Historians Receiving Gifts and the Historiography of the Holocaust

, October 1, 2002

Jewish Political Studies Review 14:3-4 (Fall 2002)

As a considerable number of non-German historians of the Holocaust have received funding from German sources, the question arises as to whether such funding should be considered akin to gifts to judges from those they judge. A survey of Holocaust historians in Israel was conducted. None of the historians who received German funding expressed the belief that such aid had affected his or her work. Yet the clear differences in the discussion of the subject by those historians who had received German funding and those who had not demonstrated that German funding had indeed affected the thinking of its recipients.

Introduction

As a reader for the bibliographical project of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism located at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, this author read books and articles in English dealing with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, prepared subject references and wrote a brief synopsis of each work. A considerable number of authors writing about the Holocaust expressed appreciation for the support of one or another German fund or foundation. Among those mentioned were the Alexander Humboldt Foundation, the German Historical Institute in London, and the German Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development. This raised questions. Is it right for non-German historians of the Holocaust to accept funding from German sources? Is an historian accepting such funds akin to a judge in a court of law accepting gifts from one who stands before him to be judged?

Thinking about German support for Holocaust studies by non-Germans brought to mind Germany’s great effort after World War I to influence the thinking of historians about its causes. The issue then was that of “war guilt.” Besides controlling access to, manipulating, and distorting the archival records used by historians for their research, the Germans sought to influence directly, by a multitude of means, non-German historians to accept the idea that Germany did not bear prime responsibility or “guilt” for the World War.1 However there seemed to be no work that addressed the subject of the funding of historical research on a theoretical level.

British and American law discusses what is proper and improper in the conduct of judges regarding the acceptance of gifts. Torah law has much to say about the subject. “Judges Receiving Gifts,” which follows, summarizes United States and Torah law on the subject and relates them to the question of non-German historians of the Holocaust receiving funding from German sources.

Judges Receiving Gifts

In some ways the function of the historian of the Holocaust is similar to that of a judge in a court of law. The judge is charged with determining the guilt or innocence of whom he judges. The historian of the Holocaust attributes responsibility, complicity, and innocence for the persecution, torture and killing of Jews.

Of course it is true that in several ways the role of an historian of the Holocaust differs from that of a court judge. The historian may continue his research and revise his opinions indefinitely, whereas the judge must render a decision at some point in time. The historian levies no fines and sends no one to prison. The historian’s task is broader than the judge’s because besides specifying perpetrators, the historian delves deeper into causality and evaluates the relation between perpetrators and their environment: Were German killers typical or untypical of their countrymen? Did they require special indoctrination, training or experience to prepare them to torture and kill? Was the Holocaust characteristically German or could another nation just as likely have undertaken it? Were Germans who were not directly involved in the killing opposed to it, indifferent or supportive? But, ultimately, the historian of the Holocaust, like a judge in court, decides guilt and innocence in regard to the perpetration of a crime.

Because historians of the Holocaust have a function similar to judges, it seems reasonable that they should follow rules meant to preserve judges from bad judgment. Judicial systems generally have guidelines specifying what is permitted and what is forbidden to judges. Judicial Conduct and Ethics by Jeffery Shaman, Steven Lubet, and James Hlfini summarizes the rules in this area operative in the United States. The authors explain that “the purpose of these rules is to strike a balance between common sense and usage and apparent or actual impropriety….Questions of impropriety arise when gifts, honorariums and reimbursements are abused, as when a judge receives a benefit that is intended to exert overt or subtle influence.”2

Jewish law takes a somewhat different approach. Torah law forbids the judge from accepting any gift or favor because a gift or favor is liable to influence his thinking regardless of the intentions of the giver or receiver. For historians of the Holocaust the Torah approach is particularly appropriate because it applies to the judge (or historian) who intends to judge righteously.

The Torah states (Exodus 23:8): “And thou shalt take no gift; for a gift blindeth them that have sight and perverteth the words of the righteous.”3 In Deuteronomy (17:19) the subject is taken up again: “Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither shalt thou take a gift for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.”4 Commentators on the Torah explain that the intentions of the giver and receiver of a gift are of no consequence; thus the Torah’s term “shochad” is properly translated as either “gift” or “bribe.” And the size of the gift or favor is of no consequence; a judge must disqualify himself from hearing the case of one who has extended him a helping hand getting off a rocking boat and one who has brushed dust from the lapel of his coat. The fundamental psychological point of Jewish law is that a gift or favor produces in the receiver a feeling of gratitude, which must inevitably color his thinking regarding the giver.

