Joachim Fest

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Joachim Fest, 2004

Joachim Clemens Fest (born December 8, 1926 in Berlin-Karlshorst ; † September 11, 2006 in Kronberg im Taunus ) was a German contemporary historian , editor and author .


Early years

Joachim Fest grew up as the second son with two sisters and two brothers in the family of the high school rector and politician Johannes Fest (1889-1960) and his wife Elisabeth in Berlin . He described his father as a man who combined the qualities of the educated citizen , Prussia , Catholic and democratic constitutional patriot to a pronounced degree. Because his father was in a leading position at the republican military association Reichsbanner during the Weimar Republic and was a party member of the center , he was removed from office by the National Socialist authorities in 1933. The professional ban also extended to the giving of tutoring. He turned down several offers to be reinstated in the school service, as these were always linked to the condition of his entry into the NSDAP . His mother, who came from a middle-class family, was responsible for the practical handling of life under the difficult conditions of the Nazi era. According to his statements, Fest had a happy childhood and youth despite all the adverse circumstances.

Fest first attended the Leibniz Gymnasium in Berlin. After carving a caricature of Hitler on the school desk, the only way to prevent a consilium abeundi (expulsion from school) was to promise to leave school at Easter 1941. An uncle financed him and his brothers to attend a Catholic boarding school and the humanistic Friedrich-Gymnasium in Freiburg im Breisgau . As a member of the so-called flak helper generation, he was drafted into the Nazi labor service at the age of 15. In 1944 his entire school class was drafted into Friedrichshafen as an anti-aircraft helper . Here he also got to know and appreciate his new German teacher Ernst Kiefer, who gave him his life motto “In doubt for doubt” along the way. After a few months of Reich labor service in Tyrol, he volunteered for the Air Force in order to forestall the recruits for the Waffen SS . His unit was established in late 1944 / early 1945 a. a. used on the Lower Rhine. On March 9, 1945, he was captured by the American prisoners of war for almost two years near Remagen / Rhein , which he spent in a prison camp in Laon (France). Then he made in 1947 in Freiburg graduated from high school and studied until 1953 Jura (although he will never jurist or lawyer but wanted to go into publishing), to history , sociology , German studies and art history in Freiburg / Br. , Frankfurt am Main and Berlin . Fest also described his postwar student days as a happy time of intellectual discovery.

RIAS Berlin and NDR

As a doctoral student, Fest also wrote radio programs, mainly for the RIAS Berlin. When he was offered a permanent position there, he stopped working on his dissertation. The features that he had written about the party leaders of the NSDAP were later published as a book under the title The Face of the Third Reich . This, in turn, drew the attention of a US publisher who suggested that he write a biography of Hitler. Fest only wanted to tackle this task if it turned out that the then authoritative Hitler biography of Alan Bullock was out of date or too flawed.

In the early 1950s, Fest was a member of the JU and was a member of the CDU in the Berlin-Neukölln district council for one and a half legislative periods . In 1961 he went to Hamburg to take up a position as deputy head of department at NDR . Since he did not comply with the CDU's casting wishes in the NDR Broadcasting Council, he was expelled from the party. He stayed with NDR until 1968, most recently as the successor to Eugen Kogon , as the main department head for current affairs and from 1965–1968 as the presenter of the television magazine " Panorama ". During this time, his literary productivity suffered as he was mainly occupied with administrative activities.

Hitler biography

According to his own account, through Hugh Trevor-Roper's essay Hitler's War Aims (1960) Fest came to the decision to write a new biography of Hitler. Bullock viewed Hitler as a non-ideological figure who was purely fixated on rule. Hitler's decisive ideological guidelines, on the other hand, were the acquisition of living space and the conviction of the inferior and superiority of so-called " races ".

