Research Update #1: Origins of the Stab-in-the-Back Myth

There are few changes Miami has made in my 20+ years of service that have affected my life life in a positive way. The most positive change by far is the new academic calendar. A week was sliced off Fall and Spring semesters and a three-week January Winter term was created. Why is this positive, beyond the fact that I am saved two weeks of lecture-fatigue? More research time! And for me, research time means Germany!

I am currently finishing up work on two books. One of these books, which I am coauthoring with Mark Sadler, is a reader on the Stab-in-the-Back Myth (Dolchstosslegend) that is due to the publisher in March. This Winter term trip gives me the way opportunity to run down some leads and tie up loose ends.

One of the original components in the Myth was a report published on November 17, 1918 in the leading Swiss daily, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The paper’s London correspondent cited two newspaper articles by cashiered General Sir Frederick Maurice, in which he claimed that Maurice had written that the German army was not defeated in the field but rather stabbed in the back by events on the home front. Moreover, the correspondent claimed that many British officials who he had talked to subscribed to “Maurice’s” view. At least that it how German newspapers of all political persuasions described the NZZ article. I have read Maurice’s articles and they said nothing of the sort. This raised for me a question. Had the German newspapers accurately described the report in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung?

The Swiss paper is damnably hard to find in the States, but the Institute for the Study of Newspaper History (Institut für Zeitungsgeschichte) in Dortmund has microfilm copies of hundreds of German-language newspapers. I’ve used their microfilm archive many times in the past. I visited on Tuesday, January 13, and copied the offending article (pictured below). I will include the greater part of it in our reader.

Turns out, the German newspapers accurately reported the contents of the NZZ article. Why might the Swiss correspondent have made such outlandish claims? Did any of the German newspapers that passed along his inaccuracies track down what Maurice had actually written? (The answer is “no”.) In his testimony before a parliamentary commission investigating the causes of the German collapse, did Supreme Commander Paul Von Hindenburg knowingly pass along a distortion when he claimed that “a British general” first made a statement that the German army was stabbed in the back? These are all thought questions that we will ask student readers to consider.

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About George Vascik, Historian

A 1988 graduate of the University of Michigan, I have taught history at Miami University since 1992. I maintain blogs on teaching Western Civilization and on Great War. My research focuses on anti-Semitism and rural politics in northwest Germany. I am completing a monograph for Bloomsbury Press, Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics. You can follow my project at http://peasantsandjews.org. Along with Mark Sadler, I have published a book of primary documents on the Stab-in-the-Back Myth (Dolchstoßlegende). http://www.dolchstosslegende.com. I also invite you to visit my profession web page at http://georgevascik.org.
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