Klaus Mehnert

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Klaus Mehnert (1970)
Tomb in the Stuttgart forest cemetery

Klaus Mehnert (born October 10, 1906 in Moscow , † January 2, 1984 in Freudenstadt ) was a German journalist, publicist and university professor.


Klaus Mehnert's father Hermann was an art print shop owner and painter in Moscow and died as a German officer in Flanders during World War I in 1917 . His mother Luise (1882-1946) was the daughter of Ludwig Heuss from Nagold, who was a chocolate manufacturer and merchant in Moscow. Mehnert's younger brother Frank (1909–1943) was a close confidante of Berthold von Stauffenberg and Stefan Georges and later worked as a sculptor under the pseudonym Victor Frank .

After attending school in Stuttgart and years of study in Tübingen , Munich and Berkeley / California , Klaus Mehnert received his doctorate in Berlin in 1928 with Otto Hoetzsch, the pioneer in Eastern European research, with a thesis on the "Influence of the Russo-Japanese War on politics". In Tübingen he became a member of the student union AG Stuttgardia .

From 1928 to 1929 he toured America, Japan , China and the Soviet Union . He then worked as secretary of the German Academic Exchange Service in Berlin and temporarily as a miner at a colliery in Dortmund . From 1931 to 1934 he was Secretary General of the German Society for the Study of Eastern Europe in Berlin and at the same time editor of the Eastern Europe magazine founded by Otto Hoetzsch . In 1932, Mehnert, like his teacher Hoetzsch, took part in the study group for the study of Soviet planned economy ( Arplan ) right from the start. During these years Mehnert spent the summer months in the Soviet Union. He spoke Russian so perfectly that he was often not recognized as a German in the Soviet Union. Mehnert married Enid Keyes (* 1910, † 1955) in 1933, the daughter of a lawyer in Berkeley .

Working as a correspondent for German newspapers in Moscow from 1934 to 1936, Mehnert traveled again to China, Japan and America. From 1936 to 1937 he taught modern history and political science as a visiting professor at Berkeley. From 1937 to June 1941 he was a full professor of the same disciplines at Honolulu University . From 1941 to 1945 he published the English-language magazine The XXth Century on behalf of the German Foreign Office in Shanghai , which carried out foreign propaganda for the politics of Nazi Germany . He was Professor of History and Political Science at the German Medical Academy there and St. John's University in Shanghai .

After the capture of Shanghai by US and Chiang Kai-shek troops , he was interned in China from 1945 to 1946 and was returned to Germany in 1946. There he initially worked in the Evangelical Relief Organization on the study on "The living conditions in Germany in 1947" with and from 1948 onwards as a consultant for Eastern Europe at the German Office for Peace Issues in Stuttgart. From 1949 he was part of the editorial team of the weekly newspaper Christ und Welt , from 1950 he was the foreign policy commentator of the Süddeutscher Rundfunk , in 1951 he took over the editorial management of the re-founded magazine Eastern Europe , and since 1963 he has reported regularly on the political situation on German television.

After the Second World War, Mehnert undertook extensive study trips to North and West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as a trip around the world in 1954/55. In 1955 he reported from Moscow on Adenauer's negotiations with the Soviet leadership, in 1956 he was at the XX. CPSU party congress , 1957/58 he toured China and the Soviet Union for months. In 1961 he took over the newly created chair for political science at the Technical University in Aachen , which Kurt Lenk took over after his departure . His assistant in Aachen was Winfried Böttcher . In 1962 the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz elected Mehnert as a full member.

In 1963/64, after giving guest lectures at Harvard University, he visited 18 countries in Latin America and Asia, and then again the Soviet Union. As an expert on Eastern and Asian politics, he advised the Federal Chancellors from Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Schmidt . In 1971 Mehnert was one of the first well-known Europeans allowed to travel to China after the Cultural Revolution . He published the travel impressions in the book China after the storm .

Mehnert's grave is located in the forest cemetery in Stuttgart .

Klaus Mehnert Prize and Foundation - European Institute Klaus Mehnert

From the German Society for Eastern European Studies e. V. is awarded the Klaus Mehnert Prize . The Klaus Mehnert Memorial Foundation promotes relations between the German and Russian people.

The European Institute Klaus Mehnert in Kaliningrad supports regional cooperation on the German-Russian level. The main task is to organize a postgraduate course that aims to bring young people from Eastern and Western Europe together by engaging with European history and present. The institute was founded in September 2005 in cooperation between the Chair for Political Science at RWTH Aachen University and KGTU (State Technical University in Kaliningrad) under the scientific direction of Winfried Böttcher and Victor Ivanov .


Mehnert has been traveling abroad since his student years. Thanks to his journalistic talent and his political judgment, he saw himself as a "passionate explainer of the existing world". In a series of books Mehnert took stock of his world trips and political observations.

