January 11, 1923 |
|Education||PhD in Philosophy (1952)|
|Alma mater||University of Münster
University of Berlin
University of Freiburg
University of Cologne
|Occupation||Philosopher and historian.|
|Known for||Articulating a theory of generic fascism as “resistance to transcendence”, for starting the Historikerstreit, and for negationist historical writing.|
|Awards||Konrad Adenauer Prize (2000)|
Ernst Nolte (born 11 January 1923) is a German historian and philosopher. Nolte’s major interest is the comparative studies of Fascism and Communism. He is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin, where he taught from 1973 to 1991. He was previously a Professor at the University of Marburg from 1965 to 1973. Nolte has been a prominent conservative academic since the early 1960s, and involved in many controversies related to the interpretation of the history of fascism and communism. More recently, he has also focused on Islamism. His work has been the object of extreme controversy. Nolte's reputation as a historian has been widely damaged as a result of the Historikerstreit, and is widely discredited.
Nolte was born in Witten, Westphalia to a Roman Catholic family. Nolte's parents were Heinrich Nolte, a school rector, and Anna (née Bruns) Nolte. According to Nolte in a March 28, 2003 interview with a French newspaper Eurozine, his first encounter with Communism occurred when he was 7 years old in 1930, when he read in a doctor's office a German translation of a Soviet children's book attacking the Catholic Church, which angered him.
In 1941, Nolte was excused from military service because of a deformed hand, and he studied Philosophy, Philology and Greek at the Universities of Münster, Berlin, and Freiburg. At Freiburg, Nolte was a student of Martin Heidegger, whom he acknowledges as a major influence. From 1944 onwards, Nolte was a close friend of the Heidegger family, and when in 1945 the professor feared arrest by the French, Nolte provided him with food and clothing for an attempted escape. Eugen Fink was another professor who influenced Nolte. After 1945 when Nolte received his BA in philosophy at Freiburg, he worked as a Gymnasium (high school) teacher. In 1952, he received a PhD in philosophy at Freiburg for his thesis Selbstentfremdung und Dialektik im deutschen Idealismus und bei Marx (Self Alienation and the Dialectic in German Idealism and Marx).
Subsequently, Nolte began studies in Zeitgeschichte (contemporary history). He published his Habilitationsschrift awarded at the University of Cologne, Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche, as a book in 1963. Between 1965 and 1973, Nolte worked as a professor at the University of Marburg, and from 1973 to 1991 at the Free University of Berlin. Nolte married Annedore Mortier and they had a son. Georg Nolte is now a professor of international law at Humboldt University of Berlin.
Fascism In Its EpochEdit
Nolte first rose to fame with his 1963 book Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche (Fascism In Its Epoch; translated into English in 1965 as The Three Faces Of Fascism), in which he argued that fascism arose as a form of resistance to and a reaction against modernity. Nolte's basic hypothesis and methodology were deeply rooted in the German "philosophy of history" tradition, a form of intellectual history which seeks to discover the "metapolitical dimension" of history. The "metapolitical dimension" is considered to be the history of grand ideas functioning as profound spiritual powers, which infuse all levels of society with their force. In Nolte's opinion, only those with training in philosophy can discover the "metapolitical dimension", and those who use normal historical methods miss this dimension of time. Using the methods of phenomenology, Nolte subjected German Nazism, Italian Fascism, and the French Action Française movements to a comparative analysis. Nolte's conclusion was that fascism was the great anti-movement: it was anti-liberal, anti-communist, anti-capitalist, and anti-bourgeois. In Nolte’s view, fascism was the rejection of everything the modern world had to offer and was an essentially negative phenomenon. In a Hegelian dialectic, Nolte argued that the Action Française was the thesis, Italian Fascism was the antithesis, and German National Socialism the synthesis of the two earlier fascist movements.
Nolte argued that fascism functioned at three levels: in the world of politics as a form of opposition to Marxism, at the sociological level in opposition to bourgeois values, and in the "metapolitical" world as "resistance to transcendence" ("transcendence" in German can be translated as the "spirit of modernity"). Nolte defined the relationship between fascism and Marxism as:
“Fascism is anti-Marxism which seeks to destroy the enemy by the evolvement of a radically opposed and yet related ideology and by the use of almost identical and yet typically modified methods, always, however within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy."
Nolte defined "transcendence" as a "metapolitical" force comprising two types of change. The first type, "practical transcendence", manifesting in material progress, technological change, political equality, and social advancement, comprises the process by which humanity liberates itself from traditional, hierarchical societies in favor of societies where all men and women are equal. The second type is "theoretical transcendence", the striving to go beyond what exists in the world towards a new future, eliminating traditional fetters imposed on the human mind by poverty, backwardness, ignorance, and class. Nolte himself defined "theoretical transcendence" as:
"Theoretical transcendence may be taken to mean the reaching out of the mind beyond what exists and what can exist toward an absolute whole; in a broader sense this may be applied to all that goes beyond, that releases man from the confines of the everyday world, and which, as an "awareness of the horizon", makes it possible for him to experience the world as a whole."
Nolte cited the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961 as an example of “practical transcendence”, of how humanity was pressing forward in its technological development and rapidly acquiring powers traditionally thought to be only the providence of the gods. Drawing upon the work of Max Weber, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Karl Marx, Nolte argued that the progress of both types of "transcendence" generates fear as the older world is swept aside by a new world, and that these fears led to fascism. Nolte wrote that:
"The most central of Maurras's ideas have been seen to penetrate to this level. By "monotheism" and "anti-nature" he did not imply a political process: he related these terms to the tradition of Western philosophy and religion, and left no doubt that for him they were not only adjuncts of Rousseau's notion of liberty, but also of the Christian Gospels and Parmenides' concept of being. It is equally obvious that he regarded the unity of world economics, technology, science and emancipation merely as another and more recent form of "anti-nature". It was not difficult to find a place for Hitler ideas as a cruder and more recent expression of this schema. Maurras' and Hitler's real enemy was seen to be "freedom towards the infinite" which, intrinsic in the individual and a reality in evolution, threatens to destroy the familiar and beloved. From all this it begins to be apparent what is meant by "transcendence"."
In regard to the Holocaust, Nolte contended that because Adolf Hitler identified Jews with modernity, the basic thrust of Nazi policies towards Jews had always aimed at genocide: Nolte wrote that:
"Auschwitz was contained in the principles of Nazi racist theory like the seed in the fruit".
Nolte believed that, for Hitler, Jews represented "the historical process itself". Nolte argues that Hitler was "logically consistent" in seeking genocide of the Jews because Hitler detested modernity and identified Jews with the things that he most hated in the world. According to Nolte, "In Hitler's extermination of the Jews, it was not a case of criminals committing criminal deeds, but of a uniquely monstrous action in which principles ran riot in a frenzy of self-destruction". Nolte's theories about Nazi antisemitism as a rejection of modernity inspired the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka to argue that National Socialism was an attack on "the very roots of Western civilisation, its basic values and moral foundations".
The Three Faces of Fascism has been much praised as a seminal contribution to the creation of a theory of generic fascism based on a history of ideas, as opposed to the previous class-based analyses (especially the "Rage of the Lower Middle Class" thesis) that had characterized both Marxist and liberal interpretations of fascism. In the early 1960s, Nolte's book helped to facilitate a change in emphasis from totalitarianism theory, in which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were perceived as the regimes most nearly alike, to fascism theory, in which Fascist Italy and the Third Reich were the regimes held to be most nearly alike. In the 1960s, The Three Faces of Fascism had an immense impact on the scholarly community by advancing this new theory of generic fascism, and was described by the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw as one of the most influential history books of the 1960s. As a result of Nolte's book and the ensuing debates it caused, numerous international conferences were held to discuss generic fascism as a concept, several anthologies were put together to consider generic fascism, and a significant scholarly literature dealing with generic fascism as an intellectual phenomena was published. The German historian Jen-Werner Müller wrote that Nolte "almost single-handedly" brought down the totalitarianism paradigm in the 1960s and replaced it with the fascism paradigm. British historian Roger Griffin has written that although written in arcane and obscure language, Nolte's theory of fascism as a "form of resistance to transcendence" marked an important step in the understanding of fascism, and helped to spur scholars into new avenues of research on fascism. Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell wrote in 1976 that:
"The Three Faces of Fascism is an attempt to give a comprehensive explanation of fascism. The book is based on the most meticulous scholarship, the command of the material is impressive, and the methodological rigour is admirable. The work has been translated into English and French, and was acclaimed an immediate success. In reviews by, among others, Klaus Epstein, Hajo Holborn, James Joll, Walter Laqueur, George Mosse, Wolfgang Sauer, Fritz Stern and Eugen Weber, this masterly work was hailed as a very great book. Professor Nolte's work contains such a wealth of observations, information, insight and throwaway ideas that are well worth keeping that inevitably one takes issue with some."
The "issues" of which Sternhell spoke were concerns about Nolte's "phenomenological" approach to history in which Nolte claimed, for Hegelian reasons, that the particular examples he had chosen to study were valid in more general contexts. Especially objectionable to Sternhell was Nolte's insistence on focusing solely on the ideas of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Charles Maurras as the causal factors of fascism. Sternhell commented that the effect of this single-minded focus on ideas and personalities was that:
"In some ways, Ernst Nolte's approach recalls that of Gerhard Ritter and Friedrich Meinecke: Thomas More, for Ritter, Machiavelli, for Meinecke, and now Maurras, for Nolte, are so many proofs of the universality of evil, so many proofs that it was almost by accident, by a mere conjunction of political circumstances, that the Nazis arose in Germany".
Sternhell complained that Nolte, by reducing National Socialism to the ideas of Hitler, exonerated the German people. In particular, Sternhell expressed concern about the passage where Nolte wrote: "after the Führer's death, the core of the leadership of the National Socialist state snapped back, like a steel spring would up too long, to its original position and became a body of well-meaning and cultured Central Europeans" Sternhell argued that Nolte's equating of Hitler with National Socialism meant that National Socialism entered and left the world with Hitler, and that with Hitler’s death, the commandant of a death camp returned once more to the model citizen he was before falling under Hitler’s spell. Finally, Sternhell noted that if National Socialism was the "practical and violent resistance to transcendence", and if "transcendence" was a universal process affecting all societies, that Nolte had totally failed to answer why National Socialism was only a German phenomenon.
Other historians were more hostile in their assessment of The Three Faces of Fascism. Criticism from the left, for example by Sir Ian Kershaw, centered on Nolte's focus on ideas as opposed to social and economic conditions as a motivating force for fascism, and that Nolte depended too much on fascist writings to support his thesis. Kershaw described Nolte's theory of fascism as "resistance to transcendence" as "mystical and mystifying". The American historian Fritz Stern wrote that The Three Faces of Fascism was a "uneven book" that was "weak" on Action Française, "strong" on Fascism and "masterly" on National Socialism. At the same time, Stern found Nolte's notion that fascism dominated the interwar era problematic, and that Nolte's book was "exceedingly and unnecessarily difficult and demanding" with "serious flaws of method and style". From the right, historians such as Karl Dietrich Bracher criticized the entire notion of generic fascism as intellectually invalid and argued that it was individual choice on the part of Germans, rather than Nolte's philosophical view of the "metapolitical", that produced National Socialism. Bracher's magnum opus, his 1969 book Die deutsche Diktatur (The German Dictatorship), was partly written to rebut Nolte's theory of generic fascism, presenting an alternative picture of the National Socialist dictatorship as a totalitarian regime created and sustained by human actions. In the early 1960s, Nolte was identified with the left, which helped to explain why The Three Faces of Fascism, by promoting a non-Marxist theory of generic fascism over the previously dominant totalitarianism paradigm (the only alternative for theorists of fascism in the 1950s had been the Marxist-inspired "Rage of the Lower Middle Class" thesis), was much welcomed in general by the non-Marxist left. Together with the work of Eugen Weber, The Three Faces of Fascism was one of the first books to furnish an extensive study of the ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic Action Française movement of France, but many have questioned Nolte’s claim that the Action Française was a fascist movement, or in the case of John Lukacs, that such a thing as generic fascism ever existed. Answering the criticism that generic fascism was an invalid concept because no other fascist movement produced anything equivalent to the Holocaust, Nolte argued that National Socialism was "radical fascism".
As a professor at the University of Marburg in the late 1960s, Nolte was a target of student protesters, an experience that left him with a strong distaste for the West German left. For a time in the 1960s, all of Nolte's classes were boycotted by radical students, who demanded Nolte's dismissal, an experience that some such as John Lukacs and Charles S. Maier have credited with Nolte's radical change of views about the National Socialist period. Nolte's then friend, Fritz Stern wrote that Nolte was rattled by the student protests of the late 1960s, becoming obsessed with the idea that the left was plotting to ruin his career. In 1969, Nolte wrote in a letter to Stern:
"Still, I don't plan to capitulate before this violent dogmatism and in the end I don't believe the state will simply collapse under the attack driven by the ressentiments of a few octogenarians and the activism of many of the young".
Reflecting his changed views, Nolte's first seminar at the Free University of Berlin in 1973 was on the Spanish Civil War, in which Nolte went out of his way to challenge left-wing views of that conflict. Stern wrote that the Spanish Civil War was not in Nolte's area of expertise, and that the only reason why he picked that topic was to engage in a right-wing provocation of leftish students. Later in the 1970s, Nolte was to reject aspects of the theory of generic fascism that he had championed in The Three Faces of Fascism and instead moved closer to embracing totalitarian theory as a way of explaining both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In Nolte's opinion, Nazi Germany was a "mirror image" of the Soviet Union and, with the exception of the "technical detail" of mass gassing, everything the Nazis did in Germany had already been done by the Communists in Russia. Nolte's former friend, Stern wrote:
"I took him at first as a naive academic-he had the air of the stereotypical German philosopher-and for a while I wrongly assumed that he didn't know what he was doing, that he was more a metaphysician than a historian. But every successive book of his disabused me of this amiable illusion, for with each one he "relativized" the Nazi period more, seeing it in a congenial cold-war mode as a response to Bolshevism".
All of Nolte’s historical work has been heavily influenced by German traditions of philosophy. In particular, Nolte seeks to find the essences of the "metapolitical phenomenon" of history, to discover the grand ideas which motivated all of history. As such, Nolte’s work has been oriented towards the general as opposed to the specific attributes of a particular period of time. In his 1974 book Deutschland und der kalte Krieg (Germany and the Cold War), Nolte examined the partition of Germany after 1945, not by looking at the specific history of the Cold War and Germany, but rather by examining other divided states throughout history, treating the German partition as the supreme culmination of the "metapolitical" idea of partition caused by rival ideologies. In Nolte's view, the division of Germany made that nation the world's central battlefield between Soviet Communism and American democracy, both of which were rival streams of the "transcendence" that had vanquished the Third Reich, the ultimate enemy of "transcendence". Nolte called the Cold War
"the ideological and political conflict for the future structure of a united world, carried on for an indefinite period since 1917 (indeed anticipated as early as 1776) by several militant universalisms, each of which possesses at least one major state."
Nolte ended Deutschland und der kalte Krieg with a call for Germans to escape their fate as the world's foremost battleground for the rival ideologies of American democracy and Soviet communism by returning to the values of the Second Reich. Likewise, Nolte called for the end of what he regarded as the unfair stigma attached to German nationalism because of National Socialism, and demanded that historians recognize that every country in the world had at some point in its history had "its own Hitler era, with its monstrosities and sacrifices".
In 1978, the American historian Charles S. Maier described Nolte's approach in Deutschland und der kalte Krieg as:
"This approach threatens to degenerate into the excessive valuation of abstraction as a surrogate for real transactions that Heine satirized and Marx dissected. How should we cope with a study that begins its discussion of the Cold War with Herodotus and the Greeks versus the Persians? Which then offers a leisurely account of the Left throughout European history, of the American Revolution, and later makes an excursus on the history of modern Israel? Yet despite the vastness of argument, the very specific irritants that provoked the massive enterprise are still visible: the student sympathizers for East German authoritarian socialism within the Bundesrepublik. Nolte bears scars from the Marburg student Left (and his gauchissant former colleague, Wolfgang Abendorth) as he confesses in his foreword, even through he recognizes that the DDR enjoys its own sort of legitimacy. And when Nolte ascribes to the Left a hankering after the primitive small community freed of apparatuses and professionalism, he accurately understands the trajectory of the students' protest against West Germany as a Leistungsgesellschaft. He unsparingly condemns their supposed infantilism, their resentment, which allegedly would have them prefer all citizens to be poor rather than a few to be badly off in a rich country, and their implication that the United States should be blamed, say, for India's poverty...Instead Nolte indulges in a potted history of Cold War events as they engulfed Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe, up through the Sino-Soviet dispute, the Vietnam War and SALT. The rationale is evidently that Germany can be interpreted only in the light of the world conflict, but the result verges on a centrifugal, coffee-table narrative".
