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Richard J. Evans

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's two articles in Standpoint raise many significant and important questions about how Germany deals with its Nazi past. As someone who has worked on the country's history for more than four decades, and who had known the subject of the two articles, Alfred Toepfer, and some members of his staff, many years ago, I was interested in going into them in some depth. I can assure Mr Pinto-Duschinsky that I had no research assistance in doing so. What I wrote about his work in my article in Times Higher Education was not an "attack" but an attempt to find out whether he was right. On some issues, I found he was. On others, not.

Pinto-Duschinsky says that I should not have acted as an expert witness to the sub-committee appointed by Oxford University to investigate his allegations against the Toepfer Foundation because I had been the recipient of a scholarship from the Foundation in 1970. There was no conflict of interest. My vested interest in the Foundation expired as soon as the scholarship expired.

There was one statement in my article in the THE that was wrong. I actually met Toepfer's senior assistant the former SS officer Hans-Joachim Riecke in 1970, and remembered him saying he had been imprisoned for war crimes: in fact, however, I remembered wrongly. Riecke had not been convicted of war crimes; he had only been interned.

Pinto-Duschinsky claims that the independent historians' report on the Foundation's past commissioned by the Foundation at the end of the last century was merely putting a favourable gloss on what "a group of scholars based in Alsace and Lorraine" had already discovered. The "group of scholars" to whom he refers actually consists of a French schoolteacher, Lionel Boissou, who has campaigned for the compulsory use of French as the medium of instruction in all schools in France, and has condemned the minority language campaigns in Brittany and the French Basque country as part of a German plot to dismember France. In 1997, Boissou stated that post-1990 Europe was in danger of being "wholly subjected to German domination". It is not unreasonable to say that Boissou's views are not representative of serious opinion among professional French historians.

Hardly anything in the commission's 600-page report goes over ground already covered by anybody, let alone by M. Boissou. Pinto-Duschinsky omits to say that it concluded that "Alfred Toepfer never opposed the Nazi dictatorship. He no more expressed solidarity with those who were excluded and persecuted than he sympathised with the groups who resisted Hitler...Alfred Toepfer's Foundations did not serve any aims that were opposed to those of the Reich leadership." After the war, Toepfer told everyone he had been an opponent of the Nazis. That is why the commission's revelations came as such a shock to his family and his Foundation, who had believed his lies for decades.

The 42-page analysis of Mr Pinto-Duschinsky's first Standpoint article by Toepfer's biographer Jan Zimmermann did not admit that the Foundation had known about but suppressed the facts he, Pinto-Duschinsky, had uncovered. Zimmermann complains that the facts presented by Mr Pinto-Duschinsky actually "rested in the majority on my own researches...only a small part was added to by himself." Pinto-Duschinsky's findings pale into insignificance besides the findings of the commission. That facts were included in footnotes or "obscure parts of the text" (and how does one identify these? What is an obscure part of a text?) is irrelevant; they were there for all to read if they could read German.

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