In addition to his most highly regarded books The Soviet Man and Beijing and Moscow , which achieved high editions and were translated into numerous languages, his comments on current and world political events in the press, radio and television gave him particular publicity.

The German location and political views

In his book The German Location Mehnert has put his own political views most clearly. He saw his writing as a contribution to defining the “German location” and helping to determine his way into the future. Without a clearly defined location, without a vision, Germany faces insurmountable problems, insecurity, disorientation and helplessness, which would neither enable it to make a contribution to solving the global problems after two world wars nor to be helpful in doing so, the bad Image that the world had of the Germans to improve.

In the chapter We Germans and the Past he tries to explain the much-maligned nature of the German, but comes to the conclusion that the German people do not have a fundamentally “criminal character” and that the “German dictatorship” and its crimes are not restricted to Germans own and indispensable predictable chain of actions, causes and effects.

In the analysis of the National Socialist crimes, he emphasizes that it was above all the two “German virtues” - loyalty to duty and discipline - that played a major role in the extent of the atrocities, because Hitler and Himmler would not have influenced the vast majority of their followers through them by appealing to sadism, thirst for robbery, murder and hatred, but because they knew how to grab people for their loyalty to their duties, their discipline, pride in their own authority and hierarchical command. So they would have understood how to transform national virtues into national vices, from which Mehnert concluded that discipline and obedience must be linked to morally legitimate content.

He also saw the blame for the outbreak of the First World War , which he had already dealt with in 1933 in the course of his work for Eastern European society, not solely on Germany's side, but emphasized the role played by the Russian tsarist government at the time. However, he never wanted to deny Germany's guilt in general, but rather demanded a certain objectivity and was never satisfied with sweeping judgments about an entire people.

On the one hand, Mehnert was a patriot and after the Second World War he wanted to give Germany a permanent place in the community of European peoples, which in his opinion was necessary and to which Germany was entitled. However, he had no understanding of the complaints of many post-war Germans about the behavior of the Allies, since he fully recognized the guilt and crimes of the “German dictatorship” under Hitler and regarded the behavior of the victorious powers as legitimate.

In the following chapters he deals with the question of how things should go with Germany and comes to the conclusion:

“Becoming a political giant cannot be our business. But a 75 million people in the heart of Europe need an idea of ​​their place in the world if they are not to become despicable of themselves. The dangerous belief in a world mission has moved so far away from us today that we can only perceive it in others with a shake of the head. Our current threat lies in the opposite - in overestimating the private, in turning away from responsibility for society. "

Appropriate is the endeavor to achieve “dignified tasks”, which, however, can only be fulfilled by a modern people and a modern society, and in precisely this respect Germany is in a very bad position as an educational, research and business location. Hardly represented in many areas (aircraft construction, computer development, etc.), he predicted a daily growing gap to the top nations, a slide into second or even third rank and, sooner or later, a dependence on leading world powers.

He also criticized the strong class and class barriers, the reluctance of many Germans against a "performance society" and the idea of ​​being able to lift class barriers through prosperity alone, because upbringing and education are the decisive yardstick and these two factors would be in the future Knowledge society would experience particular relevance.

Mehnert also dealt with the division of Germany and the East-West conflict. Since he assumed that the “one world”, i.e. the one unified world community, would not be feasible in the long term, he came to the conclusion that peace and freedom are most likely to be achieved when a few great powers coexist and through diverse relationships with one another are connected. In the course of time, a further one was to join the existing great powers USA, USSR and later also China, namely united Europe. Without a significant nuclear arsenal this would not be on a par with the superpowers, but the goal could be to grow to a spiritual and intellectual greatness. He also wanted a Europe in which every country could maintain its traditions and culture.

Mehnert always emphasized the idea of ​​national reunification: “If it has not yet matured into political shaping, the young Germans must prepare themselves for it incessantly and with all seriousness, because it will inevitably face itself and then one of the most important and exciting Events of our national history will be: the reunification of our people. ”(Asia, Moscow and Us, 1956, p. 425)



His extensive private archive is kept in the main state archive in Stuttgart , which dedicated an exhibition to him on the 100th anniversary of his birthday in 2006.


Web links

Commons : Klaus Mehnert  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Excerpt from the German lists of losses (Preuss. 902) of August 4, 1917, p. 19938
  2. Enid Keyes Mehnert. Carolyn Keyes Johnson (ed.): American girl, German wife: the letters of Enid Keyes Mehnert, 1931-1955 , processed volumes, 2002
  3. Stuttgart 1947, also published in English
  4. ^ Manfred Hausmann : Three encounters with Werner Bergengruen . A post on his 70th birthday on September 16, 1962 . In: Die Zeit, September 14, 1962.
  5. ↑ For full text see web links
  6. continuously about M., his friend, supporter and political companion Giselher Wirsing and both espionage activities in East Asia