Hans Mommsen

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Hans Mommsen (2013)

Hans Mommsen (born November 5, 1930 in Marburg ; † November 5, 2015 in Tutzing ) was a German historian . He is considered one of the most important German contemporary historians after the Second World War.


Hans Mommsen's great-grandfather was the ancient historian and first German Nobel laureate in literature (1902; for the standard work Roman history ) Theodor Mommsen , his grandfather the bank director and free-spirited politician Karl Mommsen and his father Wilhelm Mommsen , professor of history at the University of Marburg. His mother came from a Bremen banking family. His twin brother Wolfgang J. Mommsen († 2004) and his older brother Karl Mommsen († 1976) were historians.

In 1951, Hans Mommsen began studying German, history and philosophy in Tübingen . He also studied political science. As a student of the historian Hans Rothfels at the University of Tübingen, he was in 1959 with the work of the Social Democrats and the nationality question in the Habsburg multinational state 1867-1907 doctorate . He then worked for a short time as Rothfels' assistant. From 1960 to 1963 he worked at the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) in Munich as a speaker. He then worked as an assistant at the University of Heidelberg with Werner Conze , where he qualified as a professor in 1967 with the work of civil servants in the Third Reich .

From 1968 until his retirement in early 1996, Mommsen held a chair for modern history at the newly founded Ruhr University in Bochum . In addition, there were stays as visiting researchers at Princeton , Harvard , Berkeley , Jerusalem and Washington, DC From 1977 to 1985 he was director of the Institute for the History of the Labor Movement, which he co-founded .

At the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance (DÖW), Mommsen appeared as a speaker at the festive events for the thirty-year (1993) and fifty-year-old (2013; topic: Hitler's position in the Nazi system of rule and the myth of the “Volksgemeinschaft” ) anniversaries.

Mommsen was married to the political scientist Margareta Mommsen and lived with her in Feldafing . Mommsen died in 2015 on his 85th birthday in Tutzing on Lake Starnberg .


Mommsen's main area of ​​work was German history between 1918 and 1945. Among other things, he presented a groundbreaking study on the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism . Mommsen made significant contributions to the development of the historiography of National Socialism primarily through pioneering essays on the Reichstag fire and the beginning of the so-called " Final Solution ". Mommsen's thesis on the Reichstag fire that the arsonist was certainly the sole perpetrator Marinus van der Lubbe is very controversial.

In connection with the controversy about the perpetrators of the Reichstag fire, Mommsen found that in 1962, as an employee of the Institute for Contemporary History, he suppressed a planned publication by the historian Hans Schneider "for general political reasons" and discussed with the institute's legal advisor whether it should be published in other publications "by pressure on Schneider through the Stuttgart Ministry" is to be prevented. In a formal declaration in 2001, the institute management commented on this and found that Mommsen's statements were "completely unacceptable from a scientific point of view". At the same time she stated that Hans Schneider's rough manuscript “was and is not ready for publication”.

What was important was the shift in the perspective of historical research, driven by Mommsen and above all by Martin Broszat , away from the overlaying person of Adolf Hitler towards the structures and apparatuses of the Nazi regime . This direction of Nazi research , known as the functionalist school, also asked about the responsibility of the individual in the Nazi dictatorship , while numerous historians emphasized the role of Hitler and a handful of vassals as the driving force for all political and social developments in the Nazi state, and thus the guilt concentrated on a few responsible persons. A fierce argument began between the “ functionalists ” (including Hans Mommsen) and the “intentionalists”. In this context, Mommsen introduced the term “cumulative radicalization” for the National Socialist extermination policy.

After the dispute between the two schools had escalated from the beginning of the 1980s and had dominated the debates in German historical studies for almost two decades, the discussion , which was led by both sides with missionary zeal, subsided sharply. A high point was the so-called Historikerstreit 1986/87, in which Mommsen appeared as one of the spokesmen on the part of the critics Ernst Nolte .

In August 2006, under the heading of Grass ' gauntlet , Mommsen repeated his thesis, which had been advocated since the 1980s, that the German public was practicing covert apologetics by indirectly projecting guilt onto the representatives of National Socialism and their henchmen . He noted the nation's unwillingness to admit its own involvement in Nazi crimes. In order to avoid public defamation, celebrities such as Walter Jens or Martin Broszat kept silent about their membership in the NSDAP or other NS organizations. Mommsen calls the outrage at Grass' late admission to his membership in the Waffen SS as “typical as it is mendacious”. Like Grass, Mommsen was a member of the SPD.