In 1968, Fest took a leave of absence from the NDR. The biography, which psychologically approaches Hitler's life, his motives and his effects, was published in 1973 and was soon translated into numerous languages. It also made Fest known internationally to a wide public and achieved a circulation of 800,000 copies by 2006. Until his retirement in 1993, his magnum opus would remain the only publication to which he was able to devote his attention almost entirely. However, a small advance payment from the publisher and a lack of money forced him to take on related work, such as the Albert Speer biography. On the basis of his Hitler monograph, Fest, in cooperation with Christian Herrendoerfer, produced the documentary film Hitler - A Career , which, premiered at the Berlinale 1977 , caused a sensation and was controversial.

The biography is considered to be one of the standard works of Hitler research . However, the lack of attention to the November pogroms of 1938 and the complete omission of the Nuremberg race laws were criticized . The work only deals with the Holocaust for a relatively short period of time. Some historians, most recently Magnus Brechtken in 2017 , criticize Fest's lack of archive research and the close proximity of his Hitler biography to the memories of Albert Speer, whose legends Fest adopted as quasi-authentic sources for his portrayal of Hitler. On the other hand, the British historian Brendan Simms only praised Fest's high literary standard in 2019 and described the biography as a "milestone in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany", especially since Fest had written "as much a work about the Germans as about Hitler".

Speer biography

Fest and Speer met from 1967; Fest received royalties from the sale of the Speer biography published in 1969. Volker Ullrich judges that Speer succeeded in the talks with Fest in “writing down his own legend of the apolitical technocrat” and refers to Matthias Schmidt's dissertation, which sees Speer's memorial work as “the most refined apology by a leading man of the Third Reich”. In an exhibition opened on April 28, 2017 in the Documentation Center Reichsparteigelände of the city of Nuremberg, it is shown that "Speer, with the journalist Joachim Fest and the publisher Wolf Jobst Siedler, had" willing helpers "who shared the legend of the Nazi minister who did nothing knew, eagerly [promoted] ”. There are "extensive letters from Fest to dear, very esteemed Mr. Speer, where he explains in detail, in ten or twelve points, everything that has to be changed so that it becomes a well-rounded affair". At Fest's written request, [Speer added something] "Fest refined the fake".

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

From 1973 to 1993 Fest was co-editor of the FAZ and head of the feature section. In this position in 1986 he was responsible for the publication of the article Past That Will Not Go Away by Ernst Nolte . After a replica of Jürgen Habermas , who in the time of a revisionist Nolte and three other historians and the National Socialism as well as the Holocaust plays down position and the development of the purposes of the Cold War usable historical picture accused developed the so-called historians dispute . Fest distanced himself from some of Nolte's theses, but defended his right to put them up for discussion. In his autobiography, he indirectly claimed an episode from Habermas' childhood, which made him appear as "the Hitler Youth leader connected to the regime in every fiber of his existence". The passage in question was banned by a court.

He had a contradicting relationship with the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki . Fixed knew the then time -author of his time with the NDR and brought him in 1973 to arts section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Their good relationship suffered serious damage during the historians' dispute, from which they could not recover, despite Reich-Ranicki's later public talks. It may also have played a role that, according to Reich-Ranicki, Fest did not tell him that he would meet Albert Speer at a presentation of the Hitler book.

Fest occasionally used the FAZ columns to draw attention to radical trends and developments in society. In 1976 he characterized the play Der Müll, die Stadt und die Tod by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as an expression of “fascism from the left”, as “cheap agitation inspired by vulgar clichés”, whose “anti-Semitism […] is a tactic and of radical fate ”seems to be.

Further work

In his 2001 book Horst Janssen . Self-portrait by someone else's hand , he dealt with one of the most important German graphic artists of the post-war period, with whom he had a close friendship. In the book Encounters , published in 2004, he introduces prominent personalities such as Hannah Arendt , Sebastian Haffner , Golo Mann and Rudolf Augstein from his own experience .

Fest's depiction of the last days of Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang , which takes up the corresponding description in the Hitler biography in more detail and incorporates new sources (published 2002), forms the template for the film of the same name ( Der Untergang ) with Bruno Ganz as Hitler ( 2004).

