Sir Ian Kershaw (born
April 29 1943in Oldham, Lancashire, England) is a British historian, noted for his biographies of Adolf Hitler. Educated at St Bede's College, Manchester, Liverpool and Oxford University, he was originally trained as a medievalistbut turned to the study of modern German social historyin the 1970s. He is a professorat the University of Sheffield, where his wife Dame Betty Kershaw also works, and is the leading disciple of the late West German historian Martin Broszat. Kershaw served as historical adviser on numerous BBC documentaries, notably "The Nazis: A Warning From History" and "War of the Century". He teaches a module entitled 'Germans against Hitler'.
In the 1970s, Kershaw worked on Martin Broszat's "Bavaria Project", which resulted in his first book on the
Third Reich, "The 'Hitler Myth': Image and Reality in the Third Reich" which was first published in German in 1980 as "Der Hitler-Mythos: Volksmeinung und Propaganda im Dritten Reich". This book examined the "Hitler cult" in Germany, how it was developed by Joseph Goebbels, what social groups the Hitler Mythappealed to and how it rose and fell.
Also arising from the "Bavaria Project" and Kershaw's work in the field of "
Alltagsgeschichte" was "Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich". In this 1983 book, Kershaw examined the experience of the Third Reichat the grass-roots in Bavaria. Kershaw showed how ordinary people reacted to the Nazi dictatorship, looking at how people conformed to the regime and to the extent and limits of dissent. Kershaw described his subject as ordinary Bavarians, or as he referred to: "the muddled majority, neither full-hearted Nazis nor outright opponents, whose attitudes at one and the same time betray signs of Nazi ideological penetratation and yet show the clear limits of propaganda manipulation" [Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 page 89.] . Kershaw wrote in his preface "I should like to think that I had been around at the time I would have been a convinced anti-Nazi engaged in the underground resistance fight. However, I know really that I would have been as confused and felt as helpless as most of the people I am writing about"Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 page 90.] .
Kershaw argued that Goebbels fail to create the "
Volksgemeinschaft" of Nazi propaganda, and that most Bavarians were far more interested in their day to day lives then in politics during the Third Reich [Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 pages 89-90.] . Kershaw concluded that the majority of Bavarians were anti-SemiticMarrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 pages 90-91.] . Kershaw also concluded that there was a fundamental difference between the anti-Semitismof the majority of ordinary people, who disliked Jews, and the ideological anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party, who hated Jews. Kershaw found that the majority of Bavarians disapproved of the violence of " Kristallnacht", and that despite the efforts of the Nazis, continued to maintain social relations with the members of the Bavarian Jewish community. Kershaw documented numerous campaigns on the part of the Nazi Partyto increase anti-Semitic hatred, and noted that the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic activities in Bavaria were the work of a small number of committed Nazi Party members. Overall, Kershaw noted that the popular mood towards Jews was indifference to their fate. Kershaw argued that during World War II, most Bavarians were vaguely aware of the Holocaust, but that were vastly more concerned about and interested in the war then about the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". Kershaw made the notable claim that "the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference" [Evans, Richard "In Hitler's Shadow", New York, NY: Pantheon, 1989 page 71] .
Kershaw’s assessment that most Bavarians, and by implication Germans were “indifferent” to the "Shoah" faced criticism from the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka and the Canadian historian Michael Kater. Kater contended that Kershaw downplayed the extent of popular anti-Semitism, and that through admitting that most of the “spontaneous” anti-Semitic actions of Nazi Germany were staged, argued that because these actions involved substantial numbers of Germans, it is wrong to see the extreme anti-Semitism of the Nazis as coming solely from above [Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 page 92.] . Kulka argued that most Germans were more anti-Semitic then Kershaw portrayed them in "Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich", and that rather then “indifference” argued that “passive complicity” would be a better term to describe the reaction of the German people to the "Shoah" [Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 page 93.] .
