Hermann-Josef Rupieper (1942-2004)

Klaus Schwabe, May 2005

Hermann-Josef Rupieper, professor of contemporary history at the University of Halle, died unexpectedly of heart failure on August 31, 2004. He will be missed not only by the historical profession of his native Germany, but also by numerous American colleagues and friends. Both his career and his scholarly productivity were remarkable. Born on February 23, 1942, into modest circumstances and apparently not in a position to attend a regular Gymnasium, he acquired the Abitur by way of evening classes at the age of 23. A true self-made man he enrolled at the Free University of Berlin and in 1968–69 and again from 1970–72 at Stanford University, where Gordon Craig became his doctoral adviser. Having received his PhD in 1974, Rupieper returned to the Free University of Berlin in order to prepare his Habilitation, which he completed in 1981. In a way an outsider not connected to one of the then-established scholarly networks in Germany, he needed some patience until he gained a permanent academic foothold. The most important position he held during that waiting period was that of a founding and acting director of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. that opened in 1987. Starting from scratch, he did the indispensable organizational and scholarly groundwork to assure the future functioning of that prestigious institution. In the same year he got his first tenured position as an associate professor of international relations at the University of Marburg. After a sabbatical spent at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington in 1990–91 he was offered a full professorship at the University of Halle. To him, an avid observer of contemporary political affairs and a German patriot, who was deeply moved witnessing Germany's reunification, this was a fitting point of culmination of his academic career. At once, he resumed his role as an intermediary between the United States and Germany by serving as a guest professor at the Vanderbilt University in the academic year of 2000–01. But primarily, of course, he focused on his new academic duties in the environment of the former GDR. He turned his scholarly attention to the roots of the collapse of the Soviet German state, and invested a lot of his energies in participating in the academic affairs of his alma mater. Serving as dean and later as a member of the academic senate he got more and more involved in fending off losses in the teaching staff as a result of the policies of austerity imposed by his state's government. Still, he regarded it as his major professional duty to teach and advise his students. A highly popular teacher, a prolific writer, and committed member of academic self-government he had ultimately, as it seems, overtaxed his physical resources, and thus, to an extent, became a victim of the largely politically induced reformist plague that more often than not descends on German universities.

Rupieper leaves behind an astounding array of publications—impressive both by its quantity and its diversity. His dissertation, The Cuno Government and Reparations 1922–23 (1979), still today the definite study of this subject, dealt with a crucial phase of the reparations controversy that preceded the Ruhr crisis and the Dawes Plan reparations settlement. His first publication was distinctive in three respects: it was written in English, it took the demands of multi-archival research seriously, and it transcended the customary purely national approach to an international controversy. Rupieper then qualified himself as scholar in social history by publishing his Habilitationsschrift, a study about the conflict between blue-and-white collar labor in 19th-century Bavaria (Arbeiter und Angestellte im Zeitalter der Industrialisierung. Eine sozialgeschichtliche Studie am Beispiel der Maschinenfabrik Augsburg und Nürnberg (M.A.N.) (1982)). In the following years he advanced his standing as the author of numerous scholarly articles that covered a wide range of topics extending from the German Revolution of 1848 to working class mobility, Nazi German rearmament, and the international implications of the German question during the 1950s.

A few of these publications foreshadowed what was to become the main area of his scholarly interest during the 1980s: American-German relations, particularly during the early years of the Bonn Republic. Based on intensive archival research mostly in American depositories, his next major publication, Der besetzte Verbündete: Die amerikanische Deutschlandpolitik 1949–55 (second printing 1992), was an in-depth study of the seminal phase of West Germany's integration into the family of Western powers with John McCloy, the American High Commissioner, occupying the central position on the Western side. Another outgrowth of his archival research was an analysis of the achievements and deficiencies of the American policy of democratizing West Germany, Die Wurzeln der westdeutschen Nachkriegsdemokratie. Der amerikanische Beitrag 1945–52, (1992). Both books established Rupieper as a leading authority in this subject. As a member of the University of Halle, Rupieper returned to his previous interest in the ramifactions of the German problem after 1945, now focusing on the history of East German developments that set the stage for the "Wende" of 1989–90. Among his related publications I just mention his documentary: "Es gibt keinen Ausweg für Brandt zum Krieg." August 1961 an der Martin-Luther-Universität (2002) and his account: Die friedliche Revolution 1989-90 in Sachsen-Anhalt (2002). Most recently, I am told, he turned back to German-American relations, this time doing research on the era of President Carter and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Death prevented the completion of this project as well as the conclusion of the important documentary: Die Lageberichte der Geheimen Staatspolizei zur Provinz Sachsen 1933–1936 (first and only volume 2003).

Above all, Rupieper will be remembered as a leading German historian in the field of international relations. Friends and colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic will keep an inspiring memory of him as a most assiduous worker in Clio's garden, as a scholar of an inexhaustible intellectual curiosity, and as a source of untiring helpfulness whenever approached by any of his fellow historians.

— Klaus Schwabe