Erich Keyser (12 October 1893 – 21 February 1968) was a Nazi activist and far-right nationalist historian connected with the anti-Polish ideology of Ostforschung and the racist Volkisch movement. He supported German expansion in Central and Eastern Europe and was involved with the planning of ethnic cleansing by the Third Reich during the Second World War. After 1945 he exploited the Cold War to promote the interests of German nationalism and chauvinism in his historical writing.
In 1926 he created the State Regional Museum of Danzig History in Danzig-Oliva which he led until 1945. It was responsible for pursuing studies on direct requests from SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler.
Keyser also took part in writing the 1926 German Settlement Land in the East collection, which aimed to justify German claims to Eastern Europe and was part of "emotional" narrative writing that idealized the concept of Drang nach Osten.
Among Keyser's key views was the desire to classify the historical nature of the populations "according to physiological and psychological characteristics of racial make up of the population and its groups". In such works he included psychological study of national character traits which led him to support Rassenforschung (racial studies). He was especially interested in the "racial categorization of the current population of Germany and in the racial classification of psychological remains from the centuries of the past". He considered the Germans the only representatives of historical life in Prussia and supported the volkisch movement. Keyser imagined a racial and biological "essence" uniting Germans throughout history that supported irredentism of German nationalists. In his view the German "volk" needed to expand or perish. Like other historians from the volkisch movement he expressed overt racism and anti-semitism.
In 1938, Keyser openly placed the history of the area along the Vistula river at the service of political ideology. With his concepts of so-called "Weichselland" he created a myth of a historical region that never existed. Additionally he tried to prove a continuous Germanic settlement of this region, using such ideas as Germanic "Norsemen" and "men of the Nordic race" which he claimed infused the region with a "unified characteristics".
Second World War
He was tasked with directing a research unit for regional and ethnic studies that was founded in 1939. This unit was linked to NOFG ( "Die Nord- und Ostdeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft") headed by the Nazi Albert Brackmann and dedicated to the cause of ethnic reallocation of land in eastern territories. Alongside other Nazis he was responsible for the planning and implementation of re-population policies in territories occupied Nazi Germany and contemplated ways in which Poles unsuitable for Germanization could be efficiently removed in a quick manner.
Keyser was directly involved in Germanization attempts aimed at the Polish population in territories Nazi Germany annexed from Poland and formed in the so-called Danzig-West Prussia region. In autumn 1940 Keyser attended the conference on "History of Population" in Berlin, representing the Office of Regional Studies in Danzig, alongside other leading Nazi scholars such as Hermann Aubin and Theodor Schieder. Part of Keyser's report concerned a project regarding germanizing names in territories annexed from Poland which were formed into Reichsgau's, while another concerned the history of population along Vistula River with the purpose of assisting with future population policy measures. Keyser along with other Nazi researches worked on compiling the German National List (Deutsche Volksliste DVL), and calculated that approximately 30,000 Polish families should be Germanized.
Despite the war, Keyser continued to expand his studies, by increasing the number of pages in his book about population history and adding in second edition in 1941 such section headings as "What is the Nature of the German People" and "People and Population". A new section called "People and Race" was introduced in third edition of 1943, while section "Aliens in Germany" discussed "the first appearance of the Jews", "National Socialist population policy" and "the immortality of the German people".
In 1943, Keyser supported involvement of German historians and researchers in Nazi population policies and idea of connection between studies of "race" and demographics stating that "The will of the German people to cleanse itself of undesirable racial components" was the driving force behind such actions. In 1944 when Nazi Germany was losing the war, he praised Adolf Hitler in a Nazi magazine "Wille and Macht" ("Will and Power") stating that "The victory of the German troops of all Germanic tribes under the leadership of Adolf Hitler banished, in autumn 1939, the ghost of Versailles".
By April 1944 Keyser started working together with the Institute for Racial Studies of the Danzig Medical Academy where he carried out "ethnic and racial investigations" on German colonists located in camps near the city and started working on studies regarding Kashubians.
Like other racist and nationalist ideologues of the Nazi era, Keyser managed to enter the post-war academic scene in West Germany without serious obstacles, and like others he adopted his views from the Nazi period into a rhetoric fitting the Cold War. The traces and influence of volkisch thinking are still evident in his post-war work. He outlined new objectives of the German Ostforschung in 1952 in order to legitimize traditional German chauvinism by depicting Germans as bringers of order and development in Eastern Europe in concert with other European nations. This attempt had obvious connections to the past and tried to put Germans and Western community against an undefined "East".
