Reviewed by Karrin Hanshew (Department of History, University of Chicago)
Published on H-German (September, 2005)
The Many Lives of Hanns Martin Schleyer
With his book on Hanns Martin Schleyer, Lutz Hachmeister brings two current trends in German historiography together, namely the revival of the biography and the ongoing interest in the Red Army Faction (RAF), whose ability to attract both popular and academic attention has only increased with this year's much-debated exhibition on the West German terrorist group. Those familiar with Hachmeister's earlier work on journalists in West Germany will find this book analogous in its approach as well as its revelations of continuities between Nazi Germany and the FRG. His methodological commitment to biography rests on a desire to overcome structuralist social histories that stay at a level of abstraction, far removed from the lives of individual people (p. 24). As the title implies, Schleyer: Eine deutsche Geschichte operates on two levels, providing a detail-rich description of Schleyer's life while simultaneously using this individual history to gain insights into twentieth-century German history as a whole. While the results are mixed, with its successes heavily weighted toward the micro-level, the book distinguishes itself from other popular works touching on the terrorism of the 1970s, not only by focusing on the RAF's most prominent victim, rather than the terrorists themselves, but also in its attempt to place the phenomenon of West German terrorism in its larger historical context.
Hachmeister's present work is inspired by the documentary film the author made for ARD, in which he traced the life of the former President of the Employers' Federation (BDA) and the West German Federation of Industries (BDI) until his kidnapping and death at the hands of the RAF in Fall, 1977. Expanded in its scope and research and intended to stand on its own, the book nevertheless carries the imprint of the original project. The construction of the narrative and dramatic foreshadowing of Schleyer's fate often resonates with conventions of contemporary film and historians will find themselves alternately frustrated and befuddled by the ease with which facts and quotations go uncited and the way material from recent interviews is used on par with archival sources. Hachmeister's last chapter, on the 1960s and 1970s, further suffers from a lack of primary research, with the result that he adopts, at times wholesale, analyses and biographical characterizations found in the existing secondary literature--a secondary literature that, due to both its under-developed state and its implication in present-day politics, represents anything but an unproblematic source.
That said, however, Hachmeister succeeds in producing a highly informative, detail-packed, and readable history of the life and times of Hanns Martin Schleyer. Beginning with his family, the author traces Schleyer's youth under the widely unpopular Weimar Republic to his university years in Heidelberg, where he became what Hachmeister repeatedly describes as a student "activist" for National Socialism--a role that eventually led to his position as SS-Untersturmführer in charge of organizing the economy of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Here, in his discussion of Schleyer's activities in Prague, Hachmeister makes a particularly significant contribution by clearing up Schleyer's relationship to Reinhard Heydrich, well known as head of the Reich Security Main Office for his role in planning the Final Solution. While Schleyer has been characterized frequently as Heydrich's "right hand" by members of the left, Hachmeister shows that this was not the case. While Schleyer most certainly carried on the program for the Protectorate laid down by Heydrich, the SS leader was already dead when Schleyer came to Prague (pp. 207-208). Hachmeister begins his examination of Schleyer's postwar career with the future industrialist's three-year internment in a POW camp for his questionable relationship to National Socialism (a relationship made questionable by Schleyer's self-serving and inconsistent self-descriptions as well as the inaccessibility of information on Nazi personnel within the Protectorate) and then goes on to trace Schleyer's steady rise in West German business and industry. Hachmeister convincingly demonstrates how Schleyer's successful career at Mercedes-Benz was enabled by personal connections predating 1945 (p. 242) and, using Schleyer's own book on the "social model," argues for the tenacity of 1930s' corporatism in Schleyer's thinking even as the industrialist espoused support for Erhard's "formierte Gesellschaft" and proved himself a hardliner in 1963 by instituting a lockout of striking metalworkers.
Ultimately, the narrative of Schleyer's life provides the vehicle for innumerable "mini-biographies." While sometimes guilty of distracting from the work's analytical drive and cohesion, they do succeed as a powerful illustration of the continuities between the industrial and economic personnel of the Third Reich and the bosses of big business and industry in the FRG. While one may be aware of such continuities before opening Hachmeister's book, reading one biographical sketch after another in which the subject steps lightly from one regime to the next can fill even those well-versed in the historiography of West Germany with renewed disgust and amazement at the ineffectiveness of denazification and the ability of individuals to adapt to circumstances as necessary.
The source of the book's strengths, however, creates problems when Hachmeister shifts from the micro- to the macro-level. While I am deeply sympathetic to the need to place West German terrorism into its historical context--a context which I agree extends beyond the 1960s and the student movement--the history of twentieth-century Germany offered by Schleyer: Eine deutsche Geschichte falls short of its mark. Hachmeister argues that the terrorism of the 1970s is part of a larger trajectory of "extra-state militancy" beginning in World War I (p. 37). Compelling for its treatment of terrorism as an historical phenomenon to be examined and explained, the argument, unfortunately, relies more on Hachmeister's intuition than on evidence due to the sporadic and often confusing interjection of the larger social, economic, and political developments within the central narrative of Schleyer's life. More problematic is the way in which Hachmeister's desire to fold National Socialism and the terrorism of the 1970s into a historical narrative of extra-state militancy decisively removes terrorism as practiced by the Nazi state from consideration. When coupled with his method of biography-driven analysis, this argument casts politics to the background. In two eras notorious for political extremism, namely the 1930s and the 1970s, Hachmeister directs attention to motivations such as personal loyalties and moral self-righteousness--not political or ideological commitment--in attempting to understand Schleyer and, in the final pages, the second generation of RAF who kidnapped and murdered him.
In the end, Hachmeister argues that one militant group begets another and that only when this cycle of extra-state militancy ends can something new begin. In Hachmeister's history of twentieth-century Germany, Schleyer's murder in October, 1977, demobilized a politics of "pure conviction" that had simmered under the surface of West German society since the 1950s and had fed the extra-state militancy of the 1970s (p. 403). In this way, he suggests, the cycle of action and reaction begun some sixty years earlier came to an end and prepared the way for a new era in German history. Hachmeister is unable to ground the "how" and the "why" behind this demobilization or to account for the changes in the political landscape visible by the early 1980s. But what he has done with great success is to raise the questions that still require answers and to indicate the direction in which the study of West German terrorism and its relationship to the German past must go.
. Lutz Hachmeister and Friedemann Siering, eds., Die Herren Journalisten: Die Elite der deutschen Presse nach 1945 (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2002); see H-German review at <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=111021097905420 >.
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Karrin Hanshew. Review of Hachmeister, Lutz, Schleyer: Eine deutsche Geschichte.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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