The commentators explain that the Torah’s phrase “neither shalt thou take a gift” applies even to one who intends to judge righteously. Regarding the Torah’s words “a gift doth blind,” Rashi explains that when a judge has received a gift from a litigant it is impossible that it will not sway his heart in favor of that litigant.5 Maimonides states that a judge who has accepted a gift from one he judges “cannot know how far his judgment has been perverted or the full extent of the consequences of his having accepted a gift in a case he had judged.”6

Torah law differs from American law regarding judges receiving gifts in two striking ways. For one, while in American law the value of the gift matters, in Torah law the receipt of any gift of favor disqualifies the judge from judging the giver. More importantly, regarding the subject of German funding for non-German historians of the Holocaust are the matters of intention and motivation on the part of both the giver and receiver of gifts. Unlike American law, in Torah law they are entirely irrelevant. This is why Torah more than American law is relevant to the question of funding for historians, given the reasonable assumption that the great majority of non-German historians of the Holocaust are honest seekers of truth.

Historians of the Holocaust must attribute responsibility and complicity, must judge whether Hitler alone, or the Nazi party or the German army or the German government bureaucracy or the vast majority of the German people were willing participants and approving spectators to the killing of the Jews. If non-German historians of the Holocaust were to follow the Torah’s rule intended to avoid distorted vision on the part of judges they would accept no funding from German sources. If an historian has received such support he would acknowledge it when he presents his views about the Holocaust in books, articles, conferences, etc. Further, he would affirm that he would not accept funding from German sources henceforth so that his ideas in the present would not be influenced by the prospect of gifts in the future.

A Survey/Symposium on German Funding of Historians of the Holocaust

After reading “Judges Receiving Gifts,” the distinguished American historian Natalie Zemon Davis suggested that its subject would be a good one for discussion. To promote such discussion, this author decided to undertake a survey/symposium that would include all historians of the Holocaust working in Israel. A list of thirty-five historians was prepared that included names known to the author as well as others that appeared on lists at Yad Vashem.

Each of these thirty-five was sent a copy of the author’s essay “Point of Discussion: Judges Receiving Gifts” which made the points mentioned above, and a cover letter inviting participation in a survey/symposium on the question of German funding of non-German historians of the Holocaust whose results, hopefully, would be published. In addition, a survey questionnaire was sent which asked for details of any funding received from German sources, asked if the funding had influenced the respondent’s work, invited reaction to the ideas expressed in “Point of Discussion: Judges Receiving Gifts,” and asked whether the respondent would be willing to accept German funding in the future.

Of the 35 scholars sent the survey/symposium material, three said that their area of specialty was not the Holocaust and eight did not respond in writing and could not be reached by telephone. Seven answered the questionnaire in writing and five orally over the telephone. Twelve said, either orally or in writing, that they would not answer the questionnaire or participate in the survey/symposium. Thus, there was a total of 24 responses to the survey/symposium questionnaire. The responses of both those who answered the questionnaire and those who refused shed light on the subject of non-German historians of the Holocaust receiving German funding.

Of the 12 who answered the survey/symposium questionnaire, five indicated that they had received funding from German sources. The level of funding varied greatly. Two stated that they had received a few thousand dollars for travel and/or study expenses. Three stated that they had received respectively $500,000, $240,000 and about $100,000 plus travel expenses over a period of three years.

The sections which follow report first the responses of those who stated that they had received no German funding (*), then those who said they received a modest amount (**), then the three who reported receiving considerable German funding (***). Finally there is a report of the written and oral comments of some of those who declined to answer the survey/symposium questionnaire (****). Each of the following paragraphs report the response of a different historian.

An historian [*] who stated that she had received no funding from German sources said, “Yes, funding from German sources is a problem. Students sometimes need funds. And it is common for professors to look for funding everywhere; they are not so ideological. Gifts do not necessarily influence those who receive them. The research [supported by German funding] might not be connected with what is thought about Germans. For example a study of the reactions of Jewish women in the Holocaust would not really say anything about the Germans themselves. Perhaps we need to be more cautious with issues connected with the evaluations of Germans. In Germany there is no denial of the Holocaust in the Nazi era.”

