Hermann Oncken

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Hermann Oncken (1933)

Karl Hermann Gerhard Oncken (born November 16, 1869 in Oldenburg (Oldb) , † December 28, 1945 in Göttingen ) was a German historian and political publicist .


Early years and first stages of his activity

Göttingen, Stadtfriedhof: grave of Hermann Oncken

Hermann Oncken grew up as the son of the court art dealer Carl Gerhard Oncken (1839–1925) and his wife Friederike Catharine Hermine Oncken, née. Krüger (1848–1903), in Oldenburg. He was a nephew of Wilhelm Oncken and August Oncken . Oncken attended the Grand Ducal High School in Oldenburg from Easter 1878 until his Abitur in 1887. He then studied history , German and economics at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin and for two semesters at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg . There he attended the lectures of the philosopher Kuno Fischer . Back in Berlin, where he joined the Landsmannschaft Spandovia and attended lectures by the historians Harry Bresslau , Paul Scheffer-Boichorst , Reinhold Koser and Gustav von Schmoller , he became Professor of Modern German History with Max Lenz on August 11, 1891 , since 1890 , with a thesis on Oldenburg historical sources of the middle ages doctorate . Then he was from 1891 to 1894 under Georg Sello scientific assistant at the Grand Ducal House and Central Archives (today State Archives Oldenburg ) in Oldenburg. Together with Sello, he founded the yearbook for the Duchy of Oldenburg in 1892 ( Oldenburg yearbooks since 1915 ). From 1894 Oncken took over the editorial office, which he continued until 1904. In 1898 Oncken did his habilitation again at Lenz with the work Graf Christoph von Oldenburg in Berlin , which arose from the history of the Oldenburg region, and then worked as a private lecturer at the university and at the Prussian War Academy . Her marriage to Margarethe Weber (1876–1954), August Weber's sister , in 1902 resulted in three children, including the art historian Alste Horn-Oncken (1910–1991). In the winter semester of 1905 he went to Chicago as a visiting professor . In 1906 he accepted a chair at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen . In 1907 Oncken moved to the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, where he held the chair of history and maintained close friendly contact with Max Weber and Friedrich Gundolf as well as with his colleagues Ernst Troeltsch , Karl Jaspers and Heinrich Rickert , the historians Eberhard Gothein and Karl Hampe , the constitutional lawyers Richard Thoma and Gerhard Anschütz and to Max Weber's brother, the economist Alfred Weber . Oncken spent a total of 16 years in Heidelberg, which is considered to be his most important and most successful period.

Turning to politics and activities during the First World War

Oncken was also politically active and became a member of the National Liberal Party whose Heidelberg city organization he headed as chairman. As the successor to Ernst Troeltsch, he represented Heidelberg University in the Baden First Chamber , to which he belonged until 1918. During this activity he came into contact with Prince Max von Baden , who later became Chancellor of the Reich.

In January 1912, with his lecture on army or naval reinforcements, he opposed the far-reaching plans of the Grand Admiral von Tirpitz because they endangered the understanding with England. He was more in line with the British War Minister Lord Haldane , whom he met in London in 1913. As a national liberal politician and since 1915 as a representative of the university in the Baden First Chamber , of which he was a member until 1918, Hermann Oncken opposed an excessive German armaments policy. During this activity he came into contact with Prince Max von Baden , who later became Chancellor of the Reich. He also headed the Heidelberg city organization of the National Liberal Party as chairman. Oncken's candidacy for the Heidelberg Reichstag mandate, which became vacant in 1916 , could not, however, be realized.

Despite a certain criticism of the internal political conditions of the Wilhelmine Empire, Oncken, like his colleagues, was a war advocate at the beginning of the First World War who advocated the justice of the German cause and moderate war aims. However, he rejected Pan-German plans and the goals of the Fatherland Party . Together with Max Weber and Friedrich Meinecke , he devoted his political commitment to the Volksbund für Freiheit und Vaterland , founded in 1917 , in which he advocated peace of understanding and internal reforms.

Activity during the Weimar Republic

In 1919 after the First World War , Oncken, together with Max von Baden and Max Weber, campaigned for a moderate peace of understanding in the Heidelberg Association and campaigned for the parliamentary-democratic constitution and the foreign policy of Gustav Stresemann during the Weimar Republic . In his essay on the revolution of 1918/19 , he identified the illusions of the Supreme Army Command and the unrestricted submarine war that it had carried out against the political leadership of the Reich , as well as the emperor's weaknesses alongside the attraction of the ideas of the Russian Revolution and the sudden admission military defeat as its causes. From 1923 he worked as a full professor in Munich , from 1928 in Berlin.