He became responsible for the Herder Institute placing its work into the context of Ostforschung and openly declaring that its mission was to change the map of Europe and Germany, stating "Germany does not end at the Elbe, Oder or at the Vistula"; the Institute openly and proudly demonstrated its continuity with past research under Nazi regime. Only after his death did the Herder institute gradually begun to escape from ethnocentric study of history and started studying ethnic groups in the region on a more equal basis.
- Alexander Pinwinkler: Volk, Bevölkerung, Rasse, and Raum: Erich Keyser´s Ambiguous Concept of a German History of Population, ca. 1918-1955, in: Ingo Haar/Michael Fahlbusch (eds.), German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing 1920-1945. New York-Oxford: Berghahn-Books 2005, 86-99.
- Rocznik gdański - Tomy 28-30 - Page 316, 1970 - Wśród nich figuruje znany już w okresie międzywojennym z nienawiści do Polaków dr Erich Keyser.
- The Conquest of Nature David Blackbourn page 293, Random House 2007
- Germans, Poland, and Colonial Expansion to the East: 1850 Through the Present Robert L. Nelson Palgrave Macmillan, 15 January 2009, page 153
- The Other Prussia: Royal Prussia, Poland and Liberty, 1569-1772 - page 4 Karin Friedrich - 2006 Erich Keyser in Danzig supported the volkisch idea of history and considered the 'German people the real (and only) representative of historical life' in Prussia.
-  Other articles treat a variety of topics. Alexander Pinwinkler examines the völkisch historian Erich Keyser and his concept of Bevölkerungsgeschichte. Keyser imagined a racial and biological "essence" that united Germans across the ages and that justified their irredentist aspirations
- German Scholars in Exile: New Studies in Intellectual History - Page 58 Axel Fair-Schulz, Mario Kessler - 2011 "and he did not share the belief of radical historians such as Erich Keyser that the German Volk must expand or die".
- Paths of Continuity: Central European Historiography from the ... - page 7 Hartmut Lehmann, James Van Horn Melton - 2003 The unwholesome features of folk history, especially the overt racism and anti-Semitism of some of its leading adherents (for example, Adolf Helbok and Erich Keyser), make it hard for us today to see the movement in any other than a negative light
- Paths of Continuity: Central European Historiography from the ... - Page 286, Hartmut Lehmann, James Van Horn Melton - 2003 Erich Keyser, professor of history at Leipzig and an outspoken advocate of folk history (also a virulent Nazi who became known for his vocal support of the Nuremberg decrees on race)
- Writing national histories: Western Europe since 1800 - page 186. Stefan Berger, Mark Donovan, Kevin. Passmore - 1999 "Hans Koch, Erich Keyser, Walter Kuhn, Manfred Laubert, Theodor Oberlander, Peter Heinz Seraphim and Hans Uebersberger were actively involved in planning and implementing the so-called 'repopulation' (Uinvolkung) of German, Polish, Jewish and other ethnic groups in occupied territories."
- Przegląd historyczny, Volume 97, Issues 1-4 Państwowe Wydawn. Naukowe, 2006 page 204
- Deutsch-polnische Hefte - Volume 3 - Page 653 1960
- Działalność naukowa i rola polityczna katedr filologicznych Politechniki Gdańskiej w latach 1925-1944 Michał Cieśla (prof. nadzw. dr.) page 12 Wydawn. Morskie, 1969 -
- Germany Turns Eastwards : A Study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich by Michael Burleigh page 29
- The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945-1970 page 70, Cambridge University Press Andrew Demshuk - 2012
- Michael Burleigh Cambridge University Press, Germany turns eastwards: a study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich, Volume 8, Part 1991 page 315 "The objectives of the new German Ostforschung were outlined by Keyser in 1952. Necessity and sense of duty had compelled them all to begin anew. The German people were duty bound to study some seven hundred years of their history in the East the decisions of Yalta and Potsdam reflected an unknowning of German history. Narrow chauvinism was to be replaced by a sense of a European community to which the peoples of the East belonged. In practice this meant that the Germans had brought Christianity, cultural improvement, political order and economical development to the East in collaboration with other European nations. This internationalizing of traditional German chauvinism barely concealed the legacy from the past.A Western community of interest, juxtaposed against an undefined 'East', was apparent in much of the historical work produced by Ostforscher(...)
- The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and ... - page 224 Sebastian Conrad - 2010 page 175 Erich Keyser also consciously placed the Herder institute's work into the context of the Ostforschung tradition, which after 1945 was represented as a decidedly European project