An historian [*] who completed part of the questionnaire (without indicating whether or not funding had been received from German sources) wrote, “if the researcher is serious and honest there is no reason why he should not use German money. As far as I know some of the best historians are very objective and did not loose their intellectual honesty although they enjoyed German scholarship.”

An historian [*] wrote “I did not receive any support from German sources for my research work. I took part in two conferences in Germany. I believe that the political situation, the economic position of Germany in the present as well as in the German-Jewish relationship of today influences to some extent the directions of research and to some extent the opinions presented in the scholarly works. Of course, the case depends on the particular scholars, their integrity and level of researches. But in regard to some individual opinions the fact that behind the work are German sources and German foundations is not without impact and importance.”

An historian [*] who said that she had not received money from German sources said, “This is not a serious question.” The problem of influence as a result of German funding is “farfetched to say the least.”

An historian [*] who stated that she had not received funding from German sources said that there are various types of German funds, including funds sponsored by persons who were anti-Nazi. Receiving funds from such sources is okay. Other funds would present a danger of influence. There is a kind of danger from receiving German support; it doesn’t let you be as free as you would be if you did not receive it. German funds are used to support other areas of research besides Holocaust history. For example they support research in the exact sciences. There is one good example in Jerusalem of someone whose work is influenced by German support. When you receive funds from German sources for something related to a public presentation, German (embassy) representatives will come to listen and this could have a dampening effect on the presentation.

An historian [*] who said that he had not received German funding stated that he might use some German sources, some are nice, and then (seeming to reverse himself) stated that they have special motivations and that makes them suspicious. He said that he knows scholars who have received funds from German sources and that their conclusions regarding the Germans tend to be very mild. “Received money,” he said, “has its smell.” Those who receive German funding have to be very careful. He estimated that over fifty percent of Israeli researchers of the Holocaust receive funding from German sources.

An historian [*] who wrote that he had never received research funding from German sources, though he had occasionally lectured in Germany and had sometimes been paid for it and/or had expenses covered, wrote “I think there’s an ethical question involved and personally I have never taken research money from the Germans. But it’s naive to assume that the ideas expressed in “Judges Receiving Gifts” covers this area as a whole, that your survey will receive entirely truthful answers or that it will be an accurate picture of the real situation. What I feel is corrupting is the degree to which German money affects the research at the Hebrew University-think of the Koebner Chair, the Rozenzweig Center, the Kohl Center for European Studies, etc. It is not much different at other Israeli universities. Well, I have tried to keep my independence as best I can, but the situation is not healthy.”

An historian [**] who indicated that he had received a [modest] travel grant from a German historical institute wrote “If one were to extend, widen or expand this theme, it would be difficult to accept support from many sources, since any form of active [financial] assistance is bound to affect or influence an historian’s perceptions even if only minimally. I would also like to suggest that one ought to specify the meaning of [the term] ‘Holocaust researcher.’ Does this include antisemitism tout court, post-Holocaust studies, etc.? as well as what is meant by ‘German’ funds; a grant from the Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert Stiftung might be quite different from financial assistance granted by the Hanns-Seidl-Stiftung (CSU), the latter having a completely different view of the German past than the former. I am willing to discuss this further but not in writing.”

An historian [**] who had received about $7,000 in travel and study grants from German sources for study and learning the German language in the 1960s stated that this support had not influenced his work. Regarding the ideas expressed in “Judges Receiving Gifts” he wrote that he “agreed in principle depending on the particular German source; the DFA or the DAAA are acceptable. Have no experience with others.”

An historian [***] who wrote that he had received $240,000 from German funds and foundations stated that German support had not influenced him. Regarding the ideas presented in “Judges Receiving Gifts” he stated that “I think they are irrelevant.” In response to the question “Will you decline support from German sources in the future?” he wrote “No. Why?”

An historian [***] who wrote that he had received a $2,500 travel grant and a $500,000 research grant from German sources stated that German support had influenced him “not at all” and that he would not decline German support in the future. In response to the question of what he thought about the ideas put forward in “Judges Receiving Gifts” he wrote “Nonsense.”

