Versäumte Fragen. Deutsche Historiker im Schatten des
von Dirk Moses, University of Sydney - Email: <email@example.com>
This collection of interviews raises fascinating questions about the generational fundaments not only of postwar professional historiography, but also of the Republic as a whole. The terms of the current debate about the so-called Versäumte Fragen are also symptomatic of a generational rivalry that goes back to the late 1940s when members of the Kulturintelligenz, like Hans-Werner Richter and Alfred Andersch, expressed their profound disappointment in the former young soldiers and Hitler Youth for not joining them in leading the nation's moral and political 'rebirth'. Ever since, the youth generation of the late 1940s has been branded as apolitical and conformist, and this is the substance of the charge levelled against those historians born in the 1920s and 1930s, members of a generation I call the '45ers' .
Helmut Schelsky celebrated these perceived characteristics in his 'Die
skeptische Generation' (1957), just as Alexander and Margarethe Mitscherlich
deplored them in 'Die Unfähigkeit zu Trauern' (1967). The
psychoanalysts were clearly upset about the missing 'new start' after the
war: "Wir alle stehen doch unter dem Einfluß der tiefen Enttäuschung,
daß die unermeßliche Mordwut, die ihn begleitete, nicht nur keinen
kathartischen Effekt hatten, sondern daß es eher zu einer vielfachen
Metastasierung des Kriegsübel gekommen ist" . But
they were not the only ones. Disgust with the 45ers for not having been 68ers
has been a popular emotion in West Germany intellectual and cultural life.
Consider the influential historian of the Hitler Youth, Arno Klönne
(born in 1931), who summed up his own cohort in the following way:
"Die Auswirkung der HJ-Erziehung lag weniger in der Herausbildung einer breiteren Schicht von fanatisch-aktiven jungen Nationalsozialisten als vielmehr in der Dressur der Jugendliche zur Systemanpassung, zum Verzicht auf politische und gesellschaftliche Willensbildung und Spontaneität, in der Verhinderung der politischen Erfahrung, auch der gesellschaftlichen Utopiebildung -- kurz: in der politisch-gesellschaftlichen Entmündigung der Jugend" .
Not surprisingly, this view became the standard accusation of the 68ers against
their university teachers. Thus Tilman Fichter und Siegward Lönnendonker:
"Die Generation der ersten Phase [der BRD], noch in der Weimarer Republik geboren, hatte die Not während der Weltwirtschaftskrise miterlebt und war im 'Dritten Reich' in der Hitlerjugend und später im Schützengraben und an der Flak sozialisiert worden. Nach dem Zusammenbruch kam für sie erst das Fressen und dann die Moral...Die erste Nachkriegsgeneration verhielt sich weitgehend opportunistisch, eine politische Antwort auf den Nationalsozialismus stand nicht zur Debatte" .
Now it is true that the 45ers did not engage in a youth rebellion against their elders in the late 1940s and 1950s. But does it make historical sense to expect them to have done so? The same question can be asked of the demand that they should have interrogated their professors about their activity in the war. Is not Hermann Lübbe correct when he points to the essential integrative function of discretion about the past in the 1950s. "Nicht eine einzige Universität, keine Kommunale Verwaltung, kein privater Betrieb, kein Unternehmen hätte sich wiederaufbauen lassen, wenn im Umgangston der auf Kooperation Angewiesenen der Ton des Vorwurfs ('Wie konnten Sie nur...?') zum herrschenden Dauerton geworden wäre" .
