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Zitelmann studied history and political sciences at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and completed his doctorate in 1986 under Prof. Dr. Karl Otmar Freiherr von Aretin with the grade of "summa cum laude", the subject being the goals of Hitler's social, economic and interior policies. Zitelmann's doctoral dissertation, "Hitler: Selbstverständnis eines Revolutionärs" went through four editions in Germany, and was published in English under the title "Hitler: The Politics of Seduction" (London: London House, 2000).

Next, Zitelmann pursued a career in the conservative print media: Following his work as a research assistant at the Free University of Berlin, he became editorial director for the publishing houses of Ullstein and Propylaeen in 1992. Soon thereafter, he transferred to the German daily Die Welt as head of desk for contemporary thought. Later, Zitelmann transferred to the desk for contemporary history and finally to the real estate desk. In the year 2000, he founded Dr.ZitelmannPB. GmbH, a company that has since become Germany's market leader in PR consultancy for real estate companies. Dr.ZitelmannPB. counts numerous internationally active companies among its clients, including CBRE, Ernst & Young Real Estate, Jamestown, Cordea Savills, and NCC, among others. Zitelmann was the managing director of Dr. ZitelmannPB. GmbH until the end of February 2016. Since then he takes on an advisory role for the company.[1]


Zitelmann has written a total of 21 books. His books are successful all around the world, especially in China, India and South Korea. In English:

  • Hitler: The Policies of Seduction, Allison & Busby, London 2000.
  • Dare to be Different and Grow Rich, Indus Source Books, Mumbai 2012.
  • The Wealth Elite: A groundbreaking study of the psychology of the super rich., Lid Publishing, London and New York 2018.
  • The Power of Capitalism, Lid Publishing, London and New York 2018.

Zitelmann is a regular contributor to Wallstreet-Online, writing in German on topical economic, political and financial subjects.

Examination of National-SocialismEdit

Hitler's Sense of Self as a RevolutionaryEdit

As a historian, Zitelmann is best known for his argument that Nazi Germany followed a conscious strategy of modernization.[2] In his doctoral thesis, Zitelmann strove to show that the modernising efforts of the Third Reich, already diagnosed by scholars like Ralf Dahrendorf, David Schoenbaum and Henry Ashby Turner were in fact intended as such. Unlike Dahrendorf, Schoenbaum and Turner who argued that the modernization of German society during the Nazi period was an unintentional side effect or was merely a necessary adjunct towards achieving profoundly anti-modern goals, Zitelmann argued that modernization of German society was both intended and a central goal of the Nazis.[2] A review published in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel dated July 14, 1988, suggests that “the most important finding of [Zitelmann’s] work” is the following: “Hitler saw himself uncompromisingly as a revolutionary. Dahrendorf’s and Schoenbaum’s hypothesis, according to which national-socialism had a revolutionising and modernising effect in the social area without actually having intended this, needs to be revised.”

Zitelmann argues that far from seeking the agrarian fantasies of Heinrich Himmler or Richard Walther Darré, Hitler wished to see a highly industrialized Germany that would be on the leading edge of modern technology.[3] Closely linked to the latter goal, was Zitelmann maintains was Hitler's desire to see the destruction of the traditional values and class distinctions of German society and their replacement, for at least those Germans considered “Aryan” of a relatively egalitarian, merit-based society.[3] Zitelmann argued that far being from being incoherent, disorganized, confused and marginal as traditionally viewed, Hitler's social ideas were in fact, very logical and systematic, and at the core of Hitler's weltanschauung (worldview).[4] Zitelmann has argued Hitler was much influenced by Joseph Stalin's modernization of the Soviet Union, and has argued that as Führer, consciously pursued a revolutionary modernization of German society.[4] As part of his arguments, Zitelmann has maintained that "modernization" should be regarded as "value-free" category, and links with "progress" and humaniarism should be severed.[4] Zitelmann's work has faced criticism from those such as Sir Ian Kershaw who have argued that Zitelmann has elevated what were merely secondary considerations in Hitler's remarks to the primary level, and Zitelmann has not offered a clear definition of "modernization".[5]

The Bonn-based historian Prof. Klaus Hildebrand reviewed the thesis for the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in its September 29, 1987, issue, saying: “To view Hitler—just like Stalin and Mao Zedong—as representatives of a permanent revolution or a modernising dictatorship reopens an academic debate that has been ongoing since the years between the wars of the twentieth century. To be welcomed in this context is that Zitelmann, critically controlling his sources and striving for objective balance, inquires with renewed vigour into Hitler’s motives while remaining fully aware of the fact that history fails to coincide with human intentions.”

