Klaus Zernack

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Klaus Zernack (born June 14, 1931 in Berlin ; † November 3, 2017 there ) was a German historian whose research focus was on East Central Europe and Eastern Europe . Zernack held chairs for Eastern European History at the Universities of Frankfurt am Main (1966–1978) and Giessen (1978–1984). From 1984 until his retirement in 1999 he taught as professor for the history of German relations with Northeastern Europe and East Central Europe at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Free University of Berlin . Zernack played a major role in the paradigm shift from German " East Research " to modern East Central Europe research.

Live and act

Born the son of a police officer, he experienced the end of the war in Berlin, where he also graduated from high school in 1949. He then studied history, Slavic, German and philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, in Münster and Uppsala (until 1956). In 1955 he passed the state examination with Werner Conze in Münster with a thesis on the beginnings of permanent legation in Northeast Europe. In 1956 he became a research assistant in Giessen. He received his doctorate in Münster in 1957 with a thesis on diplomatic relations between Sweden and Moscow from 1675 to 1689, supervised by Herbert Ludat . From 1957 to 1963 he was a lecturer in Swedish at the university for six years. In 1964, he completed his habilitation on Slavic popular assemblies in the Middle Ages with Herbert Ludat at the University of Giessen. From 1966 to 1978 Zernack was Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Frankfurt am Main, from 1978 to 1984 in Giessen and from 1984 to 1999 at the Free University of Berlin. His academic students include Christian Lübke , Michael G. Müller , Frithjof Benjamin Schenk , Martin Schulze Wessel and Gregor Thum , among many others .

Zernack's research and work priorities were the history of German-Polish relations, the handbook of the history of Russia , the Hohenzollern monarchy and the history of Poland , Stanislaw August Poniatowski , the history of Polish historical science as well as comparative studies on the history of German and Polish national historiography on historical East Germany . His research extends from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Since the mid-1960s, Zernack gave German research on Eastern Europe a new face, gradually breaking it away from the previously dominant " research on the East ", which had focused on the role of Germans in the history of Eastern Europe. This was especially true for the treatment of the history of Poland and was particularly evident in his work in the German-Polish Textbook Commission of UNESCO , of which he was German chairman from 1987 to 2000.

In 1977, Zernack first presented an introduction to Eastern European history. In it, Zernack dealt critically with German Ostforschung from the Weimar period and its proximity to National Socialism. In the immediate post-war period, Zernack accused “Ostforschung” of dealing with its past in an overly unreflective manner. Another important publication is his account of Poland and Russia. Two paths in European history from 1994. For the first time, Zernack presented the history of Poland and the history of Russia in their interrelationships. Zernack supported the thesis of a "negative Poland policy" by Prussia / Germany and Russia, which served as a crucial prerequisite for their rise to great powers and questioned Poland's right to self-determination. With his concept of the “relationship history” using Germany and Poland as an example, he presented an alternative to the prevailing national historical narratives. Zernack was editor and co-author of the Handbook of the History of Russia . From 1986 to 1990 he was chairman of the Historical Commission in Berlin , from 1993 to 2000 he was deputy chairman of the scientific advisory board of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw .

For his contribution to German-Polish reconciliation, he was awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Poznan (1989) and Warsaw (1997). He was an honorary member of the Poznan Society of Friends of Science . He also received the Samuel Bogumil Linde Prize from the cities of Göttingen and Toruń in 2004 and the DIALOG Prize from the German-Polish Association in 2010 . Since 1994 he has been a member of science academies in Berlin, Poznan, Krakow and Stockholm . Zernack was co-editor of the yearbooks for the history of Eastern Europe from 1974 to 1994 and co-editor of the yearbook for the history of Central and Eastern Germany from 1983 to 1995 . In 1991 a collection of essays was published, which brings together twelve articles written between 1965 and 1989 as well as two previously unpublished works.

Fonts (selection)

  • Studies on the Swedish-Russian relations in the 2nd half of the 17th century (= Eastern European studies at the universities of the State of Hesse. Series 1: Gießen treatises on agricultural and economic research in Eastern Europe. Volume 7), Schmitz, Gießen 1958, ISSN  0078 -6888 .
  • The people's assemblies in the castle town of the East and West Slaves. Studies on the constitutional significance of Veče (= Eastern European Studies of the Universities of the State of Hesse. Series 1: Gießen Treaties on Agricultural and Economic Research in Eastern Europe. Volume 33). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1967 (at the same time: Gießen, university, habilitation paper, 1964/1965).
  • Eastern Europe. An introduction to its history. Beck, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-406-06648-8 .
  • From the peripheral state to the hegemonic power (= Handbook of the History of Russia , Half Volume 2). Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-7772-0130-8 .
  • Prussia - Germany - Poland. Essays on the history of German-Polish relations (= historical research. Volume 44). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-428-07124-7 .
  • Northeast Europe. Sketches and contributions to a history of the Baltic countries. Verlag Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, Lüneburg 1993, ISBN 3-922296-67-X .
  • Poland and Russia. Two ways in European history (= Propylaea history of Europe. Erg.-Bd.). Propylaeen-Verlag, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-549-05471-8 . In Polish: Polska i Rosja. Dwie drogi w dziejach Europy (= Klio w Niemczech. Volume 7). Przekład Andrzej Kopapcki. Wiedza Powszechna, Warsaw 2000, ISBN 83-214-1212-2 .


  • Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg : Obituary for Klaus Zernack (1931-2017). In: Yearbooks for the History of Eastern Europe 66 (2018), p. 694.
  • Center for Historical Research Berlin of the Polish Academy of Sciences (ed.): German-Polish relationship history. Prof. Dr. Klaus Zernack on his 80th birthday (= history. Yearbook of the Center for Historical Research Berlin of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Volume 4, 2010/2011). Budrich UniPress, Leverkusen-Opladen 2011, ISBN 978-3-940755-87-2 .
  • Michael G. Müller, Fikret Adanir, Christian Lübke, Martin Schulze Wessel (eds.): Eastern European history in a comparative perspective. Festschrift for Klaus Zernack on the occasion of his 65th birthday (= Berlin Yearbook for Eastern European History . 1996, Volume 1). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-05-002969-2 .
  • Stefan Troebst : Klaus Zernack as a Northeast European historian. In: Journal for East Central Europe Research 50 (2001), no. 4, pp. 572-586 ( online ).
  • Michael G. Müller: On the 70th birthday of Prof. Dr. Dr. hc mult. Klaus Zernack. In: Year books for the history of Eastern Europe 49 (2001), pp. 314-316 ( digitized version ).

Web links


  1. See the discussion by Hans Hecker in: Journal for historical research 6 (1979), pp. 483–484.
  2. ^ Klaus Zernack: Eastern Europe. An introduction to its history. Munich 1977, pp. 15-18. Compare with Corinna Unger: Ostforschung in Westdeutschland. The Exploration of the European East and the German Research Foundation, 1945–1975. Stuttgart 2007, p. 310.
  3. See the review by Andreas Kappeler in: Journal for historical research 24 (1997), pp. 426–427.
  4. ^ Klaus Zernack: The millennium of German-Polish relationship history as a historical problem area and research task. In: Klaus Zernack, Wolfram Fischer, Michael G. Müller (Eds.): Prussia - Germany - Poland. Essays on the history of German-Polish relations. Berlin 1991, pp. 3-42.