Fest, who in the 1960s assisted the former Nazi armaments minister and Hitler confidante Albert Speer in converting the notes made during his 20-year imprisonment into an autobiography as a ghostwriter ( memories 1969), later wrote a Speer himself Biography that appeared in 1999. Both books were of great public interest, but were after the broadcast of the TV docudrama Speer und Er of Heinrich Breloer in 2005 due to a benevolent view of the person Speers in the media and by historians as Götz Aly and Wolfgang Benz criticized. Aly described the work as a string of undisputed "lies, half-truths and untruths", and Wolfgang Benz accused Fest of having "played a major role in the creation of the Speer branded product at the end of the sixties".

In early 2006 he signed the “Appeal for Press Freedom” initiated by the weekly newspaper Junge Freiheit against the exclusion of Junge Freiheit from the Leipzig Book Fair .

Joachim Fest died on September 11, 2006, a few days before the publication of his memoir Ich nicht - memories of a childhood and youth , the title of which alludes to the maxim of his father, Etiam si omnes, ego non . (Cf. Mt 26, 33; freely translated: Even if everyone participates, I do not. ) In his last work, the historian remembers the time he experienced under the National Socialist dictatorship from the perspective of his childhood and youth . Among other things, he portrays his father as a morally extremely steadfast role model who resolutely opposed the National Socialists. He also describes his path to literature and art.

On September 22nd, 2006, a memorial service for Joachim Fest took place in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt . One of the funeral orators was the writer Martin Walser , who described the festival as a “great narrator” who was “taken into service by the worst German history”. Federal President Horst Köhler wrote to his widow Ingrid Fest: "In his personality, Christian ethos and civic virtue, deep education and intellectual honesty, conservative skepticism and cosmopolitan liberality have combined to form a truly lively spirit."

Fest's funeral took place a few days later in the cemetery of the St. Matthias Congregation in Berlin-Tempelhof , where he was laid to rest near his parents' grave. Joachim Fest left behind his wife Ingrid, née Ascher, and two sons who also became publicists: Alexander Fest was the head of Rowohlt Verlag , Nicolaus Fest was a lawyer, journalist, former member of the editorial team of Bild-Zeitung and today's politician ( AfD ).


Fest was one of the respected but not undisputed German historians of his time. In 1996 he was honored with the Friedrich Schiedel Prize for Literature for his book Coup d'état - The Long Road to July 20 . In 2003, Fest was awarded the Einhard Prize for Biographical Literature for his “work in the field of political, contemporary history”. In addition, Fest received numerous other prizes and awards, such as the Eugen Bolz Prize (2004) for "his services to the journalistic processing of the German resistance against the Nazi regime" and the Henri for his journalistic life's work and his contribution to quality journalism -Nannen Prize (2006).

Other prizes include the Theodor Wolff Prize (1972) and the Thomas Dehler Prize (1973), the Cross of Merit on Ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany (1978), the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Stuttgart (1981), the Thomas -Mann Prize of the City of Lübeck (1981), the Goethe Plaque of the City of Frankfurt am Main (1987), the Görres Prize of the City of Koblenz (1992), the Ludwig Börne Prize (1996), the Eduard Rhein Prize ( 1999), the Wilhelm Leuschner Medal (1999), the Hildegard von Bingen Prize for Journalism (2000) and the Hanns Martin Schleyer Prize (2002).


Participation in films

  • Operation Valkyrie . Director: Franz Peter Wirth , production: 1971, Joachim C. Fest in a supporting role.
  • Hitler - a career . A film by Joachim C. Fest and Christian Herrendoerfer. Production: 1977, premiere: Berlinale 1977, TV first broadcast: January 4th, 1987.
  • Witnesses of the Century . Roger Willemsen asks Joachim Fest. 60 min. Production: ZDF , first broadcast: February 2, 2003.
  • Hitler and no end. Joachim Fest - A century balance . Report, 40 min. A film by Beate Pinkerneil. Production: ZDF / 3sat , first broadcast: December 10, 2005 ( table of contents by 3sat).
  • In memory of Joachim Fest. 'Bear the clowns'. Joachim Fest - Achievement as happiness in life . 15 min. Production: ZDF , first broadcast: September 13, 2006.



