A Short History of the Germans

A Short History of the Germans

Edgar Stern-Rubarth, Ph.D. (1883 – 1972)


There are many English books on German history. Some of them enjoy an international reputation and could scarcely be surpassed as fair-minded and acute expositions of a most complicated subject – the development of the greatest central European power over two thousand years. Most of them, with good reason, build up their story round the rise, the heyday and the disappearance of rulers and dynasties, recording the decisive battles they fought, the alliances, matrimonial and other, they concluded, the lands they won or lost and the treaties they signed. As far as the author of this little book has been able to discover, all of them aim at giving either a complete history of Germany or an exhaustive account of some particular period of it; in either case the result is a bulky work, often running to several volumes.

This brief outline of German development has quite a different purpose. It is a history of the Germans, not of Germany, and it lays no claim to being an exhaustive account. It does not concern itself with the dates of birth, accession to the throne, and death of individual German rulers, or with all the battles and campaigns fought by their mercenaries. Rather it attempts to show the state of civilisation, the ways of living, thinking and acting of the German people at every important epoch in their development and records the facts, personalities and other matters which take pride of place in most histories, only in so far as they are necessary for the understanding of the development.

It was a colourful, dramatic, often tragic history that ultimately led to Hitlerism and to a deliberate attack upon the whole of western Christian civilisation. An author born and bred in Germany is perhaps better qualified than any foreigner, however objective his outlook, to discern the essential traits of the German character and follow them up through the centuries.

The new Nazi gospel of Race as the source of all development, national and general, prompts one to consider the German people from the side of their inherited, indelible characteristics. This little book has been written during the Second Great War, under difficult conditions in which the author had all leisure to meditate upon the curious fate of a Liberal, a democrat and a European born by chance within the boundaries of Germany, but no reference books and no access to libraries. It must be left to the reader’s judgement whether his attempt at a strictly objective and truthful delineation of the German character through the centuries has been successful. If it is so in any degree, it should help all those in whom the fateful events of these days have produced a desire for a complete, even if necessarily sketchy, picture of that singular, perhaps ultimately incomprehensible people that has again and again made itself responsible for worldwide disaster.

Edgar stern-Rubarth, Ph.D.

September, 1940

Foreword to Second Edition

Among the many and, on the whole, most favourable reviews this book has found, some have described it as being perhaps a little one-sided, as giving indeed nothing but the truth but perhaps not the whole truth. The author, without venturing to point out the many places in which he has emphasized the German contribution to human progress in science, art or technique, would only like to raise this question: What is it that makes a record of barbarism and ruthlessness, treachery and superstition important in the history of a people? Many nations, Latin and Teuton alike, French and British as well as German, have to confess to some sanguinary and unsavoury pages in their history; but such passages can be treated as records of bygone days, as memories of an age whose darkness has been dispelled by the light of faith, knowledge and humanity, wherever these prevail. They become relevant to the task of the honest historian only when the same traits of antique barbarism prevailed to this day and were hailed as national virtues.

June, 1941.