Tag Archive for Grimmer-Solem

Grimmer-Solem Delivers Talk at Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences Meeting

Erik Margot Kohorn

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem presented a talk, “The Wehrmacht Past, the Bundeswehr, and the Politics of Remembrance in Contemporary Germany,” at the meeting of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (CAAS), April 12.

Grimmer-Solem also is associate professor of German studies and a tutor in the College of Social Sciences. His expertise is in modern German history with specializations in economic history, the history of economic thought, and the history of social reform. He has also developed research interests in German imperialism, German-Japanese relations before 1918, and Germany in the two world wars.

Grimmer-Solem discussed his research, which uncovered the involvement of a Wehrmacht general, honored in public as a member of the military resistance to Hitler, in massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. He discussed how his findings were received by the German public, how that resulted in the official renaming of an air force base, and what that reveals about German perceptions of the war of destruction waged in the Soviet Union by the German army. The talk explored the deep involvement of the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust, the Janus-faced nature of many members of the German military resistance, and the ongoing problem of basing contemporary Germany’s military tradition and “official memory” on aspects of this tainted legacy.

CAAS, chartered in 1799, is the third-oldest learned society in the United States. Its purpose is to disseminate scholarly information through lectures and publications. It sponsors eight monthly presentations during the academic year, hosted by Wesleyan and Yale, that are free and open to the public, allowing anyone to hear distinguished speakers discuss current work in the sciences, arts, and humanities.

 

Grimmer-Solem Remembers the Sinking of the Lusitania

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem

The Hartford Courant turned to Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, for perspective on the sinking of the ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania, one century later.

“The British were very effective in using the sinking of the Lusitania as a propaganda tool, portraying the Germans as beastly and dastardly,” he told the Courant. “But [Woodrow] Wilson was in a tough spot. The United States had a significant German population, who were certainly not in favor of war.”

Grimmer-Solem said the German government naturally viewed the horror of the Lusitania quite differently. He said the British had imposed a crippling blockade of the North Sea, including food, in violation of international conventions.

Also, maritime prize rules of the day required submarines to surface before carrying out searches of suspected vessels — a risky maneuver as the British were known to use decoy vessels to coax U-Boats into firing rage. The situation pushed the Germans toward a policy of “unrestricted” submarine warfare, he said.

“The Lusitania was seen by the Germans as a legitimate military target,” the professor said. “We know it was chock full of munitions, which the Germans had suspected. They were listed on the manifest. There were many tons aboard the vessel. The English were ruthless about [using passenger vessels for ferrying arms.] They did this in the Boer War.”

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Continues to Have Impact on the Ground in Germany

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General’s legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem’s research on a celebrated German general, known as an “anti-Nazi,” is continuing to have an impact on the ground in Germany today. Over the past year, Grimmer-Solem’s findings have ignited a public debate in the country over General Hans von Sponeck’s place in history—a debate which has now turned to the matter of a commemorative stone honoring him.

Since World War II, von Sponeck had been celebrated in Germany with an Air Force base, city streets and other monuments named after him. All this has changed since Grimmer-Solem’s research shed new light on the General’s reputation as a “good general” who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941 by withdrawing his troops from Kerch, likely saving the lives of thousands of soldiers.

A personal connection involving his grandfather drew Grimmer-Solem to study von Sponeck. A detailed investigation of von Sponeck’s military career in the German Military Archives turned up evidence that the general’s record was far from spotless: The records showed close cooperation between the military unit von Sponeck commanded and the SS in committing numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity in the southern Ukraine and Crimea in 1941.

The research was covered in major German news outlets and sparked a national debate and parliamentary discussion about von Sponeck’s legacy. The latest impact has been on a Stolperstein (German for “stumbling stone”) commemorating von Sponeck. More than 48,000 of these granite cobbles are installed in locations around German cities, each with a brass plaque inscribed with the names and fates of victims of Nazism. According to Grimmer-Solem, while they began as an artist’s project, the Stolpersteine project has taken on a semi-official character in recent years as the stones are set in cooperation with German city governments and supported by many local commemorative and historical societies.