In his research overview, The Hitler of History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), the American historian John Lukacs presented Zitelmann's thesis, as well as his book "Hitler. Eine politische Biographie" (Hitler. A Political Biography), as important contributions to the scientific study of Hitler. The echo in specialist journals, such as the "Journal of Modern History" (in a review by Prof. Klemens von Klemperer), and the "Historische Zeitschrift", were predominantly positive. “Rainer Zitelmann has written one of those books that make you wonder why they have not been available much earlier,” Prof. Peter Krüger wrote in the "Historische Zeitschrift", Germany's leading academic journal for historiography. In the historiographic quarterly "Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte", the Polish historian Franciszek Ryszka reached the verdict: “Without a doubt, Dr. Zitelmann’s merit is to have substantially amended, and possibly surpassed, all other Hitler biographies.” At the same time, critical voices could also be heard, for instance in the German weekly "Die Zeit", dated October 2, 1987. On September 22, 1989, the critical review in "Die Zeit" was followed by another review of the two Hitler studies that, while also containing some critical remarks, came to the overall conclusion that Zitelmann had submitted a Hitler biography that was “emphatically sober, without any superfluous moralising, not omitting any of the dictator’s villainies.” However, the reviewer suggested, “the image of Hitler drawn by the author [calls for] some amendments and corrections.”

The American Historical Review wrote (May 1989): “Zitelmann’s book is an admirable example of exhaustive scholarship on an important aspect of the mind of Hitler. But it is less likely to stand as a decisive synthesis than as a provocative turn in the pursuit of the eternal enigmas of the Third Reich and its creator.” In the 2/1988 issue of the "Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen", the American historian Prof. Gerhard L. Weinberg wrote: “This work will require all who concern themselves with the Third Reich to rethink their own ideas and to reexamine the evidence on which those ideas are based. For any book to do that today is itself a major accomplishment. It would certainly be most unwise for any scholar to ignore the picture of Hitler presented here simply because it does not fit in with his or her own preconceptions.”

In a feuilleton published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on October 18, 1989 Zitelmann praised Holocaust denier David Irving for having “struck a nerve” with his provocative style and aggressive assertions.[6] Zitelmann found much to be praised about Irving's claim that the lack of a written Führer order for the Shoah suggests that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust, and argued that if that was true, then historians should stop holding the Holocaust against Hitler.[6] Zitelmann ended his article with the claim that “Irving must not be ignored. He has weaknesses [but he is] one of the best knowers of sources…[and has] contributed much to research”.[6]

Rainer Zitelmann criticised Irving in the liberal German weekly "Die Zeit" on 6 October 1989. Zitelmann questioned the fact that Irving had said “not without a certain hubris… that he sees no need to pay any mind to the academic debate and research findings of the ‘old-school historians’ he detests.” Zitelmann criticised specifically that Irving deleted the word ‘extermination camp’ from the new edition of his Hitler biography, and that he now appeared to share the notions entertained by revisionist historians. “This entire development,” as Zitelmann said in ‘Die Zeit’, “has so far not been adequately acknowledged and addressed by West German historians.” He called on these historians to be more “aggressive” when critically engaging Irving.

In 1991, Zitelmann edited, together with the Bielefeld-based historian Michael Prinz, the anthology Nationalsozialismus und Modernisierung (National-Socialism and Modernisation; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft). On September 19, 1991, the weekly Die Zeit read: “The evidence presented here in order to substantiate the modernisation dynamics of national-socialism are impressive, and they underline how misleading a one-sided view of national-socialism from the perspective of the ‘Blood and soil’ romanticism would be; the latter having been widely spread, and having essentially contributed to an underrating of national-socialism.” At the same time, the reviewer criticises that the volume’s contributing authors had exceeded their mark, and should have given more attention to the NSDAP art policy, for instance. “The problem of national-socialism and modernisation is therefore not to be resolved with a simple formula. It needs to be constantly reconsidered and to be illuminated from various angles.”

