Erik Grimmer-Solem

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor

Department of History

College of Social Studies

Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT 06459

860.685.2397

egrimmer at wesleyan.edu


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Media

The Sponeck Barracks Officially Renamed by the German Luftwaffe, 6/22/2015

The German Luftwaffe reports on the festive renaming of the Sponeck Barracks in Germersheim in the wake of the controversy over its former namesake, the Wehrmacht General Hans von Sponeck, who was found by Professor Grimmer-Solem to have been involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War.

The German Luftwaffe officially renamed the General-Hans-Graf-Sponeck-Kaserne at a festive rechristening on June 22, 2015 that drew numerous prominent guests to Germersheim. Lieutenant Colonel Maximilian Olboeter, commander of the air base, said at the opening of ceremonies that the renaming was “unavoidable and right.” The report notes that it was the US-historian Erik Grimmer-Solem who got the ball rolling to rename the base by the publication of an article on Hans von Sponeck’s involvement in war crimes during the invasion and occupation of the Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa in the summer and autumn of 1941. Prof. Grimmer-Solem’s article was published in the Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift in December 2013 and its findings became national news after the weekly DER SPIEGEL reported on them and their implications. The renaming of the air base was then the subject of three parliamentary deliberations in the Bundestag in the spring and summer of 2014, culminating in a formal decision by the German government to rename the facility in July 2014. In addition to the base receiving a new name, a memorial to General von Sponeck on the base—which was not removed—was supplemented by a new information stele that was unveiled at the ceremony to highlight these historical findings and explain why they make it impossible to continue to name the base in honor of von Sponeck.

German public radio news broadcast on Südwestrundfunk, 7/24/2014:

German public radio interviews Prof. Grimmer-Solem on the controversy over renaming a military base at Germersheim, Germany

The German public radio broadcaster Südwestrundfunk aired a news story in which Professor Grimmer-Solem was interviewed about his research on General Hans von Sponeck and the recent decision by the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) to rename the Sponeck Luftwaffe base in Germersheim "Südpfalz-Kaserne." This decision has caused controversy in the city of Germersheim, where a citizen initiative has been started to keep the old name, despite the fact that General von Sponeck is clearly implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity in World War II and the German government has already approved renaming the base.

German Government in the Bundestag, 7/21/2014:

German Government approves renaming the Luftwaffe base at Germersheim sparked by Prof. Grimmer-Solem's research on World War II General

In a response to questions in German parliament (Bundestag), the German government reported that discussions within the Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) about renaming the Sponeck Luftwaffe base at Germersheim had concluded and that a formal request to rename the base "Südpfalz-Kaserne" had been presented to the Inspector of the Luftwaffe. This was formally approved on June 23, 2014. It noted that at an informational meeting of military personnel at Germersheim on April 7, 2014, the government made the officers and soldiers of the base aware of Professor Grimmer-Solem's article in the Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift as well as the national media reports which have appeared about it. This was followed by a discussion of the facts of the case among the military personnel at Germersheim. The Government noted further that the Luftwaffe battalion commander at Germersheim then informed the city of Germersheim about these findings, and an Armed Forces historian presented the facts of the case to the Germersheim City Council. A final decision about renaming the base requires agreement between the city and Armed Forces and is still pending.

The Wesleyan Connection, 3/31/2014:

Grimmer-Solem's Research Sheds New Light on Celebrated German General

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General’s legacy. More

City of Germersheim, Germany, 3/7/2014:

Mayor Marcus Schaile of Germersheim seeks to accelerate dialogue about finding a new name for the Hans-Graf-von-Sponeck-Barracks in light of revelations of General Hans von Sponeck's involvement in war crimes

In a March 7, 2014 report in Pfalz Express, Mayor Marcus Schaile of Germersheim mentioned that news about General Hans von Sponeck's involvement in war crimes initiated by Prof. Grimmer-Solem's research took him and the city council by surprise. "For the Federal Armed Forces stationed here in Germersheim but also for the city itself and its citizens it is now necessary to enter into a dialogue quickly about finding a new name for the barracks."  On February 28th Mayor Schaile informed the city council that a special meeting of the council would be held with the participation of the local Air Force commander. They will then consult with an Armed Forces historian and local citizens to determine the new name of the barracks. "As soon as the new name has been found for the Air Froce barracks a final critical engagement with the history surrounding Hans von Sponeck must begin. After all, a Sponeck monument is in the city park Fronte Lamotte and also a street in our city was named after him. Here, too, the city council and citizens will have to make quick decisions."  