An historian [***] who said that he had received German funding of about $100,000 plus travel expenses over a period of three years disagreed with the idea that historians are like judges. All scientific research, he said, needs financing by someone so it could be said that all such research is biased. The Leo Baeck Institute has been fully financed by German money for 42 years and it has never been accused of whitewashing the Germans. The danger [of influence] does exist and some colleagues have been influenced in the direction of whitewashing today’s Germans.

Some who refused to answer the survey/symposium questionnaire made written or oral comments worthy of note in the course of their communication with the author. One stated that she had not received funding from German sources and that she did not like the “ideological premises” of the survey to which she had a very negative reaction. Another, who stated in a telephone conversation that he had not received support from German sources, appeared to contradict what he had written in one of his books where he thanked two German institutes for their generous research grants. Another who declined to respond stated, “I don’t like the whole idea; I know what you’re trying to get from me.” One historian who declined to answer the questionnaire said that it was “tendentious.” Another stated that he is sure that the German embassy will know who gets what support. He also stated that all the Israeli institutions which had been sent the survey/ symposium material were recipients of German funding. (The author had indicated to him that historians of the Holocaust throughout Israel had been sent the material.) One historian said he was unwilling to say whether or not he had received German funding and that he would not answer the questionnaire.

The most interesting “non-response” to the questionnaire came from an historian who heads an institute of Holocaust research. He did not write in the space provided for response on the questionnaire but used, instead, separate stationary. Not indicating whether or not he had received German funding he wrote:

Thank you for your letter of July 9. However after having read your “Point for Discussion” I refuse to participate in the survey. My refusal is based on the following considerations:

A. You are not acquainted with the goals and rules of the discipline of history; historians are by no way judges and must not function as judges: they try to analyze the past in order to understand the ways people act (if they like it or not).

B. You are not acquainted with the field of Holocaust research. Historians of the field by no means limit themselves to the killing of Jews and the ways to explain it (this was Goldhagen’s aim)-they deal with the rescue of Jews by non-Jews, the functioning of Jewish society, the local contexts that influenced the lot of the Jews in various settings etc. According to your approach, as this is serving as judges, only Chinese or bushmen should write about the Holocaust.

C. I don’t believe in surveys, polls, and research that have a preset conclusion, and just look for some statistics to prove it. A real and open-minded research should ask in what ways and if there is (at all) a connection between funding and research results.

Therefore, I strongly recommend to cancel this kind of research.

An analysis of the 24 responses to the survey questionnaire shows a clear difference between those who received large amounts of German funding and those who reported that they had received modest funding or none at all. Whereas the latter discussed the question of German funding at some length, the former tended to avoid any discussion of the subject. Recipients of little or no German funding made points in agreement and disagreement with “Judges Receiving Gifts.” Some suggested that there are differences between the various German foundations regarding the influence they can be expected to exercise. The effect of German embassy staff members in the audience at the presentations of historians who have received German funding was mentioned. The suggestion was made that “Judges Receiving Gifts” underestimated the problem of German funding because it did not consider the funding of institutions as well as individuals and that the responses to the survey questionnaire would not be entirely honest.

Historians who had benefited from large amounts of German funding could not both acknowledge the receipt of such funding and discuss the theme of “Judges Receiving Gifts.” Two of the three who did answer the questionnaire and acknowledged a high level of German funding dealt with the ideas presented in “Judges Receiving Gifts” by dismissing them without discussion. Most beneficiaries of high levels of German funding avoided discussing the questions raised by “Judges Receiving Gifts” by refusing to answer the survey/symposium questionnaire. (According to the estimate given by one historian, above, over half of those in Israel working in the field of Holocaust history have received German support.) It is a matter of public knowledge that the heads of several centers for the study of the Holocaust and the history of Germany, who refused to respond to the survey/symposium questionnaire, are recipients of high levels of German funding. At least five employees and recipients of support from these centers declined to answer the questionnaire. Two members of the faculty of one Israeli university, whose president in the past has repeatedly refused to respond to written requests for information regarding German funding at his institution, refused to answer the questionnaire.

