Andreas Fritz Hillgruber
18 January 1925
|Died||8 May 1989 (aged 64)|
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen|
|Known for||His studies in modern German diplomatic and military history, and his involvement in the Historikerstreit|
|University of Marburg|
University of Freiburg
University of Cologne
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber (18 January 1925 – 8 May 1989) was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian who played a leading role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s.
In his controversial book Zweierlei Untergang, he wrote that historians should "identify" with the Wehrmacht fighting on the Eastern Front and asserted that there was no moral difference between the Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950) and Soviet mass rape during the occupation of Germany on the one hand and the Holocaust on the other.
- 1 Life and career
- 2 Early historical work
- 3 Historical perspective
- 4 Historikerstreit
- 5 Works
- 6 See also
- 7 Citations
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Life and career
Hillgruber was born in Angerburg, Germany (modern Wegorzewo, Poland) near the then East Prussian city of Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad, Russia). Hillgruber's father lost his job as a teacher under the Third Reich. Hillgruber served in the German Army from 1943 to 1945 and spent the years 1945-1948 as a POW in France. During World War II, Hillgruber fought on the Eastern Front, an experience that was later to play a role in his evaluation and writing about the period. In 1945, Hillgruber fled west to escape the Red Army, another experience that was to have much influence on him. After his release he studied at the University of Göttingen, where he received a PhD in 1952. As a student, Hillgruber was a leading protégé of the medievalist Percy Ernst Schramm, an academic who, as Eberhard Jäckel commented, regarded World War II as a normal war that regrettably the Nazis were not as skilled at waging as they should have been. Much of Hillgruber's early work reflected Schramm's influence. He spent the decade 1954-1964 working as school teacher. In 1960 he married Karin Zieran, with whom he had three children. Hillgruber worked as a professor at the University of Marburg (1965–1968), the University of Freiburg (1968–1972) and the University of Cologne (1972–1989). In the late 1960s he was a target of radical student protesters. He died in Cologne of throat cancer.
Early historical work
In the early 1950s, Hillgruber still saw World War II as a conventional war, but by 1965 in his book Hitlers Strategie (Hitler's Strategy) he was arguing that the war was for Hitler a vicious, ideological war in which no mercy was to be given to one's enemies. In his first book, Hitler, König Carol und Marschall Antonescu (Hitler, King Carol and Marshal Antonescu) (1953), a study of relations between Germany and Romania from 1938 to 1944 with a focus on the personalities of Adolf Hitler, King Carol II and Marshal Ion Antonescu, Hillgruber argued for the fundamental normality of German foreign policy, with the foreign policy of the Reich being no different from that of any other power. Because of the importance of Romania's oil without which the Wehrmacht would have been unable to fight after June 1941, Hillgruber paid special attention to the oil question in German-Romanian relations while assigning the "Jewish Question" in Romania to an appendix, which seemed to imply that the plans on part of Marshal Antonescu to murder all of Romania's Jews were of minor importance. By contrast, in his 1965 book Hitlers Strategie, which was Hillgruber's Habilitationsschrift, Hillgruber examined the grand strategic decision-making progress in 1940-1941 and concluded that, while Hitler had to adjust to diplomatic, economic, strategic and operational military realities, whenever possible his decisions were influenced by his racist, anti-Semitic and Social Darwinist beliefs. Hillgruber's work on German foreign policy made him one of the leading players in the debates about National Socialist foreign policy.
Hillgruber's writings on the Soviet Union show certain constancies as well as changes over the years. He always argued that the Soviet Union was a brutal, expansionary, totalitarian power, in many ways similar to Nazi Germany. But, on the other hand, he argued that Moscow's foreign policy was conducted in a way that was rational and realistic, while the foreign policy of Berlin during the Nazi era was completely irrational and unrealistic. The turning point in Hillgruber's attitude came in 1953-1954 when he was involved in a debate with Gerhard Weinberg and Hans Rothfels on the pages of the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte. Together with Hans-Günther Seraphim, Hillgruber had argued that Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, had been a "preventive war", forced on Hitler to prevent an imminent Soviet attack on Germany. So effectively did Weinberg and Rothfels demolish Hillgruber's arguments that he repudiated his previous views. Thereafter, he maintained that Operation Barbarossa had been prompted solely by Hitler's ideological belief in the need for Lebensraum (living space) in Russia, where a massive German colonization effort was planned and the resident Slavic populations were to be reduced to slave status. In the 1970s and 1980s Hillgruber often attacked authors such as David Irving and Viktor Suvorov for putting forward the same arguments as he had done in 1954. Along the same lines, he criticized the American neo-Nazi historian David Hoggan, who argued that the British had provoked World War II in 1939. Hillgruber contended that there was a "kernel of truth" in Hoggan's claims in that Hitler had believed that he could invade Poland in 1939 without provoking a war with Britain, and was most unpleasantly surprised by the British declaration of war, but that, overall, Hoggan's view of Germany as the victim of an Anglo-Polish conspiracy was simply "preposterous".
