'Right wing' German history disowned

December 15, 1995

The editors of a multi-volume history of Germany are demanding that the publisher include a note in the latest volume on the National Socialist period distancing them from the views it expresses.

Dieter Groh, editor of the Propylaen History of Germany, claims the ninth volume in the series, The Way into the Abyss, by schoolteacher Karlheinz Weissman, is written by a "spokesman for the new right" who has no established academic reputation.

"It is conspicuous the way Weissman writes emotionally about the expulsion of the Germans and the cruelties of the Red Army and with distance about the murder of the Jews," says Professor Groh of the University of Konstanz. He claims his contract with the Berlin-based publishing house states that he would select the authors.

Yet the first he knew about the volume was when it was published. Now he wants an explanation to be added to the volume to make clear that the other authors carry no academic responsibility for it.

Originally it was agreed that Hans Mommsen, an acknowledged expert on the period, would write the volume on the National Socialist period. He has already written a critically acclaimed volume on the Weimar Republic for the series. But Propylaen cancelled Professor Mommsen's contract after he failed to deliver a manuscript despite a number of reminders. The company then contracted Dr Weissman, a high school teacher in Gottingen, to write the volume, although he had only published essays for various journals.

Dr Weissman, who describes himself as conservative, said he had expected the controversy surrounding the book, but that Professor Groh's views were of little concern to him. Christian Seeger at Propylaen said the person responsible for contracting Dr Weissman had now left the company. He admitted it was "odd" that his predecessor had not contacted Professor Groh as series editor about the change of author. He said the company would be checking to see whether Professor Groh's contract had been infringed. Mr Seeger said the affair had "done a lot of damage to the series", which follows the academically acclaimed multi-volume Propylaen World History and the Propylaen History of Europe.

But he added: "The book is right wing in conservative terms but it is not at all extreme. All I would ask is that people do not prejudge it."

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