Nolte has little regard for specific historical context in his treatment of the history of ideas, opting to seek what Carl Schmitt labeled the abstract "final" or "ultimate" ends of ideas, which for Nolte are the most extreme conclusions which can be drawn from an idea, representing the ultima terminus of the "metapolitical". For Nolte, ideas have a force of their own, and once a new idea has been introduced into the world, except for the total destruction of society, it cannot be ignored any more than the discovery of how to make fire or the invention of nuclear weapons can be ignored. In Nolte's view, Communism, by introducing the idea of a total destruction of a particular group, was the most important idea of the 20th century. Together with such historians as François Furet and Renzo De Felice, with each of whom Nolte occasionally corresponded, Nolte has sought to develop a wide-ranging paradigm to explain the 20th century. In a review, the American historian Felix Gilbert described Deutschland und der kalte Krieg as a return to the type of Hegelian history that had not been written in Germany since 1945. Gilbert criticized Nolte for excessively focusing on ideas as the central causal agents in history, and for his tendency to turn ideas into ethereal crystallizations with a life force of their own that personalized a particular theme in history.
The books Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche, Deutschland und der kalte Krieg, and Marxismus und industrielle Revolution (Marxism and the Industrial Revolution) formed a trilogy in which Nolte seeks to explain what he considered to be the most important developments of the 20th century. Some of Nolte’s statements in Deutschland und der Kalte Krieg attracted controversy. For example, Nolte asserted that if in the 1930s the CPUSA had been the same size as the KPD, then American President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have been just as anti-Semitic as Adolf Hitler. American historian Charles S. Maier wrote that Nolte seemed in Deutschland und der Kalte Krieg to have an unhealthy fixation with Israel, with Nolte complaining that as a result of World War II, the Jews had achieved both a state and won territory while the Germans had lost both. In the same text, Nolte wrote of the Vietnam War that there was "a worldwide reproach that the United States was after all putting into practice in Vietnam, nothing less than its basically crueler version of Auschwitz". Of these claims of moral equivalence between the Holocaust and American policy in Vietnam, American historian Peter Gay answered that "there is a world of difference between Nazi Germany’s calculated policy of mass extermination and America’s ill-conceived, persistent, often callous prosecution of a foreign war". Gay added that he considered Nolte’s book "a massive and sophisticated apologia for modern Germany", and complained that "Nolte’s tortuous syntax, his evasive conditional phrasing, his irresponsible thought experiments, makes it nearly impossible to penetrate to his own convictions".
Nolte is best known for his role in launching the Historikerstreit ("Historians' Dispute") of 1986 and 1987. On 6 June 1986 Nolte published a feuilleton opinion piece entitled Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will: Eine Rede, die geschrieben, aber nicht mehr gehalten werden konnte ("The Past That Will Not Go Away: A Speech That Could Be Written but Not Delivered") in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His feuilleton was a distillation of ideas he had first introduced in lectures delivered in 1976 and in 1980. Earlier in 1986, Nolte had planned to deliver a speech before the Frankfurt Römerberg Conversations (an annual gathering of intellectuals), but he had claimed that the organizers of the event withdrew their invitation. In response, an editor and co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Joachim Fest, allowed Nolte to have his speech printed as a feuilleton in his newspaper. One of Nolte's leading critics, British historian Richard J. Evans, claims that the organizers of the Römerberg Conversations did not withdrew their invitation, and that Nolte had just refused to attend.
Nolte began his feuilleton by remarking that it was necessary in his opinion to draw a "line under the German past". Nolte argued that the memory of the Nazi era was "a bugaboo, as a past that in the process of establishing itself in the present or that is suspended above the present like an executioner's sword". Nolte complained that excessive present-day interest in the Nazi period had the effect of drawing "attention away from the pressing questions of the present-for example, the question of "unborn life" or the presence of genocide yesterday in Vietnam and today in Afghanistan". Nolte argued that the furor in 1985 over the visit of the American president Ronald Reagan to the Bitburg cemetery reflected in his view the unhealthy effects of an obsession with the memory of the Nazi era. Nolte suggested that, during West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's visit to the United States in 1953, if he had failed to visit Arlington National Cemetery a storm of controversy would have ensued. Nolte argued that since some of the men buried at Arlington had in his view "participated in terror attacks on the German civilian population", there was no moral difference between Reagan visiting the Bitburg cemetery, with its graves of Waffen SS dead, and Adenauer visiting Arlington with its graves of American airmen. Nolte complained that because of the "past that would not pass", it was controversial for Reagan to visit Bitburg, but it was not controversial for Adenauer to visit Arlington. Nolte cited the Bitburg controversy as an example of the power exerted by historical memory of the Nazi past. Nolte concluded that there was excessive contemporary interest in the Holocaust because it served the concerns of those descended from the victims of Nazism, and placed them in a "permanent status of privilege". Nolte argued that Germans had an unhealthy obsession with guilt for Nazi crimes, and called for an end to this "obsession". Nolte's opinion was that there was no moral difference between German self-guilt over the Holocaust, and Nazi claims of Jewish collective guilt for all the world's problems. He called for an end to the maintaining of the memory of the Nazi past as fresh and current, and suggested a new way of viewing the Nazi past that would allow Germans to be free of the "past that will not pass".
In his feuilleton, Nolte offered a new way of understanding German history which sought to break free of the "past that will not pass", by contending that Nazi crimes were only the consequence of a defensive reaction against Soviet crimes. In Nolte’s view, National Socialism had only arisen in response to the "class genocide" and "Asiatic barbarism" of the Bolsheviks. Nolte cited as example the early Nazi Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, who during World War I had been the German consul in Erzerum, Turkey, where he was appalled by the genocide of the Armenians. In Nolte's view, the fact that Scheubner-Richter later became a Nazi shows that something must have changed his values, and in Nolte's opinion it was the Russian Revolution and such alleged Bolshevik practices as the "rat cage" torture (said by Russian émigré authors to be a favorite torture by Chinese serving in the Cheka during the Russian Civil War) that led to the change. Nolte used the example of the "rat cage" torture in George Orwell's 1948 novel 1984 to argue that the knowledge of the "rat cage" torture was widespread throughout the world. Furthermore, Nolte argues that the "rat cage" torture was an ancient torture long practiced in China, which in his opinion further establishes the "Asiatic barbarism" of the Bolsheviks. Nolte cited a statement by Hitler after the Battle of Stalingrad that Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus would be soon sent to the “rat cage” in the Lubyanka as proof that Hitler had an especially vivid fear of the “rat cage” torture.
Along the same lines, Nolte argued that the Holocaust, or "racial genocide" as Nolte prefers to call it, was an understandable if excessive response on the part of Adolf Hitler to the Soviet threat and the "class genocide" with which the German middle class was said to be threatened. In Nolte's view, Soviet mass murders were Vorbild (the terrifying example that inspired the Nazis) and Schreckbild (the terrible model for the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis). Nolte labeled the Holocaust an "überschießende Reaktion" (overshooting reaction) to Bolshevik crimes, and to alleged Jewish actions in support of Germany's enemies. In Nolte's opinion, the essence of National Socialism was anti-Communism, and anti-Semitism was only a subordinate element to anti-Bolshevism in Nazi ideology. Nolte argued that because "the mighty shadow of events in Russia fell most powerfully" on Germany, that the most extreme reaction to the Russian Revolution took place there, thus establishing the "causal nexus" between Communism and fascism. Nolte asserted that the core of National Socialism was
"neither in criminal tendencies nor in anti-Semitic obsessions as such. The essence of National Socialism [was to be found] in its relation to Marxism and especially to Communism in the form which this had taken on through the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution".
In Nolte's view, Nazi anti-communism was "understandable and up to a certain point, justified". For Nolte, the "racial genocide" as he calls the Holocaust was a "punishment and preventive measure" on the part of the Germans for the "class genocide" of the Bolsheviks. American historian Peter Baldwin noted parallels between Nolte’s views and those of American Marxist historian Arno J. Mayer:. Both Nolte and Mayer perceive the interwar period as one of intense ideological conflict between the forces of the Right and Left, positing World War II as the culmination of this conflict, with the Holocaust a byproduct of the German-Soviet war. Baldwin distinguished Nolte from Mayer in that Nolte considered the Soviets aggressors who essentially got what they deserved in the form of Operation Barbarossa, whereas Mayer considered the Soviets to be victims of German aggression. Operation Barbarossa, in Nolte's thinking, was a "preventive war" forced on Hitler by an alleged impending Soviet attack. Nolte wrote that Hitler's view of the Russian people as barbarians was an "exaggeration of an insight which was basically right in its essence" and that Hitler "understood the invasion of the Soviet Union as a preventive war" as the Soviet desire to bring Communism to the entire world "must be seen as mental acts of war, and one may even ask whether a completely isolated and heavily armed country did not constitute a dangerous threat to its neighbors on these grounds alone".
The crux of Nolte's thesis was presented when he wrote:
"It is a notable shortcoming of the literature about National Socialism that it does not know or does not want to admit to what degree all the deeds—with the sole exception of the technical process of gassing—that the National Socialists later committed had already been described in a voluminous literature of the early 1920s: mass deportations and shootings, torture, death camps, extermination of entire groups using strictly objective selection criteria, and public demands for the annihilation of millions of guiltless people who were thought to be "enemies".
It is probable that many of these reports were exaggerated. It is certain that the “White Terror” also committed terrible deeds, even though its program contained no analogy to the “extermination of the bourgeoisie”. Nonetheless, the following question must seem permissible, even unavoidable: Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an “Asiatic” deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be the potential victims of an “Asiatic” deed? Wasn’t the 'Gulag Archipelago' more original than Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the "racial murder" of National Socialism? Cannot Hitler's most secret deeds be explained by the fact that he had not forgotten the rat cage? Did Auschwitz in its root causes not originate in a past that would not pass?"
Some of the controversy Nolte generated related not to “The Past That Will Not Go Away” essay, but rather to another, earlier essay entitled “Between Myth and Revisionism”, where Nolte sketched out many of the same ideas that appeared in “The Past That Will Not Go Away”. According to Nolte in “Between Myth and Revisionism”, during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the shock of the replacement of the old craft economy by an industrialized, mechanized economy led to various radicals starting to advocate what Nolte calls “annihilation therapy” as the solution to social problems. In Nolte’s views, the roots of Communism can be traced back to 18th and 19th century radicals like Thomas Spence, John Gray, William Benbow, Bronterre O’Brian, and François-Noël Babeuf. Nolte has argued that the French Revolution began the practice of “group annihilation” as state policy, but not until the Russian Revolution did the theory of “annihilation therapy” reach its logical conclusion and culmination. He asserts that much of the European Left saw social problems as being caused by “diseased” social groups, and sought “annihilation therapy” as the solution, thus leading naturally to the Red Terror and the Yezhovshchina in the Soviet Union. Nolte suggests that the Right mirrored the Left, with “annihilation therapy” advocated by such figures as John Robison, Augustin Barruel, and Joseph de Maistre; Malthusianism and the Prussian strategy of utter destruction of one’s enemies during the Napoleonic Wars also suggest sources and influences for National Socialism. Ultimately, in Nolte’s view, the Holocaust was just a “copy” of Communist “annihilation therapy”, albeit one that was more terrible and sickening than the “original”.
As proof of this argument of the Holocaust as a defensive reaction, Nolte presented a letter written by Chaim Weizmann, the President of the World Zionist Organization, on 3 September 1939 to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain pledging full and unconditional support to the British war effort. Nolte has called Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain a "Jewish declaration of war" against Germany, as it had sometimes been reported contemporaneously in the press, e.g. "Judea Declares War on Germany". Nolte argued that Weizmann’s letter was a rational reason for Hitler to be “convinced of his enemies’ determination to annihilate him much earlier than when the first information about Auschwitz came to the knowledge of the world”. When challenged on this point, Nolte replied that he was merely quoting David Irving, who first made this claim in his 1977 book Hitler’s War.
Nolte subsequently presented a 1940 book by American author Theodore N. Kaufman entitled Germany Must Perish!. The text contends that all German men should be sterilized, evidencing, according to Nolte, the alleged "Jewish" desire to "annihilate" Germans prior to the Holocaust. An August 1941 appeal to the world by a group of Soviet Jews seeking support against Germany was also cited by Nolte as evidence of Jewish determination to thwart the Reich. Nolte argued that the Nazis felt forced to undertake the Holocaust by Hitler's conclusion that the entire Jewish population of the world had declared war on Germany. From Nolte’s point of view, the Holocaust was an act of “Asiatic barbarism” forced on the Germans by the fear of what Joseph Stalin, whom Nolte believed to have significant Jewish support, might do to them. Nolte contends that the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack provides a parallel to the German "internment" of the Jewish population of Europe in concentration camps, in light of what Nolte alleges was the "Jewish" declaration of war on Germany in 1939 which Weizmann's letter allegedly constitutes.
Subsequently, Nolte expanded upon these views in his 1987 book Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, 1917–1945 (The European Civil War, 1917–1945) in which he claimed that the entire 20th century was an age of genocide, totalitarianism, and tyranny, and that the Holocaust had been merely one chapter in the age of violence, terror and population displacement. Nolte claimed that this age had started with the genocide of the Armenians during World War I, and also included the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union, the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, Maoist terror in China as manifested in such events as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, compulsory population exchanges between Greece and Turkey from 1922 to 1923, American war crimes in the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In particular, Nolte argued that the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe in 1945–46 was "to be categorized...under the concept of genocide". As part of this argument, Nolte cited the 1979 book of the American historian Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Die Wehrmacht Untersuchungsstelle, which argues that the Allies were just as guilty of war crimes as the Germans as the "happy evidence of the will to objectivity on the part of a foreigner" In Nolte's opinion, Hitler was a "European citizen" who fought in defence of the values of the West against "Asiatic" Bolshevism, but due to his "total egocentrism" waged this struggle with unnecessary violence and brutality Since in Nolte’s view, the Shoah was not a unique crime, there is no reason to single out Germans for special criticism for the Holocaust.
In addition, Nolte sees his work as the beginning of a much-needed revisionist treatment to end the "negative myth" of the Third Reich that dominates contemporary perceptions. Nolte took the view that the principle problem of German history was this “negative myth” of the Third Reich, which cast the Nazi era as the ne plus ultra of evil. Nolte wrote that after the American Civil War, the defeated South was cast as the symbol of total evil by the victorious North, but later “revisionism” became the dominant historical interpretation against the “negative myth” of the South, which led to a more balanced history of the Civil War with a greater understanding of the “motives and way of life of the defeated Southern states”, and led to the leaders of the Confederacy becoming great American heroes. Nolte urged that a similar “revisionism” destroy the “negative myth” of the Third Reich. Nolte argued that the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge genocide, the expulsion of "boat people" from Vietnam, the Islamic revolution in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan meant the traditional picture of Nazi Germany as the ultimate in evil was no longer tenable, and proved the need for "revisionism" to put an end to the "negative myth" of the Third Reich. In Nolte's view, the first efforts at revisionism of the Nazi period failed because A. J. P. Taylor's 1961 book The Origins of the Second World War was only a part of the "anti-German literature of indictment" while David Hoggan in Der erzwugnene Krieg, by only seeking to examine why World War II broke out in 1939, "cut himself off from the really decisive questions". Then the next revisionist efforts Nolte cites were the Italian historian Domenico Settembrini's favorable treatment of Fascism for saving Italy from Communism, and the British historian Timothy Mason's studies in working class German history. The best of the revisionists according to Nolte is David Irving, with whom Nolte finds some fault, although "not all of Irving's theses and points can be dismissed with such ease". Nolte praises Irving as the first to understand that Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain was a "Jewish declaration of war" on Germany that justified the "interning" of the Jews of Europe. Nolte went on to praise Irving for putting the Holocaust "in a more comprehensive perspective" by comparing it to the British fire-bombing of Hamburg in 1943, which Nolte views as just much of an act of genocide as the "Final Solution". The sort of revisionism needed to end the "negative myth" of the Third Reich is, in Nolte's opinion, an examination of the impact of the Russian Revolution on Germany.
Nolte contends that the great decisive event of the 20th century was the Russian Revolution of 1917, which plunged all of Europe into a long-simmering civil war that lasted until 1945. To Nolte, fascism, Communism's twin, arose as a desperate response by the threatened middle classes of Europe to what Nolte has often called the “Bolshevik peril”. He suggests that if one wishes to understand the Holocaust, one should begin with the industrial revolution in Britain, and then understand the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Nolte then proceeds to argue that one should consider what happened in the Soviet Union in the interwar period by reading the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In a marked change from the views expressed in The Three Faces of Fascism, in which Communism was a stream of “transcendence”, Nolte now classified communism together with fascism as both rival streams of the “resistance to transcendence”. The “metapolitical phenomenon” of Communism in a Hegelian dialectic led to the “metapolitical phenomenon” of fascism, which was both a copy of and the most ardent opponent of Marxism. As an example of his thesis, Nolte cited an article written in 1927 by Kurt Tucholsky calling for middle-class Germans to be gassed, which he argued was much more deplorable than the celebratory comments made by some right-wing newspapers about the assassination of the German Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau in 1922. Richard J. Evans, Ian Kershaw and Otto Dov Kulka all claimed that Nolte took Tucholsky's sardonic remark about chemical warfare out of context. Kershaw further protested the implication of moral equivalence between a remark by Tucholsky and the actual gassing of Jews by Nazis, which Kershaw suggests is an idea which originates in neo-Nazi pamphleteering.
