Johannes Koll: Biographies and research on National Socialism


Biographies have gained in importance in recent years. For research on National Socialism, the Third Reich, and the Second World War, the biographical approach plays an increasingly significant role. A focus on perpetrators, victims of the regime, resistance movements – and on those innumerable contemporaries who cannot be characterized as either perpetrators or victims – enables us to gain insights on living conditions within the Third Reich or the Greater German Reich. This review essay analyzes selected biographies of individuals, as well as studies of political and social groups or organizations. Focussing on works published between 2008 and 2010, it examines the extent to which biographical  research may substantially contribute to research on the history of National Socialism. How  relevant are specific contexts, situations, ideologies, forms of socialization and self-perceptions in the period 1933–45? What impact did social structures and more general conditions have on contemporaries, and how much room for manoeuvering did individuals have? By examining biographies that include the aftermath of the Second World War, the article emphasises the relevance of personal or institutional continuity for memory studies.

The following titles were discussed i.a.:
Klein, C. (Hrsg.): Handbuch Biographie (67); Kershaw, I.: Hitler (70); Browning, C.: Ganz normale Männer. (71); Paul, G./Mallmann, K.-M. (Hrsg.): Karrieren der Gewalt (74); Gerwarth, R.: Reinhard Heydrich (75); Epstein, C.: Model Nazi (83); Weitkamp, S.: Braune Diplomaten (85); Roth, M.: Herrenmenschen (87); Welzer, H.: Täter (88); Smelser, R./Syring, E./Zitelmann, R. (Hrsg.): Die braune Elite I (91); Smelser, R./Syring, E./Zitelmann, R. (Hrsg.): Die braune Elite II (92); Müller, K.-J.: Generaloberst Ludwig Beck (109); Leugers, A.: Jesuiten in Hitlers Wehrmacht (110); Mallmann, K.-M.l/Paul, G. (Hrsg.): Die Gestapo nach 1945 (112); Wrochem, O.: Erich von Manstein (113); Becker, F.: Den Spot gestalten (115); Dunkhase, J. E.: Werner Conze (116)

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Volker Köhler
(review essays and peer reviewing)

Nadja Häckel (on parental leave)

Maja Andert

(reviews and proof reading)


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(book ordering)


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Darmstadt University of Technology
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64293 Darmstadt

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