In the "
Historikerstreit" (Historians' Dispute) of 1986 to 1989, Kershaw followed Broszat in criticizing the work and views of Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hillgruber, Michael Stürmer, and Klaus Hildebrand, all of whom Kershaw saw attempting to white-wash the German past in various ways. In regards to the debate between those who regard National Socialismas a type of totalitarianismversus those who regard Nazism as a type of fascism, Kershaw, though feeling that the totalitarianism approach is not without value, has argued that in essence, Nazism should be viewed as a type of fascism, albeit fascism of a very radical type [Kerhsaw, Ian "The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation", London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 45-46.] .
Like Broszat, Kershaw sees the structures of the Nazi state as far more important than the personality of Hitler (or any other individual for that matter) as explanation for the way
Nazi Germanydeveloped. In particular, Kershaw subscribes to the view argued by Broszat and Hans Mommsenthat Nazi Germany was a chaotic collection of rival bureaucracies in perpetual power struggles with each other. In Kershaw's view, the Nazi dictatorship was not a totalitarian monolith, but rather comprised an unstable coalition of several blocs in a "power cartel" comprising the NSDAP, big business, the German state bureaucracy, the Army and SS/police agencies (and moreover, each of the “power blocs” in turn were divided into several factions) [Kershaw, Ian "The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation", London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 58] . In Kershaw's opinion, the more "radical" blocs such as the SS/police and the Nazi Party gained increasing ascendency over the other blocs after the 1936 economic crisis, and then onwards increased their power at the expense of the other blocs [Kerhsaw, Ian "The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation", London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 61] .
For Kershaw, the real significance of Hitler lies not in him but in how the German people saw him [Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 pages xii-xiii] . In his biography of Hitler, Kershaw presented him as the ultimate “unperson”; a boring, pedestrian man devoid of even the “negative greatness” attributed to him by
Joachim Fest[Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 pages xxiii-xxv] . Kershaw has no time for the Great Man theory of history and has criticised those who seek to explain everything that happened in the Third Reich as the result of Hitler’s will and intentions [Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 page xx] . Kershaw has argued that it is absurd to seek to explain German history in the Nazi era solely through Hitler as Germany had sixty-eight million people during the Third Reich, and to seek to explain the fate of sixty-eight million people solely though the prism of one man is in Kershaw’s opinion a flawed position. Kershaw’s biography of Hitler is an examination of Hitler’s power; how he obtained it and how he maintained it [Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 page xxvi] . Kershaw has argued that Hitler's leadership is a model example of Max Weber's theory of Charismatic leadership[Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 page xiii] .
Functionalism versus intentionalismdebate, Kershaw has argued for a synthesis of the two schools, though Kershaw leans towards the functionalist school. Kershaw has argued in his two-volume biography of Hitler that Hitler did play a decisive role in the development of policies of genocide, but also argued that many of the measures that led to the Holocaustwere undertaken by many lower-ranking officials without direct orders from Hitler in the expectation that such steps would win them favor. [Kershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 pages 530-531] Though Kershaw does not deny the radical anti-Semitism of the Nazis, he favors Mommsen’s view of the Holocaust being caused by the “culminative radicalization” of the Third Reich caused by the endless bureaucratic power struggles and a turn towards increasingly radical anti-Semitism within the Nazi elite.
In recent years Kershaw has come to form a thesis based on the ideas of both traditions of Nazi theory.
Opposition to Weak Dictator Thesis
Kershaw disagrees with Mommsen's "Weak Dictator" thesis: the idea that Hitler was a relatively unimportant player in the Third Reich. However, he has agreed with his idea that Hitler did not play much of a role in the day-to-day administration of Nazi Germany. Kershaw's way of explaining this paradox is his theory of "Working Towards the Führer", the phrase being taken from a 1934 speech by the
Prussiancivil servant Werner WillikensKershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 pages 529-531] . Kershaw has argued that in Nazi Germany, officials of both the German state and Party bureaucracy usually took the initiative in beginning policy to meet Hitler's perceived wishes, or alternatively attempted to turn into policy Hitler’s often loosely and indistinctly phrased wishes. Though Kershaw does agree that Hitler possessed the powers that the "Master of the Third Reich" thesis championed by Norman Rich and Karl Dietrich Bracherwould suggest, Kershaw has argued that Hitler was a "Lazy Dictator"; an indifferent dictator who really did not have the interest to involve himself much in the daily running of Nazi GermanyKershaw, Ian "Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris", W.W. Norton, New York, 1998 pages 531-533] . The only exceptions were the areas of foreign policy and military decisions, both areas that Hitler increasingly involved himself in from the late 1930s.