In his 1987 book Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, 1917–1945, Nolte argued in the interwar period, Germany was Europe's best hope for progress. Nolte wrote that "if Europe was to succeed in establishing itself as a world power on a equal footing [with the United States and the Soviet Union], then Germany had to be the core of the new 'United States'". Nolte claimed if the Germany had to continue to abide by Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had disarmed Germany, then Germany would have been destroyed by aggression from her neighbors sometime later in the 1930s, and with Germany's destruction, there would had been no hope for a "United States of Europe". The British historian Richard J. Evans accused Nolte of engaging in a geopolitical fantasy.
The Ensuing ControversyEdit
These views ignited a firestorm of controversy. Most historians in West Germany and virtually all historians outside Germany condemned Nolte's interpretation as factually incorrect, and as coming dangerously close to justifying the Holocaust. Many historians, such as Steven T. Katz, claimed that Nolte’s “Age of Genocide” concept “trivialized” the Holocaust by reducing it to one of just many 20th century genocides. A common line of criticism were that Nazi crimes, above all the Holocaust, were singularly and uniquely evil, and could not be compared to the crimes of others. Some historians such as Hans-Ulrich Wehler were most forceful in arguing that the sufferings of the “kulaks” deported during the Soviet “dekulakization” campaign of the early 1930s were in no way analogous to the suffering of the Jews deported in the early 1940s. Many were angered by Nolte's claim that "the so-called annihilation of the Jews under the Third Reich was a reaction or a distorted copy and not a first act or an original", with many such as Ian Kershaw wondering why Nolte spoke of the "so-called annihilation of the Jews" in describing the Holocaust. Some of the historians who denounced Nolte’s views included Hans Mommsen, Jürgen Kocka, Detlev Peukert, Martin Broszat, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Michael Wolffsohn, Heinrich August Winkler, Wolfgang Mommsen, Karl Dietrich Bracher and Eberhard Jäckel. Much (though not all) of the criticism of Nolte came from historians who favored either the Sonderweg (Special Way) and/or intentionalist/functionalist interpretations of German history. From the advocates of the Sonderweg approach came the criticism that Nolte’s views had totally externalized the origins of the National Socialist dictatorship to the post-1917 period, whereas in their view, the roots of the Nazi dictatorship can be traced back to the 19th century Second Reich. In particular, it was argued that within the virulently and ferociously anti-Semitic Völkisch movement, which first arose in the latter half of the 19th century, the ideological seeds of the Shoah were already planted. From both functionalist and intentionist historians came the similar criticism that the motives and momentum for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” came primarily from within Germany, not as the result of external events. Intentionalists argued that Hitler did not need the Russian Revolution to provide him with a genocidal mindset, while functionalists argued it was the unstable power structure and bureaucratic rivalries of the Third Reich, which led to genocide of the Jews. Another line of criticism centered around Nolte refusal to say just precisely when he believes the Nazis decided upon genocide, and have pointed out that at various times, Nolte has implied the decision for genocide was taken in the early 1920s, or the early 1930s or the 1940s.
Coming to Nolte's defence were the journalist Joachim Fest, the philosopher Helmut Fleischer, and the historians' Klaus Hildebrand, Rainer Zitelmann, Hagen Schulze, Thomas Nipperdey and Imanuel Geiss. The latter was unusual amongst Nolte’s defenders as Geiss was normally identified with the left, while the rest of Nolte’s supporters were seen as either on the right or holding centrist views. In response to Wehler’s book, Geiss later published a book entitled Der Hysterikerstreit. Ein unpolemischer Essay (The Hysterical Dispute An Unpolemical Essay) in which he largely defended Nolte against Wehler’s criticisms. Geiss wrote Nolte's critics had "taken in isolation" his statements and were guilty of being "hasty readers"
Further adding to the controversy was a statement by Nolte in June 1987 that Adolf Hitler "created the state of Israel", and that "the Jews would eventually come to appreciate Hitler as the individual who contributed more than anyone else to the creation of the state of Israel". As a result of that remark, Nolte was sacked from his position as chief editor of the German language edition of Theodore Herzl's letters by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Community), the group that was responsible for the financing of the Herzl papers project. Another controversial claim by Nolte was his statement that massacres of the Volksdeutsch minority in Poland after the German invasion of 1939 were an act of genocide by the Polish government, and thereby justified the German aggression as part of an effort to save the German minority. Another contentious set of claims by Nolte was his argument that the film Shoah showed that it was "probable" that the SS were just as much victims of the Holocaust as were the Jews, and the Polish victims of the Germans were just as much anti-Semites as the Nazis, thereby proving it was unjust to single out Germans for criticism. Nolte claimed that more “Aryans” than Jews were murdered at Auschwitz, a fact overlooked because most Holocaust research comes “to an overwhelming degree from Jewish authors”. Likewise, Nolte has implied that the atrocities committed by the Germans in Poland and the Soviet Union were justified by earlier Polish and Soviet atrocities. In response, Nolte’s critics have argued that though there were massacres of ethnic Germans in Poland in 1939 (about 4,000 to 6,000 being killed after the German invasion), these were not part of a genocidal program on the part of the Poles, but were rather the ad hoc reaction of panic-stricken Polish troops to (sometimes justified) rumors of fifth column activities on the part of the volksdeutsch, and can not in any way be compared to the more systematic brutality of the German occupiers towards the Poles, which led to a 25% population reduction in Poland during the war. Another contentious statement by Nolte was his argument that the Wannsee Conference of 1942 never occurred. Nolte wrote that too many Holocaust historians were "biased" Jewish historians, whom Nolte strongly hinted manufactured the minutes of the Wannsee conference. The British historian Richard J. Evans was highly offended by Nolte's claims that German massacres of Soviet Jews carried out by the Einsatzgruppen and the Wehrmacht were a legitimate "preventive security" measure that was not a war crime. Nolte wrote that during World War I, the Germans would have been justified in exterminating the entire Belgian people as an act of "preventive security" because of franc-tireur attacks, and thus the Rape of Belgium was an act of German restraint; similarly, Nolte wrote that because many Soviet partisans were Jews, the Germans were within their rights in seeking to kill every single Jewish man, women and child they encountered in Russia as an act of "preventive security".
In particular, controversy centered on an argument of Nolte's 1985 essay “Between Myth and Revisionism” from the book Aspects of the Third Reich, first published in German as "Die negative Lebendigkeit des Dritten Reiches" ("The Negative Legend of the Third Reich") as an opinion piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 24 July 1980, but which did not attract widespread attention until 1986 when Jürgen Habermas criticized the essay in a feuilleton piece. Nolte had delivered a lecture at the Siemans-Sitftung in 1980, and excerpts from his speech were published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung without attracting controversy. In his essay, Nolte argued that if the PLO were to destroy Israel, then the subsequent history written in the new Palestinian state would portray the former Israeli state in the blackest of colors with no references to any of the positive features of the defunct state. In Nolte’s opinion, a similar situation of history written only by the victors exists in regards to the history of Nazi Germany. Many historians, such as British historian Richard J. Evans, have asserted that, based on this statement, Nolte appears to believe that the only reason why Nazism is regarded as evil is because Germany lost World War II, with no regard for the Holocaust. Klaus Hildebrand called in a review in the Historische Zeitschrift journal on 2 April 1986 called Nolte’s essay "Between Myth and Revisionism" “trailbrazing”. In the same review of Nolte's essay "Between Myth and Revisionism", Hildebrand argued Nolte had in a praiseworthy way sought:
"to incorporate in historicizing fashion that central element for the history of National Socialism and of the "Third Reich" of the annihilatory capacity of the ideology and of the regime, and to comprehend this totalitarian reality in the interrelated context of Russian and German history".
The philosopher Jürgen Habermas in an article in the Die Zeit of 11 July 1986 strongly criticized Nolte, along with Andreas Hillgruber and Michael Stürmer, for engaging in what Habermas called “apologetic” history writing in regards to the Nazi era, and for seeking to “close Germany’s opening to the West” that in Habermas’s view has existed since 1945:
“The culture section of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 6, 1986 included a militant article by Ernst Nolte. It was published, by the way, under a hypocritical pretext with the heading “the talk that could not be delivered”. (I say this with knowledge of the exchange of letters between the presumably disinvited Nolte and the organizers of the conference). When the Nolte article was published Stürmer also expressed solidarity. In it Nolte reduces the singularity of the annihilation of the Jews to “the technical process of gassing”. He supports his thesis about the Gulag Archipelago is “primary” to Auschwitz with the rather abstruse example of the Russian Civil War. The author gets little more from the film Shoah by Lanzmann than the idea that “the SS troops in the concentration camps might themselves have been victims of a sort and that among the Polish victims of National Socialism there was virulent anti-Semitism”. These unsavoury samples show that Nolte puts someone like Fassbinder in the shade by a wide margin. If the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was justifiably drawn to oppose the planned performance of Fassbinder’s play, then why did it choose to publish Nolte’s letter [A reference to the play The Garbage, the City, and Death by Rainer Werner Fassbinder about an unscrupulous Jewish businessman who exploits German guilt over the Holocaust that many see as anti-Semitic]...The Nazi crimes lose their singularity in that they are at least made comprehensible as an answer to the (still extant) Bolshevist threats of annihilation. The magnitude of Auschwitz shrinks to the format of technical innovation and is explained on the basis of the “Asiatic” threat from an enemy that still stands at our door”.
In particular, Habermas took Nolte to task for suggesting a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the Khmer Rouge genocide. In Habermas’s opinion, since Cambodia was a backward, Third World agrarian state and Germany a modern, industrial state, there was no comparison between the two genocides.
The War of Words in the German PressEdit
In response to Habermas's essay, Klaus Hildebrand came to the defence of Nolte. Hildebrand in an essay entitled "The Age of Tyrants" first published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on July 31, 1986 went on to praise Nolte for daring to open up new questions for research.
Nolte for his part, started to write a series of letters to various newspapers such as Die Zeit and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung attacking his critics; for an example, in a letter to Die Zeit on 1 August 1986, Nolte complained that his critic Jürgen Habermas was attempting to censor him for expressing his views, and accused Habermas of being the one responsible for blocking him from attending the Römerberg Conversations. In the same letter, Nolte described himself as the unnamed historian whose views on the reasons for the Holocaust had at dinner party in May 1986 in Bonn had caused Saul Friedländer to walk out in disgust that Habermas had alluded to an earlier letter
Responding to the essay "The Age of Tyrants: History and Politics" by Klaus Hildebrand defending Nolte, Habermas wrote:
“In his essay Ernst Nolte treats the “so-called” annihilation of the Jews (in H.W. Koch, ed. Aspects of the Third Reich, London, 1985). Chaim Weizmann’s declaration in the beginning of September 1939 that the Jews of the world would fight on the side of England, “justified”-so opinioned Nolte-Hitler to treat the Jews as prisoners of war and to intern them. Other objections aside, I cannot distinguish between the insinuation that world Jewry is a subject of international law and the usual anti-Semitic projections. And if it had at least stopped with deportation. All this does not stop Klaus Hildebrand in the Historische Zeitschrift from commending Nolte’s “pathfinding essay”, because it “attempts to project exactly the seeming unique aspects of the history of the Third Reich onto the backdrop of the European and global development". Hildebrand is pleased that Nolte denies the singularity of the Nazi atrocities”.
Fest in an essay entitled "Encumbered Remembrance" first published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on August 29, 1986 claimed that Nolte's argument that Nazi crimes were not singular was correct. Fest accused Habermas of "academic dyslexia" and "character assassination" in his attacks against Nolte. In response to Habermas's claim that the Holocaust was not comparable to the Khmer Rouge genocide because Germany was a First World nation and Cambodia a Third World nation, Fest, who was one of Nolte’s leading defenders, called Habermas a racist for suggesting that it was natural for Cambodians to engage in genocide while unnatural for Germans. Fest argued against the "singularity" of the Holocaust under the grounds that:
"The gas chambers with which the executors of the annihilation of the Jews went to work without a doubt signal a particularly repulsive form of mass murder, and they have justifiably become a symbol for the technicized barbarism of the Hitler regime. But can it really be said that the mass liquidations by a bullet to the back of the neck, as was common practice during the years of the Red Terror, are qualitatively different? Isn't, despite all the differences, the comparable element stronger?...The thesis of the singularity of Nazi crimes is finally also placed in question by the consideration that Hitler himself frequently referred to the practices of his revolutionary opponents of the Left as lessons and models. But he did more than just copy them. Determined to be more radical than his most bitter enemy, he also outdid them"
Moreover, Fest argued in his defence of Nolte that in the overheated atmosphere in Munich following the overthrow of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919 "...gave Hitler's extermination complexes a real background" Finally, Fest wrote as part of his attack on the "singularity" of the Holocaust that:
"There are questions upon questions, but no answer can be offered here. Rather, it is a matter of rousing doubt in the monumental simplicity and one-sidedness of the prevailing ideas about the particularity of the Nazi crimes that supposedly had no model and followed no example. All in all, this thesis stands on weak ground. And it is less surprising that,as Habermas incorrectly suggests in reference to Nolte, it is being questioned. It is far more astonishing that this has not seriously taken place until now. For that also means that the countless other victims, in particular, but not exclusively those of Communism, are no longer part of our memory. Arno Borst once declared in a different context that no group in today's society has been ruthlessly oppressed as the dead. That is especially true for the millions of dead of this century, from the Armenians all the way to the victims of the Gulag Archipelago or the Cambodians who were and still being murdered before all of our eyes-but who have still been dropped from the world's memory"
In a letter to the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on September 6, 1986 Karl Dietrich Bracher accused both Habermas and Nolte of both "...tabooing the concept of totalitarianism and inflating the formula of fascism".
The historian Eberhard Jäckel in an essay first published in the Die Zeit newspaper on September 12, 1986 argued that Nolte's theory was ahistorical on the grounds that Hitler held the Soviet Union in contempt, and could not have felt threatened as Nolte claimed. Jäckel wrote, in an essay entitled "The Impoverished Practice of Insinuation: The Singular Aspect of National-Socialist Crimes Cannot Be Denied",
"Hitler often said why he wished to remove and kill the Jews. His explanation is a complicated and structurally logical construct that can be reproduced in great detail. A rat cage, the murders committed by the Bolsheviks, or a special fear of these are not mentioned. On the contrary, Hitler was always convinced that Soviet Russia, precisely because it was ruled by Jews, was a defenseless colossus standing on clay feet. Aryans had no fear of Slavic or Jewish subhumans. The Jew, Hitler wrote in 1926 in Mein Kampf, "is not an element of an organization, but a ferment of decomposition. The gigantic empire in the East is ripe for collapse". Hitler still believed this in 1941 when he had his soldiers invade Russia without winter equipment."
Jäckel attacked Nolte's statement that Hitler had an especially intense fear of the Soviet "rat cage" torture by arguing that Hitler's statement of February 1, 1943 to his generals about captured German officers going off to the "rat cage" clearly meant the Lubyanka prison, and this is not as Nolte was arguing to be interpreted literally. Jäckel went on to argue that Nolte had done nothing to establish what the remarks about the "rat cage" had to do with the Holocaust. Jäckel accused Nolte of engaging in a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument to establish the "causal nexus" between Hitler's supposed fear of the "rat cage" torture, and the Holocaust. Against Nolte's claim that the Holocaust was not unique but rather one among many genocides, Jäckel rejected the assertion of Nolte and his supporters, such as Joachim Fest:
"I, however claim (and not for the first time) that the National Socialist murder of the Jews was unique because never before had a nation with the authority of its leader decided and announced that it would kill off as completely as possible a particular group of humans, including old people, women, children and infants, and actually put this decision into practice, using all the means of governmental power at its disposal. This idea is so apparent and so well known that is quite astonishing that it could have escaped Fest's attention (the massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War were, according to all we know, more like murderous deportations than planned genocide)".
Jäckel later described Nolte's methods as a "game of confusion", comprising dressing hypotheses up as questions, and then attacking critics who demanded evidence for his assertions as seeking to block one from asking questions.
The philosopher Helmut Fleischer in an essay first published in the Nürnberger Zeitung newspaper on September 20, 1986 defended Nolte against Habermas under the grounds that Nolte was only seeking to place the Holocaust into a wider political context of the times. Fleischer accused Habermas of seeking to impose a left-wing moral understanding on the Nazi period on Germans and of creating a “moral” Sondergericht (Special Court). Fleischer argued that Nolte was only seeking the "historicization" of National Socialism that Martin Broszat had called for in a 1985 essay by trying to understand what caused National Socialism, with a special focus on the fear of Communism.
The German historian Jürgen Kocka in an essay first published in Die Zeit on September 26, 1986 contended against Nolte that the Holocaust was indeed a “singular” event because it had been committed by an advanced Western nation, and argued that Nolte’s comparisons of the Holocaust with similar mass killings in Pol Pot's Cambodia, Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, and Idi Amin's Uganda were invalid because of the backward nature of those societies. Kocka went to criticize Nolte's view of the Holocaust as "a not altogether incomprehensible reaction to the prior threat of annihilation, as whose potential or real victims Hitler and the National Socialists allegedly were justified in seeing themselves". Kocka wrote that
"The real causes of anti-Semitism in Germany are to be found neither in Russia nor the World Jewish Congress. And how can one, in light of the facts, interpret the National Socialist annihilation of the Jews as a somewhat logical, if premature, means of defense against the threats of annihilation coming from the Soviet Union, with which Germany had made a pact in 1939, and which it then subsequently attacked? Here the sober historical inquiry into real historical connections, into causes, and consequences, and about real motives and their conditions would suffice to protect the writer and the reader from abstruse speculative interpretations. Nolte fails to ask such questions. If a past "that is capable of being agreed on" can be gained by intellectual gymnastics of this sort, then we should renounce it."
