Publication details [#10338]

Steinle, Jürgen. 1994. Hitler als Betriebsunfall in der Geschichte: Eine historiographische Metapher und ihre Hintergründe. 15 pp.


In 1992 the historian Fritz Fischer issued the statement that Hitler was NOT 'an industrial accident in German history.' In saying this he polemicised against those historians who, according to Fischer, tended to isolate Nazism from previous historical developments. The author focuses on Fischer's assumption and observes that the debate on whether the metaphorical statement HITLER IS AN INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT is appropriate or not quite exclusively appears in newspaper-essays and not in scholarly publications. The author labels this metaphor as a 'historiographical' metaphor since in all its occurrences it refers to historiography (and not history itself). According to the author, the HITLER WAS AN INDUSTRIAL ACIDENT - metaphor implies the discontinuity of German history. The metaphor explicitly denies the possibility that the atrocities of World War II could be explained by the German political culture before 1933. But is it really true that German post-war historiography has tried to isolate Nazism from previous historical developments? The author observes that similar criticisms of German historiography are shared by many West German scholars and essayists. Last but not least it reflected the standard opinion on German historiography in the German Democratic Republic. The metaphor 'Hitler is an industrial accident' is rooted in the metaphor 'the nation is a firm.' Thus, the metaphor 'Hitler is NOT an industrial accident' suggests that German historians tend to believe that Nazi rule does not force us to admit that there was something fundamentally wrong with German political culture (the same way as an isolated industrial accident does not reveal anything about the quality of the corporation). Then, the author endeavours to prove that Fischer's harsh judgement of German post-war historiography is erroneous. He admits that many post-war historians regarded Hitler indeed as a demonic personality and Nazism as a "cancer", "degeneration", the expression of the "diabolic" forces of evil and as "an island of barbarity outside the mainstream of German history". But a deeper investigation proves, according to the author, that the prevailing tendency in historiography from 1946 onwards is to see a long and continuous development from Frederic II of Prussia to Hitler. Only during the Nazi rule Hitler was viewed as an anomality which illustrates Ernst Cassirer's saying that 'Hitler does not belong to German history.' (Ralph Bisschops)