Mommsen was an honored scientist. In 1993 he was admitted to the British Academy as a Corresponding Fellow and in the same year a member of the Academia Europaea . He became a corresponding member of the philosophical-historical class abroad of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (1995). A commemorative publication was dedicated to him in 1995. He also received the Carl von Ossietzky Prize for Contemporary History and Politics from the City of Oldenburg (1998), the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the political book for his entire journalistic work (2010) and the Victor Adler State Prize for the History of Social Movements (2013).

Fonts (selection)

A list of publications appeared in Christian Jansen , Lutz Niethammer , Bernd Weisbrod (eds.): From the task of freedom. Political Responsibility and Civil Society in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Festschrift for Hans Mommsen on November 5, 1995. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-05-002835-1 , pp. 729–749; an updated and significantly expanded version in: Hans Mommsen: The "red chapel" and the German resistance against Hitler (= SBR-Schriften. Volume 33). Klartext-Verlag, Essen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8375-0616-7 , pp. 31-68.


  • History of International Integration in Austrian Social Democracy (1867–1907). A contribution to the development of the nationality question in old Austria. (At the same time: Tübingen, Philosophical Faculty, dissertation from December 19, 1960)
  • Social democracy and the question of nationalities in the Habsburg multi-ethnic state . Part 1: The struggle for the supranational integration of the Zisleithan workers 'movement (1867–1907) (= publications of the Working Group for the History of the Workers' Movement in Austria. Volume 1). Europaverlag, Vienna 1963.
  • Officials in the Third Reich. With selected sources on the National Socialist civil service policy (= series of the quarterly books for contemporary history. Volume 13). DVA, Stuttgart 1966.
  • Nationality question and labor movement . (= Writings from the Karl Marx House . Volume 6). Karl Marx House, Trier 1971.
  • Labor Movement and the National Question. Selected essays. (= Critical Studies in History . Volume 34). Göttingen 1979, ISBN 3-525-35989-6 .
  • The playful freedom. The way of the republic from Weimar to the downfall 1918 to 1933. (= Propylaen history of Germany. Volume 8). Propylaen Verlag, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-549-05818-7 .
    • Revised and expanded version: Rise and Fall of the Republic of Weimar. Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 1998. Many other editions.
  • National Socialism and German Society. Selected essays. Reinbek 1991, ISBN 3-499-18857-0 .
  • Resistance and Political Culture in Germany and Austria. Vienna 1994, ISBN 3-85452-325-4 .
  • with Manfred Grieger: The Volkswagen factory and its workers in the Third Reich. Econ, Düsseldorf 1996, ISBN 3-430-16785-X .
  • Rise and fall of the Weimar Republic 1918–1933. Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-548-26508-1 .
  • The myth of modernity. On the development of the armaments industry in the Third Reich. Essen 1999, ISBN 3-88474-646-4 .
  • From Weimar to Auschwitz. On the history of Germany in the world war era. Selected essays. Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-421-05283-2 .
  • Alternative to Hitler. Studies on the history of the German resistance. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45913-7 .
  • Auschwitz, July 17, 1942. The Road to the European “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. dtv, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-423-30605-X .
  • On the history of Germany in the 20th century. Democracy, dictatorship, resistance. DVA, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-421-04490-7 .
  • The “red band” and the German resistance against Hitler. Klartext, Essen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8375-0616-7 .
  • The Nazi regime and the extinction of Judaism in Europe. Wallstein, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 978-3-8353-1395-8 .


  • Social democracy between class movement and people's party. Negotiations of the section "History of the Labor Movement" of the German Historians' Day in Regensburg, October 1972. Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-8072-4045-4 .
  • with Dietmar Petzina and Bernd Weisbrod: Industrial system and political development in the Weimar Republic. 2 volumes, Königstein am Taunus 1977, ISBN 3-7610-7206-6 .
  • with Ulrich Borsdorf : Good luck, comrades! The miners and their organizations in Germany. Cologne 1979.
  • with Uwe Backes u. a .: Reichstag fire - clearing up a political legend. Piper, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-492-03027-0 .
  • Labor Movement and Industrial Change. Studies on union organization problems in the Reich and on the Ruhr. Wuppertal 1980, ISBN 3-87294-150-X .
  • with Susanne Willems: Everyday rule in the Third Reich. Studies and texts. Düsseldorf 1988, ISBN 3-491-33205-2 .
  • with Dušan Kováč, Jiří Malíř, Michaela Marek: The First World War and the relations between Czechs, Slovaks and Germans. Klartext, Essen 2001, ISBN 3-88474-951-X .
  • The Third Reich between Vision and Reality. New Perspectives on German History 1918–1945. Oxford et al. 2002, ISBN 1-85973-627-0 .
  • with Sabine Gillmann: Political writings and letters from Carl Friedrich Goerdelers. 2 volumes, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-598-11631-4 .


