Historiacl Review

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Changing Perspectives on History in Germany
A Prestigious Award for Nolte: Portent of Greater Historical Objectivity?
Mark Weber
For decades Ernst Nolte has been one of Germany's best known historians, as well as one of the most reviled. His numerous books include "The Germans and Their Past," "The European Civil War," and Streitpunkte (or "Points of Contention," reviewed in the Jan.-Feb. 1994 Journal). In the United States his best known work is probably his 1963 study, published here under title The Three Faces of Fascism, which compares "fascism" in France, Italy and Germany. Widely regarded as a path-breaking study, it remains indispensable for every serious student of the subject. After years on the faculty of the Free University in Berlin, the 77-year-old scholar is now a Professor Emeritus.
For at least two decades, his provocative views on 20th-century European history, and especially Third Reich Germany and World War II, have stimulated wide discussion about the past, even among non-historians. In a 1980 lecture entitled "Historical Legend and Revisionism?," for example, he said:
The Third Reich should be removed from the historical isolation in which it remains... The demonization of the Third Reich is unacceptable ... [Rather, it] must become an object of scholarship, of a scholarship that is not aloof from politics, but that is also not merely a handmaiden of politics ...
Nolte's detractors -- especially his Jewish critics -- have been particularly distressed by his suggestion that Hitler's wartime treatment of the Jews might legitimately be regarded, at least in part, as a defensive response to the threat of Bolshevik mass murder of Germans. In his 1980 lecture, he said:
... It is hard to deny that Hitler had good reason to be convinced of his enemies' determination to annihilate long before the first information about the events in Auschwitz became public ... [Zionist leader] Chaim Weizmann's...