In December 2008, Berlin’s influential Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism came in for sharp criticism for holding a conference titled “Conceptions of the Muslim as Enemy — Conceptions of the Jew as Enemy.” Critics accused the center and its director, Wolfgang Benz, of equating contemporary “Islamophobia” with historical anti-Semitism.
In response, Benz would insist that he had never proposed any such equivalence. But, as detailed in my Pajamas Media report here, the wording of Benz’s preface to the 2008 edition of the Center’s yearbook makes clear that he was doing literally and precisely that. For Benz, “Islamophobia” was, in effect, the newest form of the “oldest hatred.” In the meanwhile, Benz has continued to defend his analysis. Thus, earlier this month, he published a new article in Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung on the alleged “parallels” between “Anti-Semites and the Enemies of Islam.”
Now, the German political scientist Clemens Heni has called attention to research revealing that Benz’s dissertation director, the historian Karl Bosl, was a committed Nazi who as late as January 1945 participated in a conference held at the birthplace of Adolf Hitler in the Austrian town of Braunau am Inn. Moreover, Bosl’s own intellectual mentor, Karl Alexander von Müller, was not only a Nazi, but indeed a personal acquaintance of Hitler and the brother-in-law of none other than Gottfried Feder: one of the founders and chief ideologues of what would become the National Socialist party.
The Bavarian historian Karl Bosl (1908-1993) is still honored in Germany today. Bosl is honored in Germany even though he was a member of the National Socialist party, as well as of other Nazi organizations like the paramilitary SA and the National Socialist Teachers Association, and despite the fact that he collaborated with the SS’s infamous research institute, the “Ahnenerbe.”
Thus, on November 11, 2008, a “Prof.-Dr.-Karl Bosl Square” was dedicated in the Bavarian town of Cham. On July 6, 2009, the Bavarian Philologists Association for the first time awarded its new “Karl-Bosl-Medal.” One of those to honor Bosl is Wolfgang Benz, the director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism (ZfA) at the Technical University in Berlin. As the publicity materials for a November 2009 lecture by Benz remind us, Benz wrote his doctoral thesis under Bosl’s direction. He defended the thesis in 1968. Twenty years later, in 1988, Benz contributed an essay to a Festschrift published in Bosl’s honor on the occasion of the latter’s eightieth birthday.
Is Karl Bosl a respectable German scholar who merits the high esteem in which he appears to be held by his student Wolfgang Benz? Let us consider some of the details of Bosl’s career in the Third Reich.
In an essay that was published in the year 2000, the historian Bernd-A. Rusinek notes that in 1938 Bosl submitted an application to participate in a project sponsored by the SS’s “German Ancestral Heritage Society” or “Ahnenerbe.” The “Ahnenerbe” was, in effect, the “research” arm of the SS, devoted to providing a pseudo-scientific foundation to the Nazis’ myth of “Aryan” superiority. The project for which Bosl applied was titled “Forest and Tree in Aryan-Germanic Spiritual and Cultural History.” Bosl’s application was accepted. According to Rusinek, Bosl was one of several “National Socialist hardliners” to participate in the SS project.
In January 1945, Bosl participated in what Rusinek has called “presumably the last historians conference of the ‘Third Reich.’” “The conference … took place on the 16th and 17th [of January] in Braunau am Inn,” Rusinek writes, “in the very house in which the ‘Führer’ was born.” Rusinek concludes: “As judged by Bosl’s own statements, by the assessment of the SD [the SS intelligence service or “Sicherheitsdienst”], as well as by his activities, everything points to the fact that he was a convinced National Socialist all the way up till Spring 1945.”
In an interview that was conducted in 1990, Bosl was asked about the Nazi period. In response, he went so far as to present himself as part of the resistance. He kept silent about his membership in the Nazi party and the other Nazi organizations and he said nothing about his collaboration in the project sponsored by the SS-Ahnenerbe. “In fact, I passed these formative years quietly,” Bosl said,
I withdrew into myself, since I had been very strongly influenced by the anti-Hitler attitude of my parents. And I worked on my doctoral thesis. I was not around anywhere in those years. I worked on my doctoral thesis. And then, in 1938, I obtained my doctorate and, as that went very well, I immediately decided to ask Karl Alexander von Müller to direct my habilitation.
The “habilitation” is the highest qualification that can be obtained in the German academic system. Bosl proudly refers to his association with Karl Alexander von Müller. As it so happens, von Müller was a highly influential academic at the time — and a National Socialist. He had been a personal acquaintance of Hitler since the early 1920s and he was the brother-in-law of Gottfried Feder, one of the early ideologues of the Nazi movement.
In her 2005 study “Im Schatten des Dritten Reichs,” the historian Anne Christine Nagel writes about Bosl:
Bosl joined the NSDAP [the Nazi party] in 1933 and he joined the SA at the same time. In 1934, he added membership in the NSLB [the National Socialist Teachers Association]. …Contrary to his self-representation, Bosl did anything but take his distance from the regime after the Nazis’ seizure of power. As a member of the party from the very first hours [of the Nazi regime] … and as the director of various seminars on questions of national politics, he was notably active in militating for the goals of National Socialism. …For years, he played a leading role in the National Socialist Teachers Association.
Wolfgang Benz is one of Germany’s best known historians of National Socialism and a frequent commentator in the German media on Germany’s troubled relation to its Nazi past. But it would seem that for over forty years, he himself kept silent about the Nazi career of his dissertation director Karl Bosl.
Today, Benz minimizes the danger of Islamic anti-Semitism and of Islamic jihad as such. He has even gone so far as to equate anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.” He thus not only displays a completely false assessment of the contemporary political situation. He also relativizes the singularity of the Nazis’ mass murder of European Jews and implicitly encourages a new form of historical revisionism.
How seriously can one take an “anti-Semitism expert” and director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism who commemorates the history of Nazi anti-Semitism, but whose memory fails as soon as it is a matter of his own personal history?
The above article is adapted from an article that first appeared in German. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.