Open main menu

Martin Broszat (14 August 1926 – 14 October 1989) was a German historian specializing in modern German social history whose work has been described by The Encyclopedia of Historians as indispensable for any serious study of Nazi Germany.[1]

Martin Broszat
Born(1926-08-14)14 August 1926
Died14 October 1989(1989-10-14) (aged 63)
OccupationProfessor, historian
Known forArguing against characterizing Nazi Germany as a totalitarian regime

Broszat was born in Leipzig, Germany and studied history at the University of Leipzig (1944–1949) and at the University of Cologne (1949–1952). He married Alice Welter in 1953 and had three children. He served as a professor at the University of Cologne (1954–1955), at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich (1955–1989) and was a Professor Emeritus at the University of Konstanz (1969–1980). He was head of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute of Contemporary History) between 1972 and 1989.[1]

Throughout his career, Broszat successfully hid the fact that he had joined (or applied to join) the Nazi party in 1944.[2] This only came out after his death, but did not seem to trouble his academic supporters. The concealment raises serious questions which have yet to be fully resolved.

Early workEdit

In 1944, as a university student, Broszat joined the Nazi Party. He had apparently also been a member of the Hitler Youth.[2]

Throughout his academic career, a recurring interest for Broszat, like many German historians of that generation, was the question of why and how National Socialism occurred in Germany. Broszat wrote his dissertation on antisemitism in Germany during the Second Reich. As a historian, Broszat was most interested in exploring historical occurrences and the actions of individuals by scrutinizing the broader social structure that underlay the events of the past.[3] In his 1960 book Der Nationalsozialismus (translated into English in 1966 as German National Socialism 1919–1945), Broszat examined Nazi ideology, which he regarded as incoherent. For Broszat, the constants were anti-communism, antisemitism and the perceived need for Lebensraum. In Broszat's view, these were a cloak for the essence of National Socialism, irrational emotions: an intense desire to realize the "rebirth" of "the German nation"; the need to "act" and irrational hatred directed against those considered Volksfeinde (enemies of the German People) and Volksfremde (those foreign to the German "race").[4]

From the mid-1950s, Broszat served as one of the co-editors of the DTV Weltgeschichte journal. Initially, Broszat's work focused on German Ostpolitik (Eastern Policy) in the 19th and 20th centuries and of the muddled socialism of the Nazis. Broszat's work on German-Polish relations in the 19th–20th centuries was to ultimately win him accolades in Poland as one of the first German historians to offer an honest account of German–Polish relations.[3]

In 1962, Broszat wrote a letter to the Die Zeit newspaper to "hammer home, once more, the persistently ignored or denied difference between concentration and extermination camps".[5] Broszat noted the differences between concentration camps, which were places where the inmates were consistently mistreated but were not the subject of annihilation and death camps, which existed to exterminate people.

In 1961, when the Polish-Jewish historian Joseph Wulf accused the prominent German doctor Dr Wilhelm Hagen, who served in the health department of the General Government during the war, of helping to liquidate Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto, Broszat together with other experts from the Institute of Contemporary History were involved in the effort to silence Wulf during an exchange of letters in 1963.[6] The British historian Ian Kershaw wrote that the Broszat-Wulf letters did not present Broszat in the best light, especially that Broszat seemed to have abandoned his support for Dr. Hagen very reluctantly and to have accepted Wulf's version only half-heartedly.[2]

At the 1963–1965 Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt, Broszat together with other experts from the Institute of Contemporary History such as Helmut Krausnick, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen and Hans Buchheim served as expert witnesses for the prosecution.[3][7] The report that they compiled for the prosecution served as the basis for their 1968 book Anatomy of the SS State, the first comprehensive study of the SS based on SS records.[3][7] In 1983, Broszat together with the other experts from Institute for Contemporary History played a prominent role in debunking the Hitler Diaries.[8]


