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Richard J. Evans

Richard J. Evans is provost of Gresham College, London. His most recent book is Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History.

Michael Gove

Richard J. Evans, 12 September 2019

Gove, like Johnson, has never worried about inconsistency. In March, for example, he declared firmly: ‘We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead.’ He seems to approach every subject with the mentality of an Oxford Union debater: no matter what you’ve said before, the main thing is to trounce whoever happens to be in front of you at the time.

Nazi Journalists

Richard J. Evans, 6 June 2019

Under​ the Weimar Republic newspapers and magazines flourished as never before in Germany. Contrary to Volker Berghahn’s claim in Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer that the press had enjoyed ‘a good deal of tolerance’ under Bismarck and the Kaiser, the imperial German state had come down hard on the newspapers, especially those on the left; no editor of a Social...

‘Hitler’s Monsters’

Richard J. Evans, 2 August 2018

A couple​ of years ago, a Russian television channel asked if they could interview me for a programme they were making about Hitler. I get these requests every so often, and agreed in the usual hope that I would be able to pour some cold water on whatever outlandish theories they came up with. On previous occasions I have been confronted with claims that the entire German population...

Men He Could Trust: Hitler’s Stormtroopers

Richard J. Evans, 22 February 2018

When​ the International Military Tribunal convened at Nuremberg shortly after the end of the Second World War, one of the many objects of its attention were the Storm Divisions (Sturm-Abteilungen, SA) of the Nazi movement. The SA, the prosecution alleged, had been a criminal organisation involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ‘National Bolshevist’ Ernst Niekisch,...

The French Resistance

Richard J. Evans, 3 November 2016

On 18 June​ 1940 Charles de Gaulle, speaking from London, where he had arrived the previous day, denounced the new government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, which had called for an armistice after the comprehensive defeat of France’s armed forces at the hands of the Wehrmacht. ‘Nothing is lost for France,’ he declared. ‘The war is not over as a result of the...

‘The German War’

Richard J. Evans, 13 July 2016

‘We still​ do not know what Germans thought they were fighting for,’ Nicholas Stargardt announces at the outset of his ambitious and absorbing new book, ‘or how they managed to continue their war until the bitter end.’ This is not for want of trying: numerous historians have analysed German opinion and behaviour at every stage of the Second World War, using above all...

Hitler’s Aristocratic Go-Betweens

Richard J. Evans, 17 March 2016

Before​ the First World War, the European high aristocracy roamed freely across the continent, taking the waters at Baden-Baden, sampling the sea air at Biarritz, shooting partridge and pheasant at Sandringham, and coming together for grand balls and funerals in virtually every European capital. With so many occasions on which to meet, and so much disdain for those who married below their...

Hitler and Franco

Richard J. Evans, 5 November 2015

On 25 July​ 1936, Hitler spent the evening at Bayreuth, attending a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried. On his way back to his guest quarters at Villa Wahnfried, the Wagner family residence, he was introduced to a curious delegation that had arrived from Spanish Morocco. It was led by Johannes Bernhardt, a Nazi businessman who lived in the colony, and included another Nazi businessman...

The Nazi View of History

Richard J. Evans, 22 January 2015

The 20th century​ was the age of genocide. Many periods in history have seen acts of murderous violence committed on racial grounds, but none has witnessed so many, on such a large scale, or so concentrated in time, as the era framed by the German massacre of the Herero tribe in Namibia in 1904-07 and the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. The intervening years were marked by...

German Histories

Richard J. Evans, 4 December 2014

Twenty-five years​ after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two major exhibitions in London take stock of German identity, history and memory, each in its own way providing a powerful reminder of the legacies of a contested past in the culture of the reunited Germany of today. One of them, the beguiling exhibition at the British Museum curated by Barrie Cook, displays objects of many kinds, from...

The Reichstag Fire

Richard J. Evans, 7 May 2014

Conspiracy theories cluster around violent and unexpected political events. The sudden death of a head of state, the assassination of a government minister, a bomb attack on a building or a crowd: these seemingly random occurrences demand explanation, and for many, the idea that they could be the product of the deranged mind of a single individual seems too simple to be plausible. The authorship must surely have been collective, the planning long-term and meticulous.

