Review of "Clio Deceived: Patriotic self-censorship in Germany after the Great War" by Holger Herwig, published in Miller, Lyn-Jones and Van Evera, Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War, Princeton, 1991, Chichester and Princeton. ISBN 0-961-02349-2

<PFV's comments>


Definition of terms: Joseph Fouché and John Röhl. The effect of patriotic self-censorship (ps-c) on scholarship until Fischer Griff nach der Weltmacht, Droste 1961, and of course Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914 OUP 1952-7. Fisher and Albertini's arguments largely accepted that Germany and A-H 'assumed a "strike now better than later"' mentality. Major motives: for A-H, the need for a strike at Serbia to counter centrifugal tendencies in A-H. For G the need to pre-empt Russian rearmament and secure continental hegemony.

Article intends to trace the genesis and course of the official campaign by the Weimar Republic and Third Reich to counter Allied charges of German war guilt, and suggest consequences. German Governments sought to organise materials from 1914 onwards to counter questions on origins. Key elements of German bureaucracy disinformed: War Guilt Section of Foreign Ministry (Kriegsschuldreferat), Working Committee of German Associations (Arbeitsausschuss Deutscher Verbände), the Centre for the Study of the Causes of the War (Zentralstelle zur Erforschung der Kriegschuldfrage) and a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry (Untersuchungsausschuss) using sympathetic writers and translators, and watering down of the more-controversial memoirs.

They thus influenced Germans and foreigners alike and perverted the writing of history. Latest evidence: the acrimony surrounding Kurt Riezler's diaries. Questions: what can present-day scholars make of the perversion? Is the perversion directly-related to the importance of the record being perverted? Is a nation best served by such perversions?

Assertions: Nazi Germany grew partly from the seeds thus laid in the Weimar republic. The Allies at Versailles were affected by it. The perversion thus helped Stresemann buttress his policy of rapprochement with the West with a view to minimising Versailles' effects.

Article concerned that "1914 analogy" no longer be (mis)used as a basis for analysing possible WW-III causes.

Deployment of Illusions

German government publishes Deutsches Weissbuch (1) on 3 Aug 1914 containing a German view of their archives, Jagow authorises Zimmermann to write a more-comprehensive publication. Von Bülow ordered the available documents and became the head of attempts at ps-c after the war. Documents however published only after defeat.

Only the Independent Socialists (USPD) demanded truth irrespective of blame. 21-Nov-1918 Eisner pressed Ebert to reveal all, 23-Nov-1918 Eisner provided Munich newspapers with excerpts from the reports of the Bavarian plenipotentiary at Berlin to show that the war had been orchestrated by what Eisner termed "a small horde of mad Prussian military" men as well as "allied" industrialists, capitalists, politicians, and princes. 13-Nov-1918 Kautsky proposes that the Provisional Government publishes documents relating to July 1914. 9-Dec-1918 Kautsky given this task. 26-Nov-1918 Imperial Government (fearing their destruction) places all former imperial archives under its protection.

By the time Kautsky finished in March 1919 the Socialists had disintegrated and Kautsky was isolated, and denied access to Wilhelmstrasse archives. Jul-1919 Chancellor Bauer couldn't formally censor or obstruct Kautsky because of the still-dominant SPD and thus entrusted Count Maximilian von Montelgas and Walter Schücking to write a second publication of documents.

German Foreign Ministry (GFM) had established a Kriegsschuldreferat in Dec-1918-Jan-1919 under von Bülow ("ardent nationalist and zealous bureaucrat") which generated a Kartothek which is the basis of today's Politisches Archiv at Bonn <now presumably in Berlin>. Bülow identified evidence to be used against the Allies at Versailles from the recently-published Soviet documents on the Tsar's foreign policy and the various coloured books of the foreign ministries. Primary task was to prepare the case against the Allied charge that Germany and A-H were solely responsible for the war.

