Singularity and Its Relativization: Changing Views in German Historiography on National Socialism and the “Final Solution”
This paper was presented at the “Remembering for the Future” conference at Oxford in July 1988. In the 1960s–1970s, German historians stressed the singularity of the Holocaust in German and universal history and the central role of antisemitism in Nazi ideology. In the 1980s, the desire to create a new national–historical consciousness in Germany gave rise to different forms of revisionism. Herein, the changing views of Ernst Nolte, Martin Broszat, and Hans Mommsen are examined. Nolte’s relativization, comparing the Holocaust with other mass murders, tends toward a nihilistic approach to history and also allowed some legitimacy to Holocaust denial theories. Broszat’s historicization views National Socialism as an answer to necessary structural changes and modernization in German society. The racial aspect of these changes and the mass murder of the Jews seem to be regarded as irrelevant. Mommsen, following Hannah Arendt, stresses the totalitarian structure of the Reich which, with its impersonal bureaucratic machine, makes the German perpetrators and Jewish leaders equally victims and equally guilty. This rebuttal mentions the work of non-relativizing historians, who have deepened the understanding of the role of antisemitism in Nazi ideology and politics, the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and its world–historical significance.