German Government in the Bundestag, 2/17/2014:

German Government initiates discussion about renaming military base sparked by Grimmer-Solem’s published research on a Wehrmacht General suspected of war crimes

On Monday, February 17, 2014 the Government of Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to questions submitted in the German Bundestag by a caucus of the party Die Linke. In the response submitted to the Bundestag, the German Government affirmed that the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) reject all associations with suspected war criminals of the former Wehrmacht and noted that the Bundeswehr has made a positive contribution toward uncovering the truth about General Hans von Sponeck’s past because Professor Grimmer-Solem’s article was published by The Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr. This organization made Professor Grimmer-Solem’s article known to the Government on December 20, 2013. It noted further that knowledge of General Hans von Sponeck’s possible involvement in war crimes was not known when the Air Force (Luftwaffe) base at Germersheim was named in his honor in 1966. To the  Government’s knowledge, Prof. Grimmer-Solem’s is the first scholarly article that deals specifically with Sponeck’s involvement in war crimes based on a thorough examination of the available military documents, and it notes that his article assesses Sponeck’s possible involvement in these crimes in a nuanced way.

The Government also responded to questions about investigations into von Sponeck’s military career by a Luftwaffe major in 2004, which was first reported in article appearing in the German newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL in December 2013. The reason for this investigation was a request by the then Battalion Commander at the Luftwaffe base at Germersheim in preparation for the 60th anniversary commemoration of von Sponeck’s death. The main findings of this investigation were that von Sponeck likely knew about and was involved in war crimes but that additional comprehensive research was necessary in order to clarify the matter. It also recommended that the findings should give impulse to considering renaming the Luftwaffe base. To the knowledge of the Government, this report was never forwarded up the Bundeswehr chain of command. The Government mentioned that it had no explanation for why the Luftwaffe Office failed to conduct additional research into von Sponeck’s military career at the time and why the report was not forwarded to the Ministry of Defense. The Government asserts that on the basis of Professor Grimmer-Solem’s research it can be said that Hans von Sponeck shares guilt for the crimes committed by the Nazi regime during Operation Barbarossa. The Command of the Luftwaffe has consequently initiated a process to form an opinion about renaming the military base. A possible renaming of the  base will follow established procedures of the Bundeswehr according to which the affected military base and local community make such a request following approval of the Minister of Defense.

Questions in the German Bundestag, 1/30/2014:

Grimmer-Solem’s research sparks questions in German Parliament about honoring a suspected war criminal in the German Armed Forces

A formal set of questions was submitted in the German Bundestag by a caucus of the party Die Linke on January 30, 2014 asking Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government why the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) continue to honor General Hans von Sponeck by naming an Air Force base in Germersheim after him. City streets and monuments also commemorate the General, who is remembered for withdrawing his troops against Hitler’s orders and thereby saving the lives many thousands of his soldiers during a Soviet counterattack in Crimea in December 1941. The parliamentary questions make reference to the recent published research of Erik Grimmer-Solem, Associate Professor of History, which documents numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Wehrmacht and SS in the southern Ukraine in 1941 on von Sponeck’s orders. Questions were also raised about investigations of the German newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL, published in December 2013, which revealed that von Sponeck’s involvement in war crimes was known to the German Air Force as early as 2004 following an internal inquiry by an Air Force major. The major’s report left no doubt about von Sponeck’s participation in war crimes, yet it was never made public and its recommendations to rename the base were not followed.