Broszat argued against characterizing Nazi Germany as a totalitarian regime and criticized Karl Dietrich Bracher and Ernst Nolte for advancing such a notion.[4] With Hans Mommsen, Broszat developed a "structuralist" interpretation of Nazi Germany. Broszat saw Nazi Germany as a welter of competing institutions, putting forth the thesis that this internal rivalry, not Adolf Hitler, provided the driving force behind Nazi Germany. Hitler in Broszat's controversial view, was (to use Mommsen's phrase), a "weak dictator"; as such, the Government of Nazi Germany was not a monocracy (rule by one man), rather a polycracy (rule by many).[4]

In his 1969 book Der Staat Hitlers (The Hitler State), Broszat argued that Nazi Germany was dominated by a power struggle by various institutions and that these power struggles explained the course that Nazi Germany took.[8] Broszat pointed out that the Nazi State was dualistic; the normal institutions of the German state, (theoretically Nazified) operating in parallel to institutions of the Nazi Party, a rival power structure.[4]

That the Nazi state was a jumble of competing bureaucracies in perpetual power struggles has been widely accepted by historians. The second element, that Hitler was a "weak dictator" is less influential on the grounds that although Hitler did not involve himself much in daily administration, this apparent neglect stemmed not from an inability to do so (as Broszat suggested) but a lack of interest in the quotidian. Broszat was a Functionalist on the origins of the Holocaust.[1]

In Broszat's view, the evidence was lacking for the thesis that Hitler was executing a "Programme" in his foreign policy.[9] In the same way, Broszat offered up harsh criticism of Hillgruber's book on German-Romanian relations by arguing that Hillgruber had seriously misunderstood the Reich's relations with Romania by focusing only on the Auswärtiges Amt and upon Hitler.[10]

Critique of David Irving: "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution'"Edit

In an article first published in the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte journal in 1977, later translated into English as "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses", Broszat criticized David Irving's argument in his book Hitler's War that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust but did accept Irving's argument that there was no written order from Hitler for the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".[11] Broszat's essay was notable as the first account of the origins of the Holocaust by a respected historian in which responsibility for the genocide was not assigned entirely to Hitler.[12]

Broszat argued that the radical anti-Semitism of the Nazis had led them to embark on increasingly extreme attempts to expel the Jews of Europe, and after the failure of successive deportation schemes, the lower officials of the Nazi state had started exterminating people on their own initiative.[13]

In the same essay, Broszat was extremely critical of Irving's handling of sources, accusing him of repeatedly seeking to distort the historical record in Hitler's favor.[14]

Alltagsgeschichte and the Bavaria ProjectEdit

Broszat was a pioneer of Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life).[1] To pursue this aim better he led the "Bavaria Project" between 1977 and 1983, which was intended be a comprehensive look at Alltagsgeschichte in Bavaria between 1933 and 1945.[1] In Bayern in der NS-Zeit ("Bavaria in the National Socialist Era") as the six volumes written by the "Bavaria Project" team and edited by Broszat were entitled, depicted actions such as refusal to give the Nazi salute or regularly attending church as a type of resistance. The emphasis upon resistance in "everyday life" in the "Bavaria Project" portrayed Widerstand (resistance) not as a contrast between black and white but rather shades of grey, noting that people who often refused to behave as the Nazi regime wanted in one area often conformed in others; as an example the Bavarian peasants who did business with Jewish cattle dealers in the 1930s despite the efforts of the Nazi regime to stop these transactions otherwise often expressed approval of the anti-Semitic laws.[15]

Through his work on the "Bavaria Project", Broszat formed the concept of Resistenz (immunity), which is not to be confused with resistance (in German Widerstand).[1] Resistenz referred to the ability of institutions such as the Wehrmacht, the Roman Catholic Church and the bureaucracy to enjoy "immunity" from the Nazi claims to total power and to function according to their traditional values, without seeking to challenge the Nazi regime's political monopoly.[1] Broszat used the Resistenz concept to advance the view that at the local level, there was much continuity in Germany between the Weimar Era and the Nazi era.[1]