Since last year, the German city of Bremen has been grappling with the question of what to do with the stone honoring von Sponeck—a victim of the Nazis who was also a perpetrator. The stone was first set into the pavement in 2007, before Grimmer-Solem’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed military history journal of the German Armed Forces in December 2013, changed public perception of the General.

“Since then, any official commemoration of Sponeck in Germany has become controversial and has led to a debate about what to do about street names, monuments, and of course, the commemorative Stolperstein,” said Grimmer-Solem. “Sponeck’s Stolperstein is particularly problematic as it erases a line between the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust,” a point he made in the conclusion of his article.

When Gunter Demnig, the Cologne-based artist behind the Stolpersteine project, learned of Grimmer-Solem’s findings, he demanded that the city of Bremen remove the Stolperstein immediately, or else he would no longer sanction the project in Bremen, the home of more than 600 stones. Removal of the commemorative stone was controversial, however, and Bremen project leaders insisted on a public discussion about the matter.

“As the project has gained popularity and sanction as a semi-official memorial, removing Stolpersteine is awkward new territory lacking precedent let alone any procedures,” Grimmer-Solem explained.

On March 3, the Bremen State Central Office for Political Education hosted a podium discussion titled “Grauzonen. Stolpersteine für Wehrmachtsgenerale” (“Gray Zones: Stumbling Stones for Members of the Wehrmacht.”) It was ultimately agreed that the Stolperstein should be officially removed.

“But, to everyone’s surprise, thieves had beaten them to it,” Grimmer-Solem said. At some point, unknown people had excavated and stolen Sponeck’s Stolperstein, and police are now investigating.

The debate is now extending to the legacy of the German military resistance to Hitler in contemporary Germany. As an editorial in the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) noted recently, the debate about von Sponeck has spread well beyond Bremen and now extends to reassessing such postwar German national icons as Claus von Stauffenberg, who is remembered for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944.

“Stauffenberg, too, has a Stolperstein… and he, like many of his military co-conspirators, was involved in war crimes. Sponeck was shot after the failure of the plot, though he did not belong to it—his evolution from perpetrator to victim corresponds exactly to the ambivalence of this group,” the newspaper wrote.

This increasingly critical view of the July 20 conspirators marks a substantial shift in Germany. In the early years of the Federal Republic, Germans found it difficult to honor “traitors” like Stauffenberg, but he took on an increasingly central place in the “democratic” identity of West Germany’s armed forces, and since the 1960s, in German perceptions of themselves as opponents and victims of the Nazi regime.

“It is a sign of the maturity of German democracy that it is now slowly coming to terms with the complex legacy of men like von Stauffenberg,” Grimmer-Solem said.

Read more about Grimmer-Solem’s research on von Sponeck here.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Sheds New Light on Celebrated German General

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General’s legacy.

Growing up, Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem heard many family stories of his grandfather, a member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. Little did he know then that he would go on to uncover new truths about a celebrated German general, and ignite a public debate over the general’s place in history.
Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Grimmer-Solem’s grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, was arrested by the Gestapo along with two other Norwegians during the German occupation of Norway in the summer of 1940. He was sentenced to death by a German military tribunal, but had his sentence reduced to a prison term in Germersheim. There, he met and befriended General Hans von Sponeck, a German general who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941 by withdrawing his troops from Kerch, likely saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Von Sponeck was ultimately executed on the orders of Heinrich Himmler following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944, while Solem and the other prisoners narrowly escaped an SS execution squad and survived the war.

In the decades since the war, von Sponeck has been celebrated in Germany for his moral courage, with an Air Force base, city streets and other monuments named after him. Along with the tales of von Sponeck’s kindness toward Grimmer-Solem’s grandfather, the general’s unusual reputation as a heroic “anti-Nazi” sparked Grimmer-Solem’s interest. Since he regularly teaches a course on Nazi Germany and knows the literature on the role of the Wehrmacht (Germany’s unified armed forces from 1935-45) in war crimes in the Soviet Union, he began to have questions about von Sponeck’s career when it became clear that the general had commanded units of the German 11th Army during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, in the summer and fall of 1941. War crimes and crimes against humanity are well documented within the area of operation of the 11th Army. Grimmer-Solem undertook a detailed investigation of von Sponeck’s military career in the German Military Archives in March 2013

Grimmer-Solem’s Scholarship on Nazi Officer Discussed in German News

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Erik Grimmer-Solem

The historical scholarship of Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, was discussed at length by Klaus Wiegrefe in a Dec. 21 issue of Germany’s largest-circulation news weekly, Der SpiegelAs reported by the magazine, Grimmer-Solem uncovered evidence that a general currently honored as an anti-Nazi by the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the German invasion of the Ukraine in 1941.