  • Richard Bessel : Functionalists versus Intentionalists: The Debate Twenty Years On or Whatever Happened to Functionalism and Intentionalism? In: German Studies Review. 26, 2003, Issue 1, ISSN  0149-7952 , pp. 15-20.
  • Norbert Frei: Sensitive skeptic and contentious spirit Hans Mommsen 1930–2015. In: History and Society . Volume 42, 2016, pp. 535-548.
  • Manfred Grieger, Christian Jansen and Irmtrud Wojak (eds.): Interests, structures, and decision-making processes! For a political contextualization of National Socialism. Klartext-Verlag, Essen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8375-0403-3 .
  • Christian Jansen , Lutz Niethammer , Bernd Weisbrod (eds.): From the task of freedom. Political Responsibility and Civil Society in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Festschrift for Hans Mommsen on November 5, 1995. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-05-002835-1 .
  • Larry Eugene Jones: Hans Mommsen (1930-2015). In: Central European History. Volume 51 (2018), pp. 182-203.
  • Peter Köpf : The Mommsens. From 1848 until today. The story of a family is the story of the Germans. Europa-Verlag, Hamburg et al. 2004, ISBN 3-203-79147-1 .
  • Hans Mommsen (Interview): "This explains why there has never been such a predominance of old men as in the period from 1945 to the 1960s". Interview in: Rüdiger Hohls , Konrad H. Jarausch (Ed.): Missed questions. German historians in the shadow of National Socialism. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-421-05341-3 , pp. 163-190 ( online on H-Soz-Kult ).
  • Stefan Rebenich : The Mommsens . In: Volker Reinhardt (Ed.): German families. Historical portraits from Bismarck to Weizsäcker. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52905-4 , pp. 147-179.
  • Peter Schöttler : Hans Mommsen (1930–2015). In: Francia . Volume 43, 2016, pp. 461-463 ( online ).
  • Hans Schneider: News from the Reichstag fire ?. A documentation. A failure of German historiography (= science is responsible. ). With a foreword by Iring Fetscher and contributions by Dieter Deiseroth , Hersch Fischler, Wolf-Dieter Narr . BWV Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-8305-0915-4 .
  • Arno Strohmeyer : Hans Mommsen. In: Almanac. Austrian Academy of Sciences. Volume 165, 2015, pp. 383-388.
  • Bernd Weisbrod : Hans Mommsen (1930–2015). In: Historical magazine . Volume 303, 2016, pp. 748-759.
  • Harald Welzer (Ed.): On the ruins of history. Conversations with Raul Hilberg, Hans Mommsen and Zygmunt Bauman (= Studies on National Socialism in Edition diskord Volume 3). Edition diskord, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-89295-659-6 .

Web links

Commons : Hans Mommsen  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


Debates and Interviews

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans Mommsen obituary notice . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , November 14, 2015.
  2. Interview with Hans Mommsen: New beginning and development of German history in the 1950s and 60s . Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin online, February 3, 1999, accessed on July 22, 2016.
  3. Historian: Hans Mommsen is dead . In: Zeit online , November 5, 2015, accessed on July 22, 2016.
  4. ^ Ruhr University Bochum: Obituary by Hans Mommsen . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , November 14, 2015.
  5. ^ Documentation archive of the Austrian resistance: Hans Mommsen (1930–2015) .
  6. Hans Mommsen: The Reichstag fire and its political consequences. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , issue 12 (1964), pp. 351–413 ( online ; PDF; 6.9 MB).
  7. Schneider worked in higher education.
  8. On the controversy over the Reichstag fire. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , vol. 49 (2001), p. 555 ( online ; PDF; 8.7 MB).
  9. Hans Mommsen: The National Socialism. Cumulative radicalization and self-destruction of the regime. In: Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon , Vol. 16, Munich 1976, pp. 785-790; Hans Mommsen: National Socialism or Hitlerism? In: Michael Bosch (Ed.): Personality and structure in history. Düsseldorf 1977, pp. 62–71, here: p. 66.
  10. Hans Mommsen: Grass' gauntlet. The outrage is as typical as it is mendacious. In: Frankfurter Rundschau , August 16, 2006.
  11. ^ Carl-Friedrich Höck: Hans Mommsen: Mourning for a historian against his will . In: forward . November 9, 2015.
  12. Christian Jansen , Lutz Niethammer, Bernd Weisbrod (ed.): From the task of freedom. Political Responsibility and Civil Society in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Festschrift for Hans Mommsen on November 5, 1995 . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-05-002835-1 .
  13. ^ Richard Saage : On the life work of Hans Mommsen. Laudation on the occasion of the awarding of the Victor Adler State Prize of the Republic of Austria to Hans Mommsen. April 19, 2013. ( Online ).