Dr Samuel Koehne is an internationally recognised expert on the topic of Nazism and religion, with numerous publications in world-class journals, and is currently focusing on the Nazis “recommended reading”.
Dr Mathew Turner has recently graduated from Deakin University, where his PhD thesis examined the role of historians as expert witnesses in West German Holocaust perpetrator trials.
Sam and Matt have just returned from the United States, where they were presenting papers at the German Studies Association, one of the world’s premier conferences for German history. The conference was held in San Diego from 29 September to 4 October.
Their papers drew on their areas of expertise and were very well received, including vibrant discussion of their key arguments. Dr Koehne’s paper was entitled Sun-worship & False Gods: Understanding the Language of Völkisch Religion in the Nazis’ ‘Recommended Reading’ and was well placed in an expert panel on Revisiting the Völkisch Roots of Nazi Science and Religion. Dr Turner’s paper, “Gutachten are worthless here”: Historians as Experts, Judicial Irrelevance, and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, was similarly well placed, in a panel focused on War Crimes and Reconciliation.
Sun-worship & False Gods: Understanding the Language of Völkisch Religion in the Nazis’ ‘Recommended Reading’
This paper considers the manner in which völkisch ideas on religion permeated the Nazi movement, through an analysis of the Nazis’ own ‘recommended reading.’ While there has certainly been a renaissance of study into the Nazi Party and religion in recent years, one of the major challenges still facing historians is the identification of dominant trends from the earlier völkisch movement that fed into the Nazi movement. Indeed, this paper is driven by the key question: what were the Nazis reading? While this is often very difficult to ascertain, we can be far more certain about which texts the Nazis were recommending to their own members. In particular, I am considering the texts that were advertised and reviewed in the official newspaper of the NSDAP (the Völkischer Beobachter), with a special focus on ‘religious’ texts that were promoted in this paper to 1923. Through a series of case-studies, the paper demonstrates that a ‘common language’ or Gemeinsprache of religion already existed within early Nazi discourse and that this drew on a series of prominent antisemitic authors. This, in turn, led to the development of a cultural code that was self-referential and which assumed a mutual understanding based on the writings of such authors: including sun-worship as a basis for ‘Aryan’ religion, the idea of a ‘pagan cross,’ and that Yahweh was a ‘false god.’ This ‘language’––because it is also esoteric––was simultaneously a kind of ‘secret language’ (Geheimsprache) to those not cognizant with völkisch literature. It could be understood readily enough by those reading widely in völkisch works at the time, but those readers are long dead. As a result, it has also not been fully understood in the historiography, though it formed a part of the conceptual framework for Nazism. In particular, the paper proposes that in the formational years of the Nazi Party the single most important text on religion was Theodor Fritsch’s The False God. This text in itself was repeatedly recommended in the Nazis’ newspaper. More importantly, it was regularly cited and quoted by any number of other authors regardless of their position on religion, whether it was occult, pagan, pagan-Christian, or a kind of ‘aryanised’ Christian faith. The paper then simultaneously seeks to understand the language of völkisch religion and its influence in the Nazi Party, and acts as a call to further work in re-discovering this Gemein/Geheim-sprache.
“Gutachten are worthless here”: Historians as Experts, Judicial Irrelevance, and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963-1965
From the late 1950s onwards, historians played an important role as expert witnesses in West German trials of Holocaust perpetrators. The most prominent trial, for West German Vergangenheitsbewältigung, and for the historians who took part, was the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, which took place from December 1963 to August 1965. In his bid to prevent a Defense-led “fragmentation” of the proceeding, Hessian Attorney-General Fritz Bauer engaged the services of four highly-experienced historians. Three historians from the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte – Helmut Krausnick, Martin Broszat, and Hans Buchheim – in addition to the Bonn-based Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, constructed Gutachten (expert reports) for the trial that respectively examined Nazi Judenpolitik, the concentration camp system, the structure of the SS, and the Kommissarbefehl. The Gutachten were scrutinized by the judges, and the Defense, while the historians themselves faced the rigors of courtroom questioning. The expert reports were immediately published after the trial, in the form of what became a popular and historiographically acclaimed book, Anatomie des SS-Staates. Despite the significance their role as experts has been accorded, the historians’ influence in a judicial sense on determining the course and outcome of Frankfurt Auschwitz trial remains unexplored. Did their Gutachten equip the court with the “essential historical context” needed for successful convictions, as Bauer had envisaged? Or was the pre-trial declaration by one trial judge – that “Gutachten are worthless here” – ultimately realized in court? This paper explores these important and unanswered questions, and argues that the historians, along with their Gutachten, found themselves on the periphery of judicial irrelevance.