That none of those who received German funding believed it had influenced their thinking does not mean that Rashi was wrong in stating that a gift cannot but influence the mind of its recipient. Rather, it demonstrates Maimonides’ point that the judge who has received a gift and does not intend to be corrupted by it cannot possibly know exactly in what way his thinking has been influenced. One thing the responses to the survey/symposium questionnaire did make clear is that having received German funding affects the way one thinks and talks about its influence. Those who did not acknowledge receipt of such funding had a considerable amount to say about it. Two of the three historians who acknowledged high levels of German funding had nothing to say about the issue except to dismiss it summarily. Most of those who benefited from German funding (either directly or through the institutions where they work) refused to answer the survey/sym-posium questionnaire at all.

Perhaps, it might be thought, the unwillingness to discuss the ideas expressed in “Judges Receiving Gifts” is the norm; that those historians of the Holocaust who did discuss them were really the exceptions, driven, perhaps, by inordinate personal concern about the subject.

To test this possibility the author sent the same survey materials that had been sent to the Holocaust historians-the essay “Point of Discussion: Judges accepting Gifts,” the questionnaire and an almost identical cover letter-to a random sample of 30 historians in Israel whose fields are not Holocaust history. Follow-up phone calls were made to a sample of about half of those surveyed. Of this sample, not a single one declined to reply to the questionnaire and discuss the subject of German funding for Holocaust history.

How can the reluctance or inability of recipients of German funding to discuss the subject be explained? The theory of cognitive dissonance put forward by Leon Festinger in the 1950s provides an answer.7 Cognitive dissonance is the condition of mind of an individual who holds beliefs or knowledge that are in contradiction with each other or with his actions. “Whenever a person engages in behavior he does not believe in he will be uncomfortable because his behavior is inconsistent with his beliefs.” Individuals experiencing cognitive dissonance will be motivated to reduce that state of dissonance however they can, either through changes of behavior or changes of cognition. The transformation in thought or belief by one who experiences cognitive dissonance occurs as a natural, unself-conscious process. One who undergoes a change of mind or behavior to relieve cognitive dissonance will be largely unaware of his experience of mental transformation.

For example: A person purchases a house, his decision being based on its proximity to his place of work, its price and the fact that it can provide enough sleeping space for his family. After moving in he discovers the house’s plaster is disintegrating, its floor beams are termite infested, its plumbing must be replaced, its basement floods and its roof leaks. If he had been aware of these things he would not have bought the house in the first place. In this situation if, for whatever reason, the owner does not sell the house, the dissonance between his action (having bought the house) and his cognition (his awareness of its defects) will tend to be reduced by other means. He may become aware of desirable features of the house that he had not noticed before: its beautiful view, the lovely neighbors, the high quality of the local school, the opportunities his house gives him for developing his handyman skills, etc. With such shifts of thinking, his action (continuing to own the house) and cognition (thinking about the house) tend toward harmony.

Another example: In a 1960s study testing the theory of cognitive dissonance, college students were brought one at a time to a small room to work for a half hour on two very dull and repetitive tasks (stacking spools and turning pegs). After completing the tasks some of the students were asked to go to the waiting room and tell the next subject that the tasks had been interesting and fun for a token payment of one dollar. Other students in the study were offered twenty dollars (a large sum in the 1960s) to do the same thing. Later, all the students were asked for their true opinions of the tasks. The students who had been paid twenty dollars said they had found the tasks dull, as did a control group of subjects who had not been asked to talk to subjects in the waiting room. But the students who had been paid one dollar stated that they had in fact enjoyed the tasks. Thus both sets of students sought consistency between their thoughts and actions. Those who received the twenty dollars knew that they had told those in the waiting room that the tasks were interesting and fun because they had been paid to do so. Those who had received one dollar knew that it was not the token amount of money they had received that had caused them to say the tasks were interesting and fun. Rather, their actions (telling waiting subjects that the tasks were interesting and fun) and thoughts (their opinion of the tasks they had performed) came into congruence as a result of a shift in their thinking.

It is natural to have at least some vaguely formed suspicion that German funding could influence the work of historians who receive it. Numerous individuals having nothing to do with the study of history or the Holocaust have expressed the idea in conversations with the author. It is impossible to believe that such a suspicion would not enter the mind of a non-German historian of the Holocaust considering receiving German support. Thus the prospect or fact of receiving German funding would place an historian of the Holocaust in a position that would produce cognitive dissonance. One way to reduce this dissonance would be not to accept the German funding. Another would be to take the path taken by those surveyed and reject out of hand the possibility that there could be anything questionable about non-German historians of the Holocaust receiving German funding or refuse to participate in a survey/symposium on the subject.