During the Historikerstreit of 1986–1988, Broszat again strongly criticized Nolte's views and work. In a 1986 essay entitled "Where the Roads Part" in Die Zeit on 3 October 1986, Broszat called Nolte an obnoxious crank and attacked him for his "offensive" claims that the Holocaust had in someway been forced on the Nazi regime by fear of the Soviet Union.[16] As a socialist, Broszat argued against attempts to promote a "less extreme" view of the Nazi period.[8]

"Historicization" of National Socialism and the Debate with Saul FriedländerEdit

He was best known for arguing in a 1985 essay "A Plea For the Historicization of National Socialism" that Nazi Germany should be treated as a "normal" period of history. His call for "historicization" of the treatment of Nazi Germany was controversial, as Broszat called for historians to cease judging the period in overtly moralistic tones and to embark instead upon scientific, dispassionate analysis as they would for any other time.[1]

Broszat called the "normalization" of the Nazi era by focusing on Alltagsgeschichte approach that allow shades of gray by examining both the "normality" of "everyday life" and the "barbarity" of the regime.[17] He wrote that "not all those historically significant developments which occurred in Germany during the Nazi period merely served the regime's goals of inhuman and dictatorial domination" and called for a broader look at the Nazi era.[18] Broszat used as an example of his approach, the wide-ranging reform of the German social insurance system proposed in 1940 by the DAF, which Broszat argued was in many ways the forerunner of the West German social insurance plan of 1957 with such features as pensions guaranteed by the state indexed to the level of GNP (which was not surprising given that many of the same people worked on both plans)[19] In response to Broszat's call for the "historicization" of National Socialism, the historian Rainer Zitelmann suggested that Broszat's "historicization" approach was a fruitful view that just as not everything was evil in the Soviet Union, not everything was evil about Nazi Germany and that the Nazi regime accomplished many successful social reforms[20]

Broszat's call for the "historicization" of the Nazi era as opposed to the "demonization" of the period, involved him in a vigorous debate with three Israeli historians in the latter half of the 1980s. The three historians Broszat debated were Otto Dov Kulka, Dan Diner and above all with the Franco-Israeli historian Saul Friedländer.[1] The debate between Broszat and Friedländer were conducted through a series of letters between 1987 until Broszat's death in 1989. In 1990, the Broszat-Friedländer correspondence were translated into English and published in Reworking the Past Hitler, The Holocaust and the Historians' Debate edited by Peter Baldwin. Broszat's position was highly questionable inasmuch as it refuted the legitimacy of Jewish historiography in favour of objective history. In effect this meant that the perpetrators were (in his view) better able to assess the Holocaust than the victims.

Broszat's "historicization" concept was criticized by the Israeli historian Omer Bartov.[21] By contrast, the American historian John Lukacs,[22] the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas,[23], the German historian Hans Mommsen[24] and the British historian Richard J. Evans supported Broszat's concept.[25]


Broszat saw his work as kritische Aufklärungsarbeit ("critical enlightenment work") and criticized his colleagues for adopting what he perceived as an ahistorical, moralistic approach to history.[1] Broszat's motto was "Geschichte ist nicht Wissen, sondern Leben" (History is not knowledge, but experience").[3] Broszat often attacked historians such as Klaus Hildebrand, Andreas Hillgruber and Eberhard Jäckel for concentrating upon Hitler and his beliefs as explanations for Nazi actions. Broszat saw professional history as a social science that should examine society and culture rather than an individual in explaining the past.[1] Though in disagreement with some of Broszat's conclusions, the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw is Broszat's leading disciple.

In 2002, the American historian Nicholas Berg revealed that Broszat had joined (or had applied to join) the N.S.D.A.P (Nazi Party) and had hidden this after the war, which Berg used to suggest that Broszat's work was an apologia for National Socialism. Berg's attack generated much controversy about the legacy of Broszat. In response, Kershaw wrote that although Broszat's letters to Wulf had been a "mistake", Berg's claims that Broszat was a Nazi apologist were "absurd".[2]


