Werner Conze (born December 11, 1910 in Amt Neuhaus, died April 1986 in Heidelberg) was a German historian in Nazi Germany and in post-World War II Germany. He was a member of the Schieder commission.
Werner Conze was a doctoral student of Hans Rothfels in Königsberg under the Nazis, where he claimed in his research that Germans had a positive role in development of eastern Europe. With the Nazis taking power, Conze, together with Schieder and Rothfels, helped to institutionalize racial ethnic research in the Third Reich. According to German historian Ingo Haar, "the Nazis made use of (this) racialist scholarship, which lent itself gladly". He was awarded his Ph.D. in 1934. While working for German espionage, in 1936, Conze prepared a document which portrayed Poland as backward and in need of German order and which recommended the exclusion of Jews from the legal system, as Conze considered them outside the law. In further work issued in 1938 Conze continued in a similar vein, blaming lack of industry in Belarus on "Jewish domination". Between 1937 and 1940 in a series of articles Conze proposed dejewification of Eastern Europe, particularly Lithuania and Belarus.
Conze envisioned a social policy based on racialist principles in German "Lebensraum"; he demonstrated his concepts on Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where he accused Polish peasants and their "petty peasant instincts" of revolting against "German order". In doing so Conze mixed his deprecating views with empirical results and transferred racialist concept of society to agrarian situation in Central and Eastern Europe. He viewed Polish population as "degenerated" and engaged in "vegetative reproduction", and blamed lack of social progress of rural population on Jews.
He joined the NSDAP in the late 1930s. Conze's Nazi Party membership number was 5,089,796.
He also was a writer for the journal Jomsburg, founded in Third Reich in 1937, whose production costs were covered by Reich Ministry of Interior. Authors of the journal officially proclaimed that it would present "history of relations between Teutons and Slavs in which the Germans were the fertilizing element both politically and culturally for the Slavs". In secret it was advised that "one cannot make it public knowledge that the periodical serves the interests of German propaganda in the eastern and western countries" and warning was issued to alter testimonial text lest "our propaganda aims are uncovered by interested circles abroad whereby we would not only destroy all the possibilities of involvement by well known foreign scholars but also hand over to hostile foreigners (especially the Poles), the desired material to discredit German scholarship as a whole". Originally the testimonial read that the journal "serves through rigorous academic research, German propaganda in Eastern and Northern European countries and will be an effective barrier to well-known Polish publications". Conze was commissioned to write an article in the journal about ethnic minorities and was to focus on "how the territories concerned became a part of Polish state and what was the fate of the populations under Polish rule"; he was also given an area of responsibility in the journal: north-east Poland.
Conze also wrote an educational pamphlet for the German Nazi organization Bund Deutscher Osten, whose aim was German expansion in the East and acquiring Lebensraum; Conze's pamphlet (adorned with a swastika upon the shield of the Teutonic Order) was titled "Die weissrussische Frage in Polen".
Conze volunteered for army service in 1938, aged 27. After the beginning of World War II, he first fought in France, where he was wounded. During his recovery at a military hospital, he completed a book on agrarian structures and population in Lithuania and Belarus. The study led to his habilitation at the University of Vienna. The dissertation contained much racialist terminology. Conze then fought at the eastern front. In the meantime his family fled west. At the end of the war Conze ended up in a Soviet POW camp.
After the war, Conze taught at the universities of Göttingen, Münster, and - from 1957 to his retirement in 1979 - Heidelberg. Conze's involvement in Nazi plans of ethnic cleansing in Central and Eastern remained largely hidden post-war, and while he tried to avoid language that could be construed as racialist, he maintained his essential elements of his previous views on history. During his late years he published an eight-volume encyclopedia on basic concepts of history, Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, which he co-authored and edited together with Otto Brunner and Reinhart Koselleck.
In his final book, written in 1986, Conze portrayed Germans as "cultivators" of the "Slavonic East", which he described as "threatening German soil"; the book had the same narrative structure as his thesis from 1940.