The exchange between Hillgruber and Weinberg on the pages of Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte in 1953-54 marked the beginning of a long series of clashes between the two historians over interpretations of German foreign policy. In a 1956 book review of Hitler, König Carol und Marschall Antonescu, Weinberg criticized Hillgruber for engaging in what Weinberg considered an apologia for Germany in World War II. Weinberg took issue with Hillgruber's claim that World War II began with the Anglo-French declarations of war on Germany on 3 September 1939 rather with the German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939. In his 1980 monograph The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War II 1937-1939, Weinberg noted that about the question of the war's origins that "my view is somewhat different" from Hillgruber's. In his 1981 book World in the Balance, Weinberg stated that "Hillgruber's interpretation is not, however, followed here".
Continuities and discontinuities of German history
Hillgruber's area of expertise was German history from 1871 to 1945, especially its political, diplomatic and military aspects. He argued for understanding this period as one of continuities. In his first address as a professor at Freiburg in 1969, Hillgruber argued for understanding the entire "Bismarck Reich" as one of continuities between 1871 and 1945. For Hillgruber, the continuities of the "Bismarck Reich" were a certain mentalité amongst German elites, namely a Weltanschauung (world view) that emphasized an "either-or" outlook on international relations, Social Darwinism, a deterministic understanding of history, and dreams of worldwide expansionism. However, though Hillgruber paid attention to structural factors, in his opinion it was the actions of individuals that made the difference. As a member of the "Hitler Youth generation" and a World War II veteran, Hillgruber's major interest was why and how Germany failed as a great power. These interests were reflected in the title of one of Hillgruber's better-known books, Die gescheiterte Grossmacht (The Failed Great Power) (1980), in which he examined German power politics from 1871 to 1945. For Hillgruber, there were many elements of continuity in German foreign policy in the 1871–1945 period, especially with regard to Eastern Europe. Hans Mommsen wrote that the "ground-laying works of Andreas Hillgruber... suggested the view for the continuities of German policy from the late Wilhelminian period up to the capitulation".
- Follow the advice of Moltke the Elder and launch a "preventive war" to destroy France once and all.
- End Franco-German enmity by "compensating" France for the loss of Alsace-Lorraine by supporting the French annexation of Belgium.
- Maintain the status quo of "semi-hegemony".
Hillgruber argued that the "war-in-sight crisis" of 1875 was Bismarck's way of probing the European reaction towards a German "preventive war" to destroy France, and finding that Russia was unsupportive and Britain inclined to intervene, he chose the third option. Hillgruber argued that the article under the title "Is War in Sight?" that was published in a Berlin newspaper close to Bismarck and concluded that war was indeed "in sight" was actually a trial balloon by Bismarck to see what the international reaction would be to a German attack on France. In response to negative international reaction to the "war-in-sight crisis", Bismarck ultimately issued the Bad Kissingen decree of June 25, 1877 in which he called for a situation "in which all powers save France need us and in which they are prevented from forming coalitions against us through their ties to one another". Hillgruber argued that after the "War-in-Sight" crisis that Bismarck followed a conservative foreign policy aimed at upholding the international status quo which was so favourable to Germany.
Hillgruber argued that the accession of Wilhelm II in 1888 marked a watershed in German diplomatic history as Wilhelm was not content with "semi-hegemony" in Europe, and instead sought a power of Weltpolitik intended to give Germany "world power status". Hillgruber argued that Wilhelm's policy of Weltpolitik (World Politics) which he launched with great fanfare in 1897 had with the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905 ended in failure, and that thereafter Germany was forced to retreat into a defensive posture in the "bastion" of Central Europe with Austria-Hungary forming the crucial "land bridge" to the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.
To some extent he agreed with Fritz Fischer's assessment that the differences between Imperial, Weimar and Nazi foreign policy were of degree rather than kind. Moreover, he accepted Fischer's argument that Germany was primarily responsible for World War I, but as a follower of the Primat der Aussenpolitik ("primacy of foreign policy") school, Hillgruber rejected Fischer's Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic policy") argument as to why Germany started the First World War. During the so-called "Fischer Controversy" which coalesced the German historical profession in the early 1960s, Hillgruber stood apart from the various right-wing historians who attempted to rebut Fischer, such as Gerhard Ritter, Hans Herzfeld, Egmont Zechlin, and Karl Dietrich Erdmann, by accepting Fischer's arguments in part instead of attempting to rebut Fischer in toto.
