Reconsidering the History of the Transport Ministries of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic with Regard to Continuities and Tansformations from the National Socialist Era


Since August 2017, the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History has been working on a project outline on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) with the aim of researching the impact of the Ministry of Transport within Nazi power structures as well as the post-war history of both German successor ministries. The project investigates processes of reconsideration with history in Germany in relation to societal, political, and economic interests, as well as long-term structural developments in the field of transportation.

The preliminary study has been completed in full so the team can now begin the main project. This focuses on group-biographical analysis while also taking into account continuities and fractures in policy as well as the ways of thinking and functioning specific to the authorities. The subprojects will expand on the personal careers of the main officials within a framework involving organizational and political-administrative factors as well as the history of mentalities and concepts.

The goal here is to pursue this not only through the framework of institutions but also using a thematic approach. The overall aim continues to be the comprehensive exposition of transformations, continuities of tradition, as well as fractures between the Nazi regime and the post-war transport ministries of the two post-war German states. Comparisons between the East and West German transport ministries can provide a particular wealth of insight due to their integration within the rival geopolitical blocs as well as the partly ideologically charged nature of the issues involved. Collectively the project aims to increase the general understanding of the way that dictatorships and their various agencies function and that of the democratization processes in the early Federal Republic of Germany.

The following are the central aims of the planned individual studies:

1. The Reich Ministry of Transport – an analysis of National Socialist infrastructure
This subproject lies at the center of an analysis of the infrastructure of the National Socialist system. The ideological permeation of the ministry is examined as well as its role and function within the structures of Nazi rule. Areas of investigation involving the particular tasks of the ministry support this analytical overview. The beginning of the Second World War was a particular turning point in this regard.

2. Organisation Todt: The construction of means of transportation for war and genocide
This study casts light on the important infrastructural role played by Organisation Todt within the Nazi dictatorship. While the organization began its work with the construction of roads in the 1930s, it supported the war efforts of the Nazi system by maintaining the transportation network and by cooperating with the Wehrmacht and with the Reich Ministry of Transport in military matters. A look into these supplementary tasks can round out our understanding of the functionality and importance of transport for the Nazi regime.

3. Leading figures at the Federal Ministry of Transport following the Nazi era
This study looks into the fractures and continuities at the Federal Ministry of Transport following the era of National Socialism at a variety of levels. It aims to provide a solid understanding of democratization processes within West Germany with regard to transformations in personnel, structure, and tasks as well as the normative change in the administrative culture of the ministry.

4. The Transport Ministry of the GDR between socialism, anti-fascism, and the aftermath of the “Third Reich”
Using the example of the East German transport sector, this analysis looks into the position taken by the East German SED regime with regard to its Nazi past. In addition to the GDR Transport Ministry’s personnel policy, internal structures, and work processes, the study focuses on the conscious and unconscious handling of continuities and fractures with the Nazi era, as well as their influence on various areas of endeavor. The goal here is to investigate the collective influences and mental underpinnings of individual self-construal within the context of concrete administrative acts and the framework molded by the East German regime. This includes the implementation of socialist working methods in the transportation sector as well as attempts to bring about ideological permeation there through the selection of leadership personnel.

5. Hans-Christoph Seebohm: Federal Transport Minister and Revisionist Hardliner
This subproject investigates the impact left by Hans-Christoph Seebohm on the policies of the Federal Transport Ministry between 1949 and 1966 as Transport Minister, speaker of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft (Sudeten German Homeland Association), and as deputy chair of the German Party (Deutsche Partei, DP). It also looks into the extent of his influence the democratization process of the Federal Republic of Germany. The analysis focuses both on Seebohm’s “ominous proximity” to the Nazi regime and his revisionist Sunday speeches in addition to his direct influence on the ministry’s policies concerning personnel and the issues relevant to its portfolio.

Preliminary study: „Aufarbeitung der Geschichte des Bundesverkehrsministeriums (BVM) und des Ministeriums für Verkehrswesen (MfV) der DDR hinsichtlich Kontinuitäten und Transformationen zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus“ (“Reconsidering he history of the Transport Ministries of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic with regard to continuities and transformations from the National Socialist era”)

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