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Großvater (2013/14)

In my family, they thought highly of being a family of intellectuals. My siblings and I grew up knowing that we belonged to a special clan. When I was five years old, I was worried that my career aspirations might not be in line with my class. I asked my mother whether it was possible for me to become a baker as a Schieder. The question caused general merriment.

The prominent head of the Schieder family was my grandfather, the historian Theodor Schieder. We were particularly proud of him. Decorated with the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit) and the Order Pour le Mérite, rector of the University of Cologne from 1962 to 1964, editor of the Historische Zeitschrift, responsible for the historical part of diplomatic training in the Foreign Office, my grandfather was the shining example of what a Schieder could become. Following this example, my father and my two uncles also became university professors.

Even at school some teachers considered you to be part of a special species. The grammar school that my brother and I attended in Cologne had already been attended by my father and my uncles. In class, you were asked unabashedly whether you were related to the aforementioned Theodor Schieder. As a rule, it was not an advantage to be related. Many teachers assumed quite fundamentally that with such a grandfather and this family one must have first-class achievements to offer. On the 150th anniversary of this very school, my grandfather gave the ceremonial speech.

My grandfather did not have too much to do with children. Not that he was not a loving grandfather, he could be very charming with us grandchildren. But he preferred his work and interactions with adults. When he died in 1984 - I was sixteen - I had never had anything like an intellectual engagement with him. 


His career before 1945 had never been discussed in the family. Only my older uncle asked his father questions and was therefore considered the black sheep of the family. He never received answers on the grounds that he had not been there. My grandfather also let his students know that he had no intention of being asked questions.

Then, at the 150th Historians' Day, almost fourteen years after his death, a broad debate began about his role at the time of National Socialism. The debate even made it into the feature pages of the major daily newspapers. This date also represented a paradigm shift for me. Whereas before I had occasionally been approached almost reverently about Theodor Schieder, now it was often with interest about his role in the Third Reich. I couldn't say much about it, and at that time my mind was on other things than dealing with my grandfather.

But as you get older, you often ask yourself why you are the way you are and why your siblings, cousins, why we have all become the way we are - each differently in our own way, but still shaped by this family and its history, by the expectations planted in us and the expectations we have of ourselves, by the spoken and the unspoken.

And you wonder what kind of people these are that have shaped you? Why these have become the way they were? Would you have behaved differently in their place? Is it even possible or permissible to pass final judgment on them from this retrospective position?


My grandfather was an ardent nationalist in the 20s and 30s. That was nothing unusual at the time. The results of the Treaty of Versailles were generally perceived as a disgrace and an injustice. As a historian, he specialized in so-called „Ostforschung“ (east research). This sought, analogous to Polish west research, to scientifically substantiate, among other things, Germany's territorial claims in Central Eastern Europe.

Until the mid-1930s, he counted himself among the national conservatives. In 1937, however, he joined the NSDAP, probably out of opportunism, since the membership ban for certain groups of people like his, which had been in force since 1933, was relaxed and membership promised professional advantages.

Among his most inglorious activities of that time was his participation in the looting of Polish archives, which, according to today's knowledge, contributed to the identification of the Jewish population, and his collaboration on the so-called "Polendenkschrift" (Poland memorandum), which, after the invasion of Poland, dealt with thoughts on what to do with the conquered territories. Then in 1943 he was appointed full professor of history at the University of Königsberg.

In 1944/45 my grandfather and his family fled to the Allgäu. For two years he searched in vain for a new position as a professor. Then in 1947, after successful denazification, he was appointed to the chair of modern history in Cologne, where he lived until his death.

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