Hans Herzfeld

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Hans Herzfeld (born June 22, 1892 in Halle / Saale , † May 16, 1982 in Berlin ) was a German historian .


Similar to Gerhard Ritter and Hans Rothfels, Hans Herzfeld belongs to that group of German historians who lived their school and university days in the final phase of the German Empire. Born into a middle-class Protestant family, in a later review (in his “Memoirs”), Herzfeld was primarily aware of the feeling of security and peace before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. After graduating from the Latina in Halle in 1911 , he first studied in Freiburg im Breisgau a . a. with Friedrich Meinecke history before he returned to Halle to continue his studies there until mid-1914. During school and university, Herzfeld was an enthusiastic member of the Wandervogels , one of the most important youth movements of the time.

The outbreak of the First World War marked a decisive turning point for Herzfeld's further personal development as well as for his scientific work. As a typical member of the "front generation" of World War I influenced him decisively: To the several times with military honors (.. And Others fell Iron Cross first class) excellent Herzfeld as a lieutenant in 1917 in French prisoner of war , he returned from the 1920 to Halle. While he was a prisoner of war, he was able to prepare for his state examination, which he successfully passed in 1920. A few months later, Herzfeld received his doctorate in Halle in 1921 . At the beginning of 1923, he received his habilitation from Richard Fester , and in 1929 he was appointed associate professor for middle and modern history at the University of Halle. In 1926, Herzfeld's teacher Fester - "one of the most militant anti-republican and revanchist historians" - was forced to retire. Like Georg von Below , Albert Brackmann , Max Buchner , Eduard Meyer , Walter Otto and Ulrich Kahrstedt, Herzfeld was one of the historians who were not only close to the DNVP (which applies to a much larger group) but also joined it.

The Nazi takeover of power in 1933 blocked Herzfeld's further academic career. Although standing far to the right and also a decorated participant in the World War, he was targeted by Nazi cultural politicians because of his Jewish grandfather Ludwig Herzfeld . Initially, the NS student organization , the rector of the university and the regional leadership of the NSDAP (Herzfeld's wife had been a member of the party since 1932) successfully campaigned for him to remain. In March 1936, Herzfeld addressed a direct petition to Hitler , in which he requested personal exemption from the provisions of the Reich Citizenship and Reichsbeamtengesetz . In the same year he had to leave the SA , into which he had been accepted as a Stahlhelm member in 1934, for “ racial ” reasons . At the end of the summer semester of 1938, in the course of the intensification of the anti-Jewish coercive measures, his teaching license and the title of professor were revoked. After all, through contacts with former war comrades , he managed to find a job as a research assistant at the War History Research Institute of the Army , a department of the Reich Archives in Potsdam . By using Fritz Hartung Herzfeld also retained responsibility for the influential, since 1927, every year at the annual reports for German history appearing research reports on German history between 1890 and 1918. In early 1943, Herzfeld was for alleged " wehrkraftzersetzender denounced" utterances and was in February and in March in three different Berlin prisons on remand . Although he was released, he lost his job in Potsdam. Herzfeld spent the following years in Freiburg im Breisgau , where he saw the end of the war in 1945.

After 1945, Herzfeld was one of the few German historians who was "unencumbered" by the Nazi era and was able to continue his academic career immediately; since 1946 he was an associate professor at the University of Freiburg. Herzfeld's most successful creative period began with the acceptance of a call to the professorship for modern history at the Free University of Berlin , which had just been founded in 1948 . He was not only the decisive force in establishing the Friedrich Meinecke Institute at Freie Universität, but also initiated the founding of other institutes in the context of the Berlin academic landscape, such as the Historical Commission in Berlin (which he headed from 1959 to 1978) or the German Institute for Urbanism . At the same time, he was an important academic teacher and point of reference for a large number of students, including a. for Gerhard A. Ritter and Hanns Gringmuth-Dallmer . From 1958 to 1977 Herzfeld was a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich .


Herzfeld's first scientific publications after the end of the First World War are typical of the German historical scholarship of that time: Under the trauma of the German defeat in the First World War and the fall of the monarchical order, many German historians dealt with the time of the German Empire before 1914 initially the search for the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War is in the foreground. Closely connected with this was the endeavor to relativize and reject the sole guilt of Germany and its allies (Art. 231 of the Versailles Treaty ) for the outbreak of the First World War , which was established in the Peace Treaty of Versailles . In his dissertation (1921, published in 1922 under the title The Franco-German War Risk of 1875 ), Hans Herzfeld devoted himself to the Franco-German rivalry following the establishment of the Empire in 1871, which in 1875 led to the " war-in-sight crisis ". In his habilitation thesis (1923) he dealt with German armaments policy before the First World War. For the time, dissertation and (especially) the habilitation topic touched highly topical, controversial and contemporary topics.

