Springtime for Hitler

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Jun 21 09:19:39 MDT 2000

New York Times, June 21, 2000

Hitler Apologist Wins German Honor, and a Storm Breaks Out


BERLIN, June 20 -- The award of one of Germany's most prestigious literary
prizes to a historian who has sought to justify the Holocaust has ignited a
fierce dispute here at a time of conservative and reactionary intellectual
stirrings in Europe.

The historian, Ernst Nolte, has argued that Hitler's anti-Semitism had a
"rational core" and that Nazism was in essence a riposte to Bolshevism. He
received the Konrad Adenauer Prize for literature this month, causing an
uproar that has filled newspapers with invective and divided one of the
country's leading historical institutes.

The prize, whose past recipients include former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, is
given for works that "contribute to a better future" by the Munich-based
Deutschland Foundation. The organization is conservative and close to the
right wing of the Christian Democratic Party but had not been considered
reactionary or revisionist.

Accepting the prize, Mr. Nolte said, "We should leave behind the view that
the opposite of National Socialist goals is always good and right." He
added that because Nazism was the "strongest of all counter forces" to
Bolshevism, a movement with wide Jewish support, Hitler may have had
"rational" reasons for attacking the Jews.

The timing of the prize was particularly delicate because this is a period
of some intellectual ferment in Europe. The success of the Austrian
rightist Jörg Haider in steering his Freedom Party into government has
emboldened the right.

In Germany and France, a conservative reaction is evident against what the
French call "the angelic left," which is accused of imposing a stifling
political correctness on debate and of backing a multicultural tide that
will sweep away the European nation state.

In this context, Mr. Nolte has emerged as an iconoclast with apparently
growing conservative appeal. A few days after receiving the prize, he was
widely applauded at a conference in Paris where he again explored his
thesis aboutHitler and the Jews.

"The award of the prize to Nolte was a clear political statement intended
to promote the view that there is no particular stigma to Nazism in the
light of what some Germans now call the 'Red Holocaust' in the Soviet
Union," said Charles Maier, a Harvard historian. "It's exculpatory in the
German context. It's also really scandalous."

The unease and anger in Germany over the prize has been accentuated by the
fact that another prominent historian, Horst Möller, the director of the
disinguished Institute for Contemporary History, chose to make the speech
honoring Mr. Nolte.

The institute was established after the war in Munich with a clear
educational mission directed largely toward researching Nazism.

In his speech, Mr. Möller said he did not agree with all of Mr. Nolte's
views, but went on to praise a "life's work of high rank" and to make a
vigorous attack on the "hate-filled and defamatory" attempts to stop open
debate in Germany.

The reaction was overwhelming. Newspapers have been filled with letters
from other historians at the institute calling on Mr. Möller to resign. In
an open letter to Die Zeit, Heinrich A. Winkler, a professor of history at
Berlin's Humboldt University, said, "Mr. Möller allowed himself to become
party to an intellectual political offensive aimed at integrating rightist
and revisionist positions in the conservative mainstream."

Mr. Möller's secretary said he was traveling and not available for comment.

With Haiderism thriving in neighboring Austria, the ground has become
fertile in Germany for a nationalist and right-wing intellectual awakening.
It is fed by weariness, even anger, at what is seen as Germany's eternal
victimization for the Holocaust, and irritation at the multicultural
message from a Red-Green government.

Mr. Nolte took up these themes in his speech. He attacked those who argue
for "an unstoppable transition toward world civilization." He bitterly
denounced the "collective accusation" continuously leveled at Germany since

The historian, the author of books including "Three Faces of Fascism" and
"The European Civil War," has been well known for his argument about Hitler
and Stalin since the 1980's.

But never before has a center-right institution like the Deutschland
Foundation moved to embrace him in such a formal way, intimating that at
least the right of the Christian Democratic Party may be ready to
countenance the view that the crimes of the Nazis were not unique and have
been unfairly singled out.

Mr. Haider has made a lot of headway in Austria precisely by questioning
the "intellectual tyranny" of the left.

Louis Proyect
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