Thus, for Kershaw Nazi Germany was both a monocracy (rule of one) and
polycracy(rule of many). Hitler held absolute power but did not choose to exercise it very much; the rival fiefdoms of the Nazi state fought each other and attempted to carry out Hitler's vaguely worded wishes and dimly defined orders by "Working Towards the Führer".
Honours and memberships
*Fellow of the
*Co-Winner of the
British AcademyBook Prize, 2001 [ [http://www.britac.ac.uk/bookprize/result01.html British Academy: The British Academy Book Prize - Result of the 2001 Competition ] ]
*Fellow of the
Royal Historical Society
*Member of the
*Fellow of the
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin[cite web | url = http://www.shef.ac.uk/history/staff/ian_kershaw.html | title = Professor Sir Ian Kershaw, B.A. (Liv.), D.Phil. (Oxon.), F.B.A. | accessdate = 2008-04-21]
*2002, Knighthood for Services to History [cite web | url = http://www.shef.ac.uk/research/leaders/honours.html | title = sheffield Research Leaders | accessdate = 2008-04-21 ]
His books include:
*" Bolton Priory Rentals and Ministers; Accounts, 1473-1539", (ed.) (Leeds, 1969)
*"Bolton Priory. The Economy of a Northern Monastery", (Oxford, 1973).
*"The Persecution of the Jews and German Popular Opinion in the Third Reich" pages 261-289 from "Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute", Volume 26, 1981.
*"Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich. Bavaria, 1933-45", (Oxford, 1983, rev. 2002)
*"The Nazi Dictatorship. Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation", (London, 1985, 4th ed., 2000) ISBN 0-340-76028-1
*"The 'Hitler Myth'. Image and Reality in the Third Reich" (Oxford, 1987, rev. 2001). ISBN 0-19-280206-2
*"Weimar. Why did German Democracy Fail?", (ed.) (London, 1990) ISBN 0-312-04470-4
*"Hitler: A Profile in Power", (London, 1991, rev. 2001)
*"Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison", (ed. with
Moshe Lewin) (Cambridge, 1997) ISBN 0-521-56521-9
*"Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris", (London, 1998) ISBN 0-393-32035-9
*"Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis", (London, 2000) ISBN 0-393-32252-1
*"The Bolton Priory Compotus", 1286-1325, (ed. with David Smith) (London, 2001)
*"Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and the British Road to War", (London, 2004) ISBN 0-7139-9717-6
*"Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941" (London, 2007) ISBN 1-5942-0123-4
*"Hitler, The Germans, and the Final Solution" (Yale, 2008) ISBN 0-3001-2427-9
*"Working Towards the Führer: Essays in Honour of Sir Ian Kershaw", edited by Anthony McElligott and Tim Kirk, Manchester University Press, 2003.
*Marrus, Michael "The Holocaust in History", Toronto : Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987.
*Snowman, Daniel "Ian Kershaw" pages 18-20 from "History Today" Volume 51, Issue 7, July 2001.
List of Adolf Hitler books
* [http://www.shef.ac.uk/history/staff/ian_kershaw.html Ian Kershaw's website at the University of Sheffield]
* [http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000045443,00.html?sym=QUE Interview with Ian Kershaw on the Penguin website]
* [http://www.newstatesman.com/200010020044 The road to destruction. Hitler was not interested in world domination. He had only two real ambitions: to destroy the Jews and to make Germany master of Europe. Richard Gott on the Fuhrer's final failure Review of Hitler: Nemesis]
* [http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=161 Ian Kershaw interviewed at Vision alongside Christopher Browning, Arnold Schwartzman and Steven Ozment]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2045979.stm Sir Ian Kershaw: Dissecting Hitler]
* [http://fcit.usf.edu/Holocaust/resource/REVIEWS/Kershaw.HTM Review of Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris]
* [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-1295442,00.html Review of MAKING FRIENDS WITH HITLER Lord Londonderry and Britain’s Road to War]
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