Rainer Zitelmann

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Rainer Zitelmann (born 1957 in Frankfurt) is a German historian, journalist and management consultant.


Zitelmann studied history and political sciences at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and completed his doctorate in 1986 under Prof. Dr. Karl Otmar Freiherr von Aretin with the grade of "summa cum laude", the subject being the goals of Hitler's social, economic and interior policies. Zitelmann's doctoral dissertation, "Hitler: Selbstverständnis eines Revolutionärs" went through four editions in Germany, and was published in English under the title "Hitler: The Politics of Seduction" (London: London House, 2000).

Next, Zitelmann pursued a career in the conservative print media: Following his work as a research assistant at the Free University of Berlin, he became editorial director for the publishing houses of Ullstein and Propylaeen in 1992. Soon thereafter, he transferred to the German daily Die Welt as head of desk for contemporary thought. Later, Zitelmann transferred to the desk for contemporary history and finally to the real estate desk. In 2000, he became an independent consultant for real estate companies, and has devoted his publications exclusively to this field ever since.


In March 2011, Rainer Zitelmann founded the ambition Verlag in Berlin. So far and in the future, the books of ambition are addressed to managers, entrepreneurs and persons, who pursue job-related and financial success. Basically all books deal with actual or popular economical topics and are addressed to a broad public. Zitelmann wants to start "controversial discussions“ and wants to publish books, which "have a direct benefit for the readers“.[1]

The first three books deal with the topic of management, Online Reputation Management as well as job-related success. The books are listed below.[2]

  • Christian Scherg: Slander in the Internet – How companies, institutions and persons can defend themselves (abstract; in German), original title: Rufmord im Internet - So können sich Firmen, Institutionen und Privatpersonen wehren, ISBN 978-3-942821-01-8.
  • Mary Buffett, David Clark: The power of honesty – Warren Buffett's Management-Compass (abstract; in German), original title: Die Macht der Ehrlichkeit - Warren Buffetts Management-Kompass, ISBN 978-3-942821-01-8.
  • Dr. Rainer Zitelmann: Think bigger! – The secrets of winners (abstract; in German), original title: Setz dir größere Ziele! - Die Erfolgsgeheimnisse der Sieger, ISBN 978-3-942821-02-5.

Examination with the National-Socialism[edit]

Hitler's Sense of Self as a Revolutionary[edit]

As a historian, Zitelmann is best known for his argument that Nazi Germany followed a conscious strategy of modernization.[3] In his doctoral thesis, Zitelmann strove to show that the modernising efforts of the Third Reich, already diagnosed by scholars like Ralf Dahrendorf, David Schoenbaum and Henry Ashby Turner were in fact intended as such. Unlike Dahrendorf, Schoenbaum and Turner who argued that the modernization of German society during the Nazi period was an unintentional side effect or was merely a necessary adjunct towards achieving profoundly anti-modern goals, Zitelmann argued that modernization of German society was both intended and a central goal of the Nazis.[3] A review published in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel dated July 14, 1988, suggests that “the most important finding of [Zitelmann’s] work” is the following: “Hitler saw himself uncompromisingly as a revolutionary. Dahrendorf’s and Schoenbaum’s hypothesis, according to which national-socialism had a revolutionising and modernising effect in the social area without actually having intended this, needs to be revised.”

Zitelmann argues that far from seeking the agrarian fantasies of Heinrich Himmler or Richard Walther Darré, Hitler wished to see a highly industrialized Germany that would be on the leading edge of modern technology.[4] Closely linked to the latter goal, was Zitelmann maintains was Hitler's desire to see the destruction of the traditional values and class distinctions of German society and their replacement, for at least those Germans considered “Aryan” of a relatively egalitarian, merit-based society.[4] Zitelmann argued that far being from being incoherent, disorganized, confused and marginal as traditionally viewed, Hitler's social ideas were in fact, very logical and systematic, and at the core of Hitler's weltanschauung (worldview).[5] Zitelmann has argued Hitler was much influenced by the Joseph Stalin's modernization of the Soviet Union, and has argued that as Führer, consciously pursed a revolutionary modernization of German society.[5] As part of his arguments, Zitelmann has maintained that "modernization" should be regarded as "value-free" category, and links with "progress" and humaniarism should be severed.[5] Zitelmann's work has faced criticism from those such as Sir Ian Kershaw who have argued that Zitelmann has elevated what were merely secondary considerations in Hitler's remarks to the primary level, and Zitelmann has not offered a clear definition of "modernization".[6]

The Bonn-based historian Prof. Klaus Hildebrand reviewed the thesis for the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in its September 29, 1987, issue, saying: “To view Hitler—just like Stalin and Mao Zedong—as representatives of a permanent revolution or a modernising dictatorship reopens an academic debate that has been ongoing since the years between the wars of the twentieth century. To be welcomed in this context is that Zitelmann, critically controlling his sources and striving for objective balance, inquires with renewed vigour into Hitler’s motives while remaining fully aware of the fact that history fails to coincide with human intentions.”