  • Rolf Rietzler: Man, Adolf. The Hitler image of the Germans since 1945. Munich 2016, pp. 203–209, 294–296, 303–307, 327–331, 381–383.

Web links

Commons : Joachim Fest  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. Joachim Fest: Not me - memories of a childhood and youth. Rowohlt Verlag, 2006, p. 159.
  2. Kiefer was also active as a painter and could be identical to Ernst FW Kiefer, 1898 Konstanz - 1967 Radolfzell, mentioned on .
  3. Joachim Fest: Not me - memories of a childhood and youth. Rowohlt Verlag, 2006, p. 209.
  4. Joachim Fest: Sketch about a German teacher. In: Encounters. Rowohlt 2004, pp. 15-20.
  5. a b Professor Dr. Joachim Fest historian and author in conversation with Jochen Kölsch. PDF, available from google. Bayerischer Rundfunk , June 8, 2001.
  6. Witnesses of the Century. Roger Willemsen asks Joachim Fest. ZDF , February 2, 2003.
  7. a b Christoph Stolzenberg: The intellectual among the conservatives . Süddeutsche Zeitung , September 12, 2006. See Joachim Fest has died . Wiener Zeitung , September 13, 2006.
  8. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , 8, 1960, pp. 121-133, ifz-muenchen pdf
  9. JC Fest: Foreword to the new edition by Hitler. A biography ( memento from December 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) 2002. Cf. Roger Köppel : Mercy to the very last point . Die Welt , September 10, 2004, interview with JC Fest.
  10. Joachim C. Fest, historian, in conversation with Werner Witt. SWR , June 19, 2005 (no longer available online).
  11. ^ Hitler and no end - Joachim Fest's balance of the century. A film by Beate Pinkerneil, 3sat , December 10, 2005.
  12. Joachim Fest: Hitler. 4th edition 2008, pp. 927-933.
  13. Magnus Brechtken: Albert Speer. A German career. Siedler Verlag, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-8275-0040-3 , p. 58, ¹ 393 ff.
  14. Brendan Simms: Hitler. A global biography. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2019 ISBN 978-3-421-04664-2 p. 13
  15. To thank you, a picture of the Führer. , in: DIE ZEIT , 22/2016, p. 19.
  16. ^ Museums of the City of Nuremberg: Albert Speer in the Federal Republic - From dealing with the German past. Exhibition from April 28th to November 26th 2017.
  17. ^ Christian Gampert: Albert Speer and his helpers falsification of history for the fairy tale of the apolitical technocrat. In: Deutschlandfunk , broadcast April 30, 2017.
  18. Rudolf Neumaier: The fairy tale of the "good Nazi" Albert Speer. in: Süddeutsche Zeitung , online May 7, 2017.
  19. Malte Herwig: Morality goes without saying . Joachim Fest on his autobiography, the Grass debate and the legacy of the Nazis . In: Der Spiegel . No. 34 , 2006, p. 154-156 ( Online - Aug. 21, 2006 ).
  20. Habermas stops Fest's autobiography in its current form
  21. Marcel Reich-Ranicki's encounter with Albert Speer
  22. Interview with Joachim Fest: "Is Reich-Ranicki still at consolation?"
  23. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , March 19, 1976, p. 23.
  24. nz: Celebrities stand up for “Young Freedom”. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014 ; accessed on January 2, 2013 (in Netzeitung , February 7, 2006).
  25. Announcement of awards of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In: Federal Gazette . Vol. 30, No. 194, October 13, 1978.