Hillgruber argued in the aftermath of Fischer's 1961 book Griff nach der Weltmacht (Grasping at World Power) that Germany had not started a premeditated war of aggression in 1914. Hillgruber believed that Germany had encouraged Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia in an attempt to break the informal Triple Entente alliance between the United Kingdom, France and Russia by provoking a crisis that would concern Russia only, the so-called "calculated risk". The German historian Annelise Thimme commented that Hillgruber's "calculated risk" theory to explain World War I was little more than putting "new wine into old wine skins". Thimme noted that Hillgruber relied almost entirely upon the diary of Bethmann Hollweg's aide and friend, Kurt Riezler, to support his "calculated risk" thesis, which was a dubious source because portions of Riezler's diary had been forged after the war to make German foreign policy appear less aggressive then it was in 1914. The Canadian historian Holger Herwig commented that Hillgruber's "calculated risk" theory was the most intellectually sophisticated and ingenious attempt to rebut Fischer's claim of a premeditated war of aggression in 1914, but suffered from his heavy reliance on passages in Riezler's diary likely to have been forged.
In Hillgruber's opinion, after the war had begun, a split occurred within the German leadership between the moderate imperialism of the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who wished for territorial gains if they could be obtained, but was prepared to settle for a peace based on the pre-1914 status quo, and a more radical group centered on General Erich Ludendorff and the rest of the Third Supreme Command who wanted total victory over all of Germany's enemies and wide-ranging annexations in Europe, Asia and Africa. Hillgruber argued that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the empire it created for Germany in Eastern Europe was the prototype for Hitler's vision of a great empire for Germany in Eastern Europe. Hillgruber argued that the Weimar Republic was only a "bridge" between the expansionism of the Second Reich and the even more radical expansionism of the Third Reich, rather than a new era in German diplomacy.
In his 1974 book Grossmachtpolitik und Militarismus im 20. Jahrundert, Hillgruber took a revisionist view of the Treaty of Versailles. Far from being an intolerably harsh "Carthaginian peace" that crippled Germany, Hillgruber argued that Versailles was actually a moderate peace treaty that left the German state intact and with the potential to once again be a great power. Furthermore, Hillgruber argued that with the disappearance of Austria-Hungary and with Soviet Russia widely mistrusted, the outcome of World War I meant that Germany now had the potential to dominate Eastern Europe in a way that never been possible before 1914. Hillgruber argued that none of the states of interwar Eastern Europe had the economic or military potential to be serious rivals to Germany. In 2000, the American historian Robert M. Citino wrote that "Hillgruber's thesis has become the consensus among German historians". Hillgruber argued that Gustav Stresemann was carrying out a "liberal-imperialist" policy in which he sought improved relations with France and by creating an unofficial alliance with the United States in return for which he wanted acquiescence in Germany "revising" her borders with Poland, the annexation of Austria, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and the return of Eupen-Malmedy. Hillgruber wrote that Stresemann was seeking the return of the Bismarckian "semi-hegemony", which would serve as "the prerequisite and the basis for an active Weltpolitik". In his 1974 essay “Militarismus am Ende der Weimarer Republik und im “Dritten Reich”” ("Militarism at the End of the Weimar Republic and in the Third Reich"), Eberhard Kolb noted that:
Referring to M. Geyer’s research, which had not then been published, Hillgruber pointed out from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat).
Hillgruber wrote that after the fall of Hans von Seeckt in 1926, Kurt von Schleicher became “in fact, if not in name”, the "military-political head of the Reichswehr”. Hillgruber wrote that Schleicher's triumph was also the triumph of the "modern" faction within the Reichswehr who favored a total war ideology and wanted Germany to become a dictatorship in order to wage total war upon the other nations of Europe in order to win the "world power status" that had been sought unsuccessfully in the last war. The total war ideology of the Reichswehr and the attendant demand that Germany be transformed into a militaristic, totalitarian Wehrstaat (defense state) went a long way to explaining why almost the entire Reichswehr welcomed the coming of the National Socialist dictatorship in 1933.
Despite the example provided by Ludendorff and his circle, for Hillgruber, the changes in German foreign policy introduced by National Socialist Ostpolitik (Eastern Policy) were so radical as to be almost differences of kind rather than degree. He argued that Nazi foreign policy was an extremely radical version of traditional German foreign policy. Furthermore, he argued that what during the Weimar era had been the end became, for the Nazis, just the means. He set out a thesis that goals such as the Remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anschluss with Austria, which had been the end-goals during the Weimar period, were just the beginning for the Nazis. Unlike the Weimar government, the Nazis' desire to re-militarize was only a step on the road to the complete domination of all Europe, and eventual world domination.