Even though Lübbe's original and counter-intuitive thesis about the 'Heilschlaf' of the 1950s was not sufficiently recognised by the interviewees, they confirmed it implicitly nonetheless. Thus, in one of the most balanced contributions, Gerhard A. Ritter observes that "man mußte 1945 ein Deutschland aufbauen mit Menschen, die nicht nur, wie Kant sagt, aus krummen Holz, sondern auch aus faulem Holz gemacht waren. Das traf für alle Bereiche zu" (134). And Reinhard Rürup adds that the 45ers could understand the compromises made in a totalitarian system, because they themselves had experienced the Hitler Youth. "Wir konnten uns deshalb vorstellen, wie man in ein solches System hineingewachsen wäre" (270). Similarly, Heinrich August Winkler thinks it is a matter of the "Befangenheit einer Generation... die von der Schulzeit her oder sogar schon aus dem Verwandtenkreis vertraut war mit dem Phänomen des Schuldig-Werdens in der vorangegangenen Generation...Man setzte Belastung voraus, weil sie der Regelfall war" (380). Moreover, the oedipal conflict between forty-fivers and their fathers was felt to have been rendered superfluous by the manifest discrediting of "the father" in the wake of the catastrophe that his generation had visited upon Germany and the world. Writing in Kursbuch in 1965 Karl Markus Michel (born 1929) averred "Nach 1945...fanden die jungen Männer in Deutschland nur Trümmer vor. Was die Väter geschaffen hatten, war so ungeheuerlich, daß es jeder Anprangerung spottete" .
Of course, it is this silent pact between the 45ers and older generation that Götz Aly and others decry with the implication that the former are tainted by the Nazi involvement of their latter. Obviously a different moral sensibility about the integration of perpetrators and 'Vordenker' has developed over the past 40 years, and perhaps the interviewees could have followed Hans-Ulrich Wehler's example and said more about their youthful commitments. Wolfgang J. Mommsen gives the reader a tantalising taste of what such commitments and loyalties may have been when he writes of Schieder that "Man kann sagen, daß er sich selbst aus dem Sumpf gezogen hat, aber uns ebenso" (208). But to point the finger of indignation about a missing 'cleansing' fails to appreciate the kind of generational rebellion that was possible in the conditions at the time.
If it was functionally necessary to integrate millions of committed Nazis into the new democracy, then the liberalisation of the society had to proceed incrementally and be based on the ability and preparedness to change on the part of most West Germans at the time. It is clear that the Schieders and Conzes, as the Kiesingers, did try to make good their own pasts by a new posture towards liberalism and democracy in the Federal Republic. The nature -- and limits -- of West German liberalisation at the time can be explained by the fact that it was the ex-Nazis and Vordenker who were its necessary bearers until the late 1950s. None of this could have taken place without their integration and the undeniable simultaneous continuity of Nazi and pre-Nazi mentalities.
Consequently, the first important generational change in the Federal Republic took place between 1958 and 1963, not in 1968. This was the time when the 45ers published their important books, took up important positions in academia and the professions, and generally made their presence felt in German intellectual and public culture. The Spiegel Affair, which was largely a 45er affair, is a good example of this phenomenon. It was a form of generational rebellion, but one unlike that which erupted a few years later, because it took place at the level of intellectual and political traditions rather than personal continuity. In their doctoral and habilitation dissertations in the 1950s and 1960s, 45ers in all disciplines of the social and human sciences attempted to cleanse the country's traditions, either by their explicit criticism, or by directly addressing recent events, as in Karl Dietrich Bracher's study on the collapse of the Weimar Republic; or like the sociologists who swapped the discredited domestic tools for methods and questions learned in England and the USA. The sociologist M. Rainer Lepsius (born 1928) spoke for many when he wrote that "Mir lag daran, traditionelle deutsche Denkweisen, die zudem nationalsozialistisch überformt waren, zu deflationieren" . All this is what Wolfgang J. Mommsen has described in 1981 as his generation's "revolution" against the intellectual roots of fascism . Never before did Germany undergo such soul-searching and Traditionskritik. The task was to identify and root out those intellectual traditions, discourses, and ideologies that had led to the "German Catastrophe" (see Ritter, 136).
For this reason, rightwing commentators like Armin Mohler and Günter Maschke identify in the 45ers an unusually active group of intellectuals who have (unfortunately in their view) moved Germany to the west. Writing in 1965, Mohler attacked the "Männer unter vierzig" as a "saure Generation," who were disappointed by their Nazi elders. "Diese Generation ist die Generation der Kritik um der Kritik willen," he complained . Maschke himself wrote in anger that "Diese Generation, zu jung um die Prügel zu verstehen, die sie empfing, wurde ein Opfer der Gemeinschaftskundewelt, der Care-Pakete, der amerikanische Stipendien für 'Demokratiewissenschaft' (Politologie) und der Legenden vom britischen Parlament." Maschke includes those figures who in other circles are or were once considered dangerous members of the "new right" -- Wilhelm Hennis (1923), Hermann Lübbe (1926), and Friedrich Tenbruck (1919-1994) . Maschke objects to the fact that this is the first German generation in the twentieth century that oriented itself, with some exceptions, to the West and the Enlightenment. It is the first German generation whose intellectuals were committed themselves to a democratic and republican system of government, even if they disagreed about its precise meaning. Their self-understanding was always as liberalizers, whether among the so-called progressives or the conservatives, who continued the deradicalisation of German conservatism.