In an article published in the military history journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Grimmer-Solem revealed the close cooperation between units of the Wehrmacht commanded by General Hans von Sponeck and the SS in atrocities committed against Jews in the southern Ukraine and Crimea between June and December 1941. Currently, a German Air Force base in Germersheim and streets in Bremen and Germersheim have been named in honor of General von Sponeck. Memorials to him have likewise been erected in these and other cities in Germany.

Basinger, Grimmer-Solem, Wagoner Honored with Binswanger Teaching Prizes

Wesleyan faculty Jeanine Basinger, Erik Grimmer-Solem and Phillip Wagoner received Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching on May 26. They are pictured here with Wesleyan President Michael Roth, third from left.

Wesleyan faculty Jeanine Basinger, Erik Grimmer-Solem and Phillip Wagoner received Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching on May 26. They are pictured here with Wesleyan President Michael Roth, third from left.

Every year Wesleyan recognizes outstanding teaching with three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching awarded at commencement. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, and current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty, emeriti, and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

Jeanine Basinger, the  Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, is the founder of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives and the originator of Wesleyan’s distinguished Film Studies Department, for which she defined a liberal arts approach that combines history/theory and production as a unified subject of study. She was a previous recipient of the Binswanger Prize in 1996, the winner of the Connecticut Governor’s Award for her contribution to film and the arts, and the awardee of the first and only honorary degree given to an academic by the American Film Institute in recognition of her pioneering contribution to film studies and for the influence of her former students in film and television. Two of her prominent students, Majora Carter ’88 and Joss Whedon ’87, were recipients of honorary degrees at commencement.

A proud native of South Dakota, Basinger received her entire formal education there, from first grade through master’s degree. As a nationally recognized expert on film, she has written copious articles for publications ranging from The New York Times to Opera News, and 11 books on film, including Silent Stars, The Star Machine, and her latest, I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies. She serves as trustee for the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. She also was primary advisor on Martin Scorsese’s education project, The Story of Movies; head consultant for the PBS series American Cinema: 100 Years of Filmmaking; and co-producer for the American Masters special on Clint Eastwood.

Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2002. He has a D.Phil from Oxford University, an M.Phil from Cambridge University, an M.Sc from the London School of Economics, and a BA from Brigham Young University. He has received awards and fellowships from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Chicago.

His teaching and scholarly interests are in German history, economic and social history, and the history of economic thought. He is particularly interested in the relationship between social science and policy. His courses include surveys of economic history, modern German history, and College of Social Studies history tutorials, as well as seminars on the welfare state, the Weimar Republic, and the Holocaust. In 2005 he received Wesleyan’s Carol A. Baker Memorial Prize for excellence in teaching and research.

He is the author of The Rise of Historical Economics and Social Reform in Germany, 1864–1894, published by Oxford University Press. His scholarly articles have appeared in such journals as the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, German History, and the Journal of World History. A second book, Empire of the Mind: German Political Economy and the World, 1880–1918, will appear in 2014.

Phillip Wagoner, professor of art history, professor of archaeology, holds a BA from Kenyon College and a Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught at Wesleyan since 1988, offering courses in the art history department and the archaeology program, as well as in the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, where he has also served as curator. He has spent sabbatical years in the Deccan region of South India, associated with the Vijayanagara Research Project, an international team of scholars in different disciplines dedicated to documentation and interpretation of the site of Vijayanagara, capital of the state that dominated the southern part of the Indian peninsula between the 1340s and 1565.

Professor Wagoner’s primary interest is in the historical interactions between the established Indic culture of the Deccan region and the Persianate culture that arrived in the early 14th century. Since 2000, his work has increasingly focused on Persianate Islamic architecture in this region. The author of two books and many journal articles, he has recently completed a third book, Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300–1600, co-authored with historian Richard M. Eaton.