As the experiment involving subjects turning knobs and stacking spools demonstrates, the danger of corrupting the mind by the acceptance of funds by one who is not intending to be corrupted is greater than one who consciously accepts a bribe to change his behavior. One who accepts a bribe in exchange for changing his action will be less likely to have his mind swayed than one who accepts a gift that he does not consider to be a bribe. In accepting funding from German sources, historians do not intend to be taking bribes that will cause them “to call the guilty innocent or the innocent guilty.” It is precisely for this reason that they will be unaware of how such funding may distort their thinking and affect their writing about the past.

Just as a decision made by a judge who has received a gift from one he judges is tainted regardless of whether or not the specific influence of the gift can be discerned in the verdict, history written by non-Germans under German sponsorship should be considered tainted. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky has pointed out several specific instances of errors and distortions in the work of historians funded by the German businesses whose history in the Nazi era they were writing about.8 Efforts such as Pinto-Duschinsky’s can cover only a minuscule portion of history written. In any case, neither the reader nor writer of history can know for sure just what influence the receipt of funding has had, or just how the mind and the work of the receiver has been influenced.

For the sake of objectivity, non-German historians of the Holocaust should avoid German funding. German funds and foundations should not be evaluated as being “acceptable” or “unacceptable,” as several respondents to the questionnaire suggested. All German sources of funding should be avoided. In any case, the intention behind the gift to a judge is irrelevant to its power to affect a judge’s (or historian’s) mind. If Germans want to promote a particular area of Holocaust research they should give their funds to German researchers whose writings are likely to be evaluated with appropriate care by non-German readers.

This description of the survey/symposium on German funding of historians of the Holocaust is without reference to particular names in order to emphasize that the issues involved are not ones of person or personality. However the subject of historians of the Holocaust receiving funding from German sources is not a private matter. Readers of the history of the Holocaust have a right to know who has been financed by German sources.

Historians have no professional code to bar them from accepting funding which might tend to corrupt their judgment. Nor are they subject to any law that forbids them from accepting gifts from those they judge. What is needed, at the very least, is a blue-sky program regarding the funding of Holocaust history. The question of financing the study of the crime of the Holocaust is not a private matter between givers and receivers. Historians who write about the Holocaust and organizations that fund them should be canvassed as to the support given and received. This information should be publicly available. Where historians or sponsors refuse to submit information on these matters or where they deny benefiting from German support they have in fact received (as appears to be the case for several respondents of this survey/symposium) this should be a matter of public record.

Justice, the victims of the Holocaust will never receive. Truth, at least, should not be slighted.

 

Postscript

The following are responses to points made by readers of an earlier draft of this article and by survey respondents.

Some rejected the analogy between historian and judge. Historians, they said, are not judges. What they were expressing is akin to the position of America’s early “scientific” historians trained in German universities and American graduate schools in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who rejected the moralizing or “judgmental” opinions of their “pre-scientific” predecessors. However, the analogy between judge and historian is based on the fact that both, regarding an event they seek to understand, want to know what happened, who did what, and what motivations were involved. It is in this sense that the author suggests that the function of judge and historian are similar.

Several readers thought that the reference to Jewish law as a source of guidance to historians was inappropriate and may be off putting to readers who are not observant Jews. If this is so it says more about the present climate of opinion in Israel than the usefulness of the Torah’s understanding of how the receipt of gifts can affect thinking. In Torah law, historians would find a model appropriate for thinking about the influence of funding on their work. For a similar purpose it was suggested that the theory of cognitive dissonance could also be useful. Models should be judged by their appropriateness and usefulness, not dismissed due to their origin.

It was suggested that there is a moral problem in Jews using German funds for doing Holocaust history. Whether or not this idea has merit, it is not at all the point. The argument against non-German historians of the Holocaust accepting German funding applies equally to gentiles as well as Jews, to non-Israelis as well as Israelis.