WW2 Town Planning

Richard J. Evans, 5 December 2013

In 1941, the architect Hans Stosberg drew up ambitious plans for a new model town, with monumental public buildings grouped around a main square, and leafy boulevards branching off a central avenue which led to the factory complex that would provide the bulk of the work for a population of 80,000. There were to be twelve schools, six kindergartens, twenty sports fields, swimming pools,...

The VW Beetle

Richard J. Evans, 12 September 2013

When I first went to Germany, in the early 1970s, the roads were swarming with squat, misshapen little beasts, bustling about the city streets or rattling along the autobahns with noisy, air-cooled engines, curved roofs tapering down to the rear bumper and, in older models, tiny oval back windows, so small that I wondered how the driver could see anything at all in his rear-view mirror. Their...

Marx in His Time

Richard J. Evans, 23 May 2013

Do we need another biography of Marx to go alongside the many we already have? The justification given by Jonathan Sperber is compelling. Previous accounts of Marx’s life have gone one of two ways. Either he is seen as a prophet of modern times, a seer whose theories help us understand the predicament we are in, especially in times of economic crisis, an inspiration to everyone who...

Was Hitler ill?

Richard J. Evans, 21 February 2013

In May 1941, after the sudden flight to England of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, who had deluded himself that he could persuade the British to make peace, a joke went round Berlin. ‘So you’re the madman,’ Churchill says to Hess. ‘No,’ Hess replies, ‘only his deputy!’ That Hitler was insane was something many Germans came to believe in the later...

Letters to Mussolini

Richard J. Evans, 7 February 2013

Shortly after he was forced out of office in November 2011, Italy’s longest serving postwar prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, told the press he was spending his time reading the last letters written by Mussolini to his mistress Clara Petacci. ‘I have to say,’ he confessed, ‘that I see myself in many aspects of those letters.’ In the Duce’s view, according to Berlusconi, Italy was ungovernable. ‘What sort of democracy is this?’ Mussolini had wondered. When a journalist suggested that it might not be entirely accurate to describe Mussolini’s Italy as a democracy, the former prime minister replied: ‘Well, it was a democracy in a minor way.’

Walter Rathenau

Richard J. Evans, 22 November 2012

On the morning of 24 June 1922, Walther Rathenau, the German foreign minister, set off for work from his villa in the Berlin suburb of Grunewald. The weather was fine, so he instructed his chauffeur to use the open-top limousine. The minister sat alone in the back. He took no security precautions, used the same route every day, and had dismissed the police protection he had been offered. As...

Krupp

Richard J. Evans, 21 June 2012

‘Of all the names which have become associated with the Nuremberg Trials,’ declared the prosecutor at the proceedings intended to bring the surviving Nazi leaders to justice at the end of the Second World War, ‘I suppose that none has been a household name for so many decades – indeed for nearly a century – as that of Krupp.’ Its history, the indictment...

German Colonialism

Richard J. Evans, 9 February 2012

Dotted around the world, there are still a few reminders of the fact that, between the 1880s and the First World War, Germany, like other major European powers, possessed an overseas colonial empire. If you go to Windhoek in Namibia, you can still pick up a copy of the Allgemeine Zeitung, a newspaper which caters for the remaining German-speaking residents of the town. If you fancy a trip to...

The End of WW1

Richard J. Evans, 15 December 2011

In November 1918, after more than four years in the trenches, Adolf Hitler was in hospital away from the front, temporarily blinded by a gas attack. As he was recovering, he was told of Germany’s surrender and the overthrow of the kaiser. ‘Again,’ he later wrote, ‘everything went black before my eyes.’

And so it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices...

Nazis 1945

Richard J. Evans, 8 September 2011

Why did the Germans keep on fighting to the bitter end in 1945, long after it was clear to almost everybody that the war was lost? From the catastrophic defeat of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad early in 1943, through the devastating Allied bombing raids on Hamburg in the summer of 1943, reports on popular opinion filed by secret agents of the Nazi regime record a growing belief that Germany was...