  • "Die Memeldeutschen Organisationen und der Nationalsozialismus" pages 273–278 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 5, Issue #3, July 1957.
  • "Die Anfänge der Berliner NSDAP, 1926/27" pages 85–118 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 8, 1960.
  • Der Nationalsozialismus: Weltanschauung, Programm und Wirklichkeit ("German National Socialism, 1919–1945"), 1960. ASIN B0006BOO64
  • German National Socialism,1919-1945. English translation by Kurt Rosenbaum & Inge Pauli Boehm (Clio Press, Santa Barbara, California,1966).
  • Nationalsozialistische Polenpolitik, 1939–1945 (National Socialist Polish Politics), 1961.
  • "Betrachtungen zu Hitlers Zweitem Buch" pages 417–430 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 9, 1961.
  • co-written with Ladislaus Hory, Der kroatische Ustascha-Staat (The Croatian Ustascha state), 1941–1945, 1966.
  • "Faschismus und Kollaboration in Ostmitteleuropa zwischen dem Weltkriegn" pages 225–251 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 14, Issue 3, July 1966.
  • "Deutschland-Ungarn-Rumänien, Entwicklung und Grundfaktoren nationalsozialistischer hegemonial-Bündnispolitik 1938–41" pages 45–96 from Historische Zeitschrift, Volume 206, Issue 1, February 1968.
  • "The Concentration Camps 1933–45" pages 397–504 from The Anatomy of The SS State co-written with Helmut Krausnick, Hans Buchheim and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Collins: London, 1968.
  • Der Staat Hitlers: Grundlegung und Entwicklung seiner inneren Verfassung ("The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich"), 1969. ISBN 0-582-48997-0, translated into English as The Hitler State : The Foundation And Development Of The Internal Structure Of The Third Reich, London : Longman, 1981, ISBN 0-582-49200-9.
  • "Soziale Motivation und Führer-Bindung im Nationalsozialismus" pages 392–409 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 18, 1970.
  • Bayern in der NS-Zeit ("Bavaria in the National Socialist Era") (editor), 4 volumes, 1977–1983.
  • "Hitler und die Genesis der "Endlösung". Aus Anlaß der Thesen von David Irving", pages 739–775 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 25, 1977, translated into English as "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses pages 73–125 from Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 13,1979; reprinted pages 390–429 in Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch, London: Macmillan, 1985, ISBN 0-333-35272-6.
  • "Zur Struktur der NS-Massenbewegung" pages 52–76 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 31, 1983.
  • Die Machtergreifung: der Aufstieg der NSDAP und die Zerstörung der Weimarer Republik ("Hitler and the Collapse of Weimar Germany "), 1984 ISBN 0-85496-517-3, translated into English as Hitler And The Collapse of Weimar Germany, Leamington Spa : Berg, 1987, ISBN 0-85496-509-2.
  • Nach Hitler: der schwierige Umgang mit unserer Geschichte ("After Hitler: difficult handling our history"), 1987.
  • (co-edited with Norbert Frei) Das Dritte Reich im Überblick Chronik, Eregnisse, Zusammenhänge, 1989.
  • "Where the Roads Part: History Is Not A Suitable Substitute For A Religion Of Nationalism" pages 125–129 from Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993, ISBN 0-391-03784-6.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lorenz, Chris "Broszat, Martin" pp. 143–144 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, volume 1, edited by Kelly Boyd, London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.
  2. ^ a b c d Kershaw, Ian (10 October 2003). "Beware the Moral High Ground". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 5 May 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Deborah Andrews (ed.) "Martin Broszat" in The Annual Obituary 1989. Chicago: St. James Press, 1990, pp. 602–603.
  4. ^ a b c d Chris Lorenz. "Broszat, Martin" in Kelly Boyd (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, volume 1. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999, pp. 143–144.
  5. ^ Deborah Lipstadt. Denying the Holocaust. New York: Free Press, 1993, p. 78.
  6. ^ David Bankier and Dan Michman (eds.). Holocaust Historiography in Context: Emergence, Challenges, Polemics and Achievements. New York: Yad Vashem Publications, 2009, p. 189.
  7. ^ a b Rebecca Wittman. Beyond Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 3.
  8. ^ a b c "Martin Broszat", in Deborah Andrews (ed.), The Annual Obituary 1989. Chicago: St. James Press, 1990, pp. 602–603.
  9. ^ Ian Kershaw. The Nazi Dictatorship. London: Edward Arnold, 2000, p. 139.
  10. ^ Haynes, Rebecca "German Historians and the Romanian National Legionary State 1940-41" pages 676-683 from The Slavonic and East European Review, Volume 71, Issue #4 October 1993 pages 678-679
  11. ^ Broszat, Martin "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses" pages 390–429 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch pages 419–420.
  12. ^ Marrus, Michael The Holocaust In History, Toronto: KeyPorter 2000, page 40.
  13. ^ Broszat, Martin "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses" pages 390–429 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch pages 399–404.
  14. ^ Broszat, Martin. "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses" pages 390–429 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch pages 392–395 & 413–423.
  15. ^ Kershaw, Ian. The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 193.
  16. ^ Broszat, Martin. "Where the Roads Part" pages 125–129 from Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993 page 126
  17. ^ Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship London: Edward Arnold, 2000 page 221.
  18. ^ Baldwin, Peter "The Historikerstreit in Context" pages 3–37 from Reworking the Past edited by Peter Baldwin, Boston, 1990 page 15
  19. ^ Broszat, Martin "A Plea for the Historicization of National Socialism" pages 77–87 from Reworking the Past edited by Peter Baldiwn, Boston, 1990 page 86.
  20. ^ Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 244
  21. ^ Bartov, Omer Germany's war and the Holocaust, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003 pages 232–234
  22. ^ Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 pages 5, 11
  23. ^ Habermas, Jürgen "A Kind of Settlement of Damages On Apologetic Tendencies In German History Writing" pages 34–44 from Forever In the Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993 page 41.
  24. ^ Mommsen, Hans "The Search for the 'Lost History'" pages 101–113 from Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? edited by Ernst Piper, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1993 page 107
  25. ^ Evans, Richard J. In Hitler's Shadow, New York : Pantheon Books, 1989 page 120