Hagen Schulze in an essay first published in Die Zeit on September 26, 1986 defended Nolte, together with Andreas Hillgruber, and argued Habermas was acting from "incorrect presuppositions" in attacking Nolte and Hillgruber for denying the "singularity" of the Holocaust. Schulze argued that Habermas's attack on Nolte was flawed because he never provided any proof that the Holocaust was unique, and argued there were many "aspects" of the Holocaust that were "common" with other historical occurrences. In Schulze's opinion:
"For the discipline of history, singularity and comparability of historical events are thus not mutually exclusive alternatives. They are complementary concepts. A claim that historians such as Ernst Nolte or Andreas Hillgruber deny the uniqueness of Auschwitz because they are looking for comparisons stems from incorrect presuppositions. Of course, Nolte and Hillgruber can be refuted if their comparisons rests on empirically or logically false assumptions. But Habermas never provided such proof."
The Swiss journalist Hanno Helbling in an essay first published in the Neu Zuricher Zeitung newspaper on September 26, 1986 accused Nolte and his allies of working to destroy “the “negative myth” of the Third Reich, not only by revising our inevitable understanding of this reign of terror, but also by restoring the national past”.
Hans Mommsen in an essay first published in the September 1986 edition of Merkur accused Nolte of attempting to "relativize" Nazi crimes within the broader framework of the 20th century. Mommsen asserted that by describing Lenin's Red Terror in Russia as an "Asiatic deed" threatening Germany, Nolte was arguing that all actions directed against Communism, no matter how morally repugnant, were justified by necessity. In another essay in an essay first published in the Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik magazine in October 1986, Mommsen was to call Nolte's claim of a "causal nexus" between National Socialism and Communism "not simply methodologically untenable, but also absurd in it premises and conclusions". Mommsen wrote in his opinion that Nolte's use of the Nazi era phrase "Asiatic hordes" to describe Red Army soldiers, and his use of the word "Asia" as a byword for all that is horrible and cruel in the world reflected racism. Mommsen wrote:
"In contrast to these irrefutable conditioning factors, Nolte’s derivation based on personalities and the history of ideas seems artificial, even for the explanation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism…If one emphasizes the indisputably important connection in isolation, one should not then force a connection with Hitler's weltanschauung, which was in no ways original itself, in order to derpive from it the existance of Auschwitz. The battle line between the political right in Germany and the Bolsheviks had achieved its aggressive contour before Stalinism employed methods that led to death of millions of people. Thoughts about the extermination of the Jews had long been current, and not only for Hitler and his satraps. Many of these found their way to the NSDAP from the Deutschvölkisch Schutz-und Trutzbund [German Racial Union for Protection and Defiance], which itself had been called into life by the Pan-German Union. Hitler's step from verbal anti-Semitism to practical implementation would then have happened without knowledge of and in reaction to the atrocities of the Stalinists. And thus one would have to overturn Nolte's construct, for which he cannot bring biographical evidence to bear. As a Hitler biographer, Fest distanced himself from this kind of one-sidedness by making reference to "the Austrian-German Hitler's earlier fears of and phantasies of being overwhelmed". It is not completely consistent that Fest admits that the reports of the terrorist methods of the Bolsheviks had given Hitler's "extermination complexes" a "real background". Basically, Nolte's proposal in its one-sidedness is not very helpful for explaining or evaluating what happened. The anti-Bolshevism garnished with anti-Semitism had the effect, in particular for the dominant elites, and certainly not just the National Socialists, that Hitler’s program of racial annihilation met with no serious resistance. The leadership of the Wehrmacht rather willingly made themselves into accomplices in the policy of extermination. It did this by generating the “criminal orders” and implementing them. By no means did they merely passively support the implemention of their concept, although there was a certain reluctance for reasons of military discipline and a few isolated protests. To construct a “casual nexus” over all this amounts in fact to steering away from the decisive responsibility of the military leadership and the bureaucratic elites."
In another essay entiteld "Reappraisal and Repression The Third Reich In West German Historical Consciousness", Mommsen wrote that:
"Nolte's superficial approach which associates things that do not belong together, substitutes analogies for casual arguments, and-thanks to his taste for exaggeration-produces a long outdated interpretation of the Third Reich as the result of a single factor. His claims are regarded in professional circles as a stimulating challenge at best, hardly as a convincing contribution to an understanding of the crisis of twentieth-century capitalist society in Europe. The fact that Nolte has found eloquent supporters both inside and outside the historical profession has little to do with the normal process of research and much to do with the political implications of the relativization of the Holocaust that he has insistently championed for so long...The fundamentally apologetic character of Nolte's argument shines through most clearly when he concedes Hitler's right to deport, through not to exterminate, the Jews in response to the supposed "declaration of war" issued by the World Jewish Congress; or when he claims that the activities of the SS Einsatzgruppen can be justified, at least subjectively, as operations aimed against partisans fighting the German Army."
Mommsen was later in a 1988 book review entitled "Resentment as Social Science" to call Nolte's book, Der Europäische Bürgrkrieg, a "regression back to the brew of racist-nationalistic ideology of the interwar period".
Martin Broszat in an essay first published in Die Zeit on October 3, 1986 labeled Nolte an obnoxious crank and a Nazi apologist who making "offensive" statements about the Holocaust. Regarding Nolte's claim that Weizmann on behalf of world Jewry had declared war on Germany in 1939, Broszat wrote that Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain promising the support of the Jewish Agency in World War II was not a "declaration of war", nor did Weizmann have the legal power to declare war on anyone. Broszat commented, "These facts may be overlooked by a right-wing publicist with a dubious educational background, but not by the college professor Ernst Nolte." Broszat observed that when Hildebrand organzied a conference of right-wing German historians under the auspices of the Schleyer Foundation in West Berlin in September 1986, he did not invite Nolte, whom Broszat observed lived in Berlin. Broszat suggested that this was Hildebrand's way of trying to separate himself from Nolte, whom work Hildebrand had praised so strongly in a review the Historische Zeitschrift in April 1986. Broszat wrote that "Here the roads part", and argued that no self-respecting historian could associate himself with the effort to "drive the shame out of the Germans". Broszat ended his essay with the remark that such "perversions" of German history must be resisted in order to ensure the German people a better future.
The journalist Rudolf Augstein, the publisher of the Der Spiegel news journal accused Nolte of creating the "New Auschwitz Lie" in an essay first published in the October 6, 1986 edition of Der Spiegel. Augstein questioned just why Nolte referred to the Holocaust as the "so-called annihilation of the Jews". Augstein agreed with Nolte that the Israelis were “blackmailing” the Germans over the Holocaust, but argued that given the magnitude of the Holocaust, the Germans had nothing to complain about. Augstein wrote in opposition to Nolte that:
"Not for nothing did Nolte let us know that the annihilation of the kulaks, the peasant middle class, had taken place from 1927 to 1930, before Hitler seized power, and that the destruction of the Old Bolsheviks and countless other victims of Stalin's insanity had happened between 1934 and 1938, before the beginning of Hitler's war. But Stalin's insanity was, in contrast to Hitler's insanity, a realist's insanity. After all this drivel comes one thing worth dicussing: whether Stalin pumped up Hitler and whether Hitler pumped up Stalin. This can be discussed, but the discussion does not address the issue. It is indeed possible that Stalin was pleased by how Hitler treated his bosom buddy Ernst Röhm and the entire SA leadership in 1934. It is, not possible that Hitler began his war against Poland because he felt threatened by Stalin's regime...One does not have to agree in everything with Konrad Adenauer. But in the light of the crass tendency to deny the co-responsibility of the Prussian-German Wehrmacht ("The oath! The oath!") ones gains an understanding for the point of the view of the nonpatriot Adenauer that Hitler's Reich was the continuation of the Prussian-German regime"
The classicist Christian Meier, who was president of the German Historical Association at the time gave a speech on October 8, 1986 before that body, in which he criticized Nolte by declaring that the Holocaust was a “singular” event that “qualitatively surpassed" Soviet terror. Referring to Nolte’s claims of being censored, Meier stated that Nolte had every right to ask questions, and that “no taboos will be established”. Meier went to say:
“But the way Nolte poses these questions must be rejected simply because one should not reduce the impact of so elementary a truth: because German historical scholarship cannot be allowed to fall back into producing mindless nationalist apologies; and because it is important for a country to not deceive itself in such sensitive—ethically sensitive—areas of its history.”
The conservative German historian Thomas Nipperdey in an essay first published in Die Zeit on October 17, 1986 accused Habermas of unjustly smearing Nolte and other right-wing historians via unscholarly and dubious methods. In letter to the editor of Der Spiegel on October 20, 1986, Imanuel Geiss accused Augstein and Habermas of trying to silence Nolte
In another feuilleton entitled "Standing Things On Their Heads" first published in Die Zeit on October 31, 1986, Nolte dismissed criticism of him by Habermas and Jäckel under the grounds that their writings were no different from what could find in a East German newspaper Nolte contended that criticism over his use of the phrase “rat cage” was unwarranted since he was only using the phrase “rat cage” as an embodiment of the “Asiatic” horror he alleges Hitler felt about the Bolsheviks. Nolte wrote he was not tying to reintroduce the Nazi concept of “Jewish Bolshevism” and that “…even for the uninformed reader, the reference to the Chinese Cheka…” should had made clear that he was writing about overblown fears in Germany of the Bolsheviks instead of an objective reality. In reply to the criticism of Habermas and Jäckel, Nolte wrote:
“The Gulag Archipelago is primary to Auschwitz precisely because the Gulag was in the mind of the originator of Auschwitz; Auschwitz was not in the minds of the originators of the Gulag…If Jäckel proves his own definition for the singularity of the Final Solution, then I think that his concept simply elaborates what can be more briefly expressed with the term “racial murder”. If, however, he wants to say that the German state, through the mouth of its Führer, unambiguously and publicly announced the decision that even Jewish women, children and infants were to be killed, than he has illustrated with one short phrase all that does not have to demonstrated in the current intellectual climate, but can be “imputed”. Hitler was certainly the most powerful man that has ever lived in Germany. But he was not powerful enough to ever publicly equate Bolshevism and Christianity, as he often did in his dinner conversations. He also not powerful enough to publicly demand or to justify, as Himmler often did in his circle of friends and associates, the murder of women and children. That of course is not proof of Hitler’s “humanity”, but rather of the remnants of the liberal system. The “extermination of the bourgeoisie” and the “liquidation of the kulaks” were, in contrast proclaimed quite publicly. And I am amazed at the coldheartedness with which Eberhard Jäckel says that not every single bourgeois was killed. Habermas’s “expulsion of the kulaks” speaks for itself”
In an essay first published in the Frankfurter Rundscahu newspaper on November 14, 1986, Heinrich August Winkler wrote of Nolte’s essay "The Past That Will Not Pass" that:
“Those who read the Frankfurter Allgemine all the way through to the culture section were able to read something under the title “The Past That Will Not Pass” that no German historian to date had noticed: that Auschwitz was only a copy of a Russian original-the Stalinist Gulag Archipelago. For fear of the Bolsheviks’ Asiatic will to annihilate, Hitler himself committed an “Asiatic deed”. Was the annihilation of the Jews a kind of putative self-defence? Nolte’s speculation amounts to that.”
Writing of Nolte’s claim that Weizmann’s letter was a “Jewish declaration of war”, Winkler stated that “No German historian has ever accorded Hitler such a sympathetic treatment”.
In a later newspaper feuilleton first published in the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 20, 1986, Meier again asserted that the Holocaust was a “singular” occurrence, but wrote that:
“It is to be hoped that Ernst Nolte’s suggestion that we should remain more keenly aware of the various million-fold mass murders of this century bears fruit. When one seeks orientation about this-and about the role of mass murder in history-one is surprised by how difficult it is to find. This would appear to be an area that historical research should look into. By pursuing these questions, one can recognize more precisely the peculiarity of our century-and certain similarities in its “liquidations”. But Nolte’s hope to be able to attenuate this distressing aspect of our Nazi past will probably not succeed. If we, and much speaks for this, to prevent National Socialist history from becoming an enduring negative myth about absolute evil, then we will have to seek other paths”.
Meier praised Nolte in his article “Standing Things On Their Head” for speaking to “modify” the thesis that he had introduced in “The Past That Will Not Pass” about the “causal nexus” by claiming the “causal nexus” only existed in Hitler’s mind”. In response to Meier's article, Nolte wrote in a letter to the editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on December 6, 1986 that he did not “defuse” the thesis he presented in his essay “The Past That Will Not Pass”, but merely corrected a few mistakes in his essay "Standing Things On Their Head".
The political scientist Kurt Sontheimer in an essay first published in the Rheinischer Merkur newspaper on November 21, 1986 accused Nolte and company of attempting to create a new “national consciousness” meant to sever the Federal Republic’s “intellectual and spiritual ties to the West”.
In another feuilleton entitled "He Who Wants to Esacpe the Abyss" first published in Die Welt on November 22, 1986, Hildebrand argued in defense of Nolte that the Holocaust was one of out a long sequence of genocides in the 20th century, and asserted that Nolte was only attempting the "historicization" of National Socialism that Broszat had called for
The German political scientist Richard Löwenthal noted that news of Soviet dekulakization and the Holodomor did not reach Germany until 1941, so that Soviet atrocities could not possibly have influenced the Germans as Nolte claimed. Löwenthal argued in a letter to the editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 29, 1986 for the "fundamental difference" in mass murder in Germany and the Soviet Union, and against the "balancing" out of various crimes in the 20th century. Löwenthal contended that comparisons between Hitler and Stalin were appropriate, but comparisons between Hitler and Lenin were not. For Löwenthal, the decisive factor that governed Lenin’s conduct was that right from the onset when he took power, he was involved in civil wars within Russia Löwenthal argued that “Lenin’s battle to hold on to power” did not comprise “one-sided mass annihilation of defenceless people” Speaking of the Russian Civil War, Löwenthal argued that “In all these battles there were heavy losses on both sides and horrible torture and murders of prisoners”  Speaking of the differences between Lenin and Stalin, Löwenthal argued that “What Stalin did from 1929 on was something entirely different” Löwenthal argued that with dekulakization, the so-called “kulaks” were to destroyed by the Soviet state as:
“…a hindrance to forced collectivization. They were not organized. They had not fought. They were shipped to far-away concentration camps and in general were not killed right away, but were forced to suffer conditions that led in the course of time to a miserable death” 
Löwenthal wrote that:
“What Stalin did from 1929 both against peasants and against various other victims, including leading Communists...and returned soldiers, was in fact historically new in its systematic inhumanity, and to this extent comparable with the deeds of Hitler. Certainly, Hitler, like all his contemporaries, had a preconception of the civil wars of Lenin’s time. Just as certainly his own ideas about the total annihilation of the Jews, the Gypsies, the “unworthy of life”, and so on, were independent of Stalin’s example. At any rate the idea of total annihilation of the Jews had already been developed in the last work of Hitler’s mentor, Dietrich Eckart, who died in 1924. For the reference to this source, which leaves no room for “balancing”, I am grateful to Ernst Nolte’s first large book, which appeared in 1963, Faschismus in seiner Epoche [Fascism in Its Epoch] 
Hans Mommsen's twin brother Wolfgang in an essay first published in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on December 1, 1986 charged that Nolte was attempting to egregiously whitewash the German past. Mommsen argued that Nolte was attempting a "justification" of Nazi crimes and making "inappropriate" comparisons of the Holocaust with other genocides. Mommsen wrote that Nolte intended to provide the sort of history that would allow Germans feel good about being Germans by engaging in “…an explanatory strategy that…will be seen as a justification of National Socialist crimes by all those who are still under the influence of the extreme anti-Soviet propaganda of National Socialism". Also in an essay published in the December 1, 1986 edition of The New Republic, the American historian Charles S. Maier rejected Nolte's claim of moral equivalence between the actions of the Soviet Communists and German Nazis under the grounds that while the former were extremely brutal, the latter sought the total extermination of a people, namely the Jews.
The German historian Horst Möller in an essay first published in late 1986 in the Beiträge zur Konfliktforschung magazine argued that Nolte was not attempting to "excuse" Nazi crimes by comparing it with other crimes of others, but was instead trying to explain the Nazi war-crimes. Möller argued that Nolte was only attempting to explain "irrational" events rationally, and that the Nazis really did believe that they were confronted with a world Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy that was out to destroy Germany. Möller asserted that all historical events are unique and thus "singular". Finally, Möller argued that Habermas was gulity to trying to justify Soviet crimes by writing of the "expulsion of the kulaks". Andreas Hillgruber in essay first published in the December 1986 edition of the Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht magazine in a tentative way seemed to lend Nolte support by commenting that what was going on in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s may had influenced Hitler’s thinking on the Jews
In an essay entitled "The Nazi Reign-A Case of Normal Tyranny?" first published in Die neue Gesellschaft magazine in late 1986, the political scientist Walter Euchner wrote that Nolte was wrong when he wrote of Hitler's alleged terror of the Austrian Social Democratic Party parades before 1914, and argued that Social Democratic parties in both Germany and Austria were fundamentally humane and pacifistic, instead of the terrorist-revolutionary entities that Nolte alleged them to be. Euchner wrote that:
"Politicians like Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein certainly did not inspire anyone to phantasies about annihilation. For these Hitler needed neither prewar Marxism nor the Gulag Archipelago. They were in fact a product of his insanity."
