Earlier on, I do not remember whether in a post or a comment, we talked about history (what else?) and the necessity for a historian to allow oneself to have an opinion. History is not the accumulation of data, dates and records – that is the basic idea of german Historismus, historism or historicism, that goes back to Leopold von Ranke‘s views of political history: Just read the records, study the sources properly and the historian will find out “how it really was” (Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist). In the course of the 19th century opposition against that view arose and it peaked in the famous “Lamprecht-Streit”: Lamprecht wanted to describe “how it became” (Wie es wurde). Around 1900 there was a real paradeigmatic change, not only in Germany but the whole European and American historian’s “guilt”; but German history being what it is, after 1914 the connection was lost: Lamprecht died 1915.
One Historian of the older generation – I mean those born before the 1920s, teachers of my teachers – who always allowed himself to have an opinion and who always spoke out is Golo Mann. (Data here, sorry only Ger. Wikipedia Eng., Ger.). The son of Thomas Mann, the nephew of Heinrich Mann, he was born into one of the leading intellectual families of Germany before 1933 – not that there would have been too much. The Warburg-family comes to my mind, Aby and his brothers, but I do not want to digress.
Heinrich is in some respect the more interesting one of the brothers. 1914 when Thomas was all nationalistic-german-kriegsbesoffen, he was the one who said that this nonsense would lead into the abyss. He wrote “Der Untertan”, a brilliant reckoning with the bourgeoise spirit of the era under Wilhelm the second and last, the years from 1888 to 1918. His brother won the Nobel for literature 1929, Heinrich was maybe “friendlier”. The Manns clearly told their opinion about Hitler and his gang and exile was imminent. Thomas and his wife Katia born Pringsheim with some of her six children made it to America. 1936 the whole family was deprived of their nationality, their passports were of no more use – Golo organized, that and how the family fortune was brought to Switzerland and his father’s diaries (they should have been burnt !). 1940 he and his uncle Heinrich – nearly 70 then – found themselves in a camp in southern France. Together with the Werfel family they made it over the Pyrenees, others, as Benjamin, did not.
Golo later teached in America at various universities, came back to Europe and all in all led an academic life. He was not a happy man, always alone and for himself. His adopted son died before him, the years caring for his aging, stubborn and finally ill mother took their price. He was working very much, too much. He involved himself in politics in the 70s on the far conservative side as aide for Franz-Josef Strauß, especially in the latter’s devastating run for chancellor.
Two books remain. The “German History” and “Wallenstein” from 1971. The count of Wallenstein was one of the most (in)famous figures of 17th century’s Europe. To fully understand what happened in his life and what he did, you have to study a real load of stuff – you have to be the master of the sources, you have to understand what people do and why. That is what Golo Mann did. He understood it. He not simply described – and than this happened and than it went bang – he understood. This book belongs in the same category as Huizinga‘s Herbst des Mittelalters or Jacob Burckhardt‘s Civilization of Renaissance in Italy.
1956 and 1957 Mann returned to his beloved landscape of the Bodensee and wrote his “German History of the 19th and 20th Century”. If you are interested in the subject, get a copy and read. I have it at my desk and my bed because I need to re-read his view of the beginning of WWI.
It would be too easy to label him – “the son”, “the nephew”, “the emigrant”, “the conservative”, “the crypto-homosexual”. It is – as always – too easy and would not do justice to the man. Same goes for history. It is never that easy and nobody knows how it really was. We have a chance to explain how it became. Those who know, are dead.
I admire Golo Mann. He never gave up: He always was himself.