Historicising National-SocialismEdit

Zitelmann provoked a mixed reaction with his anthology Die Schatten der Vergangenheit (The Shadows of the Past), edited together with Eckhard Jesse and Uwe Backes. Here, the editors sought to respond to Martin Broszat’s call—raised in 1985—for a historicising of national-socialism. As the editors emphasize in their introduction, their goal was the “objectification of the discussion of national-socialist times… The intention is not to ‘downplay’ anything: Only an emphatically sober historiography, free of moralising bias, can create the foundation for assessing the historical and political-moral dimensions of the mass crimes committed by national-socialism.” In Zitelmann's opinion, the "historization" of National Socialism suggested by Martin Broszat was a way of resolving the problem of either engaging in apologetics about the Nazi era or utter condemnation.[2] Zitelmann sees his work as a way of allowing those living in the present to understand the Nazi period without seeking to total condemnation or apologia.[2]

In line with their program to treat the time between 1933 and 1945 as scientifically as any other epoch, this volume gathered a wide spectrum of authors, from the right-wing conservative Ernst Nolte who commented once more on the so-called historians’ dispute, all the way to the liberal Imanuel Geiss, a disciple of Fritz Fischer.

As historian Peter Brandt wrote in Die Welt dated October 2, 1990: “The editors have presented a useful book with many important contributions.” However, he added: “A criticism that could be raised is that—in spite of the emphasis on keeping out any ‘extra-scientific’ influences—a prejudice against the supposed ‘popular pedagogy’ treatment of national-socialism had guided the editors’ and some of the authors’ pen.” The editors deserve one hundred percent consent, however, Brandt stated, “as they reject any kind of ban on asking questions.” Historian Brigitte Seebacher noted in the Rheinischer Merkur on October 5, 1990: “In short, this volume casts light on the national-socialist epoch, and inspires a renewed discussion of how to deal with it correctly.” In the November 6, 1990, issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the historian Prof. Gregor Schöllgen argued: “Some of the essays will (and should) provoke disagreement. Taken as a whole, this meritorious volume represents an unorthodox contribution toward objectifying the discussion of national-socialism, and one ought to take note of it.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of November 23, 1990, commented on Die Schatten der Vergangenheit the volume was “perfectly suitable to become the subject of dispute… If it failed to meet this mark, then it would above all be for the reason that only a few readers will be likely to manage to digest the heavy academic fare of the first eighty pages.” What is favourably highlighted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung review is Zitelmann's discussion of the historian Ernst Nolte: “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.”

Zitelmann also wrote on the subject of “Umgang mit der NS-Vergangenheit“ (“Dealing with the National-Socialist Past“) in his contribution for the book Bewusstseinsnotstand. Thesen von 60 Zeitzeugen ("The Perceptual State of Emergency: Hypotheses by 60 Historic Witnesses"), edited by Rolf Italiaander (Droste-Verlag, 1990). In 1990, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft published another anthology, edited by Zitelmann together with the American historian Ronald Smelser, that offered 22 portraits of the leading figures of the Third Reich. Like Zitelmann's doctoral dissertation, this anthology, which combined authors from several countries, was also published in English translation — The Nazi Elite (New York: NYUP, 1993). Reviews of this volume were found, for instance, in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" of September 4, 1990.

The HistorikerstreitEdit

During the Historikerstreit between 1986–1988, Zitelmann was a strong defender of Andreas Hillgruber and Ernst Nolte.[7] In the preface to the second edition in 1988 of his 1987 book Adolf Hitler Selbstverständnis eines Revolutionärs included a lengthy attack on the critics of Nolte and Hillgruber.[7] In an interview with the Swedish historian Alf W. Johansson in November 1992, Zitelmann stated that the Historikerstreit ended with the defeat of the right-wing historians and the triumph of the "Left-liberal" historians.[8] Zitelmann went on to state that "Politically, this means that the conservatives are rather defensive and are not united".[8] Zitelmann argued "that has more to do with academic conditions than with the intellectual situation in Germany where now, naturally a few years after the Historians' Controversy, there is in reality a certain change, since the Leftish intellectual circles are no longer on the offensive, but, to the contrary, they find themselves in increasing difficulties".[8]

