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Why study history and WW2

LAURENCE REES: Why should anybody bother to study history in general and this period in particular?

MARY FULBROOK: Well, I think the reason people should study history is because as human beings we inevitably think historically. We are intrinsically historical animals, we think about our own past, we have memory and we think about the future in terms of the past, so we are historical, and to study history means doing it in a way that is systematic with an eye to the evidence, with an eye to rational argument and not simply to claims and counter claims. So I think we can’t avoid being historical and therefore we should do it properly and as well as we can.

This period in particular I think we should not study for the kind of reasons that it is often studied. I don’t think we should study it for the kind of outrage value of let's look at all the terrible things that Hitler did and say, ‘my god how awful’. I think we have to study it because it has had such a massive impact on people and it is part of the world we live in. Without this period we would not have had the scattering of the surviving Jews across the world, we wouldn’t have had Israel and New York the way they are, we wouldn’t have had the Cold War in the way that it developed without bringing the USA and the Soviet Union into the heart of Europe and the division of Europe. We can’t understand the whole of the second half of the 20th Century or indeed the post Cold War world without knowing where it came from and what it was about.

Though people may think the study of Nazi Germany is over done in certain ways in schools, it’s rammed down people’s throats as dates and facts and scandals, and in Germany it’s rammed down people’s throats as horror, how ashamed I am to be German; I don’t think it should be done in those ways. I think it’s much more interesting if you look at it as the way real people live though the most extraordinarily awful times facing terrible challenges. Some of them muscle through it one way or another, but if you actually look at the way that state disintegrated, coalesced and shifted and then allowed these things to happen, it is the most horrendous record and I think it deserves to be understood in a far more detailed and complex way than we have done so far.