Hans Rothfels

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Hans Rothfels (born April 12, 1891 in Kassel , † June 22, 1976 in Tübingen ) was a German historian .

Rothfels was a modern historian who emigrated to the United States via the United Kingdom during the Nazi era . Before the Second World War professor at the Albertus University in Königsberg , he later taught at the University of Chicago and the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen . He is considered the nestor of modern German contemporary history research , who u. a. Hans Mommsen and Heinrich August Winkler as students.


Hans Rothfels came from the “liberal-Protestant-national educated middle class of the empire” ( Werner Conze ); his great-grandfather was a banker and his grandfather a mathematician. Rothfels grew up in Kassel as the son of the Jewish attorney and notary, Justizrat Max Rothfels , head of the Jewish community and reserve officer, and his wife, who came from a wealthy merchant family. The parental home gave him a liberal and free religious worldview; In 1910 he converted to Protestantism . In 1909 he graduated from the Königlichen Friedrichsgymnasium Kassel , where he was brought up patriotic and neo- human. He then began to study classical philology at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau , later, influenced by Friedrich Meinecke , he switched to history. Semesters at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin followed . In 1911/12 his studies were interrupted by serving as a one-year volunteer . As a lieutenant in the reserve , Rothfels was seriously injured in a fall from a horse in November 1914. Hospital stays followed; the injury resulted in the amputation of a leg.

After further political and historical studies in 1917/18, Rothfels was recommended by Meineckes - to whose small group of students he belonged - in 1918 with Hermann Oncken's dissertation with Carl von Clausewitz . Politics and war. A study of the history of ideas at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg for Dr. phil. PhD. Subsequently, in 1920 he was given a position as archivist in the Reichsarchiv in Potsdam, where he began preparatory work (which was not published at the time) for the later source collection on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914 . In 1923 he completed his habilitation with Friedrich Meinecke and Erich Marcks in Berlin with the work of Bismarck's English Alliance Policy and became a private lecturer in modern and European history.

In 1926 Rothfels became a professor at the Albertina in Königsberg . In 1927/28 he became a member of the Royal German Society , the Königsberg Academic Society and the Historical Commission for East and West Prussian State Research . He also became a lecturer in history at the Königsberg commercial college . In 1929 he became editor of the Königsberg Studies Abroad . He lectured in Baltic cities in the 1920s and 1930s .

After the " seizure of power " and the passing of the law to restore the civil service , several students of the history seminar and the private lecturers Erich Maschke and Rudolf Craemer signed a public appeal not to release Rothfels as professor because of his services. The curator Friedrich Hoffmann of the Albertus University in Königsberg also stood up for him. In 1934 the university administration of the Ministry intrigued against him, and in July 1934 Rothfels was withdrawn from the chair because of his Jewish origins.

A previously promised research activity in Berlin was revoked in 1936 by the Nazi regime. He and his family settled in Berlin-Nikolassee . Until 1938 he was able to conduct source studies in the Prussian Secret State Archive in Berlin, which was directed by Albert Brackmann .

In 1937 he gave individual lectures in Cambridge and London on social legislation under Bismarck (there is a publication in The Sociological Review from 1938 under the title Bismarck's Social Policy and the Problem of State Socialism in Germany , S81-94 and 288-302). A visiting professorship at the University of Cambridge , promoted by English scholars, failed at the Board of History there (SOURCE, please). He made further contacts abroad through the historian Siegfried A. Kaehler .

He was briefly arrested during the November pogroms in Berlin in 1938. After the situation had become more and more tense, he sent his children to England in 1939. A little later they were interned as Germans. He himself wanted to gain a foothold at St John's College in Oxford. After the beginning of the war in September 1939, Rothfels was allowed to travel to Great Britain by the Nazi authorities. In 1940 he was taken to the Isle of Man internment camp .