Adenauer’s critic: Thomas DehlerEdit

In 1991, Zitelmann's book Adenauers Gegner. Streiter für die Einheit ("Adenauer’s Opponents: Fighters for Unity") came out, and was published as paperback by Ullstein under the title Demokraten für Deutschland ("Democrats for Germany") in 1993. As social democrat politician Erhard Eppler wrote in the preface: “Zitelmann’s study illustrates that Adenauer’s opponents were no dreamers out of touch with reality, but had solid arguments and concepts to present.” The book portrays the German social democrat politicians Kurt Schumacher and Gustav Heinemann, as well as the Christian Democrat politician Jakob Kaiser, the liberal politician Thomas Dehler, and the journalist Paul Sethe. On October 7, 1991, the German daily Die tageszeitung ("taz") wrote: “The book comes in the nick of time—precisely because it does not join in the supposedly up-to-date chorus of Adenauer enthusiasts.” The social democrat politician Peter Glotz wrote in Die Welt on April 24, 1991, Zitelmann's book went to show “that Adenauer’s critics had valid arguments when accusing him of taking Europe more important than the reunification.” Social democrat politician Egon Bahr wrote in Der Tagesspiegel of July 28, 1991: “What was later called the lived lie of the Federal Republic can be traced in its inception in Zitelmann’s book.”

That Zitelmann's sympathies went toward Thomas Dehler more than toward Konrad Adenauer became also evident during an academic panel on December 8, 1997, where he gave a lecture on occasion of Dehler's birthday centennial. This symposium, organised by the "Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" in cooperation with the Liberals’ parliamentary group, was documented in the conference notes titled "Thomas Dehler und seine Politik" (Thomas Dehler and His Politics, Berlin: Nicolai Verlag, 1998). Aside from Zitelmann's contribution on “Thomas Dehler und Konrad Adenauer”, the volume contains contributions by the liberal politicians Hermann Otto Solms, Wolfgang Mischnick and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

Zitelmann’s contribution to academic wealth researchEdit

In 2016, Zitelmann was awarded his second doctorate – this time in sociology. His doctoral thesis, published in February 2017 as Psychologie der Superreichen. Das verborgene Wissen der Vermögenselite (The Psychology of the Super-rich. The Tacit Knowledge of the Wealth Elite), was awarded the distinction magna cum laude by the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Potsdam. It is a qualitative study, as the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) is not large enough to allow a standardized approach based on random samples.

Zitelmann interviewed 45 individuals with assets worth a minimum of tens and hundreds of millions of euros. In the majority of cases, their wealth was self-made. The study focuses on the correlation between personality traits and the financial success of the UHNWIs. Germany's leading current affairs magazine, Der Spiegel[9] hailed Zitelmann's book as “the first academic study to conduct an in-depth exploration of the thought processes and behavior of the wealthy.”

Part A of the doctoral thesis reviews the findings of previous entrepreneurial, elite and wealth research, and presents an overview of the gaps in existing research. This was the basis for a questionnaire, which covered the following topics:[10]

  1. The formative years of the super-rich (school, university, informal learning in sports and early entrepreneurial activities).
  2. Motivations for self-employment.
  3. The role of goal-setting.
  4. The importance of money.
  5. The role of sales skills in financial success.
  6. The role of optimism and self-efficacy.
  7. Risk-orientation.
  8. The relationship between analytical and intuitive (gut) decision making.
  9. The Big Five personality traits: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness.
  10. The interviewees’ readiness to engage in confrontation.
  11. Nonconformism, or the willingness to “swim against the current.”
  12. Their reactions to crises and setbacks.

The findings of the interviews are evaluated in the thesis's main section, Part B. In addition, each of the interviewees filled in a Big Five personality questionnaire comprising 50 questions. It became clear that a large number of these UHNWIs engaged in entrepreneurial activities while they were still at school or university.[11] The high proportion of interviewees who pursued competitive sports during their youths was also particularly striking.[12] Zitelmann strongly emphasizes the importance of “implicit” learning, which leads to implicit knowledge and plays a much greater role than academic knowledge. Academic attainment is in no way relevant to the level of wealth achieved within the group: in fact, there were more individuals in the top quartile (wealth between EUR 300 million and 3 billion) without a university degree than in the bottom quartile (wealth between EUR 10 and 30 million).[13]

Zitelmann criticizes the fact that, when it has considered the economic elite, the previous elite research[14] has focused too one-sidedly on executives employed by large corporations and major banks. He proposes dividing the term economic elite into two subcategories: 1. Senior executives in large corporations who can, in all likelihood, influence national political decisions. 2. The wealth elite, namely those individuals who sit at the top of the wealth pyramid. Zitelmann sets the minimum threshold for the wealth elite at net assets of EUR 10 million. The wealth elite is primarily composed of entrepreneurs and investors.[15] Academic researchers have so far paid too little attention to this group. According to Zitelmann, this has led to statements on the social homogeneity and the recruitment mechanisms of the wealth elite being distorted, as they are derived from research which has mainly focused on employed executives.

