Berlin prof. slammed for defending Nazi

Wolfgang Benz won't distance self from pro-Hitler activities of mentor.

January 31, 2010 02:19
3 minute read.
Wolfgang Benz

Wolfgang Benz. (photo credit: Courtesy)

BERLIN – Wolfgang Benz, a German researcher in the field of anti-Semitism, honored his Nazi doctoral supervisor Karl Bosl in an essay he wrote in 1988 and has refused to distance himself from the pro-Hitler activities of his mentor, according to reports last week in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger daily and on NDR (North German Broadcasting) radio.

Benz is the director of the Center for Anti-Semitism Research at the Technical University of Berlin.

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The revelation of an anti-Semitism expert defending a Nazi has stirred up a new round of heated controversy for the 68-year-old Benz. Earlier this month, he alienated the Jewish community in Berlin when he played down the severity of anti-Semitism by comparing Jew-hatred with hostility toward Islam.

Critics assert that Benz wrote a congratulatory essay in honor of Bosl’s 80th birthday in 1988. Bosl died in 1993. Benz has not disavowed his essay honoring Bosl, who was a high-level member of the Nazi party and an energetic ideologue of the Hitler movement.

According to the historian Anne Christine Nagel, from Justus Liebig University Giessen in Hesse, Bosl, “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.”

Critics also cite the work of historian Bernd-A. Rusinek, from Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, to establish Bosl’s radical fascist philosophy. According to Rusinek, Bosl attended “presumably the last historians conference of the Third Reich.” The conference was held in January 1945 in Braunau am Inn, Austria, Adolf Hitler’s birthplace.

Benz told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger: “As a young man, my thesis adviser was apparently in the Nazi party. When he earned his post-doctoral degree in 1947 and soon after received a teaching position and took me on as a doctoral candidate in 1965, he was certainly not a Nazi, but a highly respected, liberal scholar. And if some idiot now gets the idea that I studied with a Nazi and picked up Nazi ideas, that’s simply perfidious.”

Benz’s unconditional support for his mentor and his intellectual blind spot about Bosl’s contribution to advancing Nazism have perplexed many in Germany. The German-Jewish historian Michael Wolffsohn, an Israeli-born academic who teaches at the University of the Armed Forces in Munich, sees scholars of Benz’s generation as part of a insulated network.

“These students certainly preserved a degree of student solidarity, and let’s not forget that there were also old-boy networks among the various teachers that everyone profited from, and Mr. Benz certainly belonged to Bosl’s network,” Wolffsohn told NDR radio.

When asked by The Jerusalem Post about his accolades for Bosl and his decision to not criticize Bosl’s pro-Nazi activities, Benz declined to respond.

Meanwhile, while in Krakow commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Union 65 years ago, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Board of Directors and chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, criticized Benz for comparing anti-Semitism with Islamophobia.

“It is not wise to analyze anti-Semitism and to a make a comparison between anti-Semitism and Islam. I do not believe a comparison of this kind can happen... It does not bring in my mind that the behavior against the Jews before the Holocaust and during the Holocaust could reappear in any way against Muslims,” Lau told the Post in Krakow last week. Lau is a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Relations between Benz and the Jewish community in Berlin are frayed because Benz is deemed to be pushing a pro-Islamic agenda at the expense of fighting and researching the highest levels of anti-Semitism since World War II.

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