Letter to The New Republic

by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

The following is a letter that was submitted to The New Republic in response to a review by Hoover Institute scholar Anne Applebaum, on Richard Overy’s recent study The Dictators. Since there is at most an outside chance of my letter being published in TNR, I have turned it over to Lew Rockwell, who has offered to make it available to readers of this website.

To the Editor:

As someone who applauds Anne Applebaum’s contributions toward documenting the other European holocaust, which the journalistic Left has generally downplayed if not denied, I nonetheless feel impelled to note her misleading statements about German historian Ernst Nolte. With due respect to Applebaum ("How Evil Works" 12.27.04), Nolte’s "outburst [with regard to Soviet crimes that he claims led to Nazi genocide]" did not have a "terrible silencing effect" on German historians, who might otherwise have discussed the similarities between the two tyrannies. Nor is it true, in the sense in which Applebaum understands her observation, that "most historians who did not want to minimize the Holocaust tended to shy away from the comparison altogether."

First of all, Nolte, in the editorial in the FAZ alluded to, "Die Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will" (June 6, 1986) does not do what Applebaum suggests, namely, defend the Holocaust as a justified response to a disproportionate Jewish involvement in European communist revolutions and in the Soviet dictatorship. Rather Nolte sets out to describe the mentality of those Europeans who joined anti-Semitic movements in the interwar period. In Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, 1917—1945 (1987), he painstakingly analyzes the "rationality" of those who made an automatic connection between Jews and communists, in explaining the rise of anti-communist anti-Semitism in the epoch that gave birth to National Socialism. Supposedly by expelling or destroying European Jewry, one would be getting rid of the direct and indirect perpetrators of Soviet mass murder. Although there is much that one can fault about Nolte’s method, the view ascribed to him came not from a careful reading of his work but from his "anti-fascist" critics, most notably Jurgen Habermas and Wolfgang Mommsen. Their counter view is that genocidal anti-Semitism arose from the general course of German history and that Nolte is diverting attention from that legacy by calling attention to the effect of Soviet crimes.

These critics did not reject the "comparison" between Stalinist and Hitlerian tyrannies because of their embarrassment over Nolte. Since the sixties the German Left, which has carried the day among German historians, has gone after anti-communism as a reactionary force, together with any theory of "totalitarianism" that compares Soviet and Nazi crimes. A study by German political scientist Steffen Kailitz, dealing with the ideological components of German culture, underlines how deeply anti-anti-communism shaped reactions to Nolte’s "outburst." It is therefore hard to believe that what should be a self-evident comparison would have prevailed among German intellectuals if not for Nolte’s revisionism.