Nathan Stoltzfus

PhD (Harvard University 1993)
Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies

Contact Information

Office Location
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.

Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of The National Interest, wrote of Hitler’s Compromises that “Stoltzfus’s ambitious study seeks to correct the perception of the Nazi state as a seamless totalitarian organization that easily cowed Germans into unthinking obedience. The author suggests there was more to it than that: rather than seek to rely automatically on outright terror, Hitler was surprisingly prepared to compromise politically in order to avoid jeopardizing his popularity with the German people. .. . Hitler regularly restrained his subordinates from escalating their persecution of the churches during wartime.” By 1943 propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels complained, “The people know exactly where to find the leadership’s soft spot and will always exploit it.” Stoltzfus demonstrates that by pretending to be moderate at key points, Hitler worked to enlist Germans to fulfill his mission of building a New Order, a sobering reminder about the threat posed to any democratic society by a crafty demagogue.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of Hitler’s Compromises (Yale, 2016) that it "advances a cogent argument with broad moral, historical, and sociological implications . . . serious students of history will be thoroughly engaged. A lucid work of historical argumentation that succeeds in establishing compromise as a crucial instrument in Hitler’s political arsenal."
Eric Kurlander wrote in his review of Hitler's Compromises in The Journal of Modern History that "what is highly original about Nathan Stoltzfus's new book... is the way in which he reconstructs this pattern of compromise across multiple, interrelated contexts, illustrating the systematic way in which Hitler sough - or at the very least manufactured - consensus in the interest of maintaining and wielding power."
In his review of the book for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Francis R. Nicosia called Hitler's Compromises "a significant and highly original contribution to the scholarly literature on the history of the Third Reich," and wrote that "with its focus on the relationship between Hitler and the German people, the author presents a picture of a complex and realistic Führer who understood that, in the end, even his brutal police state could not function effectively without at least some degree of consent from the German people."
Stoltzfus’s lectures on Hitler’s Compromises include the Krasno Distinguished Lectureship at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the Institute for European Studies series at U Cal Berkeley.  He has also given interviews on the content of the book on the New Books Network and on the Third Reich History Podcast.
During the run up to the 2016 election, in light of Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consent in Nazi Germany, Stoltzfus was asked to comment in the media on the frequent comparisons of Hitler and Donald Trump.

"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). See reviews, foreward by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Introduction and Chapter 1. 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.



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