In his research overview, The Hitler of History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), the American historian John Lukacs presented Zitelmann’s thesis, as well as his book "Hitler. Eine politische Biographie" (Hitler. A Political Biography), as important contributions to the scientific study of Hitler. The echo in specialist journals, such as the "Journal of Modern History" (in a review by Prof. Klemens von Klemperer), and the "Historische Zeitschrift", were predominantly positive. “Rainer Zitelmann has written one of those books that make you wonder why they have not been available much earlier,” Prof. Peter Krüger wrote in the "Historische Zeitschrift", Germany’s leading academic journal for historiography. In the historiographic quarterly "Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte", the Polish historian Franciszek Ryszka reached the verdict: “Without a doubt, Dr. Zitelmann’s merit is to have substantially amended, and possibly surpassed, all other Hitler biographies.” At the same time, critical voices could also be heard, for instance in the German weekly "Die Zeit", dated October 2, 1987. On September 22, 1989, the critical review in "Die Zeit" was followed by another review of the two Hitler studies that, while also containing some critical remarks, came to the overall conclusion that Zitelmann had submitted a Hitler biography that was “emphatically sober, without any superfluous moralising, not omitting any of the dictator’s villainies.” However, the reviewer suggested, “the image of Hitler drawn by the author [calls for] some amendments and corrections.”

The American Historical Review wrote (May 1989): “Zitelmann’s book is an admirable example of exhaustive scholarship on an important aspect of the mind of Hitler. But it is less likely to stand as a decisive synthesis than as a provocative turn in the pursuit of the eternal enigmas of the Third Reich and its creator.” In the 2/1988 issue of the "Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen", the American historian Prof. Gerhard L. Weinberg wrote: “This work will require all who concern themselves with the Third Reich to rethink their own ideas and to reexamine the evidence on which those ideas are based. For any book to do that today is itself a major accomplishment. It would certainly be most unwise for any scholar to ignore the picture of Hitler presented here simply because it does not fit in with his or her own preconceptions.”

In a feuilleton published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on October 18, 1989 Zitelmann praised David Irving for having “struck a nerve” with his provocative style and aggressive assertions.[7] Zitelmann found much to be praised about Irving’s claim that the lack of a written Führer order for the Shoah suggests that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust, and argued that if that was true, then historians should stop holding the Holocaust against Hitler.[7] Zitelmann ended his article with the claim that “Irving must not be ignored. He has weaknesses [but he is] one of the best knowers of sources…[and has] contributed much to research”.[7]

In 1991, Zitelmann edited, together with the Bielefeld-based historian Michael Prinz, the anthology Nationalsozialismus und Modernisierung (National-Socialism and Modernisation; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft). On September 19, 1991, the weekly Die Zeit read: “The evidence presented here in order to substantiate the modernisation dynamics of national-socialism are impressive, and they underline how misleading a one-sided view of national-socialism from the perspective of the ‘Blood and soil’ romanticism would be; the latter having been widely spread, and having essentially contributed to an underrating of national-socialism.” At the same time, the reviewer criticises that the volume’s contributing authors had exceeded their mark, and should have given more attention to the NSDAP art policy, for instance. “The problem of national-socialism and modernisation is therefore not to be resolved with a simple formula. It needs to be constantly reconsidered and to be illuminated from various angles.”

Historicising National-Socialism[edit]

Zitelmann provoked a mixed reaction with his anthology Die Schatten der Vergangenheit (The Shadows of the Past), edited together with Eckhard Jesse and Uwe Backes. Here, the editors sought to respond to Martin Broszat’s call—raised in 1985—for a historicising of national-socialism. As the editors emphasize in their introduction, their goal was the “objectification of the discussion of national-socialist times… The intention is not to ‘downplay’ anything: Only an emphatically sober historiography, free of moralising bias, can create the foundation for assessing the historical and political-moral dimensions of the mass crimes committed by national-socialism.” In Zitelmann's opinion, the "historization" of National Socialism suggested by Martin Broszat was a way of resolving the problem of either engaging in apologetics about the Nazi era or utter condemnation.[3] Zitelmann sees his work as a way of allowing those living in the present to understand the Nazi period without seeking to total condemnation or apologia.[3]

In line with their program to treat the time between 1933 and 1945 as scientifically as any other epoch, this volume gathered a wide spectrum of authors, from the right-wing conservative Ernst Nolte who commented once more on the so-called historians’ dispute, all the way to the liberal Imanuel Geiss, a disciple of Fritz Fischer.