Several readers and survey respondents objected to the blanket condemnation of German funding of non-German historians of the Holocaust and sought to differentiate between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” German sources of funding based on their past or present activities or political positions. For one thing, the motivation of the giver of a gift may be irrelevant to its effect on one who receives it. For another, it misses an important point made by both Torah law and the theory of cognitive dissonance. Both reject as mistaken the common sense notion that you can change a person’s mind if you give him a large enough bribe. An outright bribe might affect a judge’s or historian’s behavior but it will not change his mind; to be most effective in changing minds, gifts must not be perceived by their receivers as bribes. It is safe to say that historians who receive German funding do not think of themselves as acceptors of bribes.

A reader objected to the claim that Holocaust-related history produced by non-Germans who have received German funding should be considered tainted; it would have been better to present the position as a “problematic” inviting consideration rather than as a clear, unsubtle dictum. It is doubtful that greater subtlety of expression would have nudged those historians who have accepted considerable German funding to consider seriously the issue; generally their responses and non-responses to the survey questionnaire demonstrate their deafness to it. For others, a clear statement of a position and description of models relevant for understanding the issue found in Jewish law and the theory of cognitive dissonance should help clarify a subject about which thinking is generally fuzzy at best.

In “Judges Receiving Gifts” it was suggested that history written by non-German historians receiving funding from German sources should be considered tainted. This was too narrow. In the historian’s own writing descriptions of Germans as torturers and killers might be softened, the role of non-German collaborators might be emphasized, and great weight might be given to the few Germans who helped Jews rather than the majority who participated in or approved of the killing. Factors that are not particularly German such as “modernism,” European anti-Semitism, and American “indifference” might be stressed, the role of Jewish communal leaders or the Jewish masses might be emphasized, the passive rather than active voice might be employed in order to avoid detailed, and concrete descriptions of the actions and attitudes of German torturers, killers and onlookers. Beyond this, an historian who has received German funding might be inclined to give a bad review to a book displeasing to his German sponsors. (This author was surprised at the high percentage of historians of the Holocaust, with whom he spoke while doing the survey/symposium, who had a high opinion of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners-much higher than would have been expected from the common impression that historians of the Holocaust dislike the book.) He or she might steer graduate students away from subjects sensitive to Germans, and might allow the views of their German sponsors to influence their choices, as editors of journals and evaluators of manuscripts for publishers, as to what gets published and what does not.

Though the work of non-German historians who receive funds from German sources should be considered tainted, this is not to say it is without merit. Many historians who receive German funding are talented and productive. Indeed, if it was the Germans’ intention to achieve maximum influence on the thinking of non-Germans, they would operate on the principle that funding the best and the most prolific historians-individuals who, in any case, would probably be leaders in their fields-would produce the greatest desired effect. To determine whether in fact this has been German policy would require careful study. How much cooperation grantors and receivers of German funding would give to one making such a study is itself an interesting question.

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Notes

  1.  For recent writing on this subject see Holger Herwig, “Cleo Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany After the Great War,” Herman Wittgens, “Senator Owen, the Schuldreferat, and the Debate Over War Guilt in the 1920s,” and Ellen Evans and Joseph Baylen, “History as Propaganda: The German Foreign Ministry and the ‘Enlightenment’ of American Historians of the War-Guilt Question, 1930-1933” in Keith Wilson (ed.), Forging the Collective Memory: Government and International Historians through Two World Wars ( Providence, R.I.: Berghahn Books, 1996).

2.  Jefferey Shaman, Steven Lubet and James Hlfini, Judicial Conduct and Ethics (2nd ed.) (Charloteville, Va.: Michie Publishers, 1955 and 1997), pp. 244, 267.

3.  The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1916), p. 180.

4.  Ibid., p. 463.

5.  The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary: A Linear Translation into English. Deuteronomy (Brooklyn, N.Y.: S.S.&R. Publishing Company, 1950), p. 158.

6.  The Code of Maimonides, Book Fourteen. The Book of Judges (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), pp. 68-69.

7.  Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, Ill.: Row Peterson, 1957).

8.  Times Literary Supplement, 23 October 1998, p. 16.

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ROBERT KAPLAN  received his doctorate in history fom Cornell University. He is the author of Forgotten Crisis: The Fin-de-Siecle Crisis of Democracy in France (1995).

Dr. Robert Kaplan

Robert Kaplan received his doctorate in history fom Cornell University. He is the author of Forgotten Crisis: The Fin-de-Siecle Crisis of Democracy in France (1995).