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Hans Louis Trefousse (December 18, 1921 – January 8, 2010) was an American author and historian of the Reconstruction Era and World War II who was a long time professor (and professor emeritus) at Brooklyn College, from 1950 to 1998.[1] He also taught as a distinguished professor of history at City University of New York.[2]

Hans L. Trefousse
BornDecember 19, 1921
DiedJanuary 8, 2010(2010-01-08) (aged 88)
Alma materCity College New York (B.A., 1942);
Columbia University(M.A., 1947)(PhD. 1950)
OccupationAuthor, historian, professor
Spouse(s)Rashelle Friedlander


Early and military lifeEdit

Intelligence officer and interrogator Hans L. Trefousse with the Nazi German Hummel self-propelled gun he convinced the crew of to surrender to the Allies. Near Wurzen, Germany.

Trefousse was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1935 (at age 13) as his parents fled the increasingly totalitarian Nazi regime.[1] He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from New York City College in 1942.[2] He then enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served as an intelligence officer in WW II, using his fluent German to interrogate German soldiers.[1] He also participated in the Liberation of Paris, and in Leipzig saved hundreds of lives by arguing for 11 hours with a Nazi commander holed with many troops, convincing him to surrender to Allied forces.[3]

Using his GI Bill benefits, Trefousse studied history at Columbia University, receiving his M.A. in 1947 and PhD in 1950. He married Rachelle Friedlander two years later, and they had a son and daughter who survived them.[4]


Trefousse initially was interested in diplomatic history, and his first book was German and American Neutrality, 1939-1941. After encountering racist incidents in New York City, he switched focuses, publishing a biography, Ben Butler: the South Called him Beast(1957) detailing the military governor's harsh but efficient administration of New Orleans, Louisiana after its surrender to the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. He continued to teach at Brooklyn College and published many books on the Reconstruction, including biographies of previously maligned Radical Republicans Benjamin F. Wade and Thaddeus Stevens, as well as Presidents Andrew Johnson and Rutherford B. Hayes. Some historians consider his most influential book The Radical Republicans: Lincoln’s Vanguard for Racial Justice (1969), which disagreed with the dominant historical narrative of the time regarding Reconstruction, arguing instead that Reconstruction was a failed attempt "to bring racial justice to the South."[2] In total Trefousse authored over twenty books.[2]

He gained media attention during Bill Clinton's impeachment for drawing comparisons to Johnson's impeachment.


  • The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (1969)
  • The Cold War (1965)
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction (1975)
  • Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (1997)
  • Reconstruction: America's First Effort at Racial Democracy
  • Rutherford B. Hayes (2002)
  • German and American Neutrality, 1939-1941
  • Ben Butler: The South Called Him Beast!
  • Carl Schurz: A Biography (1982)
  • Pearl Harbor: The Continuing Controversy
  • Benjamin Franklin Wade: Radical Republican from Ohio
  • First Among Equals: Abraham Lincoln's Reputation during his Administration (2005)
  • Bicho
  • Historical Dictionary of Reconstruction (1991)


  1. ^ a b c Fox, Margalit (February 4, 2010). "Hans L. Trefousse, Historian and Author, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d Paul A. Thomsen; Joshua Spivak (February 1, 2010). "Hans Trefousse: A Scholar and a Gentleman". History News Network.
  3. ^
  4. ^

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