As historian Peter Brandt wrote in Die Welt dated October 2, 1990: “The editors have presented a useful book with many important contributions.” However, he added: “A criticism that could be raised is that—in spite of the emphasis on keeping out any ‘extra-scientific’ influences—a prejudice against the supposed ‘popular pedagogy’ treatment of national-socialism had guided the editors’ and some of the authors’ pen.” The editors deserve one hundred percent consent, however, Brandt stated, “as they reject any kind of ban on asking questions.” Historian Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt noted in the Rheinischer Merkur on October 5, 1990: “In short, this volume casts light on the national-socialist epoch, and inspires a renewed discussion of how to deal with it correctly.” In the November 6, 1990, issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the historian Prof. Gregor Schöllgen argued: “Some of the essays will (and should) provoke disagreement. Taken as a whole, this meritorious volume represents an unorthodox contribution toward objectifying the discussion of national-socialism, and one ought to take note of it.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of November 23, 1990, commented on Die Schatten der Vergangenheit the volume was “perfectly suitable to become the subject of dispute… If it failed to meet this mark, then it would above all be for the reason that only a few readers will be likely to manage to digest the heavy academic fare of the first eighty pages.” What is favourably highlighted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung review is Zitelmann’s discussion of the historian Ernst Nolte: “Exemplary in its objectivity is Rainer Zitelmann’s discussion of Ernst Nolte. Zitelmann points out analogies with Marxist theories on fascism, and suggests that it is impermissible to pinpoint ‘anti-Bolshevism in a one-sided and generalising manner’ as the central motive of ‘the’ national-socialists.”

Zitelmann also wrote on the subject of “Umgang mit der NS-Vergangenheit“ (“Dealing with the National-Socialist Past“) in his contribution for the book Bewusstseinsnotstand. Thesen von 60 Zeitzeugen ("The Perceptual State of Emergency: Hypotheses by 60 Historic Witnesses"), edited by Rolf Italiaander (Droste-Verlag, 1990). In 1990, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft published another anthology, edited by Zitelmann together with the American historian Ronald Smelser, that offered 22 portraits of the leading figures of the Third Reich. Like Zitelmann’s doctoral dissertation, this anthology, which combined authors from several countries, was also published in English translation — The Nazi Elite (New York: NYUP, 1993). Reviews of this volume were found, for instance, in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" of September 4, 1990.

The Historikerstreit[edit]

During the Historikerstreit between 1986–1988, Zitelmann was a strong defender of Andreas Hillgruber and Ernst Nolte.[8] In the preface to the second edition in 1988 of his 1987 book Adolf Hitler Selbstverständnis eines Revolutionärs included a lengthy attack on the critics of Nolte and Hillgruber.[8] In an interview with the Swedish historian Alf W. Johansson in November 1992, Zitelmann stated that the Historikerstreit ended with the defeat of the right-wing historians and the triumph of the "Left-liberal" historians.[9] Zitelmann went on to state that "Politically, this means that the conservatives are rather defensive and are not united".[9] Zitelmann argued "that has more to do with academic conditions than with the intellectual situation in Germany where now, naturally a few years after the Historians' Controversy, there is in reality a certain change, since the Leftish intellectual circles are no longer on the offensive, but, to the contrary, they find themselves in increasing difficulties".[9]

Adenauer’s critic: Thomas Dehler[edit]

In 1991, Zitelmann’s book Adenauers Gegner. Streiter für die Einheit ("Adenauer’s Opponents: Fighters for Unity") came out, and was published as paperback by Ullstein under the title Demokraten für Deutschland ("Democrats for Germany") in 1993. As social democrat politician Erhard Eppler wrote in the preface: “Zitelmann’s study illustrates that Adenauer’s opponents were no dreamers out of touch with reality, but had solid arguments and concepts to present.” The book portrays the German social democrat politicians Kurt Schumacher and Gustav Heinemann, as well as the Christian Democrat politician Jakob Kaiser, the liberal politician Thomas Dehler, and the journalist Paul Sethe. On October 7, 1991, the German daily Die tageszeitung ("taz") wrote: “The book comes in the nick of time—precisely because it does not join in the supposedly up-to-date chorus of Adenauer enthusiasts.” The social democrat politician Peter Glotz wrote in Die Welt on April 24, 1991, Zitelmann’s book went to show “that Adenauer’s critics had valid arguments when accusing him of taking Europe more important than the reunification.” Social democrat politician Egon Bahr wrote in Der Tagesspiegel of July 28, 1991: “What was later called the lived lie of the Federal Republic can be traced in its inception in Zitelmann’s book.”

