History of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ)

The roots of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) reach back to the years of Germany’s occupation following the Second World War. As early as 1947, there were efforts in the American Zone to found an “Institute for Research on National Socialist Politics”. The IfZ opened its doors soon thereafter in 1949 as the Deutsches Institut für Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Zeit (“German Institute of the History of the National Socialist Era”), and was financially supported by both the federal government and the State of Bavaria beginning in 1950. In 1952, the institute took on its current designation as the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (“Institute for Contemporary History”). While the institute had chiefly been expected to be a provider of political education up to that point, its work would henceforth be “exclusively guided by academic considerations”.

The institute took on its current legal-organizational structure in September 1961 as a public “foundation for the academic research of contemporary history”, supported by the Federal Republic of Germany, the State of Bavaria, and six other German states. Financing for the ongoing tasks of the institute has, since 1975, been specifically provided by the federal and state governments in accordance with German law. The institute was thus a member of the “Blue List” for public financing, which evolved in 1995 into the academic association of institutes known as the Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Blaue Liste and has since developed into the Leibniz Association. Over its initial decades of existence, the IfZ centered its activities on research into the National Socialist dictatorship as well as its precursors and immediate consequences. Beginning in the 1970s, the institute’s focus expanded to include the history of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

Document Publications and Research Department in Berlin

The IfZ was commissioned in 1989 with the publication of Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (“Foreign Policy Documents of the Federal Republic of Germany” – AAPD) and opened its own department at the German Foreign Office in Bonn to this end. In June 1990, an editorial group of six historians began their work on documents involving the foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany, based on the materials located at the political archive of the Foreign Office. The editorial group followed the archive in its move to Berlin in the summer of 2000. Since then, the institute’s AAPD department, in consultation with the editorial board, has selected, annotated, and published documents in the form of annual volumes, immediately upon the conclusion of the documents’ 30-year restricted period.

Following the collapse of the GDR, the institute began plans to put together its own research department dedicated to the history of the GDR and the Soviet Occupation Zone. The department began its activities in Potsdam, in the immediate vicinity of the federal archives there in early 1994, before moving to nearby Berlin in June 1996, after the Potsdam archive site was closed.

Dokumentation Obersalzberg and Center for Holocaust Studies

As commissioned by the State of Bavaria, the IfZ began work on the Dokumentation Obersalzberg site in 1999, designing its permanent exhibition and expansive educational offerings. Connecting the history of the location as Hitler’s second seat of government with a comprehensive overview of National Socialism, the center has become a place of interest for numerous visitors. In summer 2013, this led the state government to pave the way for an expansion to the complex and a reimagining of the permanent exhibition.

The institute’s most recent project is the Center for Holocaust Studies. Founded in 2013 at the institute’s main site in Munich, the center aims at providing institutional support for both German and international research on the Holocaust. The center conducts its own research and publication projects and, with guest researcher programs and conferences, provides a communicative forum for historians across the world.

© Institut für Zeitgeschichte