In a 1978 essay "Das Russlandbild der führenden deutschen Militärs" ("The Picture of Russia held by the Leadership of the German Military"), Hillgruber examined the views about the Soviet Union held by the German military elite in the period June 1940 to June 1941. According to Hillgruber, the following assumptions were shared by all of Germany's leading generals:
- The Wehrmacht was ill-informed about the Soviet Union, especially the military and the economy.
- Because of the paucity of information, Wehrmacht thinking about the Soviet Union were based upon traditional German stereotypes of Russia as a primitive, backward "Asiatic" country, a "colossus with feet of clay" that lacked the strength to stand up to a superior opponent.
- The leadership of the Wehrmacht viewed war with the Soviet Union from an extremely narrow military viewpoint with little consideration given to politics, the economy or culture. The industrial capacity of the Soviet Union was not considered at all as a factor that might influence the outcome of a German-Soviet war.
- The average soldier of the Red Army was considered brave and tough, but the Red Army officer corps were held in contempt.
- The Wehrmacht leadership after the victory over France was in a state of hubris with the Wehrmacht being seen as more or less invincible.
- As such, it was assumed that the Soviet Union was destined to be defeated, and that it take Germany between six and eight weeks to destroy the Soviet Union.
Hillgruber argued that these assumptions about the Soviet Union shared by the entire military elite allowed Hitler to push through a "war of annihilation" against the Soviet Union with the assistance of "several military leaders", even through it was quite clear to the military that such a war would violate all standards of civilized warfare and would be waged in the most inhumane fashion possible. Hillgruber argued that the decisive moment on the war on the Eastern Front was the Battle of Smolensk in July 1941, which was not quite the overwhelming German victory as traditionally depicted, as though the Red Army had taken more losses, the Battle of Smolensk had blunted the German drive onto Moscow, giving the Soviets crucial time to rebuild. Furthermore, Hillgruber was the first historian to point out that the Battle of Smolensk was closely studied in Japan, and led Japanese decision-makers to conclude the Soviet Union would not be defeated in 1941, thereby helping the "Strike South" fraction in the Japanese government gain ascendency over the "Strike North" fraction.
The Stufenplan concept
From the 1960s on, Hillgruber was regarded by other historians as one of the world's foremost authorities on German military-diplomatic history, his theory about Hitler having a Stufenplan (stage-by-stage plan) being especially influential. In 1989 the American historian Jerry Z. Muller called Hillgruber "the most distinguished German diplomatic historian of his generation". In 2002, in an assessment of the historiography of the Eastern Front, the German historians Gerd R. Ueberschär and Rolf-Dieter Müller wrote: "Hillgruber developed a considerable reputation before his death in 1989 as the godfather of West German research into the war and a celebrated historian of German state created by Bismarck."
According to this argument:
- The first stage of Hitler's plan consisted of the military build-up of German strength and the achievement of the Weimar Republic's traditional foreign policy goals.
- The second stage was to be a series of swift regional wars to destroy such states as Poland, Czechoslovakia and France.
- The third stage envisaged a war to liquidate the Soviet Union and what Hitler regarded as its "Judaeo-Bolshevik" regime.
- The fourth stage involved a war against the United States by the now Greater Germany in alliance with the British Empire and Japan.
Hillgruber argued that after the conquest of the Soviet Union, Hitler wanted to seize most of Africa, to build a huge navy, and (in alliance with both the Japanese and the British) to engage the United States in a "War of the Continents" for world domination. The American historian of modern Germany Gordon A. Craig praised Hillgruber for his "masterful delineation of Hitler's grand strategical plan".
Hillgruber maintained that the strategy of Blitzkrieg stemmed largely from economic factors, namely, that for the earlier stages of the Stufenplan, Germany did not have the economic resources for a long war, and that therefore a military programme based upon quality, not quantity, was the most rational use of German economic capacity. Hillgruber argued that Hitler's desire to postpone the final struggle with the United States to the last stage of the Stufenplan was likewise determined by economic considerations, namely that only a Germany with sufficient Lebensraum and ruling most of Eurasia and Africa would be immune to the effects of blockade, and have the necessary economic resources to match the enormous economic capacity of the United States.
Hillgruber regarded Hitler as a fanatical ideologue with a firmly fixed programme, and criticized the view of him as a grasping opportunist with no real beliefs other than the pursuit of power - a thesis promoted by such British historians as A.J.P. Taylor and Alan Bullock, and which Hillgruber thought profoundly shallow and facile. Moreover, he categorically rejected Taylor's contention that the German invasion of Poland was an "accident" precipitated by diplomatic blunders. Hillgruber argued adamantly that the German invasion of Poland was a war of aggression caused by Hitler's ideological belief in war and the need for Lebensraum (living space). World War II, for Hillgruber, really consisted of two wars. One was an europäischer Normalkrieg ("normal European war") between the Western powers and Germany, a conflict which Hitler caused but did not really want. The other war - which Hitler both caused and most decidedly did want (as evidenced in part by Mein Kampf) - was the German-Soviet one, a savage, merciless and brutal all-out struggle of racial and ideological extermination between German National Socialism and Soviet Communism.
