Aly is a patrilineal descendant of a Turkish convert to Christianity named Haydar Aly who was a chamberlain at the Prussian court in the late 1600s. By family tradition, the oldest son gets the middle name 'Haydar'. He sees himself as an ethnic German except for the accident of his name. (See the German version of this article.)
After attending the Deutsche Journalistenschule, Aly studied history and political science in Berlin. As a journalist, he worked for the taz, the Berliner Zeitung and the FAZ. Active in the leftist German student movement in the late 60s and early 70s, he has published a very critical retrospective book " Unser Kampf. 1968 – Ein irritierter Blick zurück" (Fischer TB, Frankfurt/Main 2009) in which he argues the radical students of the time had more in common with the "1933 generation" than they realize.
He obtained his Habilitation in political science at the Free University of Berlin in 1994 with a dissertation on the Nazi euthanasia of disabled children. His interest in the subject was initially sparked when his infant daughter incurred severe permanent brain damage from a meningitis infection. From 2004 to 2005, he was a visiting professor for interdisciplinary Holocaust research at the Fritz Bauer Institut in Frankfurt am Main, and 2012-3 at the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna. He has also been a visiting researcher at Yad Vashem.
Aly researches the history of the Holocaust and the participation of social elites in Nazi destruction policies. In 2005 he gained public attention in Germany for the popular success of his book Hitlers Volksstaat (Hitler's People's State). In it, Aly characterises Nazi Germany as a "convenience dictatorship" that until late in the war retained broad public support, in particular by making possible an unprecedented social mobility for the lower classes, by introducing redistributive fiscal policies and by greatly extending the German welfare state. Aly also recounts how all this was paid for in large part by confiscation of Jewish property in Germany and later the plunder of the conquered countries, and especially their Jewish populations. He maintains that the reason for the massive support the Nazi regime enjoyed among the German population was not so much a consequence of their violent anti-Semitism as their enjoying the fruits of the loot acquired by the Nazis in the occupied territories. He also shows how the Wehrmacht was directly involved in this mass plunder of the conquered populations and how in many cases it was the initiator of policies which led to confiscation and eventual extermination. His other point is that the conservative, non-Nazi financial state bureaucracy and the leading banks were crucial in formulating this policy of mass plunder and murder.
Also, in his book 'Final Solution': Nazi Population Policy and the Murder of the European Jews, Aly argues that those of lower rank influenced the leadership to the Final Solution. This approach is what is known as the bottom-up approach of the Holocaust.
Aly's views have not remained without criticism from the mainstream of historical research. Adam Tooze, in particular, rejected Aly's argumentation in detailed analyses published in the German press. Aly's work was rewarded by the Heinrich-Mann-Preis in 2002 and the Marion-Samuel-Preis one year later.
Götz Aly drew heavy criticism from the Daily Telegraph because of his claims during a press conference that Britain and France's black soldiers were rapists—comparable to the Soviets—during World War II, and that Mahatma Gandhi was a friend of Hitler.
On January 1, 2015, he published an article demanding that Poland invite Russian President Putin to the commemorations of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp - leading some at the Berliner Zeitung to speculate whether he was merely a "Russlandversteher" (colloquial German: "someone who knows how to read Russians") or instead a paid-for propagandist for Russia and, perhaps, Israel.
For an extensive list of Aly's publications and related web links in German, please refer to the German version of this article.
- co-written with Peter Chroust & Christian Pross: Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi medicine and racial hygiene, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
- 'Final Solution' Nazi population policy and the murder of the European Jews, London: Arnold; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- co-written with Susanne Heim: Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the logic of destruction, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002
- co-written with Karl Heinz Roth: The Nazi Census: identification and control in the Third Reich Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.
- translated by Jefferson Chase from the German Hitlers Volksstaat (see above): Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005.
- Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State Metropolitan Books. January, 2007 ISBN 0-8050-7926-2, ISBN 978-0-8050-7926-5
- Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust, Metropolitan Books, April 2014, ISBN 9780805097009.
- "Mahatma Gandhi 'was one of Nazis' greatest friends' German historian claims". Daily Telegraph. 4 September 2009.
- How Germans Fell for the 'Feel-Good' Fuehrer, book review by Jody K. Biehl in Spiegel Online of March 22, 2005
- The logic of horror, an article by Götz Aly on the German "Historikerstreit" or historians' dispute
- Mahatma Gandhi was one of Nazis greatest friends claims Goetz Aly
- Material in English on Adam Tooze debate in 2005 with Goetz Aly over his book Hitlers Volksstaat (Frankfurt 2005). at the University of Cambridge.
- An interview with Götz Aly, in Yad Vashem website.