Oncken was critical of the politics of the Weimar Republic, but saw himself as a rational republican in contrast to many of his colleagues who found it difficult or impossible to come to terms with the fall of the empire. Oncken advocated the foreign policy understanding, as it was realized in the Locarno Treaties and when joining the League of Nations in 1926. However , he rejected proposals for imperial reform . In 1929, Oncken again committed to the Weimar Republic in a speech at the constitutional celebration of the Berlin university. In 1932 he was also one of the signatories of the appeal of the German historians who spoke out in favor of the Weimar party candidate for the election of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg . In 1928 he became the first deputy chairman of the Historical Reich Commission Friedrich Meinecke, with whom he brought out the classics of politics . After Meinecke's departure in the spring of 1934, he became his successor. In 1932 he was accepted - again as Meinecke's successor - into the Berlin Wednesday Society, of which he was a member until 1944.

Activity at the time of National Socialism

After the seizure of power of the Nazis in January 1933, Oncken was increasingly opposed to the new rulers whose policies its essence and thinking was completely contrary. Although he avoided direct comments, in late 1934 he fell victim to a smear campaign led by his former student Walter Frank . The trigger was Oncken's speech about the changes in the image of history in revolutionary epochs , which he had given in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and in the large auditorium of Berlin University. In this speech Oncken described the revaluation of German history since 1933 as a juxtaposition of fruitful thoughts ..., but also of time-bound arbitrariness, which in individual cases does not shy away from daring hypotheses and inauthentic material. This view stood in stark contrast to the interpretation of history under National Socialism and Frank responded on February 3, 1935 with an abusive article in the Völkischer Beobachter , which was also reprinted in an Oldenburg magazine. As a punitive measure, Frank asked Bernhard Rust , Reich Minister for Science, Education and National Education , to end Oncken's teaching activities. The demand was complied with and from February 7, 1935, Oncken's lectures at the University of Berlin were canceled. The students were only informed of this by means of a notice on the university notice board . On July 23, 1935, Hitler signed Oncken's certificate of indemnity, with which he was forced to retire; only his students Gerhard Ritter and Anton Ritthaler and Friedrich Meinecke had publicly defended him. Rust had already ordered the dissolution of the Historical Reich Commission in March. Instead, the Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany was founded in October 1935 , and Walter Frank became its president .

End of life

After Oncken's removal from the university and all research institutions, his scientific work came to a standstill with the exception of a few publications. Oncken left Berlin around 1943 and lived first in Breslau and later in Göttingen , where he died on December 28, 1945.

Membership in academies

Oncken was a member of numerous German and foreign academic academies, including the Baden Historical Commission (1907), the Historical Commission for the Reich Archives and the Historical Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich (1920), the Commission for Bavarian State History (1927), the Societas Hungarorum Histórica (1929). He was also a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (1924), the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences , the Göttingen Society of Sciences and the Prussian Academy of Sciences (1933), in which he took the seat of his late teacher Max Lenz. The Deutsche Akademie in Munich, which he founded in 1925 together with Georg Pfeilschifter , is the forerunner of today's Goethe Institute .



Oncken wrote several biographies and edited multi-volume source works, u. a. he presented the first biography of Ferdinand Lassalle .

  • On the criticism of Oldenburg historical sources in the Middle Ages , dissertation, Berlin 1891.
  • Lamprecht's Defense , 1898.
  • Lassalle. Between Marx and Bismarck , 1904, 5th edition 1966.
  • Rudolf von Bennigsen. A German Liberal Politician , 2 vols., 1910.
  • Historical-political essays and speeches , 2 vol., 1914.
  • Germany and the World War , 2 vols., Teubner, Leipzig a. Berlin, 1916.
  • The old and the new Central Europe. Historical-political considerations on German alliance policy in the age of Bismarck and in the age of the World War , 1917.
  • The world-historical problems of the great war . Lecture given on October 7th, 1917 at the Handelshochschule zu Königsberg i. Prussia, 1918.
  • From Ranke's early days , 1922.
  • The utopia of Thomas More and the power problem in political science , 1922.
  • The Rhine policy of Emperor Napoleon III. from 1863-1870 and the origin of the war from 1870/1871 , 3 vols., 1926.
  • Napoleon III and the Rhine. The origin of the war of 1870/71 (separately published introduction to Die Rheinpolitik Kaiser Napoleon III. From 1863 to 1870 ), 1926.
  • Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden and German Politics from 1854–1871 , 2 vols., 1927.
  • The German Empire and the Prehistory of the World War , 2 vols., 1933.
  • History and founding of the Zollverein , 3 vols., 1934.
  • Cromwell. Four essays on nation leadership , 1935.
  • Nation and history. Speeches and essays 1919–1935 , 1935.
  • The security of India. A Century of English World Politics , 1937.


Hermann Oncken's estate is in the Lower Saxony State Archives , Oldenburg .


Web links

Commons : Hermann Oncken  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. René Betker: Hermann Oncken (1869–1945) - excerpt from the master's thesis "The historical seminar of the Berlin University in the 'Third Reich', with special consideration of the full professors" , p. 6.
  2. ^ Obituary by Anton Ritthaler on Georg Pfeilschifter in September 1936 ( Memento from August 21, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 1.9 MB) of the Weisse Blätter , p. 276 f.
  3. NLA OL Dep 84 - Arcinsys detail page. Retrieved November 17, 2017 .