In November 1940, Rothfels received a visiting professorship at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, on the recommendation of Sinclair W. Armstrong, Eugene Anderson and William L. Langer . In the summer of 1946 he was invited to lectures at the University of Chicago in Illinois by Robert Maynard Hutchins . In 1946/47 he succeeded Bernadotte Everly Schmitt Professor. In Chicago he joined a group of German scholars to which u. a. Otto von Simson , Wilhelm Pauck , Max Rheinstein , Helmut Kuhn , Hans Gaffron and others belonged. He gave lectures within the Literary Society and was editor of the review magazine German Books . He also dealt with the resistance against National Socialism and presented a standard work. In 1947 he turned down offers to the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen and the University of Heidelberg. In 1949 he visited Germany again for the first time and gave lectures in Heidelberg, Göttingen and Berlin. After the celebration of his 60th birthday (1951) he left the USA in order to accept an offer as the successor of Rudolf Stadelmann at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen , also on the mediation of former students ; Arnold Bergstraesser made the farewell speech for him.

Until 1956, Rothfels held a few lectures in Chicago (in 1969 he gave back his American citizenship), but then devoted himself entirely to his Tübingen tasks. He turned down a call to the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (1954). In July 1959 he retired, but at the request of the university, he held the chair until 1961. His academic students spanning nearly forty years include: a. Hans Bausch , Waldemar Besson , Karl Heinz Bremer , Werner Conze , Rudolf Craemer , Wolfram Fischer , Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen , Klaus Hornung , Gotthard Jasper , Ernst Klink , Bernhard Mann , Hans Mommsen , Theo Sommer , Konstanze Wegner and Heinrich August Winkler .

Rothfels was u. a. Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) and from 1953, together with Theodor Eschenburg, editor of the quarterly journal for contemporary history . He was a member of the Historical Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , the Historical Commission for East and West Prussian State Research , the Johann Gottfried Herder Research Council , the Advisory Board of the Theodor Heuss Archive , the Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for History , of the American Historical Association and the Baltic Historical Commission as well as full member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences (1958/59) and corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen (1949). From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the party rights commission of the Federal Ministry of the Interior , later of the Scientific Commission for the Documentation of Expulsion (from 1951 to 1969 he supervised the documentation of the expulsion of Germans from East Central Europe ). In 1960 he became editor of the international publication commission for files on German foreign policy 1918-1945 . From 1958 to 1962 he was chairman of the Association of German Historians .

1958 Rothfels was awarded the Prussian shield of the East Prussian Landsmannschaft . In 1961 he was honored with the Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts and an honorary doctorate from the University of Freiburg im Breisgau (Dr. jur. Hc). In 1961 he received the Federal Cross of Merit (1965 with a star). In 1965 he held in front of the German Bundestag on the occasion of the “150. Bismarck's birthday ”a speech that was also broadcast on television. In 1971 he received the Hölderlin plaque from the university town of Tübingen. In 1976 he was awarded the Baden-Württemberg Medal of Merit.

From 1918 Rothfels was married to Hildegard Elisabeth Consbruch, with whom he was married in Berlin and with whom he was to have four children - one of whom died early in an accident. After the death of his wife in 1961, he married a baroness von Bussche-Ippenburg in 1963 . On June 28, 1976, Hans Rothfels found his final resting place in the Tübingen Bergfriedhof .

In the 2000s, Rothfels became the subject of a historical debate, in which Ingo Haar and Heinrich August Winkler were particularly involved. In essence, it is a question of whether Rothfels, as a historian during his time in Königsberg, had “been close to young conservative circles” and “the question of the relationship between his historical and political positions and ethnic programs,” says Wolfgang Neugebauer . Rothfels was taken under protection by his student Winkler as a "conservative Republican of reason". Later, however, Winkler found it "deeply irritating" that Rothfels, as it became known from the publication of an exchange of letters, " obviously voted for Hitler in the second round of the 1932 presidential election ". Bernd Faulenbach and Hans Mommsen attested Rothfels a " neo-conservatism ". For Werner Conze , Rothfels separated himself from German nationalism and rational republicanism.