Hillgruber saw Hitler's foreign policy program was totally unrealistic and incapable of realization. Hillgruber argued that Hitler's assumption that a German "renunciation" of naval and colonial claims, in exchange for British recognition of all of Europe as lying within the German sphere of influence, was based on an unviable notion that British interests were limited only to the naval and colonial spheres. Hillgruber noted that Britain was just as much a European as a world power, and would never accept so far-reaching a disruption of the balance of power as Hitler proposed in the 1920s in Mein Kampf. Hillgruber wrote that Neville Chamberlain for all his attachment to appeasement, once he learned that Hitler's aims were not limited towards revising Versailles, ultimately went to war with Germany in September 1939 rather than accept the disruption of the balance of power that Hitler was attempting to carry out".
Likewise, Hillgruber argued that Hitler's contempt for the Soviet Union, especially the fighting power of the Red Army, was a dangerous illusion. Hillgruber argued that the lack of British interest in Hitler's proposed anti-Soviet alliance temporarily derailed Hitler's foreign-policy programme in the late 1930s, and led to the ideas of the Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, whose anti-British foreign policy programme Hillgruber called the "very opposite" of Hitler's taking precedence in the period 1938-1941 In a 1967 review, the American historian Howard Smyth called Hitlers strategie "a magnificent work based on a thorough study of all source material and literature available in German, English, French, and Italian, and on translations from Russian and Japanese". Hillgruber argued that Hitler drew a distinction between winning Germany a Grossmacht (great-power) position through Kontinentalimperium (Continental imperialism) and the goal of Weltmacht ("World Power") where Germany would embark on building a huge navy and win a massive colonial empire in Africa and Asia as the prelude to war with the United States. In addition, Hillgruber argued that Hitler did not wish to destroy the British Empire, as he believed that the United States would take advantage of the collapse of the British imperialism to seize British colonies for itself, but at the same time, Churchill's repeated refusals of Hitler's offers to begin peace talks in 1940-1941 left him with no other choice but to work for the destruction of British power.
In his 1974 article "England's Place In Hitler's Plans for World Dominion", Hillgruber argued that, during the Nazi period, German foreign policy went through ten different phases. Hillgruber contended that, during the early phases, Hitler was intent on having the anti-Soviet alliance with Britain he had written of in Mein Kampf and in the Zweites Buch. By the time of the Hossbach Memorandum of 1937, Hillgruber argued, Hitler was undertaking a course of expansion either "without Britain" or, preferably, "with Britain", but if necessary "against Britain". By the late 1930s, when it became clear that Britain had no interest in Hitler's overtures, German foreign policy turned anti-British - as reflected in the Z Plan of January 1939 for a gigantic German fleet that would crush the Royal Navy by 1944.
Hillgruber argued that the 1939 German-Soviet non-aggression pact had its origins in the British refusal to make an anti-Soviet alliance, which led Hitler to turn over much of the running of German foreign policy to Ribbentrop in 1938-1939, and that Ribbrentrop in turn believed that a solid continental bloc of states led by Germany would deter Britain from involvement in Europe.
Hillgruber noted that in 1939, when war threatened over Poland, unlike in 1938 when war threatened to occur over Czechoslovakia, Hitler received overwhelming support from the Wehrmacht leadership. The reason for this difference, in Hillgruber's opinion, was the rampant anti-Polish feeling in the German Army. In support of this argument, Hillgruber quoted from a letter written by General Eduard Wagner, who was one of the officers involved in the abortive putsch of 1938, who wrote to his wife just before the invasion of Poland, "We believe we will make quick work of the Poles, and in truth, we are delighted at the prospect. That business must be cleared up" (emphasis in the original). Hillgruber noted that because of anti-Polish prejudices, in 1939 Fall Weiss served to unite Hitler and the German military in a way that Fall Grün had failed to do in 1938.
Hillgruber argued that Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States before he had defeated the Soviet Union was due to Hitler's belief that the United States might quickly defeat Japan, and hence it was better to engage the Americans while they were still involved in a two-front war. Likewise, Hillgruber argued that Hitler's decision to take on the United States in December 1941 was influenced by his belief that the Soviet Union would be defeated by no later than the summer of 1942.