That Zitelmann’s sympathies went toward Thomas Dehler more than toward Konrad Adenauer became also evident during an academic panel on December 8, 1997, where he gave a lecture on occasion of Dehler’s birthday centennial. This symposium, organised by the "Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" in cooperation with the Liberals’ parliamentary group, was documented in the conference notes titled "Thomas Dehler und seine Politik" (Thomas Dehler and His Politics, Berlin: Nicolai Verlag, 1998). Aside from Zitelmann’s contribution on “Thomas Dehler und Konrad Adenauer”, the volume contains contributions by the liberal politicians Hermann Otto Solms, Wolfgang Mischnick and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

Zitelmann as PR Consultant and Event Organiser[edit]

In the years since 2000, Zitelmann has set up “one of the most successful consultancy firms in financial communications” (source: Fonds & Co, 2/2012). The Immobilien Zeitung, Germany’s leading trade paper for the real estate industry, called him “probably the most high-profile PR adviser in the market” (source: Immobilien-Zeitung, 24/06/2010, p. 5). While remaining a member of the German Liberals (FDP), he pulled out of party politics altogether in the late 1990s. In books such as Die Macht der Positionierung on positioning as marketing strategy, or Kommunikation ist Chefsache on executive communication, he addresses the issue of stereotypical and overly promotional public relations work. His real estate panel “Berliner Immobilienrunde” serves as one of the leading event organisers in the German real estate sector, with more than 250 events (conventions, seminars) hosted since 1998. Over the years, the panel had key notes delivered by around 1000 senior executives of the real estate and financial sectors, politicians (including Renate Künast of the Greens), and representatives of Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Hypovereinsbank and private banks such as Lampe, Merck Fink, Hauck & Aufhäuser, Warburg, and Berenberg. Moreover, Zitelmann wrote the book Dare to be Different and Grow Rich (German title: Setz dir größere Ziele), a guide to personal success. An interview with Zitelmann appeared in the daily Berliner Zeitung on 12/05/2012 on page S3.

Publications on real estate subjects[edit]

Turning his back on political and historical issues, Zitelmann has devoted his publications since 1998 exclusively to real estate economy topics. This reorientation started as he set up a daily real estate page in the daily Die Welt. In 1999, he published the book Reich werden mit Immobilien ("Getting Rich with Real Estate") at Haufe Verlag; then, in 2000, he founded the consulting company Dr. ZitelmannPB. GmbH. In 2005, he published the book Die Macht der Positionierung – Kommunikation für Kapitalanlagen ("The Power of Positioning – Communication in Capital Investment"; Rudolf Müller Verlag, 2005), containing technical essays on topics revolving around the marketing of capital assets and of real estate companies. These essays had originally appeared in magazines such as Immobilien-Manager, Immobilien-Zeitung, Immobilien-Profi" and Immobilienwirtschaft. Zitelmann also published diverse essays on real estate tax law issues, as well as on open-end and closed-end property funds, in magazines such as "Die Bank". Today, he moreover offers workshop events mainly dedicated to subjects of real estate taxation and property funds.


  1. ^ http://www.buchmarkt.de/content/46369-dr-rainer-zitelmann-gruendet-ambition-verlag.htm buchmarkt.de, 28. März 2011
  2. ^ Webseite des ambition Verlags
  3. ^ a b c d Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 244.
  4. ^ a b Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 244-245.
  5. ^ a b c Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 245.
  6. ^ Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 246-247.
  7. ^ a b c Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, 1998 page 181
  8. ^ a b Lukcas, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997 page 237.
  9. ^ a b c Lukcas, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997 page 239.


  • Heilbrunn, Jacob "Germany's New Right" pages 80–98 from Foreign Affairs, Volume 75, Issue #6, November–December 1996
  • Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-340-76028-4.
  • Lukacs, John The Hitler of History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, ISBN 978-0-679-44649-1.