Rothfels have trodden a political maturation process in the Federal Republic of Germany, although he was not a supporter of left liberalism , but in the 1970s he supported the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt . The political positioning of his students from Königsberg, Chicago and Tübingen is also considered to be relatively heterogeneous. Neugebauer remarked that “his contributions to problems of nations, nationalism and the East Central Europe. History [...], beyond folk-centered backwardness, meaning for a europ. expanded perspective of German historiography ”. In the memorial of Theodor Schieder , who also belonged to his group of students, on the occasion of the admission to the order Pour le Mérite for sciences and arts, it was said: “For the reconstruction of German history after the war, to build a bridge to the history of the western peoples he was irreplaceable. "

Fonts (selection)

  • Carl von Clausewitz. Politics and war. A study of the history of ideas . Dümmler, Berlin 1920.
  • (Ed.): Carl von Clausewitz: Political writings and letters . Drei Masken Verlag, Munich 1922.
  • Bismarck's English alliance policy . DVA, Stuttgart 1924.
  • Theodor Lohmann and the years of struggle in state social policy (1871–1905). Based on unprinted sources (= research and representations from the Reichsarchiv . H. 6). ES Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1927.
  • (Vorw.): The English Empire (= study abroad . Vol. 5). Gräfe and Unzer, Königsberg 1930.
  • (Vorw.): The German Abroad of the East (= foreign studies . Vol. 7). Gräfe and Unzer, Königsberg 1932.
  • Bismarck and the East. A study on the problem of the German nation state . Hinrichs, Leipzig 1934.
  • Eastern Rumanian, Prussian and Imperial Thought. Historical treatises, lectures and speeches (= Königsberg historical research . Vol. 7). Hinrichs, Leipzig 1935.
  • Theodor von Schön, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. And the revolution of 1848 (= writings of the Königsberg learned society . Spiritual science class. 13,2). Niemeyer, Halle 1937.
  • The German opposition to Hitler. An appreciation . Scherpe Verlag, Krefeld 1949 (first in English as: The German opposition to Hitler - an appraisal (= The humanist library ). Verlag Regnery, Hinsdale, Illinois 1948).
  • with Werner Markert (Ed.): German East and Slavic West. Tübingen lectures (= Tübingen studies on history and politics . No. 4). Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1955.
  • Contemporary historical considerations. Lectures and essays . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1959.
  • Bismarck, the East and the Reich . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1960.
  • (Ed.): Berlin in the past and present. Tübingen lectures (= Tübingen studies on history and politics . No. 14). Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1961.
  • Bismarck. Lectures and treatises (= history and present ). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a. 1970.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. M. v. Lehn, West German and Italian Historians as Intellectuals ?, p. 58.
  2. ^ Excerpt from the German lists of losses (Preuss. 103) of December 16, 1914, p. 3672.
  3. M. v. Lehn, West German and Italian Historians as Intellectuals ?, p. 58.
  4. ^ Ingo Haar : "Revisionist" historians and youth movement: The Königsberg example . In: Peter Schöttler (Ed.): Historiography as a science of legitimation 1918–1945. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 52-103, here pp. 88 f.
  5. ^ The Journal - The Sociological Review. Accessed January 31, 2019 .
  6. M. v. Lehn, West German and Italian Historians as Intellectuals ?, p. 59.
  7. Prussia 15, p. 71 f. In: Old Prussian Biography , Vol. 4, p. 1479.
  8. Hans Rothfels † (PDF; 5.8 MB). In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , volume 24 (1976), volume 3, foreword.
  9. Volker Ullrich : The German question has been solved. A conversation with the historian Heinrich August Winkler on his 70th birthday . In: Die Zeit , No. 52/2008, December 17, 2008, p. 64.