In his 1965 book Hitlers Strategie, Hillgruber caused some controversy with his argument that a French attack on the Siegfried Line in the autumn of 1939 would have resulted in a swift German defeat. In 1969 the French historian Albert Merglen expanded on Hillgruber's suggestion by writing a PhD thesis depicting a counterfactual successful French offensive against the Siegfried Line. However, many historians have criticized both Hillgruber and Merglen for ignoring the realities of the time and for using the advantage of historical hindsight too much in making those judgements.
Historians have not and do not universally accept Hillgruber's Stufenplan concept. The British historian E.M. Robertson wrote that the Stufenplan concept seemed to explain much of Hitler's foreign policy, but noted that Hitler himself never spoke of having any "stages" or even a plan at all.
One of Hillgruber's leading critics, the British Marxist historian Timothy Mason, accepted the Stufenplan thesis, but argued that an economic crisis derailed the Stufenplan in the late 1930s. The Anglo-German historian H.W. Koch in a 1983 essay criticized Hillgruber's picture of Hitler following rigidly preconceived foreign policy he was alleged to have worked out in the 1920s. The Hungarian-American historian John Lukacs criticized Hillgruber's portrayal of Hitler following a Stufenplan, arguing that there was much opportunism and contingency in Hitler's strategy, with little sign of a master plan. The Greek historian Aristotle Kallis wrote that there is "no conclusive evidence" that Hitler "...had a clear plan for world domination..."
As a conservative historian
In the 1970s, Hillgruber, together with his close associate Klaus Hildebrand, was involved in a very acrimonious debate with Hans-Ulrich Wehler over the merits of the Primat der Aussenpolitik ("primacy of foreign politics") and Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") schools. Hillgruber and Hildebrand made a case for the traditional Primat der Aussenpolitik approach to diplomatic history with the stress on examining the records of the relevant foreign ministry and studies of the foreign policy decision-making elite. Wehler, who favored the Primat der Innenpolitik, for his part contended that diplomatic history should be treated as a sub-branch of social history, calling for theoretically based research, and argued that the real focus should be on the study of the society in question. The exchange between Wehler on one side and Hillgruber and Hildebrand on the other frequently involved charges of bad faith, intentional misquotation and suggestions that the other side did not understand history properly.
In 1971, Hillgruber was a leading critic of the Quadripartite Agreement on the status of Berlin accusing the West German government and the three western powers with rights in West Berlin, namely the United States, Great Britain and France of granting approval to what he saw as the illegal Soviet occupation of eastern Germany and the equally illegitimate East German regime while at the same time accepted the partition of Berlin as permanent. Hillgruber wrote that the agreement had confirmed the "status quo minus" of Berlin, and that the agreement was too vague with the reference to the "existing conditions in the relevant area". Finally, Hillgruber charged that the West had given in by promising to limit contact between West and East Berlin and allowing a Soviet consulate to be established in West Berlin, which Hillgruber claimed was an implicit admission of the Soviet claim that West Berlin was not part of the Federal Republic.
As a right-wing historian, Hillgruber often felt uncomfortable with the increasing left-wing influence in German academia from the late 1960s onwards. As part of his criticism of the left-wing social historians, Hillgruber affirmed what he considered the primacy of traditional diplomatic-military history. The Canadian historian Holger Herwig wrote in 1982 that Hillgruber was a follower of Leopold von Ranke's Primat der Aussenpolitik concept. Herwig wrote that for Hillgruber history was made by small political and military elites who were not prisoners of forces beyond their control, and that instead made history through their choices and decisions.
A self-proclaimed conservative and nationalist, Hillgruber regarded Germany's defeat in 1945 as a catastrophe that ended both the ethnic German presence in Eastern Europe and Germany as a great power in Europe. As someone from the "Germanic East", Hillgruber often wrote nostalgically of the lost Heimat of East Prussia where he had grown up. East German, Soviet, Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovak counterparts, denounced him as a German chauvinist, racist and imperialist, and accused him of glorifying the Drang nach Osten concept.
However, Hillgruber was prepared to accept, albeit grudgingly, what he often called Germany's "Yalta frontiers" after the Yalta Conference of 1945. What he was not prepared to accept was the partition of Germany. He often complained that the West German government was not doing enough to re-unite Germany. In a 1981 speech, he called on Bonn to create a new German nationalism based on respect for human rights that would ensure that future generations would not lose sight of the dream of re-unification.