<Curiously there is no mention here of a comparable effort by the Austrians>

7-Jan-1919 Erzberger decided that GFM and the Army Supreme Command (OHL) would prepare documents on war guilt: Bülow for GFM and major Bodo von Harbou (former assistant to Ludendorff) for OHL. 22-Jan-1919 Erzberger called special meeting to identify primary cases:

Feb-1919 Cases were formerly adopted by GFM Office for Peace Negotiations (Geschäftestelle für die Friedensverhandlungen) headed by Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff who asked Jagow to write a paper on the July Crisis with particular ref. to France's revanche policy. They also sought evidence that the Allies started the war, and input on Allied transgressions of International Law from Navy and Army.

Bülow instructed the later head of the Kriegsschuldreferat, Hans Freytag to lock up all documents specially "in case the entente should demand them" 'as they apparently had the right to do under article 230 of the Versailles Treaty', so "they could be got out of the way easily". He divided the documents into "defence" and "offence".

Consequences: the "professor's memorandum" of 27-May-1919 claiming G had conducted a defensive war against R (Delbrück, von Montelgas, Mendelssohn-Bartoldy and Weber). Article claims it was probably penned by von Bülow before the professors arrived in Versailles. The professors agreed to the article in less than a week.

Motive 1: Banker Warburg advised that Germany couldn't get credits unless it could effectively refute war-guilt charges.

<Curious: bankers are supposed to be utterly amoral. Why should this not be true also in 1919?>

Motive 2: get better peace terms on the basis of Wilson's 14 points.

Motive 3: reparations appeared (to the Germans) to be based on acceptance of war guilt.

Motive 4: possibility that the Allies might insist on War-criminal trials.

2 crises: 7-May-1919 Allies present proposed accord, 16-Jun-1919 Clemenceau presents ultimatum to Germany: either accept the peace treaty or war recommences. 28-May-1919 Germany published Deutsches Weissbuch (2) (with added "professor's memorandum")

28-Jun-1919 Germany accepts Versailles and the immediate need to refute war guilt is replaced by a long-term project agreed by Cabinet on 21-Jul-1919 to shift attention from war guilt to debate about European affairs since 1870, helped by Dutch and British papers excerpting from Kautsky 10-Dec-1919.

Project has three editors: Mendelssohn-Bartoldy, Lepsius, and Thimme (Director) plus "special advisor" (spin-doctor) to evaluate public reaction. GFM directed the editors on how and what to publish and exercised a special veto. Result: 40 volumes of "Die Grosse Politik der Europäischen Kabinette" 1922-7. The standard work of reference for the German view of WW-I.


Thimme later denied honorary doctorate and the Leibnitz medal being considered a "creature of the Wilhelmstrasse". After the publication GFM decided that no further documents were to be made available --- a policy remaining in force today in the form of the Bundesgovernment's Datenschultz.

Case of Hallgarten: applied in 1930 to see documents on China and was initially refused. Saw files on "Delago bay" <surely Delagoa> which Thimme claimed non-existent. Re-examining the files after 1945 and discovered that much had been removed before he had viewed it previously and had now been returned. BundesrepublicDeutschland GFM archivist Heinz-Günther Sasse had worked in Kriegsschuldreferat in 1920.

Dissemination of Illusions

GFM (Bülow) aware of lack of credibility of Government propaganda in 1919 and resisted dissemination until 1920 when they established several "independent" bureaux under the Kriegsschuldreferat overtly to promote government view and covertly to silence critics. 1923 established Institute for Foreign Policy, journal: Europäisiche Gespräche and an abridged version of Die Grosse Politik. Propaganda dissemination directed by Kriegsschuldreferat under Freytag 1919-20, von Delbrück 1921-2, and Stieve 1922-8. Decided which critical journals were to be attacked, by whom and in which journals. Kriegsschuldreferat also censored all publications of GFM and Untersuchungsausschuss, and composed official statements on war guilt and maintained a monopoly on war guilt publications, securing a decree from Ebert against the Potsdam Reichsarchiv's attempt to create its own documentary collection in 1923.

Kriegsschuldreferat exploited foreign propagandised materials:

Kriegsschuldreferat propagandised abroad: in 1925 attempted to influence the publication of documents concerning the outbreak of war at the behest of Senator Robert L Owen of Oklahoma by supplying Die Grosse Politik and the services of Alfred von Wegerer.

