To say the very least, the period of German history dominated by the Nazis is a difficult one to study. For the historian, this period, located comfortably between the years 1933 and 1945, provides also one of the best tests of the his job, bringing up questions as large and elemental as that of subjectivity vs. objectivity, or those regarding the purpose of the historian and the philosophy of history.
For, as the quoted question by Kershaw above shows, the period of Nazi Germany poses a problem to the historian; it seems to throw him off his otherwise usual and comfortable process of analysis. This essay will seek to use this specific problem (that of the historical study of Nazi Germany) to work towards a better understanding of the more foundational questions inherent in history:starting with the specific and established debate between Intentionalism and Functionalism, continuing to an analysis of the historical approach of Alltagsgeschichte, and then daring even to link the discussion to Nietzsche. Ultimately, it is in fact this final approach--that most suggests ambiguity, gray area, subjectivity, poetry even, and all that might eschew simple categorization or originally be deemed unhistorical--that is where the historian locates the core of his profession.
[...] What complexity does always mean is an understanding of humanity. Just like Nietzsche, Wood wrote without the Nazis specifically in mind, but what he writes applies undoubtedly to today's historians' confrontation with the Nazis: “To understand the past in all its complexity is to acquire historical wisdom and humility and indeed a tragic sense of life. A tragic sense does not mean a sad or pessimistic sense of life; it means a sense of the limitations of life.”22 When the subject matter is as morally charged and intricate as that of the period of Nazi rule, the path called for by the “historical sense” is for Wood, as it is for Nietzsche, the ability then to look at and comprehend the past in all its human complexity as well as all its terrifying inhumanity, and still to be able to come out of that experience with one's own self still in tact, albeit now wiser, humbler, and a bit more cautious. [...]
[...] Brick. Ideas and events: professing history. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press Nietzsche, Friedrich. Untimely Meditations: “On the uses and disadvantages of history for life.” New York, Cambridge and Victoria: Cambridge University Press Peukert, Detlev. "The Weimar Republic." German 160A: A Century of Extremes (2010): 73-213. [...]
[...] 215-225, p Ian Kershaw, “‘Normality' and Genocide: The Problem of ‘Historicism',” German 160A: A Century of Extremes pp. 215-225, p Ian Kershaw, “‘Normality' and Genocide: The Problem of ‘Historicism',” German 160A: A Century of Extremes pp. 215-225, pp history means making excuses for, apologizing for, and forgetting the human atrocities, and that it will then become impossible to develop “objective criteria [ . ] for distinguishing which area might be susceptible to empathetic treatment [“normal”] and which still cannot be handled without the historian's distance from the subject of inquiry [“criminal”]” (Kershaw, 25). [...]
[...] The two terms themselves were first coined in 1981 by the Marxist historian Tim Mason, and paying detailed attention to the historical facts and dates that most inform this discussion, Browning explains the development of the debate Mason began by carrying the reader briefly through Nazi history: He explains Hitler's unhidden acceptance of mass murder as early as 1939, that the major plan at this point was however not mass murder but mass population transfer, that even this population transfer did not single out the Jews but applied to all groups “alien” to the German Aryan ideal (any that could be associated with the enemy that was the Jewish-Bolshevik, “unhealthy” and “un-German” identity), that it was not until 1941 in fact that one sees Hitler singling-out the Jewish population, when he hinted “that he was viewing the Jewish question in a ‘different' and ‘not exactly more friendly' way,”3 and that there are substantial examples of local authority figures like Emmerich and Biebow who chose to sustain the ghettos and attempt to economically stabilize them against policies urging to kill them, like those advanced by Palfinger. The majority of Browning's study is focussed on explaining each side, and doing very detailed historical research to make points in favor of one side or the other. [...]
[...] Precisely by creating the categories of “criminal” and “normal” in history, Friedländer is revealing the human, very subjective desire for moral judgment and categorization. He is in fact dehumanizing, via unstudied nonspecific judgment, the very subjects of the study he claims to hope to honor with “objective” truth, and thereby succeeding only in perpetuating the exact opposite of the historicism he wants, an antihistoricism, so to speak. The question persists, however, of whether or not it is even possible to pursue the normality approach--in the face of the unavoidable moral dilemmas we are forced to confront in the Nazi subject--and still hold onto the ideal, calm, fully- (or at least very well-) informed historical sense. [...]
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