Nathan Stoltzfus

Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies

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Questions that drew me to the study of history are evoked in my doctoral dissertation at Harvard, “The Social Limitations on the Nazi Dictatorship.” This was necessarily a study of tyranny's social pillars as well, since the degree of popular support for the dictatorship indicates possibilities for limiting it.  Popular dictatorships focus mass energies around their own causes in ways that starve any opposition of collective force, much as brute force intimidates resistance. In the study of Modern European history I am interested in why humans collectivize and the relationship of mass associations to authority, whether of social norms or police force. I research the history of nonconformity, popular protest, and the range of ways that power has been exercised without physical force.  My most recent book shows that Hitler himself, although well-known for his belief in annihilation, was also well aware that he could not achieve all of his aims through brute force and that he increased his capacity to do evil precisely because he understood the limits of Gestapo terror, even for his dystopian goals. 


His publications include the following books:

Hitler's Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (Yale University Press, 2016) is a comprehensive and eye-opening examination of Hitler’s regime, revealing the numerous strategic compromises he made in order to manage dissent.

"His book Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany (W.W. Norton 1996, paperback 2001 with a forward by Walter Laqueur) was published in German (Hanser Verlag/dtv), with a foreword by then German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. It was a co-recipient of the Institute of Contemporary History's Fraenkel Prize, a New Statesman 'Book of the Year', #2 on the German Bestenliste for nonfiction (October, 1999), Main Selection (March-April, 2004) of the Swedish Book Club Clio, and identified by Germany’s leading intellectual weekly Die Zeit as the 'standard work' on the protest."

This seminal work has spawned a considerable debate among academics, leading to what Die Zeit called a "historian's controversy" (kleine Historikerstreit). His interviews have brought to publication the voices of Germans who were otherwise never interviewed about their wartime experiences, not only of Nazi victims but also its perpetrators including Leopold Gutterer, Joseph Goebbels’ Under Secretary of Propaganda. His work has been published in seven languages.

Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany(Princeton University Press, 2001), co-edited with Robert Gellately, reveals the range of groups persecuted under the Nazis and the role of society in their victimization.

Shades of Green: Environmental Activism around the Globe(Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), co-edited with with Doug Weiner and Christoph Mauch, represents the diversity of national, regional and international environmental activism, showing that the term "environmentalism" describes a wide range of perceptions, values and interests.

Courageous Resistance: The Power of Ordinary People(Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), co-authored by professors of history, political science, and sociology, introduces readers to a spectrum of types of resistance to tyranny and investigates the factors that motivate and sustain opposition to human rights violations.

Nazi Crimes and the Law (Cambridge University Press, 2008), co-edited with Henry Friedlander, examines the efficacy of national and international law to prosecute perpetrators of Nazi crimes, the centerpiece of twentieth-century state sponsored genocide and mass murder. Stoltzfus’ article for this collection as well as for The Oxford Handbook of Fascism, R.J.B. Bosworth, editor (Oxford University Press, 2009) considers the memory and representations of fascism since WW II in Italy and Germany.

Protest in Hitler's “National Community” Popular Unrest and the Nazi Response (Berghahn Books), co-edited with Birgit Maier-Katkin, Afterword by David Clay Large. In common perceptions, Hitler’s Gestapo slapped down every sign of opposition. This study of public, collected displays of dissent by “racial” Germans within the Reich examines cases of public, social dissent both before and during the war that were serious enough to command a response from the regime. Not only workers, but also women protecting their families as well as Protestants and Catholics determined to continue their church traditions, convinced the regime to appease rather than repress expressions of disagreement by “racial” Germans.

Women Defying Hitler: Rescue and Resistance under the Nazis (Bloomsbury, 2021), co-edited with Mordecai Paldiel and Judy Baumel-Schwartz. This timely volume brings together an international team of leading scholars to explore the ways that women responded to situations of immense deprivation, need, and victimization under Hitler's dictatorship. Paying acute attention to the differences that gender made, Women Defying Hitler examines the forms of women's defiance, the impact these women had, and the moral and ethical dilemmas they faced. Several essays also address the special problems of the memory and historiography of women's history during World War II, and the book features standpoints of historians as well as the voices of survivors and their descendants. Notably, this book also serves as a guide for human behaviour under extremely difficult conditions. The book is relevant today for challenging discrimination against women and for its nuanced exploration of the conditions minorities face as outspoken protagonists of human rights issues and as resisters of discrimination. From this perspective the voices being empowered in this book are clear examples of the importance of protest by women in forcing a totalitarian regime to pause and reconsider its options for the moment. In revealing so, Women Defying Hitler ultimately foregrounds that women rescuers and resisters were and are of great continuing consequence.

The Power of Populism and People: Resistance and Protest in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2021), co-edited with Christopher Osmar. Recent years have seen a disturbing advance in populist and authoritarian styles of rule and, in response, a rise in popular activism. Strongmen, especially since the advent of fascism, have formed their base of power in popular acclaim. But what power do the people have in checking the rise of tyranny? In this book an international team of experts representing several academic disciplines examines the power relationship between peoples and their rulers. It is among the first to study this globally as a problem of nation states. From populism in 19th-century Latin America to eastern Europe since the collapse of communism, to the Arab Spring and contemporary Russia and China, the cases in this book span five continents and twelve nations. Taken together, they reveal how different forms of popular opposition have succeeded or failed in unseating authoritarian regimes and expose the tactics and strategies used by regimes to repress people power and create an image of popular support. Analysing the causes and consequence of the global advance of authoritarianism, The Power of Populism and the People offers a historical comparison of popular protest, opposition and crises over the last century to the recent rise of populist leaders.

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The Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professorship for Holocaust and Related Studies

Academic Word Press

Research Interests
Modern Europe and Germany, the Holocaust, Political Violence and Resistance