of academics and intellectuals in present-day Germany. And it reflects again on Germany's inability to come to terms with its more recent past.

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