Euchner went to argue that there was no comparison of German and Soviet crimes in his view because Germany had had an "outstanding intellectual heritage" and the Nazis had carried out a policy of genocide with the "voluntary support of a substantial part of the traditional elites". The journalist Robert Leicht in an essay first published in Die Zeit on December 26, 1986 asserted that Nolte was attempting to end the German shame over the Holocaust by making "absurd" arguments. Leicht argued that Stalin was not the "real" cause of the Holocaust as Nolte alleged, and that because the Holocaust was without precedent in German history, it was indeed "singular". The political scientist Joachim Perels in an essay first published in the Frankfurter Rundscahu newspaper on December 27, 1986 argued that Nolte's bias could be seen in that Nolte was full of fury against the "permanent status of privilege" that he alleged that those who were descendents of Nazi victims were said to enjoy while at the same time having the utmost sympathy for Hitler and his alleged terror of Bolshevik "Asiatic deeds".
In an essay first published in the Evangelische Kommentare magazine in February 1987, Geiss called Nolte’s claim about Weizmann’s letter being a Jewish “declaration of war” as “hair-raising nonsense” Nolte's admirer Joachim Fest was later to argue in his "Postscript" of April 21, 1987 that Nolte was motivated by purely scholarly concerns, and was only attempting the "historicization" of National Socialism that Martin Broszat called for Fest wrote that in his view:
"In its substance, the dispute was initiated by Ernst Nolte's question whether Hitler's monstrous will to annihilate the Jews, judging from its origin, came from early Viennese impressions or, what is more likely, from later Munich experiences, that is, whether Hitler was an originator or simply being reactive. Despite all the consequences that arouse from his answer, Nolte's question was in fact a purely academic exercise. The conclusions would probably not have caused as much controversy if they had been accompanied by special circumstances"
Fest accused Habermas and his allies of attempting to silence those whose views they disliked. Fest wrote that:
"Standing on the one side, to simplify, are those who want to preserve Hitler and National Socialism as a kind of antimyth that can be used for political intentions-the theory of a conspiracy on the part of the political right, to which Nolte, Stürmer, and Hillgruber are linked. This becomes evident in the defamatory statements and the expansion of the dispute to the historical museums. It is doubtless no coincidence that Habermas, Jäckel, Mommsen and others become involved in the recent election campaign in this way. Many statements in favor of the pluralistic character of scholarship and in favor of an ethos representing a republic of learned men reveal themselves as merely empty phrases to the person who has an overview of these things"
Fest argued that:
"Strictly speaking, Nolte did nothing but take up the suggestion by Broszat and others that National Socialism be historicized. It was clear to anyone with any sense for the topic-and Broszat's opening article made it evident that he too had recognized it-that this transition would be beset with difficulties. But that the most incensed objections would come from those who from the beginning were the spokesmen of historicization-this was no less surprising then the recognition that yesterday's enlighteners are today's intolerant mythologues, people who want to forbid questions from being posed"
Hans-Ulrich Wehler was so enraged by Nolte's views that he wrote a book Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit?: ein polemischer Essay zum "Historikerstreit" (Exoneration of the German Past?: A Polemical Essay about the "Historikerstreit") in 1988, a lengthy polemic attacking every aspect of Nolte's views. Wehler described the Historikerstreit as a "political struggle" for the historical understanding of the German past between "a cartel devoted to repressing and excusing" the memory of the Nazi years, of which Nolte was the chief member, against "the representatives of a liberal-democratic politics, of an enlightened, self-critical position, of a rationality which is critical of ideology". In another essay, Wehler declared:
"Hitler supposedly believed in the reality of this danger [of the Soviet Union threatening Germany]. Moreover, his dread of being overwhelmed by the "Asiatic" Bolsheviks was allegedly the prime motivating force behind his policies and personality. Nolte restated his axiom-one which perhaps reflects the naiveté of an historian who has devoted his life's work to the power of ideologies-in a blunter, more pointed form than ever before in the fall of 1987: "To view Hitler as a German politician rather the anti-Lenin", he reproved hundreds of knowledgeable historians, "strikes me as a proof of a regrettable myopia and narrowness". Starting from his premise, and falling under the sway of the very fears and phobias he himself has played up, Nolte once again defiantly insisted: "If Hitler was a person fundamentally driven by fears-by among others a fear of the "rat cage"-and if this renders "his motivations more understandable", then the war against the Soviet Union was not only "the greatest war ever of destruction and enslavement", but also "in spite of this, objectively speaking [!], a preemptive war".
While Nolte may like to describe his motive as the purely scientific interest of (as he likes to put it) a solitary thinker in search of a supposedly more complex, more accurate understanding of the years between 1917 and 1945, a number of political implications are clearly present. The basic tendency of Nolte's reinterpretation is to unburden German history by relativizing the Holocaust. Nolte claims the Nazi mass murder was modeled on and instigated by the excesses of the Russian Revolution, the Stalinist regime and the Gulag; that it countered this "Asiatic" danger by imitating and surpassing it. This new localization of "absolute evil" in Nolte's political theology leads away from Hitler, National Socialism and German history. It shifts the real origins of fascist barbarism onto the Marxist postulate-and the Bolshevik practice-of extermination. Once again the classic mechanism of locating the source of evil outside one's own history is at work. The German war of destruction certainly remains inhuman. But because its roots supposedly lie in the Marxist theory and Bolshevik class warfare, the German perpetrator is now seen to be reacting in defensive, understandable panic to the "original" inhumanity of the East. From there, it is only one more step to the astounding conclusion that Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the war of conquest and extermination that followed were "objectively speaking"-one can hardly believe one's eyes-"a preemptive war".
Der europäische BürgerkriegEdit
Another area of controversy was Nolte's 1987 book Der europäische Bürgerkrieg and some accompanying statements, in which Nolte appeared to flirt with Holocaust denial as a serious historical argument. In a letter to Otto Dov Kulka of 8 December 1986 Nolte criticized the work of French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on the ground that the Holocaust did in fact occur, but went on to argue that Faurisson’s work was motivated by admirable motives, in the form of sympathy for Palestinians and opposition to Israel. In Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, Nolte claimed that the intentions of Holocaust deniers are "often honorable", and that some of their claims are "not obviously without foundation". Kershaw has argued that Nolte was operating on the borderlines of Holocaust denial with his implied claim that the "negative myth" of the Third Reich was created by Jewish historians, his allegations of the domination of Holocaust scholarship by Jewish historians, and his statements that one should withhold judgment on Holocaust deniers, whom Nolte insists are not exclusively Germans or fascists. In Kershaw's opinion, Nolte is attempting to imply that perhaps Holocaust deniers are on to something.
In Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, Nolte made five different arguments as way of criticizing the uniqueness of the Shoah thesis. There were:
- There were other equally horrible acts of violence in the 20th century. Some of the examples Nolte cited were the Armenian genocide, Soviet deportation of the so-called “traitor nations” like the Crimean Tatars and the Volga Germans, British “area bombing” in World War II, and American violence in the Vietnam War.
- Nazi genocide was only a copy of Soviet genocide, and thus can in no way can be considered unique. In support of this, Nolte claimed that Lenin had “exterminated” the Russian intelligentsia, and used Hitler’s remark at press conference of November 10, 1938 where he commented he might have to “exterminate” the German intelligentsia as an example how he feels that Hitler had merely copied Lenin.
- Nolte argued that the vast majority of Germans had no knowledge of the Shoah while it was going on Nolte claimed that genocide of the Jews was Hitler’s personal pet project, and the Holocaust was the work of only a few Germans entirely unrepresentative of German society Against the American historian Raul Hilberg, who claimed that hundreds of thousands of Germans were complicit in the Shoah from high-ranking bureaucrats to railway clerks and locomotive conductors, Nolte argued that the functional division of labour in a modern society meant that most people in Germany had no idea of how they were assisting in genocide. In support of this, Nolte cited the voluminous memoirs of German generals and Nazi leaders like Albert Speer who claimed to have no idea that their country was engaging in genocide during World War II.
- Nolte maintained that to a certain degree, Nazi anti-Semitic policies were justified responses to Jewish actions against Germany such as Weizmann’s alleged 1939 “declaration of war” on Germany.
- Finally, Nolte hinted that perhaps the Holocaust never happened at all. Nolte claimed that the Wannsee Conference never happened, and argues that most Holocaust scholarship is flawed because most Holocaust historians are Jewish, and thus “biased” against Germany and in favour of the idea that there was a Holocaust.
In Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, Nolte wrote that in 1939 Germany was a "liberal" country compared with the Soviet Union. Nolte argued that most German citizens provided that there were "Aryans" and were not politically active had little to fear from the Gestapo whereas in the Soviet Union at the same time millions were being arrested, tortured and executed by the NKVD. Likewise, Nolte argued that the death rate in the German concentration camps was lower those in the Soviet Gulag camps, and used Hitler's long-running dispute with the German judiciary over the "correct" sentences to hand down as an example of how 1939 Germany was a "normal" country compared to the Soviet Union since Stalin did not have the same trouble with his judges over the "correct" sentences to hand out. The British historian Richard J. Evans wrote that Nolte was taking Hitler's dispute with the judiciary out of context, and that differences between German judges and Hitler were of a degree, not of kind.
Another controversial statement by Nolte in Der europäische Bürgerkrieg was his comment that the Kristallnacht pogrom was not that bad as pogroms in Imperial Russia killed far more Jews than those killed in Kristallnacht, and that anymore more people were in being killed in the Soviet Union during the Great Terror at the same time than were killed in the Kristallnacht. Likewise, Nolte argued that Nazi anti-Semitic laws had hardly affected Jewish participation in the German economy. In this respect, Nolte favourably cited the remarks by Sir Horace Rumbold, the British Ambassador to Germany 1928-33 who claimed that the “ostentatious kind of lifestyle of Jewish bankers and monied people inevitably aroused envy, as unemployment spread generally” and who spoke of “the sins of the Russian and Galician Jews” who came to Germany after 1918. The British historian Richard J. Evans accused Nolte of engaging in “comparative trivialization” with his statements about Kristallnacht and through admitting that Nolte was correct about the higher death toll in Russian pogroms and the Great Terror argued that was irrelevant to the horrors of Kristallnacht. Evans went on to write that Nolte appeared to be ignorant of the effects of various anti-Semitic laws in 1930s Germany which forbid Jews from engaging in professions like the law, medicine, the civil service while the “Aryanization” campaign saw mass expropriations of Jewish businesses.
A further controversial claim in was Nolte’s statement violence in the defence of the social order is always preferable to violence aiming at the destruction of the social order. Thus, Nolte argued that the notorious lenience of judges in the Weimar Republic towards perpetrators of violence from the right while imposing stiff sentences on perpetrators of violence from the left was justified. In this way, Nolte maintained that the very harsh sentences given to the leaders of the Rote Ocktober (Red October) putsch attempt in Hamburg of October 1923 were justified while the light sentences that Hitler and the other Nazi leaders received for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923 were also completely warranted because Nolte claimed that the Nazis were only attempting to overthrow the Weimar Republic in order to save the social order. Nolte claimed that the German Communists were seeking the "social destruction of the bourgeoisie" in the interests of the Soviet Union, which "physically exterminated these classes" while the Nazis sought only the destruction of the "Versailles system".
In 1988, the German historian Eckhard Jesse called Der europäische Bürgerkrieg a "great and bold work" that "the time is not yet ripe" for. Jesse claimed that it would take decades for historians to fully appreciate Nolte's achievement with Der europäische Bürgerkrieg. The British historian Richard J. Evans called Jesse's remarks the most inane remark anyone made during the entire Historikerstreit.
Nolte's critic, the British historian Richard J. Evans accused Nolte of taking too serioulsly the work of Holocaust deniers, whom Evans called cranks, not historians. Likewise, Evans charged that Nolte was guilty of making assertions not supported by the evidence as claiming that the SS massacres of Russian Jews was a form of counterinsurgency or taking at face value the self-justifying claims of German generals who professed to be ignorant of the Shoah. Evans wrote that it was not enough for Nolte to cite the claim of a functional division of labour in modern society as a way of rebutting Hilburg, instead arguing that as a historian Nolte should had found evidence that most people in Germany did not know of the "Final Solution" rather than just a quoting a sociological theory. Evans wrote that most of Nolte's claims were either Der europäische Bürgerkrieg rested either on speculation and/or were based on a slight base of evidence often taken wildly out of context. Moreover, Evans claimed that the bibliography of Der europäische Bürgerkrieg suggested that Nolte was not aware of much of the vast secondary sources on German and Soviet history.
Perhaps the most extreme response to Nolte's thesis occurred on 9 February 1988, when his car was burned by leftist extremists in Berlin. Nolte called the case of arson "terrorism", and maintained that the attack was inspired by his opponents in the Historikerstreit.
Views from AbroadEdit
Criticism from abroad came from Ian Kershaw, Gordon A. Craig, Richard J. Evans, Saul Friedländer, John Lukacs, Michael Marrus, and Timothy Mason. Mason wrote against Nolte in a call for the sort of theories of generic fascism that Nolte himself had once championed:
“If we can do without much of the original contents of the concept of ‘fascism’, we cannot do without comparison. “Historicization” may easily become a recipe for provincialism. And the moral absolutes of Habermas, however politically and didactically impeccable, also carry a shadow of provincialism, as long as they fail to recognize that fascism was a continental phenomenon, and that Nazism was a peculiar part of something much larger. Pol Pot, the rat torture and the fate of the Armenians are all extraneous to any serious discussion of Nazism; Mussolini’s Italy is not.”
Anson Rabinbach accused Nolte of attempting to erase German guilt for the Holocaust. Ian Kershaw wrote that Nolte was claiming that the Jews had essentially brought the Holocaust down on themselves, and were the authors of their own misfortunes in the Shoah. Elie Wiesel called Nolte, together with Klaus Hildebrand, Andreas Hillgruber, and Michael Stürmer, one of the “four bandits” of German historiography. American historian Jerry Muller called Nolte an anti-Semitic for suggesting that the only reason people kept the memory of the Nazi past alive was to place those descended from the victims of National Socialism in a "privileged" position. Muller accused Nolte of writing "pseudo-history" in Der Europäische Bürgrkrieg. Deborah Lipstadt argued in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust that there was no comparison between the Khmer Rouge genocide and the Holocaust because the former had emerged as part of the aftermath of a war that destroyed Cambodia whereas the latter was part of a systematic attempt at genocide committed only because of ideological beliefs. The American historian Charles Maier rejected Nolte’s claims regarding the moral equivalence of the Holocaust and Soviet terror on the grounds that while the latter was extremely brutal, it did not seek the physical annihilation of an entire people as a state policy. The American historian Donald McKale blasted Nolte together with Andreas Hillgruber for their statements that the Allied strategic bombing offensives were just as much acts of genocide as was the Holocaust, writing that that was just the sort of nonsense one would expect from Nazi apologists like Nolte and Hillgruber.
In response to Nolte's article "Between Myth and Revisionism", Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka in a letter to Nolte on November 24, 1985 criticized Nolte for abandoning the view that he expressed in The Three Faces of Fascism that the Holocaust was a "singular" event, and asked "Which of the two Ernst Noltes should we regard as the authentic one?" In his reply, Nolte told Kulka to read his up-coming book Der europäische Bürgerkrieg to better understand his "shift of emphasis". In a reply of May 16, 1986, Kulka accused Nolte of engaging in a "shift of responsibility" with the Holocaust as a "preventive measure" forced on the Germans by the "Jewish provocation" of Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain. In a letter to Nolte on July 18, 1986, Kulka wrote in defense of the "singularity" of the Holocaust that: "The uniqueness of the National Socialist mass murder of the Jews must be understood in the world-historical sense attributed to it-as an attempt to bring about a change in the course of universal history and its goals. Thus, National Socialist anti-Semitism must be regarded as an expression of perhaps the most dangerous crisis of Western civilization with the potentially gravest consequences for the history of mankind..." In a letter to Kulka on October 22, 1986, Nolte wrote: "If I pursed my thinking from 1963 on, it was in a way along the line that an overexaggerted right can be equally an evil, and that an overexaggerated (historical) evil can again, in some way, be right" (emphasis in the original). Kulka accused Nolte of advancing "monocausal, retrospective explanations of universal history" and of engaging in "totalitarian thinking".
The Anglo-German historian H.W. Koch accepted Nolte’s argument that Weizmann’s letter to Chamberlain was indeed a “Jewish declaration of war”, with the oblivious implication since all Jews were now enemies of the Reich, the Germans were entitled to treat the Jews whatever way they wanted to. From abroad came support from Norberto Ceresole and Alfred-Maurice de Zayas.