The reasons for this orientation have not been illuminated in the volume Versäumte Fragen, neither has the last word been said on the continuities and ruptures in postwar historiography. Nor have the moralistically-driven interventions of the 45ers' accusers generated more light than heat. Perhaps these subjects need to be tackled by an even younger generation that is not inclined to throw unpopular teachers out the window. We can look forward to two books, then, by Thomas Etzemüller (Hamburg/Tübingen) and Nicolas Berg (Freiburg). Etzemüller's 'Sozialgeschichte als politische Geschichte: Werner Conze und die Neuorientierung der westdeutsche Geschichtswissenschaft nach 1945' will lay bare the hidden political program in Conze's influential conception of social history, a project whose conservative agenda was replaced from within by a critical posture just as his students adopted the methodology in the 1960s. Nicolas Berg will soon present 'Die deutsche Geschichtswissenschaft und der Holocaust. Eine Problemgeschichte zwischen Erinnerung und Erforschung' which shows the difficulties the first postwar historians experienced in confronting the Holocaust as an object of historical enquiry, because they had personally experienced the Nazi regime and wrote about it more to gain metahistorical orientation than to reconstruct the crime and their own implication and that of their compatriots. The time has come, as Wehler -- sounding very much like Thomas Nipperdey -- has entreated, to historicize postwar historiography (264).
 A.Dirk Moses, "The Forty-Fivers: A Generation between Fascism and Democracy," German Politics and Society, 17:1 (1999), 94-126. The German translation is: "Die 45er: eine Generation zwischen Faschismus und Demokratie," Die Neue Sammlung (May 2000), 233-63. The forthcoming book is The Forty-Fivers. The Languages of Repblicanism and the Foundation of West Germany.
 Alexander and Margarethe Mitscherlich, Die Unfähigkeit zu Trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens, rev. ed. (Munich, 1977), 351.
 Arno Klönne, Die betrogene Generation. Jugend in Deutschland unter dem Faschismus (Colonge, 1985), 345.
 Tilman Fichter and Siegward Lönnendonker, "Von der APO nach TUNIX," in Claus Richter, ed., Überflüssige Generationen. Jugend zwischen Apathie und Anpassung (Munich, 1979), 139-41.
 Hermann Lübbe, "Deutschland nach dem Nationalsozialismus, 1945-1990. Zum politischen und akademischen Kontext des Falles Schneider alias Schwerte," in Helmut König, Wolfgang Kühlmann, Klaus Schwabe, eds., Vertuschte Vergangenheit. Der Fall Schwerte und die NS-Vergangenheit der deutschen Hochschule (Munich, 1997), 202.
 Kark Markus Michel, Die sprachlose Intelligenz (Frankfurt, 1966), 71.
 M. Rainer Lepsius, "Soziologie als angewandte Aufklärung," in Christian Fleck, ed., Wege zur Soziologie nach 1945. Biographische Notizen (Opladen, 1996), 188.
 Wolfgang J. Mommsen, "Gegenwärtige Tendenzen in der Geschichtsschreibung in der Bundesprepublik," Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 8 (1981), 162.
 Armin Mohler, "Die Saure Generation," in his Was die Deutschen Fürchten (Stuttgart, 1965), 133-36.
 Günter Maschke, "Die Verschwörung der Flakhelfer," in Hans-Joachim Arndt, ed., Inferiorität als Staatsräson: Sechs Aufsätze zur Legitimität der BRD (Krefeld, 1985), 93-118. Frank Niess, "Neue Rechte," in Martin and Sylvia Greiffenhagen and Rainer Prätorius, eds., Handwörterbuch zu Politischen Kultur der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Opladen, 1981), 263-7.