The intentionalist historian
Hillgruber was an Intentionalist on the origins of the Holocaust debate, arguing that Adolf Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust. This set Hillgruber against Functionalist historians such as Hans Mommsen and Martin Broszat, whose "revisionist" claims on the origins of the Holocaust Hillgruber found distasteful. Hillgruber was well known for arguing that there was a close connection between Hitler's foreign policy and anti-Semitic policies and that Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 was linked to the decision to initiate the Holocaust. Hillgruber argued that the Kernstück (Nucleus) of Hitler's racist Weltanschauung (world view) was to be found in Mein Kampf. He believed that the Holocaust was meant to be launched only with the invasion of the Soviet Union. In Hillgruber's view, Hitler's frequent references to "Judaeo-Bolshevism", to describe both Jews and Communism, betrayed his desire to destroy both simultaneously. In Hillgruber's opinion, Operation Barbarossa had been conceived as, and was, a war of total extermination against what Hitler saw as "Judaeo-Bolshevik" system in the Soviet Union. Hillgruber was noteworthy as the first historian to argue for the connection between Operation Barbarossa and the decision to begin the Holocaust. According to Hillgruber, Hitler had four motives in launching Operation Barbarossa:
- The extermination not only of the "Jewish Bolshevik elite" who supposedly governed the Soviet Union since seizing power in 1917 but also the extermination of every single Jewish man, woman and child in the Soviet Union.
- Providing Germany with Lebensraum ("living space") by settling millions of German colonists within what was soon to be the former Soviet Union, something that would have required a massive population displacement as millions of Russian Untermenschen ("sub-humans") would have had to be forced out of homes to make way for the Herrenvolk ("master-race") colonists.
- Turning the Russians and other Slavic peoples not expelled from their homes into slaves who would provide Germany with an ultra-cheap labor force to be exploited.
- Using vast natural resources of the Soviet Union to provide the foundation stone of a German-dominated economic zone in Eurasia that would be immune to blockade, and provide Germany with the sufficient economic strength to allow the Reich to conquer the entire world.
Ueberschär and Müller wrote that "The most instructive analysis of the special nature of the Eastern campaign can still be found in the work of Andreas Hillgruber", and that the four reasons that Hillgruber gave for Operation Barbarossa are still the most convincing explanation for why Hitler launched Barbarossa.
In the 1984 essay "War in the East and the Extermination of the Jews", Hillgruber argued that based on a reading of Hitler's early speeches and writings that Hitler associated Jews and the Communists as one and the same, and accordingly Hitler regarded the destruction of the Jews and the Soviet Union as part and parcel of the same process. Hillgruber argued that the decision to begin the Holocaust was probably taken during the very earliest stages of the planning for Operation Barbarossa in late June-early July 1940, but that the surviving documentary evidence was not conclusive on this point. Based upon Hitler's statements to his generals about the coming war of annihilation against “Judeo-Bolshevism” and Reinhard Heydrich's orders to re-establish the Einsatzgruppen, Hillgruber argued that the decision to start the Endlösung was not taken later than March 1941.
Through Hillgruber noted that the massacres of Soviet Jews by the Einsatzgruppen that were to culminate in their extermination were often justified under the grounds of anti-partisan operations, that this was just a mere "excuse" for the German Army's considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia and the term war crimes and crimes against humanity were indeed correct labels for what happened. Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenceless men, women and children for the reasons of racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.
Hillgruber took a rather extreme "No Hitler, no Holocaust" position. He believed it was Hitler alone who made the Holocaust possible. He argued that, even if the Nazis had come to power under some other leader such as Hermann Göring or Joseph Goebbels, for example, the Jews would have suffered persecution and discrimination, but not genocide. Hillgruber once presented at a historians' conference in 1984 a counter-factual scenario whereby, had it been a coalition of the German National People's Party and the Stahlhelm that took power in 1933 without the NSDAP, all the anti-Semitic laws in Germany that were passed between 1933 and 1938 would still have been passed, but there would have been no Holocaust. He maintained that the other Nazi leaders such as Göring, Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler willingly participated in the Holocaust, as did many other Germans in the ever-widening "rings of responsibility" for the Holocaust, but that without Hitler's decisive role there would have been no Holocaust.
Hillgruber was one of the protagonists in the so-called Historikerstreit, the Historians' Dispute (or Historians' Controversy) of 1986-87. Hillgruber felt that the Holocaust was a horrific tragedy, but just one of many that occurred in the 20th century. In his highly controversial 1986 essay "Der Zusammenbruch im Osten 1944/45" ("The Collapse in the East 1944/45") from his book Zweierlei Untergang (Two Kinds of Ruin), Hillgruber highlighted the sufferings of Germans in what was then eastern Germany, who had to flee or were expelled or killed by the Red Army. He documented the mass gang rapes of German women and girls, and widespread looting and massacres of German civilians by the Soviet army. It is estimated that in 1945 that Red Army soldiers raped two million German women and girls during their advance into Germany. Hillgruber paid homage to those who had had to evacuate the German population and to those soldiers who did their best to stem the Soviet advance. Hillgruber described the efforts to evacuate the German population and the savage and desperate fighting which marked the bloody climax of the war on the Eastern Front.