Herzfeld's German national positioning is most clearly shown in his book on German Social Democracy and the Dissolution of the National United Front in the World War (Leipzig 1928), which, alongside Erich Otto Volkmann 's Marxism and the German Army in the World War (Berlin 1925), is the most ambitious attempt at scientific authentication represents the stab in the back thesis . While Volkmann pleaded for a certain narrowing and charged only the USPD and here in particular the Spartacus group with the odium of the "stab in the back", Herzfeld rejected such a differentiation and tried to give the leadership of the SPD - and on the fringes even left-wing democrats - an at least indirect one Attributing responsibility for the "collapse" of the German Empire. In the final analysis, the book aimed to portray the labor movement as such as a “fate for the German people” and thus to delegitimize it. Of Herzfeld's other publications before 1945, the two-volume biography of the Prussian finance minister Johannes von Miquel (1938) is particularly noteworthy.

After 1945, Herzfeld turned away from his national-conservative view and interpretation of German and European history. In a large number of scientific publications, school books, essays and statements, he devoted himself in the 1950s and 1960s to critical issues of contemporary history such as the First World War and the Weimar Republic . In his last major book in 1973, Herzfeld described Berlin's position in world politics from 1945 to 1970.

Fisherman controversy

With an article in the historical journal from 1960, which referred to a previous article by the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer , Hans Herzfeld opened the so-called Fischer controversy . In it, he pays tribute to Fischer's research work and emphasizes the peculiarity that his recourse to archive material from various sources that was previously largely under lock and key and therefore hardly used in historical research, including above all the World War II files of the Political Archives of the Foreign Office in Bonn . At the same time, however, Herzfeld takes a fundamentally skeptical attitude towards Fischer's methodology, as his work is based exclusively on the files. Herzfeld questions whether a realistic reconstruction of the actual circumstances is possible on the basis of the files alone.

In terms of content, too, Herzfeld takes a critical position vis-à-vis Fischer, focusing above all on the role of Reich Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and the question of the unity of the civil and military Reich leadership with regard to the war aims and the question of the continuity of the German war aims from 1914 to 1918 relates. Herzfeld mainly cites the war diaries, notes and letters of the head of the German naval cabinet, Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller , on the one hand with which he describes the very different opinions of the civilian government and the military and on the other hand describes the pressure on Bethmann-Hollweg from the military who takes on a more passive role based on this representation. In addition, Herzfeld cites several quotes from Kaiser Wilhelm II , which show the ruler's discontinuity with regard to war morale and clearly speak against continuity.

Herzfeld formulates his criticism of Fischer's work politely and in a collegial, factual, scientific tone. Personal sharpness, as it is z. B. found in the writings of his colleague Gerhard Ritter on the Fischer controversy is completely absent in Herzfeld.

Fonts (selection)

  • The Franco-German War Danger of 1875 , Mittler, Berlin 1922.
  • German Social Democracy and the Dissolution of the National United Front in the World War , Quelle & Meyer, Leipzig 1928.
  • Johannes von Miquel , 2 volumes, Meyer, Detmold 1938.
  • On German politics in the First World War. Continuity or permanent crisis? In: Historical magazine . 191, pp. 67-82 (1960).
  • The First World War (= dtv world history of the 20th century. Vol. 1). dtv, Munich 1968.
  • The modern world. Part 1: The epoch of the bourgeois nation-states. 1789-1890. Westermann, Braunschweig 1950.
  • The modern world. Part 2: World Powers and World Wars. The history of our era. 1890-1945. Westermann, Braunschweig 1952.
  • Berlin in world politics 1945-1970 , de Gruyter, Berlin 1973, ISBN 978-3-11-003890-3 .
  • The first world war. Personal experience and historical research. Diary notes, reports, documents. Edited and documented by Wolfgang D. Herzfeld, Kovac, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8300-9136-3 .


  • Bernd Faulenbach : Hans Herzfeld . In: Rüdiger vom Bruch , Rainer A. Müller (Hrsg.): Historikerlexikon. From antiquity to the present. 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-47643-0 , p. 147 f.
  • Edgar Liebmann: “A life full of unheard-of changes and catastrophes” - The “memories” of Hans Herzfeld (1892–1982) as a source of biographical research . In: BIOS - Journal for Biography Research , Oral History and Life Course Analyzes 23 (2010), pp. 232-255.
  • Willy Real (Ed.): Hans Herzfeld. From the memories. de Gruyter, Berlin, New York 1992, ISBN 3-11-013520-5 .
  • Gerhard A. Ritter: Hans Herzfeld - personality and work . In: Otto Büsch (Ed.): Hans Herzfeld. Personality and work. Colloquium, Berlin 1983, ISBN 3-7678-0609-6 , pp. 13-91.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans Schleier : The bourgeois German historiography of the Weimar Republic , Berlin 1975, p. 439.
  2. See Gerhard A. Ritter: Hans Herzfeld - Personality and Work , in: Otto Büsch (Ed.): Hans Herzfeld. Personality and Work , Berlin 1983, pp. 13–91, here p. 33.
  3. Schleier, Historschreibung , p. 26.
  4. See Schleier, Historschreibung , p. 108.
  5. See Ritter, Herzfeld , p. 38.
  6. Hans Herzfeld: The German Social Democracy and the Dissolution of the National United Front in the World War , Leipzig 1928, p. 194.
  7. ^ On German politics in the First World War: Continuity or permanent crisis? In: HZ 191 (1960), pp. 67-82.
  8. ^ German war aims, revolution and separate peace in the east 1914–1918 . In: HZ 188 (1959), pp. 249-310.