  • Baldwin, Peter (editor) Reworking the Past: Hitler, The Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate, Boston: Beacon Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8070-4302-8
    • "A Controversy About the Historicization of National Socialism" pages 102–132.
  • Bartov, Omer Germany's War and the Holocaust Disputed Histories, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8014-8681-5.
  • Browning, Christopher "Zur Genesis der "Endlösung" Eine Antwort an Martin Broszat" pages 96–104 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 29, 1981.
  • Lorenz, Chris "Broszat, Martin" pages 143–144 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 1, edited by Kelly Boyd, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999, ISBN 1-884964-33-8.
  • Henke, Klaus-Dietmar & Natoli, Claudio (editors) Mit dem Pathos der Nüchternheit: Martin Broszat, das Institut für Zeitgeschichte und die Erforschung des Nationalsozializmus (With the Pathos of Soberness: Martin Broszat, the Institute of Contemporary History, and the Research of National Socialism), Frankfurt: Campus, 1991.
  • Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship : Problems and Perspectives Of Interpretation, London : Arnold ; New York : Copublished in the USA by Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-340-76028-1.
  • Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York : Vintage Books, 1998, 1997, ISBN 0-375-70113-3
  • Marrus, Michael The Holocaust in History, Toronto : Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987, ISBN 0-88619-155-6
  • Pätzold, Kurt "Martin Broszat und die Geschichtswissenschaft in der DDR" pages 663–676 from Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 1991.
  • Piper, Ernst (editor) "Historikerstreit": Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistschen Judenvernichtung, Munich: Piper, 1987 translated into English by James Knowlton and Truett Cates as Forever In The Shadow Of Hitler? : Original Documents Of the Historikerstreit, The Controversy Concerning The Singularity Of The Holocaust, Atlantic Highlands, N.J. : Humanities Press, 1993, ISBN 0-391-03784-6.
  • "Martin Broszat" pages 602–603 from The Annual Obituary 1989 edited by Deborah Andrews, Chicago: St. James Press, 1990, ISBN 1-55862-056-7.

External linksEdit