In a 1987 essay, the Austrian-born Israeli historian Walter Grab accused Nolte of engaging in an “apologia” for Nazi Germany. Grab called Nolte's claim that Weizmann's letter to Chamberlain was a "Jewish declaration of war" that justified the Germans "interning" European Jews a "monstrous theses" that was not supported by the facts. Grab accused Nolte of ignoring the economic impoverishment and the total lack of civil rights that the Jewish community in Germany lived under in 1939. Grab wrote that Nolte "mocks" the Jewish victims of National Socialism with his "absolutely infamous" statement that it was Weizmann's with his letter that caused all of the Jewish death and suffering during the Holocaust.
One of Nolte's letters created another controversy in late 1987, when Otto Dov Kulka complained that a letter he wrote to Nolte criticizing his views was edited by Nolte to make him appear rather sympathetic to Nolte's arguments, and then released to the press. In 1987, Nolte wrote an entire book responding to his critics both German and foreign, Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit : Antwort an meine Kritiker im sogenannten Historikerstreit (The Offense Of The Past: Answer At My Critics In The So-Called Historians' Dispute), which again attracted controversy because Nolte reprinted the edited version of Kulka's letters, despite the latter's objections to their inclusion in the book in their truncated form. In Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit, Nolte declared that the Historikerstreit should have begun 25 years earlier because "everything which has provoked such excitement in the course of this dispute had already been spelled out in those books [Nolte's earlier work]" and that "the simple scheme 'perpetrators-victims' reduces the complexities of history too much" (emphasis in the original). In Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit, Nolte appeared to backtrack from some of his theories, writing that after Weizmann's letter, European Jews should be treated as "civil internees" rather as "prisoners of war". Evans wrote that the sole purpose of Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit appeared to be to obscure the issues by making confusing statements about what he actually said and wrote, and that Nolte's real purpose to justify the Shoah as there is not other reason why Nolte should had been making these arguments. When an anthology was published about the Historikerstreit, Nolte objected to the subtitle “The Documentation of the Controversy Concerning the Singularity of the National Socialist Annihilation of the Jews”, and instead demanded that the subtitle be “Documentation of the Controversy Surrounding the Preconditions and the Character of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Only when it become clear that the book could not be published, did Nolte yield on his demands.
The Historikerstreit attracted much media attention in West Germany, where historians enjoy a higher public profile than is the case in the English-speaking world, and as a result, both Nolte and his opponents became frequent guests on West German radio and television. The Historikerstreit was characterized by a highly vitriolic tone, with both Nolte and his supporters and their opponents often resorting to vicious personal attacks on each other. In particular, the Historikerstreit marked the first occasion since the “Fischer Controversy” of the early 1960s when German historians refused to shake hands with each other. Abroad, the Historikerstreit garnered Nolte some fame, to a somewhat lesser extent. Outside of Austria, foreign press coverage tended to be hostile towards Nolte, with the fiercest criticism coming from Israel. In 1988, an entire edition of Yad Vashem Studies, the journal of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, was devoted to the Historikerstreit. A year earlier, in 1987, concerns about some of the claims being made by both sides in the Historikerstreit led to a conference being called in London that was attended by some of the leading British, American, Israeli, and German specialists in both Soviet and German history. Among those who attended included Sir Ralf Dahrendorf, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Lord Weidenfeld, Harold James, Carol Gluck, Lord Annan, Fritz Stern, Gordon A. Craig, Robert Conquest, Samuel Ettinger, Jürgen Kocka, Sir Nicholas Henderson, Eberhard Jäckel, Hans Mommsen, Michael Stürmer, Joachim Fest, Hagen Schulze, Christian Maier, Wolfgang Mommsen, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Saul Friedländer, Felix Gilbert, Norman Stone, Julius Schoeps, and Charles S. Maier. Nolte was invited to the conference, but declined, citing scheduling conflicts. The Israeli historian Samuel Ettinger described Nolte as someone who wrote about Soviet history despite not being a Soviet specialist. Ettinger went to say about Nolte:
“Quotations from Latsis, who was First Cheka Chief; Tucholsky, the satirist and journalist, and Theodore Kaufmann (who knows who Theodore Kaufmann was?) were used as historical sources. Can an assorted collection of this kind serve as a basis for serious scholarly analysis, the starting point for the claim that poor Hitler was so frightened by the “Asiatic deeds” of the Bolsheviks that he started to exterminate Jewish children? All this without taking into account the historical development of the relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union, the military co-operation during the twenties which as well known to the German General Staff and to Hitler, Tukhachevsky’s speech in 1935 was applauded at a meeting of the General Staff of Germany for its anti-Western remarks. Then there are the negotiations between Stalin and Hitler from ’36 and ’37 onwards which brought a rapprochement and led to the dismissal of Jewish diplomats and other public officials until the division of Poland in 1939”.
The Anglo-American historian of Stalin’s terror, Robert Conquest was quoted as saying about Nolte’s theories:
“I think we all accept the proposition that Nazi crimes were unique and uniquely horrible, that they were a reaction against the Communist terrors seems untenable. It is conceivable that support for the National Socialists may largely have come as a reaction to Lenin’s international civil war launched in 1918, but the actual crimes of the Holocaust are of a totally different nature from Stalin’s crimes and I see no connection whatever. But although there is no causative connection, comparisons can still be made”.
Lord Annan was quoted as saying "Nolte's article may have been sinister, even malevolent, but we have had a great example of an informed debate, of great heart-searching and of a profound examination of the nature of Germany's past and present"”. The German historian Julius Schoeps stated:
"I would like stress a seminal factor in the Historikerstreit: The historians who caused this dispute are men in their sixties, that is, men who were old enough to be in the Hitler Youth, Hitlerjugend; men who were perhaps soldiers in the war; men for whom the collapse of the Third Reich turned into a trauma which is inextricably linked to the key terms Holocaust and Auschwitz. Nolte's reaction is, I think, typical of this generation of scholars. Contrary to some historians who assert that Germans should not ask such questions at all, I believe that Germans must ask them. But there is no need for slanted questions and ambiguous statements which whitewash German history. Unfortunately, questions of this kind were posed in the Historikerstreit; such assertions were made. If historians are suggesting today that Hitler had the right to intern the Jews, they may be tempted to suggest tomorrow that he had the right to kill the Jews. That is why it is crucial to discuss such moral, political, ethical lies".
During the course of the debate, Eberhard Jäckel and Joachim Fest again clashed over the question of the "singularity" of the Holocaust with Fest accusing Jäckel of presenting a "caricature" of his opponents.
The Dispute EndsEdit
Writing in 1989, the British historian Richard J. Evans declared that:
"Finally, Nolte's attempts to establish the comparability of Auschwitz rest in part upon an extension of the concept of "genocide" to actions which cannot plausibly justify being described in this way. However much one might wish to criticize the Allied strategic-bombing offensive against German cities, it cannot be termed genocidal because there was no intention to exterminate the entire German people. Dresden was bombed after Coventry, no the other way around, and it is implausible to suggest that the latter was a response to the former; on the contrary, there was indeed an element of retaliation and revenge in the strategic bombing offensive, which is precisely one of the grounds on which it has often been criticized. There is no evidence to support Nolte's speculation that the ethnic Germans in Poland would have been entirely exterminated had the Nazis not completed their invasion quickly. Neither the Poles nor the Russians had any intention of exterminating the German people as a whole. At this point, it is useful to recall the conclusion of the German historian and Hitler specialist Eberhard Jäckel that "the Nazi murder of the Jews was unique because never before had a state decided and announced, on the authority of its responsible leader, that it intended to kill in its entirety, as far as possible, a particular group of human beings, including its old people, women, children and infants, and then put this decision into action with every possible instrument of power available to the state".
The attempts undertaken by Nolte, Hillgruber, Fest and other neoconservative historians to get around this fact are all ultimately unconvincing. It requires a considerable degree of myopia to regard the policies of the USA in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s or the occupation of Afghanistan by the USSR in the 1980s as "genocide". However much one may deplore the conduct of the occupying armies, there is no evidence of any deliberate policy of exterminating the inhabitants of the countries in question. The terrible massacres of the Armenians by the Turks in 1915 were more deliberate, on a wider scale and concentrated into a far shorter time, then the destruction of human life in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and they were not carried out as part of a military campaign, although they did occur in wartime. But these atrocites were committed as part of a brutal policy of expulsion and resettlement; they did not constitue an attempt to exterminate a whole people. Similar things may be said of the forcible removal of Greeks from Asia Minor during the 1920s, although this has not, in contrast to the events of 1915, generally been regarded as genocide.
The Pol Pot regime in Cambodia witnessed the horrific spectacle of a nation's rulers turning upon their own people, in a manner comparable to that of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin a few years previously. The victims, whose numbers exceeded a million, were killed, not on racial grounds, but as part of a deliberate policy of terror to subdue opposition and revenge against those thought to have collaborated with the American enemy during the previous hostilities. Moreover, the barbarities inflicted on the Cambodian people by the Pol Pot regime were to a considerable extent the result of a brutalizing process that had accompanied a terrible war, during which vast quantities of bombs were dropped on the country, destroying a large part of the moral and physical basis of Cambodian society in the process. This in no way excuses the murderous policies of the Khmer Rouge. But it does show up, once more, the contrast with the Nazi genocide of the Jews, which, as we have seen, was a gratuitous act carried out by a prosperous, advanced industrial nation at the height of its power.".
Evans criticized Nolte for crediting the remark about the Armenian genocide as an "Asiatic deed" to Scheubner-Richter, when in fact, it came from a 1938 biography of Scheubner-Richter. Moreover, Evans maintained that there is no evidence to support Nolte's claim that because Max Scheubner-Richter was opposed to the Armenian genocide, that proved that Hitler thought the same way in 1915. Citing Mein Kampf, Evans argued that Hitler was an anti-Semitic long before 1914 and that it was the moderate left SPD, not the Bolsheviks that Hitler regarded as his main enemies
Nolte’s opponents have expressed intense disagreement with his evidence for a Jewish "war" on Germany. They argue that Weizmann’s letter to Chamberlain was written in his capacity as head of the World Zionist Organization, not on behalf of the entire Jewish people of the world, and that Nolte’s views are based on the spurious idea that all Jews comprised a distinct "nationality" who take their marching orders from Jewish organizations. Lipstadt criticized Nolte’s thesis on the grounds that first, Weizmann had no army in 1939 to wage “war” against Germany with, and that Nolte had totally ignored the previous six years of Nazi persecution of the Jews, making it sound like as if Weizmann had struck a low blow against Germany for no apparent reason in 1939. Furthermore, it has been contended that there is no evidence that Hitler ever heard of Weizmann’s letter to Chamberlain, and that it was natural for Weizmann, a British Jew, to declare his support for his country against a fiercely anti-Semitic regime.
As for Kaufman’s book, the Nazis were certainly aware of it; during the war, Germany Must Perish! was translated into German and widely promoted as an example of what Jews thought about Germans. But most historians contended that the radical views of one American Jew can in no way be taken as typical of what all European Jews were thinking, and to put the call for the forced sterilization of Germans that was never carried out as Allied policy in the same league as the Holocaust shows a profound moral insensitivity. Moreover, it has been shown that there is no indication that Kaufman's book ever played any role in the decision-making process that led to the Holocaust. Finally, it has been contended that Nolte's comparison of the Holocaust with the internment of Japanese Americans is false, because the Jews of Europe were sent to death camps rather than internment camps, and the U.S. government did not attempt to exterminate the Japanese Americans in the internment camps.
Because of the views that he expressed during the Historikerstreit, Nolte has often been accused of being a Nazi apologist and an anti-Semitic. Nolte has always vehemently denied these charges, and has insisted that he is a neo-liberal in his politics. Nolte is by his own admission an intense German nationalist and his stated goal is to restore the sense of pride in their history that he feels the Germans have been missing since 1945. In a September 1987 interview, Nolte stated that the Germans were "once the master race (Herrenvolk), now they are the guilty race (Sündervolk). The one is merely an inversion of the other". Nolte went to declare that he was working towards creating a situation where no one "will demand of the Germans as Germans that they declare themselves guilty". Above all, Nolte is opposed to any sort of Sonderweg interpretation of German history. In Nolte's view, the roots of National Socialism are only to be understood as a "reaction born out of the anxiety of the annihilating occurrence of the Russian Revolution". In Nolte's opinion, National Socialism lacked any connection with pre-1917 German history. Likewise, Nolte has criticized those who sought like William L. Shirer and A. J. P. Taylor to equate Deutschum (Germanism) with National Socialism as guilty of anti-German racism. Nolte’s defenders have pointed to numerous statements on his part condemning Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Nolte’s critics have acknowledged these statements, but go on to claim that Nolte makes arguments that can be construed as being sympathetic to the Nazis such as his defence of the Commissar Order as a legitimate military order, his argument that the Einsatzgruppen massacres of Soviet Jews were a reasonable "preventive security" response to partisan attacks, his statements citing Viktor Suvorov that Operation Barbarossa was an "preventive war" forced on Hitler by an alleged impeding Soviet attack, his claim that too much scholarship on the Shoah has been done by "biased" Jewish historians or his use of Nazi-era language such as Nolte's practice of referring to the Red Army soldiers in World War II as “Asiatic hordes”. Evans described Nolte's methods in first criticizing and then offering a justification for the Third Reich as a similar methodology to Edward Gibbon, who in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote that the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity was due to the work of God, and that the historian could only explain the "secondary causes", which Gibbon depicted as moral rot, hatred, degeneracy, and greed, an ironical collection of "secondary causes", which Evans noted completely undermined the first statement. Many British and American historians have been angered by Nolte's statements in the Historikerstreit that there was no moral difference between British "area bombing" of German cities in World War II, American war crimes in the Vietnam War and Nazi war crimes. Citing David Irving, Nolte called the destruction of Hamburg by the RAF an example of the British determination to "annihilate" the German population, which was in no way morally different from the Holocaust. Nolte argued that the British "area bombing" was an act of genocide against the German people, and was not a response to German bombing of Britain. Nolte went to argue that "the conduct of war by the Soviet Union was characterized by genocide to an even greater degree than that of England was". Many have charged that Nolte’s argument was meant to create a moral equivalence between British “area bombing”, American war crimes in Vietnam such as the My Lai Massacre, and the Shoah, as a way of diminishing the significance of the Holocaust. Evans wrote that almost everything Nolte had to say echoed Nazi propaganda and that:
"The use of the word "Asiatic", even with the limited distance lent it by its enclosure in quotation marks, to describe the misdeeds of the Bolsheviks, inevitably recalls years of racist scaremongering, in which Communism was portrayed as the creed of slit-eyed subhumans threatening Germany from the East".
Many historians have complained that Nolte’s concept of an European Civil War between fascism and Communism was too Euro-centric, ignoring completely the role of the United States, China, Japan and other non-European nations in World War II. Through Nolte’s concept of the European Civil War was and is not widely accepted, his book was typical of a trend in World War historiography towards emphasizing the role of ideology as a factor in World War II decision-making.
In 1990, the American historian Peter Baldwin wrote about Nolte that “Without the escalation into the Debate, Nolte would have trod his course alone, spinning out increasing outré opinions in diminishingly influential megavolumes, gradually becoming the William Shockley of the historical profession and dimming what would otherwise have been a still luminescent reputation”. Baldwin suggested that the reason why Nolte's essays sparked such controversy were due to the timing of Nolte's articles in the mid-1980s, when a left-wing backlash was beginning against the conservative Wende (turn) of the early 1980s while at the same time, the desire of some German rightists for a "normal" past” was being expressed with increasing vocalness.
Nolte’s critics have frequently charged him with having neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic sympathies. The American journalist Jacob Heilbrunn called Nolte the "spiritus rector" of the German "new right". Others have complained about Nolte's argument in his 1993 book Streitpunkte (Points of Contention) that after the Second World War the American occupation authorities in their zone mistakenly brought the idea of multiculturalism to Germany. Another line of criticism has centered around Nolte's frequent, and heavy use of the work of the controversial British Holocaust Denier David Irving and the American historical writer David Hoggan to support his arguments.
Nolte has always denied these allegations of Nazi sympathies. He has pointed out that he always refused frequent offers to speak at the gatherings of the Institute for Historical Review; Nolte's critics such as Deborah Lipstadt have charged that the nature of Nolte's arguments about the Holocaust such as his suggestion in Der europäische Bürgerkrieg that the Wannsee Conference may not have occurred has led to these frequent invitations to speak at the I.H.R. Likewise, Nolte has often vehemently criticized the laws banning Holocaust denial in Germany as a violation of free speech, and has called for their repeal. Lipstadt has argued that in her view the nature of Nolte's work is a more insidious and dangerous form of revisionism than the work of David Irving.
In 1989, the German historian Jürgen Förster that it was simply not true as most German Army commanders claimed in their memoirs and Nolte who accepted these claims that the Commissar Order was not enforced. Förster wrote that Nolte was being partiuclary sloppy in taking at face value the claim that German officers did not obey the Commissar Order and that the reports of the thousands of executions of Red Army commissars sent in by the Wehrmacht generals in 1941-42 were all false. In September 1989, the American writer Ralph Raico defended Nolte by writing:
"The attack on Nolte was launched by the leftist philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who took issue not with Nolte's historiography — his essays showed that Habermas was in no position to judge this — but with what he viewed as its ideological implications. Habermas also targeted a couple of other German historians, and added other points, like the plan to establish museums of German history in West Berlin and in Bonn, to the indictment. But Nolte and his thesis have continued to be at the center of the Historikerstreit. He was accused of "historicizing" and "relativizing" the Holocaust and chided for questioning its "uniqueness".
