June 21, 2000
Hitler Apologist Wins German Honor, and a Storm Breaks Out
By ROGER COHEN
The Associated Press
historian Ernst Nolte on June 4, making
his acceptance speech.
June 20 -- The award of one of
Germany's most prestigious literary prizes to a
historian who has sought to justify the Holocaust has ignited
a fierce dispute here at a time of conservative and
reactionary intellectual stirrings in Europe.
The historian, Ernst Nolte,
has argued that Hitler's anti-Semitism had a "rational
core" and that Nazism was in essence a riposte to
Bolshevism. He received the Konrad Adenauer Prize for
literature this month, causing an uproar that has filled
newspapers with invective and divided one of the country's
leading historical institutes.
The prize, whose past recipients include former Chancellor
Helmut Kohl, is given for works that "contribute to a
better future" by the Munich-based
Deutschland Foundation. The organization is
conservative and close to the right wing of the Christian
Democratic Party but had not been considered reactionary or
Accepting the prize, Mr. Nolte
said, "We should leave behind the view that the opposite
of National Socialist goals is always good and right." He
added that because Nazism was the "strongest of all
counter forces" to Bolshevism, a movement with wide
Jewish support, Hitler may have had "rational"
reasons for attacking the Jews.
The timing of the prize was particularly delicate because
this is a period of some intellectual ferment in Europe. The
success of the Austrian rightist Jörg Haider in steering his
Freedom Party into government has emboldened the right.
In Germany and France, a conservative reaction is evident
against what the French call "the angelic left,"
which is accused of imposing a stifling political correctness
on debate and of backing a multicultural tide that will sweep
away the European nation state.
In this context, Mr. Nolte has emerged as an
iconoclast with apparently growing conservative appeal. A few
days after receiving the prize, he was widely applauded at a
conference in Paris where he again explored his thesis about
Hitler and the Jews.
"The award of the prize to Nolte was a clear
political statement intended to promote the view that there is
no particular stigma to Nazism in the light of what some
Germans now call the 'Red Holocaust' in the Soviet
Union," said Charles Maier, a Harvard historian. "It's
exculpatory in the German context. It's also really scandalous."
The unease and anger in Germany over the prize has been
accentuated by the fact that another prominent historian,
Horst Möller, the director of the disinguished Institute for
Contemporary History, chose to make the speech honoring Mr. Nolte.
The institute was established after the war in Munich with
a clear educational mission directed largely toward
In his speech, Mr. Möller said he
did not agree with all of Mr. Nolte's views, but went
on to praise a "life's work of high rank" and to
make a vigorous attack on the "hate-filled and defamatory"
attempts to stop open debate in Germany.
The reaction was overwhelming. Newspapers have been filled
with letters from other historians at the institute calling on
Mr. Möller to resign. In an open letter to Die Zeit, Heinrich
A. Winkler, a professor of history at Berlin's Humboldt
University, said, "Mr. Möller allowed himself to become
party to an intellectual political offensive aimed at
integrating rightist and revisionist positions in the
Mr. Möller's secretary said he was traveling and not
available for comment.
With Haiderism thriving in neighboring Austria, the ground
has become fertile in Germany for a nationalist and right-wing
intellectual awakening. It is fed by weariness, even anger, at
what is seen as Germany's eternal victimization for the
Holocaust, and irritation at the multicultural message from a
Mr. Nolte took up these themes in his speech. He
attacked those who argue for "an unstoppable transition
toward world civilization." He bitterly denounced the
"collective accusation" continuously leveled at
Germany since 1945.
The historian, the author of books including "Three
Faces of Fascism" and "The European Civil War,"
has been well known for his argument about Hitler and Stalin
since the 1980's.
But never before has a center-right
institution like the Deutschland Foundation moved to embrace
him in such a formal way, intimating that at least the right
of the Christian Democratic Party may be ready to countenance
the view that the crimes of the Nazis were not unique and have
been unfairly singled out.
Mr. Haider has made a lot of headway in Austria precisely
by questioning the "intellectual tyranny" of the
2000 The New York Times Company