Joachim Fest

Controversial biographer of Hitler

Joachim Clemens Fest, writer and historian: born Berlin 8 December 1926; married 1959 Ingrid Ascher (two sons); died Kronberg im Taunus, Germany 11 September 2006.

Although he wrote about many aspects of the Germany of his childhood, Nazi Germany, Joachim Fest will be best remembered for his biography of Adolf Hitler.

Controversially, he explained the rise of Hitler in the fear of the German middle classes of Bolshevism, in the shape of the large German Communist Party (KPD). But, in many respects, Fest was trying to answer the question which troubled the thinking, caring members of his generation, sometimes called the "Hitler Youth generation" - "How did we, and our parents, get into that awful, diabolical mess, the Hitler mess?"

Born in 1926 in the pleasant Berlin suburb of Karlshorst, he attended grammar school there and later, after being expelled for anti-Nazi remarks, in Freiburg im Breisgau. However, the Second World War caught up with him. The town was bombed by the Luftwaffe by mistake, and later, by the RAF. Fest was sent as a boy helper to an anti-aircraft battery. When the war ended in 1945 he was serving as a soldier in the Luftwaffe. He was lucky to be a prisoner of the US Army and got early release. His father spent years in a Soviet labour camp.

Studies in law, history, art history, German and sociology took him to Freiburg im Breisgau, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin. There, he worked for the much-admired American radio station RIAS, from 1954 to 1961, as editor in charge of contemporary history. He then served as editor-in-chief of television for North German Radio, NDR, from 1963 to 1968. He resigned from NDR after a disagreement.

Fest subsequently spent more time writing and, in 1963, his first book appeared. This was Das Gesicht des Dritten Reiches: Profile einer totalitären Herrschaft (translated in 1970 as Face of the Third Reich: portraits of the Nazi leadership). This was followed by Hitler: eine Biographie (1973; Hitler, 1974), a work that became an instant success and a worldwide bestseller. Among his other works were Die unwissenden Magier: über Thomas und Heinrich Mann ("The Ignorant Magician: regarding Thomas and Heinrich Mann", 1985), Der zerstörte Traum: vom Ende des utopischen Zeitalters ("The Shattered Dream: the end of the Utopian decade", 1991), and Die schwierige Freiheit: über die offene Flanke der offenen Gesellschaft ("The Difficult Freedom: regarding the open flank of the open society", 1993).

Between 1973 and 1993, he edited the culture section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. During his time at the newspaper, Fest became involved in the so-called "Historikerstreit" (controversy among historians) because he published an article by a fellow historian, Ernst Nolte, "Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will" ("The Past That Will Not Disappear") which brought criticism that it was "revisionist" in relation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Fest also served as editorial aide for Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and minister for armaments, when he worked on his autobiography, Inside the Third Reich. After Speer's death in 1981, and due to controversy over the reliability of the memoirs, Fest wrote an analysis on Speer's motives, Speer: eine Biographie (1999; Speer: the final verdict, 2002). Fest's major work on the German resistance, Staatsstreich: der lange Weg zum 20. Juli (1994), was published in English as Plotting Hitler's Death: the story of German resistance (1996). For this book he was awarded the Eugen-Bolz prize in 2004. His journalistic achievements were recognised when he received the Henri Nannen prize in 2006. He was the recipient of several other literary prizes.

He returned to Hitler in Der Untergang: Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reiches (2002; Inside Hitler's Bunker: the last days of the Third Reich, 2004). This book was a major source for the successful film on the same subject, Bernd Eichinger's Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), which was criticised in some quarters for making the Germans appear as victims. This was certainly not Fest's intention.

His last work was Ich nicht: Erinnerungen an eine Kindheit und Jugend ("Not Me: memoirs of childhood and youth", 2006), in which he tried to analyse his early life in the Third Reich. In it, he revealed that his father worked hard to ensure that his five children did not become Nazis. He lost his teaching post in 1933 for daring to criticise the Nazi regime. Matthias Matussek in Der Spiegel called it a "masterpiece". It was Fest's testament, in which he argued that you could have remained decent in the Third Reich.

It is already being seen as a counterblast to Günter Grass's revelations about his own past.

David Childs

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot