A 'Diatribe' in Honor of Dr. Alfred Schickel

Heinz Nawratil

Dr. Schickel is the founder and head of the Zeitgeschichtliche Forschungsstelle (Research Office for Recent History) Ingolstadt, which since he established it in 1981 has become one of the leading centers of Historical Revisionist scholarship in West Germany. While Dr. Schickel's ZFI has steered clear of attacking the Bundesrepublik's regnant taboo, the extermination myth, ZFI scholars have effectively exposed such historical impostures as Hermann Rauschning's fraudulent Conversations with Hider, and thrown new light on historical problems ranging from Hitler's various relations with the Soviet Union to the failure of the Third Reich's atomic-bomb program.

But it has been above all for its focus on the long veiled crimes of the Allies against the Germans, during and after the war, that Dr. Schickel's ZFI has become celebrated. This is not surprising in that Dr. Schickel himself was born at Aussig, in the Sudetenland, and thus experienced the expulsion of over three million of his countryman in 1945. A prolific scholar, Dr. Schickel is the author of Die Vertreibung der Deutschen (The Expulsion of the Germans), Sudetendeutsches Schicksalsjahr: 1938 (Sudeten German Year of Destiny: 1938), and Von Grossdeutschland zur Deutschen Frage, 1938-1946).

Dr. Schickel's measured objectivity has gained him and the ZFI a sympathetic ear in unusual places in West Germany and abroad, and ZFI publications have been favorably reviewed in Der Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeiner, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), London Times, and Il Giornale (Milan). His church and political connections, partly through his activities as a leader of the Katholisches Bildungswerk (Catholic Educational Guild) contributed last year to Dr. Schickel's being awarded the Bundesverdiensireuz (Federal Service Cross), one of West Germany's highest civilian honors. The following "diatribe" delivered in his honor by Dr. Heinz Nawratil, in his own right a scholar of the Allies' "war (and postwar) crimes discreetly veiled," is a good-humored accounting of the inconveniences and lurking perils which even so moderate and judicious a Revisionist as Alfred Schickel must face in the Federal Republic, as well as a reminder of the pervasive influence of leftists and Communists in the West German intelligentsia even today.


Dear Friends of Historiography:

After our Honorable Dr. Schickel received the Federal Service Cross two weeks ago, I should normally at this time deliver the traditional laudatio in his honor. On this occasion, however, I find it more appropriate to deliver a diatribe in which I shall stigmatize the honoree, omitting none of his numerous vices. The least of his vices remains his unhealthful mode of living. Instead of reading five books about the Second World War and then writing a sixth, as do other authors, he plows through thousands of original records and documents. I warn Dr. Schickel: Too much reading is bad for the eyes! For all of you should know that Dr. Schickel is one of the few German historians who ventures to make use of, for instance, the huge documentary holdings of the National Archives in Washington. Our honoree will surely remember what the director of the National Archives told him during an earlier visit to the United States: One sees scarcely any of the established historians from West Germany here. And precisely because so few read the original documents, they're covered with dust. The more dust, the greater the danger to the lungs. Therefore my well-meaning advice to Dr. Schickel: Spare your eyes and your lungs! May is almost upon us: enjoy the spring sunlight on a peaceful stroll, go to a health club if it's raining, but stop this perfectly insane obsession with original sources! There's no need for it, as is proved by countless bestsellers.

The next vice of our laureate is his profligacy. Instead of paying off his mortgage as befits a respectable head of his family, he squanders his money on trips across Europe and to America, interviewing historical participants and buying whole mountains of documents on microfilm. Oh, what extravagance! Consider, for example, scriptwriters of historical documentaries for television. Here a certain Ralph Giordano comes to mind, because I read his book Der zweite Schuld (The Second Guilt) a little while ago. His bibliography encompasses five or six authors. As I read, I wondered whether the author had read even these few books, so many mistakes does his magnum opus include. Such deficiencies, of course, were no obstacle to enthusiastic reviews in Der Spiegel, Der Stern, Die Zeit, and on public television. Speaking of television, Mr. Giordano has to date already inflicted more than a hundred TV documentaries on us.

While Dr. Schickel is receiving perhaps 100 marks for a lecture before the Catholic Educational Guild, Mr. Giordano collected, by my estimate, at least 150,000 marks for his last production, The Bertinis.

Thus, my second counsel to Dr. Schickel: Forget scholarship and this obsession with objectivity, opt for television and ideological correctness, and at our next conference you'll be sporting a gold Rolex, not the inexpensive Japanese watch with the stainless-steel wristband I see on your desk.