Sociological publications: Prejudices and stereotypes about the rich Zitelmann's book, Die Gesellschaft und ihre Reichen[16] Vorurteile über eine beneidete Minderheit, was published in 2019. In the book, Zitelmann criticizes the lack of academic research into prejudice against the rich as a minority group. His book is based on a representative international survey conducted by Allensbach and Ipsos MORI in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France. Analyzing the survey's findings, Zitelmann identifies three distinct groups: “social enviers,” “non-enviers” and “ambivalents.” Of the German respondents, 33 percent qualify as enviers, compared with 34 percent in France, 20 percent in the United States and 18 percent in Great Britain. A Social Envy Coefficient was used to indicate the ratio of enviers to non-enviers in each country. A coefficient of 1 would indicate that the proportion of enviers and non-enviers is equal. A coefficient of less than 1 indicates that the proportion of non-enviers dominates, whereas a coefficient of more than 1 indicates that a given population is dominated by social enviers. Accordingly, social envy is most pronounced in France, with a coefficient of 1.26, followed by Germany at 0.97. Social envy is significantly less pronounced in the United States (0.42) and Great Britain (0.37). The accuracy of the Social Envy Coefficient is confirmed by the fact that the groups of enviers and non-enviers identified in this way also differed significantly in their responses to dozens of the survey's other items. When asked which personality traits they most associate with the rich, enviers, for example, mentioned self-centered, ruthless, materialistic, arrogant, greedy, cold-hearted and superficial. Only two of the 25 personality traits most frequently mentioned by social enviers are positive, while 23 are negative. Non-enviers, in contrast, most frequent mentioned industrious, intelligent, bold and daring, materialistic, imaginative and visionary.


  • The Nazi Elite, New York Univ Pr, New York 1993, ISBN 978-0-81477-950-7.
  • Hitler: The Policies of Seduction, Allison & Busby, London 2000, ISBN 978-1-90280-903-8.
  • Dare to be Different and Grow Rich, Indus Source Books, Mumbai 2012, ISBN 978-8-18856-937-3.
  • The Wealth Elite: A groundbreaking study of the psychology of the super rich., Lid Publishing, London and New York 2018, ISBN 978-1-91149-868-1.
  • The Power of Capitalism: A Journey Through Recent History Across Five Continents, Lid Publishing, London and New York 2018, ISBN 978-1-91255-500-0.


  1. ^ Dr. Rainer Zitelmann sold his company Dr. ZitelmannPB. GmbH to his closest employee Holger Friedrichs In: Immobilien Zeitung, 10 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 244.
  3. ^ a b Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 244-245.
  4. ^ a b c Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 245.
  5. ^ Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 246-247.
  6. ^ a b c Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 page 181
  7. ^ a b Lukcas, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997 page 237.
  8. ^ a b c Lukcas, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997 page 239.
  9. ^ Der Spiegel, 7/2017, “Wer wird Milliardär”, 62 – 66.
  10. ^ Zitelmann,. Rainer, Psychologie der Superreichen. Das verborgene Wissen der Vermögenselite, Munich 2017, 152.
  11. ^ Ibid., 186 et seq.
  12. ^ Ibid., 179 et seq.
  13. ^ Ibid., 170.
  14. ^ Cf. Hartmann, Michael, Der Mythos von den Leistungseliten, Frankfurt/M. – New York, 2002; or Hart-mann’s The Sociology of Elites, Frankfurt/M. 2008; or Bürklin, Wilhelm, Rebenstorf, Hilke et al., Eliten in Deutschland. Rekrutierung und Integration, Wiesbaden 1997; or Walter, Franz; Marg, Stine (editors), Sprachlose Elite? Wie Unternehmer Politik und Gesellschaft sehen, Reinbeck bei Hamburg 2015.
  15. ^ Zitelmann, Psychologie der Superreichen, 38-39.
  16. ^ Rainer Zitelmann, Die Gesellschaft und ihre Reichen. Vorurteile über eine beneidete Minderheit, München 2019.;


  • Heilbrunn, Jacob "Germany's New Right" pages 80–98 from Foreign Affairs, Volume 75, Issue #6, November–December 1996
  • Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-340-76028-4.
  • Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, ISBN 978-0-679-44649-1.