The Tory Interpretation of History

Richard J. Evans, 17 March 2011

‘One of the under-appreciated tragedies of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past,’ Michael Gove announced at the Tory Party Conference last October. ‘Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know – the history of our United Kingdom. Our history has moments of pride, and shame, but unless we fully understand the struggles of the past we will not properly value the liberties of the present. The current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. Children are given a mix of topics at primary, a cursory run through Henry VIII and Hitler at secondary and many give up the subject at 14, without knowing how the vivid episodes of our past become a connected narrative. Well, this trashing of our past has to stop.’

German Imperialism

Richard J. Evans, 3 February 2011

A few decades ago, historians searching for the longer-term roots of Nazism’s theory and practice looked to the ruptures and discontinuities in German history: the failed revolution of 1848; the blockage of democratic politics after unification in 1871; the continued dominance of aristocratic elites over a socially and politically supine middle class; the entrenched power of the traditionally...

Between Hitler and Stalin

Richard J. Evans, 4 November 2010

‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ Adolf Hitler asked his generals in 1939, as he told them to ‘close your hearts to pity,’ ‘act brutally’ and behave ‘with the greatest harshness’ in the coming war in the East. It’s often assumed that in reminding them of the genocide of at least a million Armenians by the...

The Annales School

Richard J. Evans, 3 December 2009

As a graduate student in the 1970s, looking around for new approaches to history that would enable me to do something different from my teachers’ generation, I spent a lot of time with my fellow students discussing the relative attractions of British Marxist historians like Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and E.P. Thompson, German neo-Weberians such as Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Jürgen...

The Nazi Empire

Richard J. Evans, 25 September 2008

As a young man, Adolf Hitler became a devotee of the music-dramas of Richard Wagner, and spent much of his meagre income on tickets for performances of Lohengrin and other pseudo-medieval fantasies. Historians have spent a good deal of energy trying to trace the effects of this youthful passion on the later dictator’s ideas and beliefs. But he had another enthusiasm too, less commented...

Murder in 18th-century Hamburg

Richard J. Evans, 6 July 2006

If you wanted intelligent conversation in 18th-century Hamburg, there was no better place to go than Dreyer’s coffee house, where the professional and cultural elite gathered to discuss the latest ideas of the Enlightenment in an atmosphere far removed from the inns and bars of the waterfront. Here you could read the international press and discuss the state of the world. If you tired...

Weimarama

Richard J. Evans, 8 November 1990

Since its appearance in Germany in 1977, Klaus Theweleit’s psychoanalytical study of fascist literature has graduated from the status of a cult work to that of a classic. Rereading it in English, a decade after my first, rather sceptical perusal, it is easy to see why. Much of what made Theweleit’s book so startlingly original in the mid-Seventies has since become relatively conventional in literary and historical studies, from the Foucaultian analysis of literary discourse, and the exploration of the political history of the human body, to a feminist perspective on sex and power. Yet in the intervening period, the book has not lost its capacity to shock and disturb. Much of its power comes from its author’s unerring eye for the startling quotation. Consider this passage from a novel by Franz Schauwecker which was published in 1929:

One nation, two states

Richard J. Evans, 21 December 1989

Events are moving fast in East Germany. Over the past couple of weeks, the popular revolution, instead of settling down to a period of quiet preparation for free elections, has been gaining momentum. As many people predicted, the regime of Egon Krenz did not last very long. What toppled him was not, however, the fact that nobody could forget his role in rigging the local elections earlier in the year or his ostentatious endorsement of the Chinese authorities’ massacre of the students in Tiananmen Square. What has fuelled the people’s disaffection with the Communist Party has been the revelation, which apparently came as a shock to almost everyone, of the depth of hypocrisy of the old Honecker regime, with its Swiss bank accounts, its vast hunting preserves and its luxury villas stuffed with Western goodies. The popular anger which has vented itself on the offices of the hated Security Police has been driven by the appalling realisation that the privations and hardships which the ordinary GDR citizen was made to undergo in the name of socialism were not shared by Honecker and his fellow guardians of socialist ideological purity.

