Norbert Frei

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Norbert Frei (born March 3, 1955 in Frankfurt am Main ) is a German historian . He holds the chair for modern and contemporary history at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and heads the Jena Center for the History of the 20th Century.


From 1973 to 1978 Frei studied modern history, political science and communication science in Munich , where he also completed an editorial training at the German School of Journalism . In 1979 he received his doctorate in Munich with a thesis on the "National Socialist Conquest of the Provincial Press" with Kurt Sontheimer .

He then worked from 1979 to 1997 as a research assistant at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. After a John F. Kennedy Fellowship at Harvard University in 1985/86, he worked from 1987 to 1997 as a member of the editorial team on the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (VfZ) and was editor of the series of Vierteljahrshefte.

After his habilitation at Bielefeld University in 1995 with a highly regarded study on the “ politics of the past ” in the Adenauer era , Frei accepted a position at the Ruhr University in Bochum in 1997 . In the summer semester of 2005 he moved to the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena . In 1995/1996 Frei was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin , in 2008/2009 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. In the academic year 2010/2011, he taught as Theodor Heuss Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. In the 2013 summer semester he was visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem . In the summer semester of 2019 he was visiting professor at Stanford University .

In addition to his teaching activities, Norbert Frei is a member of numerous scientific advisory boards and commissions, including the Scientific Advisory Board of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt am Main from 1996 to 2003 and again since 2018 , of which he was founding chairman until 2001. From 1997 to 2005 he was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the German History Schoolchildren's Competition for the Federal President's Prize, and since 1999 he has been chairman of the Scientific Board of Trustees of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation . From 2000 to 2016 Frei was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute for German History at Tel Aviv University ; from 2005 to 2017 he was chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Koebner Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University Jerusalem . From 1999 to 2002 he was a member of the Independent Historical Commission for research into the history of Bertelsmann in the “Third Reich”. In 2011 Frei was elected as a full member of the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig.

Long-term research projects at his chair concerned the practice of reparations in Germany and Israel since 1952 and the history of the Flick Group in the “Third Reich” (both completed in 2009). In 2005 the Federal Foreign Minister appointed Joschka Fischer Frei to the Independent Commission of Historians - Foreign Office , which examined the history of the Foreign Service under National Socialism and how it dealt with this past after 1945. In October 2010, the commission published its results as a book entitled The Office and the Past , which was followed by a controversial discussion. Major ongoing research projects concern the history of political education in the Federal Republic and the experience of the long transformation in East Germany (1970–2010). Since 2012 Frei has headed the interdisciplinary working group “Human Rights in the 20th Century” of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation , which also operates the website “Sources for the History of Human Rights”.

Frei took part in numerous contemporary historical debates and endeavors to convey scientific knowledge to a wider public. Since 2016 he has been writing a Saturday or Friday column every four weeks in the Süddeutsche Zeitung .

In 2000, Frei, together with other historians, published the source edition location and command office orders for the Auschwitz concentration camp 1940–1945 . Right-wing extremists and Holocaust deniers like Ursula Haverbeck and Hans Püschel discovered the book for their own purposes in 2015: They see it as proof that the mass extermination of Jews in the “Third Reich” did not take place. Frei himself classified the work in the ARD interview: “The orders are of course not proof of this [= that the Holocaust will not take place ], on the contrary: They contain a wealth of more or less concealed, but easy to decipher, indications that to At a certain point in time the Auschwitz camp complex became the extermination camp; that the destruction also took place in Birkenau . "

Careers in the Twilight

His book Careers in Twilight: Hitler's Elites after 1945 , published in 2001, is part of the failure to come to terms with the perpetrators of the Nazi past. Their partly brilliant careers in West Germany, which they were able to embark on despite or because of their National Socialist past, are the focus of consideration, which was followed in 2002 by a six-part television documentary by Südwestrundfunk . Historians devoted themselves to the professional careers of medical professionals ( Tobias Freimüller ), entrepreneurs ( Tim Schanetzky ), officers ( Jens Scholten ), lawyers ( Marc von Miquel ) and journalists ( Matthias Weiß ). Examples include Reinhard Gehlen , who later became the head of the Federal Intelligence Service , Reinhard Höhn , later head of the “ Bad Harzburg Academy for Executives ”, Werner Naumann , Ernst Achenbach and Franz Six , who infiltrated the post-war FDP . The old ropes come to light, which, even after the " zero hour " of the Federal Republic of Germany, knew how to keep their sphere of influence purposefully, if not to expand.


Monographs and more extensive articles


Film contributions

  • Christoph Weber: File D (1/3) - The failure of the post-war justice system. Documentation, 2014, 45 min. With Norbert Frei ( commentary on from Nov. 2016)
  • Norbert Frei in conversation with Michel Friedman : In a word ... Auschwitz, broadcast by Deutsche Welle on February 27, 2020 ([])


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Independent Commission of Historians . In: Auswä, October 28, 2010, accessed on December 17, 2010. See the website of the Historians' Commission: Independent Commission of Historians to review the history of the Foreign Office during the Nazi era and in the Federal Republic ( Memento from February 3 2011 in the Internet Archive ). In:, accessed on December 17, 2010.
  2. ^ Christian Mentel: The debate about the office and the past , Federal Agency for Civic Education. August 2, 2012. Accessed July 29, 2019.
  3. Sources on the history of human rights Accessed: February 28, 2018.
  4. Robert Bongen: "You can really only shake your head". In: April 23, 2015, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  5. ^ Norbert Frei (Ed.): Careers in the Twilight: Hitler's Elites after 1945. Campus Verlag, October 22, 2001, ISBN 3-593-36790-4 .
  6. Susanne Benöhr, Uta Engelmann, Careers in the Twilight: Hitler's Elites after 1945 , HaGalil, August 27, 2003. Retrieved May 12, 2020.