Andreas Hillgruber, a controversial German historian and catalyst of acrimonious debate on the historical perspective of the Holocaust, died this month after a long illness, Cologne University said Thursday. He was 64.
The university said he died May 8 but did not provide details of his illness.
Hillgruber, a Cologne University professor and prolific author, gained respect among historians around the world for his detailed works on Adolf Hitler's rise to power and the Nazi dictator's foreign policies. His theories also sparked widespread argument.
Over the last three years, Hillgruber--considered by some to be an apologist for German war crimes--was involved in bitter arguments among West German academicians over the historical interpretation of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed.
Hillgruber supported the view that, historically speaking, the Holocaust, although certainly atrocious, could not be singled out as generally different from other atrocities, like Josef Stalin's reign of terror in the Soviet Union.
In a controversial 1986 book titled "The Destruction of the German Reich and the End of European Judaism," he also praised the German army's last-ditch attempt in 1945 to fend off Soviet troops, saying that it gave civilians time to flee from "revenge organs of the Red Army."
His writings, it was suggested, encouraged comparisons between the Holocaust and the raping and pillaging by advancing Soviet troops.
Hillgruber also contended that it was Austria, more than Germany, that created the anti-Semitism that produced the Holocaust, and that it was Hitler's personal extremism, not Germany's, that led to the persecution of Jews. Additionally, Hillgruber argued that the Allies decided to crush Germany long before they knew of Nazi atrocities.
The book provoked anger among some West Germans, with many newspapers calling it a scandal.
Fellow historians said Hillgruber will long be respected for his earlier work.
"He was an excellent historian, particularly on Hitler's political and military plans, which were the basis for Hitler's program to conquer the world," said Reinhard Meyers, a historian at Muenster University.
Hillgruber's other works include "The Second World War 1939-45: Goals and Strategies of the Great Powers," "The Destruction of Europe" and "Hitler's Strategies, Policies and Leadership From 1940-41."