Kriegsschuldreferat established a pseudo-scholarly bureau and journals:

Note that no serious German historian of the period studied the matter other than Delbrück. Many announced at Göttingen in 1932 that the term "guilt" was improper and that "origins" and "consequences" were alone worthy of study. When writing for papers <feuilletonaires?> they toed the Government's line: G peaceful, F revengeful, E and R hostile.

The GFM was eager that the ADV and ZEK contact sympathetic foreign scholars: in 1925 they were funded RM 500,000 for this which they used to distribute Herman Lutz' An Appeal to British Fair Play gratis to addresses in the UK. Other efforts included:


<Herwig maintains that the administrative guardians of German universities agreed to "bring the working committee (of the ADV) on board" but it's not clear what this means other than allowing them to organise seminars.>

The accession of the Nazis marked the absorption of the committees in the State. In 1935 Wegerer published Der Ausbruch des Weltkrieges arguing that no-one was really to blame which was taken as a model by most German national-conservative historians thereafter.

After WW-II historians such as Erdmann, Herzfeld, Ritter, Rothfels and Zechlin adopted a blame Hitler rather than Germany policy, ignoring Albertini and vilifying Fischer.

Parliament and the Campaign of Obfuscation

The Reichstag inquiry was largely overlooked in this debate: the Left to blame the Right for the collapse, the Right to vilify the Left for Defeatism and betrayal. A 28-member committee, the Untersuchungausschuss was established on 21-Aug-1919 by Parliament and disestablished by Göring on 30-Aug-1932. It evolved 4 subcommittees of enquiry:

  1. investigate Germany's responsibility for the start of the war,
  2. assess the possibility of a negotiated peace before the military collapse,
  3. examine allied charges that Germany had violated international law,
  4. identify the causes of the 1918 collapse.

A special tribunal Staatsgerichtshof would hear cases submitted by the four committees. Effect of committees was to impede the dissemination of documents. Untersuchungausschuss was a failure: only one committee (examining allied charges) completed its work ... in 1927 after many impediments of the GFM which with von Wegerer of the War Guilt section decided on the submission of documents and were able to veto the findings. Military refused cooperation.

Subcommittee 2 was dominated by former Vice-Chancellor Helfferich who accused the parties supporting the Reichstag's peace resolution of July 1917 of Dolchstoss, and the Social Democrats of having accepted Soviet funds to revolutionize Germany.

Hindenburg provided comic relief when he "testified" on Nov 18 1918 (brief prepared statement, no questions, no cross-examination. Blamed defeat on the Allies' material and numeric superiority and on the planned demoralisation of the High Seas fleet by "revolutionary elements". Officer corps blameless but had been stabbed in the back by pacifists and socialists. The volume remained unpublished for fear of overseas reaction <and not internal reaction?> and 28 of 37 folders were stamped "Secret". The Subcommittee's work ended in 1924.

Subcommittee 3 was closely supervised by the GFM which provided the former head of their legal section, Dr. Johannes Kriege, as an "expert" on possible violations of international law by Germany. His approach was "rabulistik" (pettifogging) arguing for example that:

He kept the Kaiser informed by frequent visits to Doorn.

While GFM refused to hand over only potentially incriminating documents, Army and Navy refused to hand over any <confirmed in Lutz>. Both services coordinated their stances in 1920. Major Otto von Stülpnagle <any relation to the July 1944 bomber?> warning that "any opening of military archives would have long-range consequences ... for the Reich's future world standing". Hence official affidavits on the "Peace offensive strategy would be handled by General Hermann von Kuhl and "Michael" by Col. Schwertfeger --- a GFM publicist. Delbruck was asked <implicitly by the committee though Herwig doesn't say so> for a counter-affidavit: Kuhl proposed dolchstoss and revolutionary undermining --- Delbruck argued that Ludendorff overestimated resolve and resources, displayed "unbridled egotism, megalomania and irresponsibility". <which seems to have been a reversal of position> Delbruck's comments, published in 1924 provoked attacks from Schwertfeger, Förster of the Potsdam Reichsarchiv, and the historian Hans Herzfeld attacked Delbruck reaching a climax in November 1924 when the Cabinet backed von Seeckt's veto of the publication of the 4th subcommittee's findings.

