Historian Jens-Christian Wagner was stunned when he received a telephone call this month from the public prosecutor’s office in the northern German town of Göttingen: He was being investigated for defaming the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany’s army.
The prosecutor told Wagner he had received a 27-page complaint against him and was taking the defamation allegations seriously. The complaint was about a book Wagner published last year to accompany an exhibition at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp detailing the role of the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust and how Nazi Germany’s armed forces had committed crimes against humanity during World War II.
“He said he was starting an investigation against me for alleging 'dishonorable facts to the detriment of the Wehrmacht soldiers.' I could only think he had no knowledge of German history. The prosecutor seemed oblivious to the ridiculousness of the complaint,” Wagner told VOA.
An email from VOA to the public prosecutor’s office seeking comment has gone unanswered.
Wehrmacht atrocities have been extensively documented. But a wave of Nazi revisionism casting doubt on German war crimes is once again emerging, said Wagner, director of the memorial at the Buchenwald concentration camp who specializes in the politics of memory.
After an outcry on social media prompted by Wagner’s November 9 tweet about the defamation probe, the state prosecutor for Lower Saxony halted the investigation, saying there was no case to answer.
Wagner and other historians of the Nazi era say they feel they are on the frontlines of a culture war and that the defamation investigation is just one incidence of a campaign of harassment, including death threats.
Earlier this year Wagner, among other directors of Holocaust memorials, revealed that tour guides at concentration camps were frequently being challenged by hecklers who claim detainees starved because food supplies were disrupted by Allied bombing. Other critics questioned the veracity of the Holocaust, saying the death count of the victims was exaggerated.