For Hillgruber, the end of the "German East", in which he had been born and grew up, was just as tragic as the Holocaust. Despite his claim that both events were equally tragic, Hillgruber wrote much more about the sufferings of the Germans than he did the Jews with the Holocaust essay taking 29 pages compared to the 74 pages allocated to the "smashing" of the Reich.
In the same essay, Hillgruber attacked American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for supporting at various war-time conferences the expansion of Poland and the Soviet Union at the expense of Germany. Hillgruber wrote that the expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe was not a response to Nazi crimes, but was instead part of pre-existing Allied plans to destroy Germany, writing that the expulsions were not: "some kind of "answer" to the crimes of German despotism - the full extent of which was not actually recognised while the war was on. They also corresponded to objectives which had long been harboured by the main enemy powers, and which were put into effect during the war".
In an apparent disavowal of his own criticism of the Anglophobic American historical writer David Hoggan in his 1967 book Germany and the Two World Wars, Hillgruber claimed in his 1986 essay that it had been British policy to seek the destruction of Germany since 1907 starting with Sir Eyre Crowe's memo on Germany entitled "Memorandum on the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany". In this way, Hillgruber argued "that the amputation of the Reich in favor of a greater Poland was a war aim of the Allies long before Auschwitz", and asserted that the loss of the German eastern territories was due to anti-German prejudices.
Perhaps most controversially, Hillgruber described how the German Wehrmacht acted in what he regarded as a "heroic" and "self-sacrificing" way in defending the German population against the Red Army and the "orgy of revenge" that they perpetrated in 1944-1945.
Hillgruber ended his essay "Der Zusammenbruch im Osten 1944/45" with a call for a history that would take account of what Hillgruber considered the decisive events on the Eastern Front. The British military historian Christopher Duffy was to write in the preface to his 1991 book Red Storm on the Reich that his book was meant to answer the call for the sort of history that Hillgruber wanted to see written about the final days of the Eastern Front.
Hillgruber praised those German generals who had stayed loyal to Hitler during the 20 July plot as making the right moral decision. Hillgruber argued that if Hitler had been killed, the Eastern Front would have collapsed faster than it did, thereby endangering the lives of millions of German civilians, and he therefore condemned the July plot as irresponsible. In addition, Hillgruber claimed falsely that Himmler had ordered the death camps to cease operating in September 1944, and argued that after January 1945 all the death camps were in Soviet hands anyhow. Hillgruber wrote that the Allies, especially the Red Army, came as conquerors, not liberators, to Germany, and that no German could "identify" with them. Hillgruber presented the German defense of the eastern Germany as part of an idealistic, pan-European effort noting that French, Dutch, Belgian, Danish and Norwegian volunteers serving in the Waffen SS units, namely the 33rd SS Charlemagne Division, 23rd SS Nederland Division, 28th SS Wallonien Division, and 11th SS Nordland Division had fought fiercely for the Reich, and that in addition many French and Polish POWs helped German civilians escape. Hillgruber argued that the Red Army had a "fundamentally barbarous conception of war" and that the horrors perpetrated by the "Asiatic flood" of the Red Army, which he claimed were without parallel in history made the German stand in the East morally "justified".
Of the two essays in Zweierlei Untergang, one was a summary of the history of the Holocaust. The other essay concerned the ending of the "Germanic East". Hillgruber argued that Germany's defeat was also Europe's defeat as while since the outcome of the war was to leave Western Europe in the American sphere of influence and Eastern Europe in the Soviet sphere of influence, leaving Europeans and Germans in particular without the prospect of having a "history in the future" (i.e. unable to make their own history) 
With his favorable description of Wehrmacht activities, Hillgruber drew the anger of the Marxist philosopher Jürgen Habermas who rebuked Hillgruber in a feuilleton (opinion piece) entitled “A Kind of Settlement of Damages” published on 11 July 1986 in Die Zeit. It was Habermas's attack in Die Zeit in July 1986 that first drew attention to Zweierlei Untergang, which had until then been an obscure book published in the spring of 1986 by the Siedler press of Berlin. Habermas wrote in his essay first published in Die Zeit newspaper on 11 July 1986 that the work of Hillgruber in glorifying the last days of the German Army on the Eastern Front was, together with the work of Michael Stürmer and Ernst Nolte, intended to serve as a "...kind of NATO philosophy colored with German nationalism". Along with Habermas, numerous historians took issue with Hillgruber's essay, including Hans Mommsen, Eberhard Jäckel, Heinrich August Winkler, Martin Broszat, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Wolfgang Mommsen.
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