Jörg Friedrich (sometimes spelt Joerg or Jorg in English) (born 17 August 1944 in Kitzbühel) is a German author and historian. Friedrich is best known for his publication Der Brand (2002), in which he portrays the Allied bombing of civilian targets during World War II as systematic and in many ways pointless mass murder. An English translation, The Fire, was published in 2006 by Columbia University Press and met with widespread critical approval. For example, the New York Times said it "describes in stark, unrelenting and very literary detail what happened in city after city as the Allies dropped 80 million incendiary bombs on Germany..... There is... an edginess to Friedrich's writing and commentary, an emotional power."
Friedrich was formerly considered a left-wing antiwar activist and described as a student Trotskyist. His books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Germany, and some have also been translated into English, Dutch, French and many other languages. He is well connected in German political and military circles and is a friend of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He has published interviews with Rudolf Bahro and Raul Hilberg when their books were published. His new book "14/18 Der Weg nach Versailles" focusses on the First World War.
Life and career
Born in Kitzbühel in 1944, he spent his childhood in Essen. Jörg Friedrich became a Trotskyist and, during the Vietnam war, an antiwar protester. Following thereon, he began to write books on the history of the war in Germany and work as an independent historian, researching postwar justice and the Nuremberg Trials. His books have always been controversial and have largely sold through this controversial analysis and the publicity surrounding them.
Criticism of Friedrich's position
As a historian who has written strongly on the horrors committed by the German state under the Nazis, Friedrich's position has always been assumed to be anti-Nazi with antiwar tendencies focused towards Germany's taking responsibility for its actions during the war.
Friedrich admits that Germany initiated bombing of civilians in the UK by bombing London, although he claims the first raid was accidental, thereby leaving Britain as the first nation to deliberately bomb nonmilitary targets. This entirely ignores the German bombing of English cities during the First World War, using Zeppelin and other rigid airships. During the Spanish civil war, German airplanes bombed the town of Guernica in April 1937, which had no military use or value.
Less well-known bombings, such as that of the Polish town of Wieluń within the first two hours of the war and prior to any attack on Germany, either by air or land, are left out. Friedrich mentions the British use of explosive weapons followed by incendiary, a mixture designed to create large fires. He also mentions that the technique to create firestorms was a German development first seen in the bombing against British cities, such as the Coventry Blitz (14 November 1940) and the Second Great Fire of London (29/30 December 1940).
Friedrich was persuaded to publish his book of Dresden photographs by Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl;, with the condition that equivalent photographs of Polish and British victims should also be shown.
Friedrich has specifically attempted to claim the position of an objective historian, making no judgement about the morality of Allied bombing. Many reviews of his books have pointed out that the language Friedrich uses in his books, with words such as "Einsatzgruppen" (task force in English) used to describe allied pilots and "crematoria" (as in the crematoria of Auschwitz) to describe the air raid shelters in which Dresden residents died. This has led to accusations that Friedrich "is downright reckless" and is attempting to make the reader consider a parallel to "the Nazi dehumanisation of the Jews.".
Taken together, two explanations have been given for Friedrich's recent books and their choice of topics. The first is that Friedrich maintains strong antiwar feelings, and with the looming War in Iraq and other global conflicts, Friedrich wanted to join in the general German antiwar feelings and implicitly criticise the policy of attacks on foreign nonmilitary targets in Iraq. Friedrich has himself rejected this explanation, stating that he "is dismayed that "The Fire" has bolstered the pacifist argument against German participation in an Iraq war".
The second explanation that has been given is that Friedrich, whilst probably still anti-Nazi, has been acting as a German nationalist and trying to put into a reasonable perspective the crimes of some German officials in World War II as not different from, or not even worse than, the many atrocities committed by the other nations involved in the war.
Other related historians
Other German historians closer to the mainstream of historical research have also covered the suffering of the German people during the war. The bombing of Dresden had been covered in detail by Götz Bergander prior to Friedrich's book.
Friedrich has cooperated with historians from various countries, including Peter Maguire, during the creation of his book "Land and War".
Influence on German and international debate on the war
Friedrich's books have not been well received by some media outlets in Germany. ARD, a public television channel, wrote off "the Fire" ("Der Brand") as a "provocation", and Süddeutsche Zeitung recommended throwing his latest book, Places of Fire, directly into the garbage bin.
Even with these strong criticisms, Friedrich has had considerable public success. Der Brand was serialised in the German tabloid Bild and has had a serious influence on German national debate. Friedrich has claimed that this has meant that German civilians who had never previously talked about their wartime experiences have begun to tell about this phase in history, which was previously documented primarily from the point of view of influence on the war. At other times, revision of the outlook on the war has taken place, with Klaus Naumann, a former NATO General and friend of Friedrich's, saying, during a joint promotional interview with Friedrich, that he now doubted the legality and military need for Churchill's decision to attack Dresden, thereby implying that the attacks were war crimes.
Both in Germany and abroad, neo-Nazi groups have seized on the book as proving that the air war was begun by the UK. Claims that the book shows that bombings of German towns in 1940 were the first attacks on civilians of the war, based on the omission of attacks in Poland, are common. The equating of the bombing of Dresden with the Holocaust is made explicit and even inverted (?), with the actions towards Jews described as a decision of Hitler for strategic reasons whilst the needless incineration of hundreds of thousands of defenseless German civilians is reappraised as a war crime and a massacre.
It was not until 15 May 1940, two days after the Rotterdam Blitz, that the British abandoned their policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure, such as ports and railways west of the Rhine, which were of direct military importance. It is also alleged that Rotterdam was bombed by mistake.