Letter

Written into History

22 January 2015

Richard Henry Holland takes me to task for calling the leaders and members of the Confessing Church ‘biblical fundamentalists’, but that is precisely what they were: they regarded the Bible as God’s revelation to humankind and rejected the Nazi-inspired German Christians’ repudiation of the Old Testament as a ‘Jewish’ book (Letters, 5 March). He points out that the...
Letter
Richard J. Evans writes: Benjamin Carter Hett’s letter contains the same non sequiturs and illogicalities as his book. As far as the forensic evidence is concerned: of course ‘experts’ consulted by those peddling the theory that there was a conspiracy to burn down the Reichstag in 1933 will oblige by providing the answers they think are being sought. ‘Expert’ reports from...
Letter

The Logic of Nuremberg

7 November 2013

Tony Simpson is right in the general point he makes about the German Penal Code and its attitude to homosexuals, but wrong in some of the details (Letters, 5 December). The Weimar Republic did not repeal Paragraph 175, which continued to outlaw homosexual acts between men involving penetration. The Nazis amended it in 1935 to cover any kind of ‘lewd’ homosexual act. Under this law, offenders...
Letter
Richard J. Evans writes: In the weird, ideologically deformed parallel universe inhabited by Messrs Gove, Schama and Ferguson, and among your respondents in this issue and the previous one, Lang, McGovern, Arends and Tombs, history in our schools is in a state of terminal decline, facts have more or less disappeared from the curriculum, the teaching of history has abandoned the long view in favour...
Letter

‘Bloodlands’

4 November 2010

Richard J. Evans writes: Let me begin by reassuring Norman Davies that I don’t regard anyone as an ‘interloper’ in my ‘parish’; there are plenty of excellent historians (Bogdan Musial is one of them, for instance) who have written illuminatingly on the sufferings of the Poles, Ukrainians and Belorussians at the hands of both Stalin and Hitler, and good work in this area...
Letter

Pulling Ranke

15 October 1998

It is beginning to seem unprofitable to correct Peter Ghosh’s persistent misunder standing and misrepresentation of my book In Defence of History (Letters, 7 January). Let me just say that nowhere have I claimed that the version of the history of ideas practised by my colleague Quentin Skinner bears any resemblance to that practised by Hayden White. The ‘modern history of ideas’ does...

What on earth was he doing?

Susan Pedersen, 18 April 2019

Was Eric Hobsbawm interested in himself? Not, I think, so very much. He had a more than healthy ego and enough self-knowledge to admit it, but all his curiosity was turned outward.

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The European Age

James Sheehan, 18 October 2017

Max Weber​ defined power as ‘the ability of an individual or group to achieve their own goals or aims when others are trying to prevent them from realising them’. The pursuit of...

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Hitler’s Wartime Economy

Jonathan Wright, 19 July 2007

Richard Evans’s history of the Third Reich – it will be completed by a third volume covering the war – is an invaluable work of synthesis. The mass of specialist studies we now...

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Defending history

Peter Ghosh, 15 October 1998

Richard Evans hopes that this book will take the place of E.H. Carr’s What is History? and G.R. Elton’s The Practice of History as the ‘basic introduction’ to history as...

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Axeman as Ballroom Dancer

David Blackbourn, 17 July 1997

In future times people will look back on the death penalty as a piece of barbarity just as we now look back on torture.’ These confident words were spoken by a member of the 1848 Frankfurt...

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Germans and the German Past

J.P. Stern, 21 December 1989

The ‘white years’ of German history – the period between the end of the war and Adenauer’s first government of 1949 – were notable for two blank spaces in the...

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Disease and the Marketplace

Roy Porter, 26 November 1987

In mid-August 1892, Hamburg was basking in a heatwave. Workers splashed around in the River Elbe, which reached an almost unprecedented 70°F. Then people started to go down with intestinal...

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