With that, we're nearly at the third point of criticism: Dr. Schickel has the wrong friends and relatives. He heads the Catholic Educational Guild in Ingolstadt; what on earth is that? He's related to a bishop: So what? He's no match for the television scriptwriter I spoke of just now. While Mr. Giordano is at the moment without political affiliation, he was for years a member of the Communist Party, and he did time in prison for violent offenses: that makes an author interesting, it gives his friends and admirers a piquant sense of liberalism and tolerance; for who wants to be a primitive anti-Communist, a mindless cold warrior?

The same thing goes in other areas. One of many I could name is the Viennese sculptor and veteran Communist Hrdlitschka, who collects million-mark commissions from local governments of leftist persuasion up and down the Rhine and Danube. How could he stay in business if he didn't now and then-as just a few months ago in an Austrian Communist newspaper-characterize Stalin as a "not unnecessary phenomenon"?

If our Dr. Schickel is therefore not afflicted with political blindness, he'll join a discreet little Communist group-not necessarily the German Communist Party, that won't be necessary -- and he'll take part in a few militant demonstrations, for instance blocking military bases. But in moderate dosages, please: not too many, not too few. Once he exhibits the necessary delicacy, meditates a bit on collective guilt and warns a bit against the aggressive aims of NATO and the impending seizure of power by the fascists, his name will shortly receive respectful mention in progressive media outlets, and everybody, everybody will admire him: some with the enigmatic smiles of the initiated, others with open- mouthed bourgeois simple-mindedness. Dr. Schickel, what are you waiting for?

There remains the last reproach: Dr. Schickel's crass ignorance.

To be sure, this man knows unbelievably many historical details, but he overlooks the most important things. For example, he lives in the childish belief that in this country one can simply research away and make public demonstrable facts wherever he goes. How naive these scholars are! Just think of Galileo Galilei, for one. He too could prove his new findings, but what good did it do him? The Inquisition had many better arguments. Bringing out the implements of torture was enough to convince the scholar of the error of his computations in short order. Now you'll probably object that we're living in the twentieth century and we've got a democracy as well. You'll soon be better instructed. For example, Dr. Schickel, just try to deliver the lecture you'll shortly present to us at a university, at the Free University in Berlin, say. Then the same friendly folks who staged virtual pogroms just last week would doubtless put in an appearance. To be sure, you won't be shown thumbscrews and irons, more likely (I refer to the Berlin police report of last Friday) knives and Molotov cocktails, blackjacks and bicycle chains and baseball bats with nails driven through them. I'll wager any amount that you couldn't resist the persuasive power of these arguments. Think also of Graf Spee, who carelessly wrote a book on the belief in witchcraft. They tried to exclude him from the Jesuit order, and he barely escaped the stake, to which, as is well known, not only witches but their accessories are consigned. Such practices are far from superseded. Rudolf Augstein [publisher of Der Spiegel] took thought, in the matter of Professor Hillgruber, as to whether his writings didn't provide good grounds for his dismissal; in the case of Professor Nolte the heretic wasn't personally for burning, but his car was. [See IHR Newsletter No. 59, (July 1988).]

Let's assume that the mass murder at Katyn was still unsolved, and that Dr. Schickel was the first historian to discover that Stalin and not Hitler was the author of the crime. What would in all probability happen?

No doubt Der Spiegel would be the first to proclaim the scandal. One week later West German Broadcasting would devote itself to the fascist goings-on in Ingolstadt, and the next week would see a polite visit from the friendly folks with the blackjacks and the Molotov cocktails. Five years later, if Gorbachev hasn't fallen in the meantime and if our researcher hasn't died of a heart attack, a historical journal from Moscow will breeze across his desk, with an announcement that surprising new documents on Katyn have surfaced ... Well, you can fill in the rest of the story. As the poet of liberty, Ludwig Börne, put it: "O foolish people, o comical world!"

Here my last advice for Dr. Schickel: Take the world for what it is, be flexible, write what the Establishment wants to hear. Augstein is more powerful than Kohl, as the late Franz Josef Strauss already said. Not without foundation, for chancellors come and go, but Der Spiegel remains, and steady droplets hollow the stone. Write things that a hundred have written before you, put your pen to ideological flackery, and with all your talent you'll have it made. Remain obstinate, like the Dr. Schickel I know, and he'll prove ineducable and pass by his good fortune blindly. Perhaps this Dr. Schickel has in mind a verse from the Sermon on the Mount: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Luke 6, 26). And perhaps he's right.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1990 (Vol. 10, No. 1), pages 118-122.