"Murder in the Crimea," DER SPIEGEL,12/21/2013:

Professor Grimmer-Solem's Holocaust scholarship discussed by the German news weekly DER SPIEGEL

Professor Erik Grimmer-Solem's historical scholarship was discussed at length by Klaus Wiegrefe in a recent issue of Germany's largest-circulation news weekly, DER SPIEGEL. As reported by the magazine, Prof. Grimmer-Solem uncovered evidence that a general currently honored as an anti-Nazi by the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) was involved in  war crimes and crimes against humanity during the German invasion of the Ukraine in 1941. In an article published in the prestigious military history journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Prof. Grimmer-Solem revealed the close cooperation between units of the Wehrmacht commanded by General Hans von Sponeck and the SS in atrocities committed against Jews in the southern Ukraine and Crimea between June and December 1941. Currently, a German Air Force base in Germersheim and streets in Bremen and Germersheim have been named in honor of General von Sponeck. Memorials to him have likewise been erected in these and other cities in Germany.  DER SPIEGEL's investigations revealed that an internal inquiry about von Sponeck's alleged war crimes was conducted by a major in the German Air Force in 2004 and found unambiguous evidence of these crimes, urging the Air Force to rename the base in Germersheim. This report was never made public and its recommendations were not followed by the German Ministry of Defense. DER SPIEGEL argues that the revelations by Prof. Grimmer-Solem open up an overdue debate about the appropriateness of honoring such compromised generals in the German military.

Professor Grimmer-Solem became interested in Hans von Sponeck because he has been celebrated as an example of moral courage: the general was court-martialed and imprisoned for his refusal to follow Hitler's orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean peninsula in December 1941. Defying orders to stand his ground at all costs, General von Sponeck withdrew his troops from Kerch, thereby saving the lives of many thousands of his soldiers. Sponeck was sentenced to death for this act of disobedience but had his sentence reduced to imprisonment in the fortress prison Germersheim. There is also a personal connection: Prof. Grimmer-Solem's own grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, was a member of the Norwegian resistance who was arrested by the Gestapo during the German occupation of Norway in the summer of 1940. He and two other Norwegians were sentenced to death by a German military tribunal in August 1940 but also had their sentences reduced to prison terms in Germersheim. As it turned out, Sponeck and Solem became friends while in prison together between 1942 and 1944. While Sponeck was executed on orders of Heinrich Himmler following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944, Solem and the other prisoners narrowly escaped an SS execution squad in April 1945 and survived the war. Prof. Grimmer-Solem had heard many stories told by family members about General von Sponeck, who was much admired  for the kindness he had shown his grandfather and for his heroism. Curiosity about von Sponeck's military career led Prof. Grimmer-Solem to a more detailed investigation of Sponeck's actions during the invasion of the Soviet Union and then to the discovery of von Sponeck's participation in war crimes.

Chinese Social Sciences Today, 9/13/2013:

Professor Grimmer-Solem interviewed about Germany's Nazi past by the newspaper Chinese Social Sciences Today

An interview with Professor Erik Grimmer-Solem discussing Germany's effort to come to terms with its Nazi Past was published by Chinese Social Sciences Today. The interview discussed the many hurdles in the way of postwar West German investigation and prosecution of suspected war criminals and current German efforts to take responsibility for the crimes of the National Socialist regime.

The Wesleyan Connection, 5/26/2013:

Basinger, Grimmer-Solem, Wagoner Honored with Binswanger Teaching Prize

Wesleyan faculty Jeanine Basinger, Erik Grimmer-Solem and Phillip Wagoner received Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching on May 26. They are pictured here with Wesleyan President Michael Roth, third from left.

Wesleyan faculty Jeanine Basinger, Erik Grimmer-Solem and Phillip Wagoner received Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching on May 26. They are pictured here with Wesleyan President Michael Roth, third from left.

Every year Wesleyan recognizes outstanding teaching with three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching awarded at commencement. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, and current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty, emeriti, and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee. More

The Wesleyan Connection, 6/15/2005:

Grimmer-Solem Earns Teaching, Research Award

Erik Grimmer-Solem, assistant professor of history, received the Carol A. Baker '81 Memorial Prize for excellence in teaching and research in April. The Baker Prize is awarded to a junior faculty member to encourage and recognize excellence in teaching and research. Grimmer-Solem's current research is on the role of economists and other social scientists in German imperialism before 1918.

The Wesleyan Argus, 10/8/2004:

Panel including Professor Grimmer-Solem expresses little hope for future U.S foreign policy

At a well-attended seminar Wednesday night entitled “Bush vs. Kerry: Beyond Iraq,” four Wesleyan professors discussed how the war in Iraq and the war on terror have diverted attention away from other pressing foreign policy concerns.