Several of the biggest names among academic historians in the Federal Republic, and then in Britain and America as well, joined in the hunt, gleefully seizing upon some of Nolte's less felicitous expressions and weaker minor points. In Berlin, radicals set fire to his car; at Oxford, Wolfson College withdrew an invitation to deliver a lecture, after pressure was applied, just as a major German organization dispensing research grants rescinded a commitment to Nolte under Israeli pressure. In the American press, ignorant editors, who couldn't care less anyway, now routinely permit Nolte to be represented as an apologist for Nazism."
“Professor Ernst Nolte, a respected German scholar and student of political movements, especially in the field of fascism, National Socialism and totalitarian regimes, has made statements in his writings that contain elements taken from revisionist [Holocaust denial] trends and arguments. Of course, Nolte does not deny there was a Holocaust, but he argues that Hitler had reason to be wary of the Jews. Some of them, like Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, had declared at the outbreak of the war that the Jews considered themselves part of the democratic camp that was fighting the Nazis and therefore the Jewish people had declared war on Hitler. Moreover, Nolte believes that the Holocaust was no different from other mass murders carried out in the twentieth century, the only unique feature being the use of gas for the murders. He points out that Hitler’s massacres were preceded by those of Stalin and that these may have been not only a model, but also a motive for the Holocaust. The publication of Nolte’s controversial ideas sparked a sharp and widespread debate in which many leading German historians participated; quite a few were inclined to justify Nolte’s assumptions or even to agree with him”.
In a 1990 interview, Nolte appeared to imply that there was something to the Leuchter report:
"If the revisionists and Leuchter among them have made it clear to the public that even "Auschwitz" must be an object of scientific inquiry and controversy then they should be given credit for this. Even if it finally turned out that the number of victims was even greater and the procedures were even more horrific than has been assumed until now."
Also in 1990, Nolte published his book Nietzsche und der Nietzscheanismus, in which he called Friedrich Nietzsche's "party of life" concept a philosophical justification for genocide. Nolte argued that Nietzsche was the greatest prophet of the modern age because he understood that "civil war unreservedly as a precondition for the salvation of a nation". According to Nolte, Nietzsche was forced to advocate "biological destruction" and "historical-philosophical destruction" of entire peoples in response to Karl Marx's call for "social destruction" of entire classes. In this way, Nolte argued that Nietzsche and Marx were the two prophets of the 19th century who anticipated the European Civil War of the 20th century. In the same year, Nolte was a contributor to the volume Die Schatten der Vergangenheit (The Shadows of the Past) co-edited by Eckhard Jesse, Rainer Zitelmann and Uwe Backes intended to achieve the sort of "historization" of National Socialism called for by Martin Broszat in a 1985 essay. In his chapter, Nolte once more renewed his debate with his opponents from the Historikerstreit about the merits of his theories of a “causal nexus” between fascism and Communism. In a review of Die Schatten der Vergangenheit on November 23, 1990, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote of Zitelmann’s discussion of Nolte that: “Exemplary in its objectivity is Rainer Zitelmann’s discussion of Ernst Nolte. Zitelmann points out analogies with Marxist theories on fascism, and suggests that it is impermissible to pinpoint ‘anti-Bolshevism in a one-sided and generalising manner’ as the central motive of the National-Socialists.”
The reception on the part of most historians to Nolte's 1991 book Geschichtsdenken im 20. Jahrhundert (Historical Thinking In the 20th Century) was very hostile at best. In the latter work, Nolte asserted that the 20th century produced three “extraordinary states”, namely Germany, the Soviet Union, and Israel. Nolte claimed that all three were “abnormal once”, but whereas the Soviet Union and Germany were now “normal” states, Israel was still an “abnormal” state and was, in Nolte’s view, in danger of becoming a fascist state that might commit genocide against the Palestinians. Many criticized Nolte’s book as both anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, with its implied conclusion that there is a moral equivalence between Soviet Communism, German National Socialism and Israeli democracy. Likewise, the book was criticized for including a hypothetical act of mass murder on the part of Israel being lumped in with real cases of German and Soviet mass murder. In the same book, Nolte strongly implied through a favorable quotation of a letter by Kurt Heller that the use of gas chambers in the Holocaust was a entirely a defensive measure.
In 1992, Nolte again attracted controversy with a biography of his mentor, Martin Heidegger, whose turn to Nazism was justified by Nolte under the grounds that in the context of the early 1930s, support for Nazis was a "rational" choice for a German to make. Nolte argued that Heidegger was " gerechtfertigt" (justified) in joining the N.S.D.A.P. as in Nolte's view the only other alternative was the K.P.D.. In April 1993, an exchange took place on the pages of the New York Review of Books between James J. Sheehan and Nolte over the former’s hostile review of Nolte’s biography of Heidegger. Nolte protested that Sheehan misquoted and misinterpreted some of his statements. Sheehan in response to state that Nolte had deliberately engaged in selective misquotation of his review. Perhaps in jest, Nolte described himself in his letter of protest as a “wicked revisionist”.
In 1992, the Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote that Nolte was one of the leaders of the "new revisionism" in German history that sparked the Historikerstreit of the late 1980s, who were all in some ways seeking to promote the image of the Wehrmacht as a force for the good, and seeking to portray the Wehrmacht as a victim of the Allies rather the victimizer of the peoples of Europe, writing of "...the bizarre inversion of the Wehrmacht's roles proposed by all three exponents of the new revisionism, whereby overtly or by implication the Army is transformed from culprit to saviour, from an object of hatred and fear to one of empathy and pity, from victimizer to victim". Specially, Bartov noted that for:
- That Michael Stürmer’s geographical interpretation of German history meant that Germany’s "mission" in Central Europe was to serve as a bulwark against the Slavic menace from the East in both World Wars.
- That Nolte’s argument about a "casual nexus" with the National Socialist genocide as an logical, if extreme response to the horrors of Communism led to Wehrmacht crimes in the Soviet Union being portrayed as essentially justified. This was even more the case as Nolte insisted that Operation Barbarossa was as Hitler claimed a "preventive war", which meant that for Nolte Wehrmacht war crimes were portrayed as a defensive response to the threat posed to Germany by the "Asiatic hordes".
- That Andreas Hillgruber’s call for historians to "identity" and "empathize" with German troops fighting on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 implicitly devalued the lives of those suffering and dying in the Holocaust, which was allowed to continue in part because the German troops held out for so long.
Bartov wrote that all three historians had in varying ways sought to justify and excuse [War crimes of the Wehrmacht|[Wehrmacht war crimes]] by depicting the Wehrmacht as engaging in a heroic battle for Western civilization, often using the same language as the Nazis such as referring to the Red Army as the "Asiatic hordes". Bartov ended that these sorts of arguments reflected a broader unwillingness of the part of some Germans to admit to what their Army did during the war.
Though Nolte has never denied the Holocaust, he has often praised the work of David Irving, David Hoggan, Fred Leuchter, Arthur Butz, Paul Rassinier and other Holocaust deniers as superior to the work of "mainstream" scholars; in 1993 in his book Streitpunkte Nolte wrote that:
"radical revisionists [Holocaust deniers] have presented research which, if one is familiar with the source material and the critique of the sources, is probably superior to that of the established historians of Germany".
The German historian Karl Dietrich Bracher in his 1992 book Turning Points in Modern Times attacked Nolte for his claims that German National Socialism was merely a “mirror image” of the Soviet Union. Bracher wrote that Nolte’s work “trivializes” the vicious racism that Bracher claimed was at the heart of National Socialism. In 1993, the American historian Richard Pipes criticized Nolte for engaging in an post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument. Pipes wrote that both Italian Fascism and German National Socialism were indigenous products of their countries and could not be described as a reaction to the Russian Revolution.
In a 1994 interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Nolte stated "I cannot rule out the importance of the investigation of the gas chambers in which they looked for remnants of the [chemical process engendered by Zyklon B]", and that “Of course, I am against revisionists [Holocaust deniers], but Fred Leuchter's "study" of the Nazi gas ovens has to be given attention, because one has to stay open to "other" ideas.” In the same interview, Nolte stated: "Hitler was not only an ideologue, but... the Second World War was also a war virtually for European unification... Germany could be conceived as the Piedmont of Europe."
Another controversy around Nolte was caused in 1994 when Nolte made a speech that maintained that there was much that was “positive” about Nazism, and that in his opinion many historians neglected the "positive" aspects of Nazism. The last statement caused a very public war of words in 1994 between Nolte and his old antagonist from the Historikerstreit, Rudolf Augstein, who used the pages of Der Spiegel to attack Nolte as a Nazi apologist. Finally, in the interests of public decorum, several politicians called for both Augstein and Nolte to cease their attacks on one another.
In a 1996 interview, Nolte argued that attempts by neo-Nazi skinheads to burn down buildings housing foreign refugee seekers should not be regarded as attempted murder, but rather as an expression of frustration. In the same interview, Nolte criticized those officials who sought to prosecute skinheads for attempted murder as making an “highly questionable” decision; in Nolte's opinion, there were any number of perfectly good reasons why someone might want to firebomb a refugee hostel. Since the Historikerstreit, Nolte has become an increasing marginalized figure within the German historical profession. Even those in favor of German nationalism such as Michael Wolffsohn and Michael Stürmer have sought to distance themselves from Nolte.
In his 1997 book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present, the American historian Ward Churchill wrote that through Nolte had “many shortcomings” as a scholar, that Deborah Lipstadt's critique of Nolte in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust was flawed as Churchill accused her of “ignoring the facts” in her criticism of Nolte. Churchill called Nolte a “neoliberal known for his masterly historical/philosophical analysis of fascism” whose more recent work was “problematical”. Churchill accused Lipstadt of “smearing” Nolte with the Holocaust denial brush for his attempts to argue that the Holocaust was not unique.
Another controversial work by Nolte was his 1998 book Historische Existenz (Historical Existence). A prominent theme of the latter book was a restatement of Nolte's view first expressed during the Historikerstreit, that because a disproportionate number of Soviet partisans were Jews, the Einsatzgruppen massacres, which saw about 2.2 million Soviet Jews shot in 1941–1942 were an acceptable "preventive security" tactic that should not be regarded as either a war crime or a crime against humanity. In the same book, Nolte argued that in 1939 Hitler had “serious reasons” to rightfully consider all Jews as an enemy, and had the right to take “appropriate measures” against the Jews. Quoting passages in the Tanakh where God orders the Israelites to kill all of their enemies, Nolte argues that this was proof of what he claims to be the alleged Jewish genocidal mentality that Hitler had to deal with. In 1998, Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer wrote of Nolte,
"In Germany, Berlin historian Ernst Nolte continues his untenable propagation of myths about the Nazis supposedly copied the death camps from the Soviet Gulags, arguing that what the Nazis did was no different from Allied war crimes such as the firebombing of Dresden, or the Stalinist or Maoist purges. The purpose is clearly to free German society from bearing any particular responsibility for World War II generally, and the Holocaust in particular; for Germans, as the late German conservative politician Franz Josef Strauss said, to walk tall again."
Between 1995–1997, Nolte via a series of letters had a debate with French historian François Furet over the relationship between fascism and Communism. The debate had been started by a footnote in Furet's book, Le Passé d'une illusion (The Passing of an Illusion), in which Furet had expressed his disagreement with Nolte's theories about Communism and fascism, leading Nolte to write a letter of protest to Furet. Furet argued that both ideologies were Totalitarian twins that shared the same origins, while Nolte repeated his views of there having been a kausale Nexus (causal nexus) with fascism as a response to Communism. After Furet's death, the letters were subsequently published in a book in France in 1998 as Fascisme et Communisme: échange épistolaire avec l'historien allemand Ernst Nolte prolongeant la Historikerstreit (Fascism and Communism: Epistolary Exchanges With The German Historian Ernst Nolte Extending The Historikerstreit), which was translated into English as Fascism and Communism in 2001. Through charging Stalin was guilty of great crimes, Furet wrote to Nolte that he did not feel that there was a precise parallel in the manner suggested by Nolte between the Holocaust and dekulakization. Furet contended that though the history of fascism and Communism was essential to European history, there were singular events associated with each movement which differentiated them, contrary to Nolte's conception of them as ultimately comparable. Furet wrote in response to Nolte’s theories that Hitler did not need the example of dekulakization to inspire the Holocaust, and in another letter that extreme anti-Semitism was common in Germany long before the Russian Revolution. Nolte argued in a letter to Furet that the fact that a disproportionate number of socialist and communist leaders in the 19th and 20th centuries were of Jewish origin did provide a “rational core” for the Nazi equating of Jews and Communism
Nolte often contributes Feulliton (opinion pieces) to German newspapers such as Die Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Nolte has often described as one of the "...arguably one of the most brilliant, and certainly the most brooding, German thinkers about history". A major theme of Nolte's essays are the historical consciousness and self-understanding of the Germans. Nolte called the Federal Republic "a state born of contemporary history, a product of catastrophe erected to overcome catastrophe" In a feuilleton piece published in Die Welt entitled “Auschwitz als Argument in der Geschichtstheorie” (Auschwitz As An Argument In The Historical Theory) on 2 January 1999, Nolte criticized his old enemy Richard J. Evans’s book In The Defence of History, on the grounds that aspects of the Holocaust are open to revision, and that therefore, Evans’s attacks on Nolte during the Historikerstreit were unwarranted. Specifically, citing the American political scientist Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Nolte argued that the effectiveness of the gas chambers as killing instruments was exaggerated, that more Jews were killed by mass shooting than by mass gassing, that the number of people killed at Auschwitz was overestimated after 1945 (with about 1 million rather than 4 million being killed there), that Binjamin Wilkomirski's memoir of Auschwitz was a forgery and accordingly, the history of the Holocaust is open to reinterpretation. In a response in October 1999, Evans stated that he agreed with Nolte on these points, and argued that this form of argument was an attempt by Nolte to avoid responding to his criticism of him during the Historikerstreit.
On 4 June 2000, Nolte was awarded the Konrad Adenauer Prize for Literature. The award attracted widespread protests and controversy. The man who delivered Nolte his award, Dr. Horst Möller, of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History), praised Nolte’s scholarship while trying to steer clear of Nolte’s more controversial claims. In response, Heinrich August Winkler argued that Möller should have resigned as the director of the Institute on the grounds that "Mr. Möller allowed himself to become party to an intellectual political offensive aimed at integrating rightist and revisionist positions in the conservative mainstream." Benjamin Meed, the president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, called the award a "repugnant insult to memory." In his acceptance speech, Nolte commented that "We should leave behind the view that the opposite of National Socialist goals is always good and right", while suggesting that excessive "Jewish" support for Communism furnished the Nazis with "rational reasons" for their anti-Semitism.
In August 2000, Nolte wrote a favorable review in the Die Woche newspaper of Norman Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry, claiming Finkelstein’s book buttressed his claim that the memory of the Holocaust had been used by Jewish groups for their own reasons. Nolte’s positive review of The Holocaust Industry may had been related to Finkelstein’s endorsement in his book of Nolte’s demand first made during the Historikerstreit for the “normalization” of the German past In 2000, the Greek historian Aristotle Kallis wrote that Nolte was correct in his call for the end to efforts to "demonise" National Socialism with the Nazi regime been seen as "unique, singular" and without parallel in history. Kallis went on to write that through Nolte's work employed a "dubious methodological and historical validity", his statement that the Shoah "makes critical distance more difficult" when writing about the Nazi years was valid. Kallis finally commented that Nolte's critic Timothy Mason was bang-on when he wrote that Nolte's efforts to bring the Young Turks and the Khmer Rouge into historiography of the Holocaust was an "extraneous" distraction from the real issues, and what the historiography of the Third Reich really needed was a "generic fascism paradigm" of the sort that Mason championed and Nolte had once championed.
The Israeli scholar Sergio I. Minerbi criticized Nolte in a 2002 essay entitled "Ernst Nolte and the Memory of the Shoah" for taking a contradictory series of stands on the Holocaust in Streitpunkte, which allowed him at once and the same time to declare his belief in the reality of the Holocaust while at the same time favorably citing a statement by the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson in such a way as to imply that Faurisson was correct when he denied the Holocaust. Minerbi was also offended by Nolte’s claim that Zionism is for Jews what National Socialism was for Germans. In the same book, Nolte cited Paul Rassinier's statement that "Zionist Israel utilized the suffering and death of non-Zionist Jews at Auschwitz and Treblinka in order to justify the suffering, exile and death of the local Palestinian inhabitants of the land, which the Zionists wanted to conquer and colonialize basing themselves on the Bible" as an example of how feels that Israel exploits the memory of the Holocaust to achieve its foreign policy goals. Minerbi complained that Nolte was presenting a false view of the Holocaust, and that Jews were killed in the Shoah for being Jews, not Zionists.