Navy issues exploded in 1926 when former USPD deputy Wilhelm Dittman repeated charges that the fleet unrest of October 1918 was precipitated by an "Admiral's rebellion" against the von Baden Government. Vice-Admiral Adolf von Trotha, Lieut-Com Wilhelm Canaris and Botho-Wendt zu Eulenberg of the DNVP <Right-wing> vehemently rebutted them and repeated the dolchstoss thesis wrt the Navy. The Admirals refused to provide the war diary (which would have shown that Naval leaders had planned a suicide sortie against Anglo-US fleets to uphold the honour of the Naval Officers corps and obtain future naval funding <was this a reason for later scuttling the fleet?>


Subcommittee 1 was charged with assessing G's rôle in the Julikriese. GFM acutely sensitive to accusations that the Committee was loaded with its minions and thus encouraged the Reichstag to engage 'neutral' experts: these turned out to be Hermann Lutz (revisionist) and Hermann Kantorowicz (Jurist). However while they placed blame co-equally on Serbia and Russia, then A-H and finally the others:

Other persecutions include:

Memoirs and historical falsification

Memoir suppression:

Conclusions on the revisionist syndrome

Effect of the war-guilt campaign short- and long-term. Most Germans sprang to a patriotic defence against allied accusations in ignorance of the facts. Few accepted that they had launched a major European war with a single sclerotic ally. Breaking with the past was too difficult and imperial flags continued to fly beside those of Weimar. Those who conducted the campaign had been servants of the old order caring nothing for democracy,particularly if it led to purges of the Prominente. The Social Democrats equally failed to call for heads to roll <did no-one in the SD concern themselves during the war to distance themselves from the ruling classes or were they too obsessed with the rise of communism?> Investigating committees thus depended entirely on those with a position to defend, and the Republic with its lack of self-confidence failed to chase the self-censors from their lairs.

The ps-cs ensure the issue would not be allowed to die. Max Weber: "Every document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified squabbling ... instead of decently burying the war and its end. Micheal Salewski: the constant obsession with war guilt eventually mired the republic in a revisionist syndrome. War-guilt served the GFM in the same way as the Dolchstoss legend served the Army.

Many ps-cs were driven by personal interest. The Republic needed the cooperation of civil servants and thus colluded in hiding their guilt. Any politician prepared to admit the truth was declared effectively among the political dead. <was none murdered?>

The ps-cs retarded critical appraisal of the origins until 1960s. The allies colluded: L-G: we simply slid into war <it would be interesting to know to what extent this was dictated by US concerns for post-war investment in G. Had the allied publics been told that G was in fact responsible the cries of "hang the Kaiser might have persisted. There must be space for a monograph on post-war allied resentment and its expression outside Versailles>. By linking war guilt to the revision of the Versailles treaty the ps-cs precluded rational debate. <Surely they were much helped in this by the treaty itself and the war-guilt clause (231)> Kantorowicz' document was likely to undermine Streseman's position at Locarno: were it maintained G could reduce reparations and ensure border adjustments favored G more. Hence the need for "Der Grosse Politik", to return G to an equal status with other nations.

The war-guilt issue provided a useful national rallying-cry for a nation which had only existed for 70 years and remained deeply divided socially and politically. A revisionist policy helped deflect right-wing criticism of the Republic's supposed "softness" over its "fulfillment" of the Versailles demands and thus benefit Streseman's diplomacy.

1932-3 showed the fragility of the consensus and the ease with which the extreme right could continue to exploit the war-guilt issue. By delaying open debate the ps-cs laid the ground for Hitler.

There is no national advantage in obscuring the truth. Pre-emptive historiography will eventually be exposed though it may hold some short-term advantage. In the final analysis, it was nothing short of a national tragedy that, in the words of Hermann Hesse, "90 or 100 prominent men" conspired in the supposed interests of the state "to deceive the people on this vital question of national interest". "Of 1000 Germans, even today 999 still know nothing of [our] war guilt". The impact of Griff nach der Weltmacht 30 years later was thus all the greater.

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