Fritz Stern: Lectures at the Council of Foreign Relations

Historians in the News

History matters. The incontestable truth encapsulated in this phrase was once again brought home to me quite forcefully by a brilliant and eloquent lecture delivered recently at a Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) meeting in New York by Fritz Stern, university professor emeritus at Columbia University, and a distinguished historian of Germany, whose most recent book is the best-selling autobiographical memoir, Five Germanys I Have Known.

The lecture—the second in a series on foreign policy history sponsored by the National History Center in collaboration with the CFR—was entitled "Fear and Hitler's Instant Subversion of Freedom." In his presentation, Stern, who had himself barely managed to escape the tyrannical terrors of the Nazi regime by emigrating to the United States with his family when he was still a child, explained how the Nazis manipulated national-security issues to increase and consolidate their power. Although other factors—the long, failed political education of the German people and the failures of leadership on the part of the German ruling class, for instance—also contributed to the rise to power of the Nazis, it was the fear of the "enemy" within (the Jews) that they exploited to devastating effect. This produced, according to Stern, a "silent and jubilant submission" of the German people.

There was a long and spirited discussion following the talk, during which it became clear that the audience was making connections between the dangers and failures of the 1930s and those of the contemporary world (a video recording of the talk and the following discussion can be seen at When asked what he most feared today, Stern replied "the Singapore model"—authoritarianism and economic development. Which, of course, is one way to describe the Nazi experiment....

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