In a 2003 interview, Lipstadt was quoted as saying:
"Historians such as the German Ernst Nolte are, in some ways, even more dangerous than the deniers. Nolte is an anti-Semite of the first order, who attempts to rehabilitate Hitler by saying that he was no worse than Stalin; but he is careful not to deny the Holocaust. Holocaust deniers make Nolte's life more comfortable. They have, with their radical argumentation, pulled the center a little more to their side. Consequently, a less radical extremist, such as Nolte, finds himself closer to the middle ground, which makes him more dangerous".
The American historian Ward Churchill has defended Nolte against Lipstadt’s charges, on the grounds that Nolte is indeed correct that the Holocaust as just one of many genocides throughout the ages and, therefore, not singularly evil. In 2003–2004, Nolte was a prominent defender of Martin Hohmann, whose views about the Shoah were similar to his own.
In an 2004 book review of Richard Overy's monograph The Dictators, the American historian Anne Applebaum argued that it was a valid intellectual exercise to compare the German and Soviet dictatorships, but complained that Nolte’s arguments had needlessly discredited the comparative approach. In response, in 2005, Nolte was defended against Applelbaum's charge of attempting to justify the Holocaust by Paul Gottfried, who contended that Nolte had merely argued that he Nazis had made a link in their own minds between Jews and Communists, and the Holocaust was an attempt by the Nazis to eliminate the most likely supporters of Communism.
In his 2005 book, The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Émigrés And The Making of National Socialism, the American historian Michael Kellogg argued that there were two extremes of thinking about the origins of National Socialism with Nolte arguing for a “causal nexus” between Communism in Russia and Nazism in Germany while the other extreme was represented by the American historian Daniel Goldhagen's theories about a unique German culture of “eliminationist” anti-Semitism Kellogg argued that his book represented an attempt at a middle position between Nolte’s and Goldhagen’s claims, but that he leaned closer to Nolte’s position, contending that anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic Russian émigrés played a key and underappreciated role in the 1920s in the development of Nazi ideology with their influence on Nazi thinking about Judeo-Bolshevism being especially notable
In an essay entitled "The Logic Of Horror" first published in the Die Zeit newspaper on June 1, 2006, the German historian Götz Aly wrote about Nolte that there was nothing wrong about comparing the German and Soviet dictatorships, but that Nolte did so in a way that was meant to rationalize and excuse the Holocaust. Aly criticized Nolte for his statement in his 1993 book Streitpunkte that the death in the gas chambers of the death camps was a humane move on the part of the Nazis as those who died in the gas chambers suffered a relatively “painless” death. Aly accused Nolte of promoting “Such blatant nonsense, which also displayed outrageous callousness towards the survivors, ruined the essentially correct attempt to historicize the Holocaust comparatively”. However, Aly went on to write that Nolte was correct in claiming that the Holocaust was not unique, but only a part of a broader era of violence in the 20th century. Aly ended his essay by urging historians to take up Nolte’s challenge to write a history that would treat the Shoah as merely one chapter of an era of horror. Aly wrote:
"A historiography that takes such facts into account should not relativize the Holocaust and the central responsibility of the Germans; distinctions must be made between specific cases: some fled to West Berlin, others were deported from the Sudetenland to Bavaria, but the Jews were murdered. Nonetheless, a historiography that takes itself seriously must recognize the patterns and pick up the threads of Europe's history of violence and progress in the first third of the twentieth century in order to localize Auschwitz in historical terms.
This will engender misunderstandings and fresh arguments. But that would be more productive than a policy that ignores connections and which keeps the different but discretely related histories of violence apart from each other and from supposed or actual progress. A small dose of Nolte will do no harm here, but it is likely to lead to results that are quite different to those dreamed of by the "historical thinker" with his monocausal fixation.
The answers to Nolte depend on a desire to ask questions and on solid empirical foundations of the kind laid down by Raul Hilberg. A comprehensive historical positioning would need to centre on the various forms of ethnically and socially motivated mass mobilization and "cleansing." They reached their most extreme form in Nazi Germany's wars of aggression and its murder of the European Jews. In historical terms, the Holocaust has its place within the field shaped by these political forces. Which is why it remains the touchstone for any analysis of the violent era of breaks and ransition in the European history of the first half of the twentieth century".
In a June 2006 interview with the Die Welt newspaper echoing theories he first expressed in The Three Faces of Fascism, Nolte identified Islamic fundamentalism as a "third variant", after Communism and National Socialism, of the “resistance to transcendence”, expressing regret that he will not have enough time to fully study Islamic fascism In the same interview, Nolte said that he not forgive Augstein for calling Hillgruber a “constitutional Nazi” during the Historikerstreit, and claimed that Wehler had helped to hound Hillgruber to his death in 1989. Nolte ended the interview by calling himself a philosopher, not a historian, and argued the hostile reactions he often encountered from historians was due to his status as a philosopher who wrote history.
In 2006, the American historian Fritz Stern wrote he had severed relations with his once close friend Nolte over his statements over the years meant to "relative" the Holocaust. Stern wrote that Nolte was an anti-Semitic for his suggestion that it was "Jewish interests" that kept the memory of the Holocaust alive, and that:
"It was a horrendous breach of decency and common sense to suggest that "interests" kept alive the memory of what most of the world regarded as the greatest crime in history...He was insinuating a thesis that "relatized" the crimes of National Socialism, that treated them as copies, not originals, implying far less guilt. To do so in the form of seeming naive questions was itself offensive".
Stern wrote that the "exemplary work" done by Nolte's critics such as the Mommesen brothers, Kocka, Jäckel, and Wehler had rightfully rebutted Nolte's theories.
Nolte's assertion that Nazi Germany was a "mirror image" of the Soviet Union has also received support from several other more recent scholars, notably from the French historian Stéphane Courtois, who argues both that Nazi Germany adopted its system of repression from Soviet methods, and that Soviet genocides of peoples living in the Caucasus and exterminations of large social groups in Russia were not very much different from similar policies by Nazis:
"The deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result of the famine caused by Stalin's regime "is equal to" the starvation of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime".
Courtois wrote the preface to the French edition of The European Civil War, that was published in 2000.
In his 2006 book No Simple Victory, the British historian Norman Davies appeared to lend Nolte some support by writing:
"Ten years later, in The European Civil War (1987), the German historian Ernst Nolte (b. 1923) brought ideology into the equation. The First World War had spawned the Bolshevik Revolution, he maintained, and fascism should be seen as a "counter-revolution" against Communism. More pointedly, since fascism followed Communism chronologically, he argued that some of the Nazis' political techniques and practices had been copied from those of the Soviet Union. Needless to say, such propositions were thought anathema by leftists who believe that fascism was an original and unparallled evil. At one point Nolte was "disinvited" from giving an lecture at Oxford university, then re-invited by a committee headed by Sir Isaiah Berlin...At the time he published The European Civil War, Ernst Nolte wrote an explanatory article entitled "The Past Which Will Not Pass On', in which he described fascism as a "defensive reaction" to Communism. The word "defensive" was a red rag to the red bulls. It was bad enough for Nolte to have suggested earlier that fascism was a reaction to Communism. But to state that Communism had been the aggressor and fascism the defender was too much to bear...The explosion was immediate. Habermas and other left-wingers went into action with a flurry of articles and letter-writing. They claimed that the uniqueness of the Holocaust was under attack. They disliked comparisons, particulary between the tragedy of the Jews and the misfortuens of the Germans. And they vehemently objected to the idea that the Holocaust could in any way be seen as a reaction to the misdeeds of the Stalinists"
Davies concluded that revealations made after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe after 1989–91 about Soviet crimes had discredited Nolte's critics In 2007, the Canadian historian Robert Gellately, in his book Lenin, Stalin and Hitler The Age of Social Catastrophe, which explicitly maintained there was a moral equivalence between the actions of the Soviet Communists and German Nazis, went out of his way to disassociate himself from Nolte. Gellately wrote that:
"Nolte's statements are an astonishing and reprehensible replication of Nazi rhetoric, notwithstanding his unsuccessful maneuverings to distance himself from the racist ideology of the Third Reich. Suffice it to say he has been roundly and rightly condemned not only for advancing the untenable and shocking position that the Jews were somehow to blame for their own destruction but also for denying against all the evidence that Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in German nationalism."
Some of Nolte’s claims made in his 1993 book Streitpunkte (Points of Contention), such as his assertion that historical understanding of the Holocaust has been “distorted” by “biased” Jewish historians, were recently favorably cited by a website maintained by the government of Iran promoting Holocaust denial. Currently, Nolte is a professor emeritus of contemporary history at the Free University of Berlin. Nolte's latest book, Die dritte radikale Widerstandsbewegung: der Islamismus, a study of Islamism was published in March 2009.
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- Kocka, Jürgen "Hitler Should Not Be Repressed By Stalin and Pol Pot: On The Attempts Of German Historians To Relativize the Enormity of Nazi Crimes" pp. 85–92.
- Leicht, Robert "Only by Facing the Past Can We Be Free. We Are Our Own Past: German History Should Not Be Retouched" pp. 244–248.
- Löwenthal, Richard "Letter to the Editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung November 29, 1986" pp. 199–201.
- Meier, Christian “Keynote Address on the Occasion of the Opening of the Thirty-Sixth Conference of German Historians in Trier, October 8, 1986” pp. 135–142.
- Meier, Christian “Not a Concluding Remark” pp. 177–183.
- Möller, Horst “What May Not Be, Cannot Be: A Plea for Rendering Factual the Controversy about Recent History” pp. 216–221.
- Mommsen, Hans "Search for the 'Lost History'? Observation on the Historical Self-Evidence of the Federal Republic" pp. 101–113.
- Mommsen, Hans "The New Historical Consciousness and the Relativizing of National Socialism" pp. 114–124.
- Mommsen, Wolfgang "Neither Denial nor Forgetfulness Will Free Us From the Past: Harmonizing Our Understanding of History Endangers Freedom" pp. 202–215.
- Nipperdey, Thomas "Under the Domination of Suspicion: Scholarly Statements Should Not Be Judged By Their Political Function" pp. 143–146.
- Perels, Joachim "Those Who Refused to Go Along Left Their Country In The Lurch: The Resistance Is Also Being Reassessed in the Historikerstreit" pp. 249–253.
- Piper, Ernst "Afterword to the Historikerstreit" pp. 272–275.
- Schulze, Hagen "Questions We Have To Face: No Historical Stance Without National Identity" pp. 93–97.
- Sontheimer, Kurt “Makeup Artists are Creating a New Identity” pp. 184–187.
- Winkler, Heinrich August “Eternally in the Shadow of Hitler? The Dispute about the Germans’ Understanding of History” pp. 171–176.
- Pulzer, Peter "Germany Searches for A Less Traumatic Past" pages 16–18 from The Listerner, Volume 117, Issue 3017, June 25, 1987.
- Pulzer, Peter "Germany: Whose History?" pages 1076-1088 from Times Literary Supplement, October 2–8, 1987.
- Pulzer, Peter Review of Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit Antwort an meine Kritiker im sogenannten Historikerstreit page 1095 from The English Historical Review, Volume 103, Issue # 409, October 1988.
- Shlaes, Amity "More History" pages 30–32 from The American Spectator, April 1987.
- Sauer, Wolfgang "National Socialism: Totalitarianism or Fascism?" pp. 404–424 from The American Historical Review, Volume 73, Issue #2, December 1967.
- Schönpflug, Daniel "Histoires Croisees: François Furet, Ernst Nolte and A Comparative History of Totalitarian Movements" pp. 265–290 from European History Quarterly, Volume 37, Issue #2, 2007.
- Shorten, Richard "Europe’s Twentieth Century In Retrospect? A Cautious Note On The Furet/Nolte Debate" pp. 285–304 from European Legacy, Volume 9, Issue #, 2004.
- Stern, Fritz Review of Der Faschismus in Seiner Epoche: Die Action Française, der Italienische Faschismus, der Nationalsozialismus by Ernst Nolte pages 225-227 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 36, Issue # 2, June 1964.
- Sternhell, Zeev "Fascist Ideology" pp. 315–406 from Fascism: A Reader's Guide edited by Walter Laqueur, Harmondsworth, 1976.
- Strute, Karl and Doelken, Theodor (editors) Who's Who In Germany 1982–1983 Volume 2 N-Z, Verlag AG: Zurich, 1983, ISBN 0510-4009.
- Thomas, Gina (editor) The Unresolved Past A Debate In German History, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990, ISBN 0-312-057996-2.
- Vidal-Naquet, Pierre Assassins of Memory Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-231-07457-1.
- Walter Laqueur; Judith Tydor Baumel (2001). The Holocaust encyclopedia. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08432-0.
- Winkler, Karen "German Scholars Sharply Divided Over Place of the Holocaust in History" pages 4–7 from The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 27, 1987.
- Peter Wyden (2002-05-06). The Hitler Virus: The Insidious Legacy of Adolf Hitler. Arcade Pub. ISBN 978-1-55970-616-2.
- Augstein, Rudolf "Ein historisches Recht Hitlers?" (interview with Nolte) pp. 83–103 from Der Spiegel, Issue 40, October 3, 1994.
- Gauweiler, Peter "Bocksgesang im Duett" pp. 55–58 from Der Spiegel, Issue 46, November 14, 1994.
- Volker Kronenberg (1999). Ernst Nolte und das totalitäre Zeitalter: Versuch einer Verständigung. Bouvier Verlag. ISBN 978-3-416-02874-5.
- Leinemann, Jürgen "Der doppelte Aussenseiter" pp. 30–33 from Der Spiegel, Issue 22, May 30, 1994.
- Mommsen, Hans “Das Ressentiment Als Wissenschaft: Ammerkungen zu Ernst Nolte’s Der Europäische Bürgrkrieg 1917–1945: Nationalsozialimus und Bolschewismus” pp. 495–512 from Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Volume 14, Issue #4 1988.
- Nipperdey, Thomas "Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche: Zu den Werken von Ernst Nolte zum Faschismus" pp. 620–638 from Historische Zeitschrift, Volume 210, Issue #3, June 1970.
- Nipperdey, Thomas, Doering-Manteuffel, Anselm & Thamer, Hans-Ulrich (editors) Weltburgerkrieg der Ideologien: Antworten an Ernst Nolte : Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag, Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1993 ISBN 978-3-549-05326-3.
- Jürgen Peter (1995). Der Historikerstreit und die Suche nach einer nationalen Identität der achtziger Jahre. Peter Lang Publishing. ISBN 978-3-631-49294-9.
- Scheibert, Peter Review of Der europäische Bürgerkrieg 1917-1945 Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus pages 745-747 from Historische Zeitschrift, Volume 250, Issue # 3 June 1990.
- Michael Schneider (1995). Volkspädagogik von rechts: Ernst Nolte, die Bemühungen um die Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus und die selbstbewusste Nation. Not Avail. ISBN 978-3-86077-463-2.
- Zitelmann, Rainer Review of Geschichtsdenken im 20 Jahrhundert Von Max Weber bis Hans Jonas pages 710-711 from Historische Zeitschrift, Volume 256, Issue # 3, June 1993.
- Iannone, Luigi "Storia, Europa, Modernità. Intervista ad Ernst Nolte", Le Lettere, 2008
- Corni, Gustavo “La Storiografia 'Privata' di Ernst Nolte” pp. 115–120 from Italia Contemporanea, Volume 175, 1989.
- Landkammer, Joachim “Nazionalsocialismo e Bolscevismo Tra Universalismo e Particolarismo” pp. 511–539 from Storia Contemporanea, Volume 21, Issue 3, 1990
- Perfetti, Francesco “La Concezione Transpolitica della Storia Nel Carteggio Nolte-Del Noce” pp. 725–784 from Storia Contemporanea, Volume 24, Issue #5, 1993.
- Tranfaglia, Nicola “Historikerstreit e dintorni: Una Questione Non Solo Tedesca” pp. 10–15 from Passato e Presente Rivista di Storia Contemporanea, Volume 16, 1988.
- Galkin, I. S "Velikaia Oktiabr'Skaia Sotsialisicheskaia Revoliutsiia i Bor'ba Idei v Istoricheskoi Nauke Na Soveremennom Etape" pp. 14–25 from Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta, Seriia 8: Istoriia, Volume 5, 1977
- Ernst Nolte – personal website (in German)
- Shades of Revisionism: Holocaust Denial and the Conservative Call to Reinterpret German History
- Ernst Nolte and Holocaust Revisionism
- Hitler Apologist Wins German Honor, and a Storm Breaks Out
- The Logic of Horror by Götz Aly.
- A Normal Nazi Review of Martin Heidegger by Ernst Nolte by James J. Sheehan
- Heidegger and Nazism: An Exchange
- Interview with Ernst Nolte in French
- Ernst Nolte and the Memory of the Shoah
- Letter to The New Republic Defending Nolte by Paul Gottfried
- New York Times Report On Nolte Being Awarded the Konrad Adenauer Prize
- Award in Germany: An Insult to Memory
||Professor of Modern History at the University of Marburg
||Professor of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin
1973- (Professor Emeritus since 1991)
|Awards and achievements|
Wolfgang Schäuble, freedom
|Konrad Adenauer Prize, science
(with Otfried Preußler, literature)
Peter Maffay, culture