Bundesbank Executive Board member Burkhard Balz during the virtual symposium ©Nils Thies

Reliable memory: Historical Archives celebrate 50th anniversary

One manager, one typist and a supply of index cards was all the Bundesbank’s Historical Archives had at their disposal when they were created in 1970. “Today, our institutional memory boasts around 6,500 metres of shelves stacked with official records, bequests, collections and audiovisual archival material, including something like 29,000 photos,” said Executive Board member Burkhard Balz at the symposium held in honour of the Historical Archives’ 50th anniversary.

Mr Balz also used his speech to describe the work done by the Historical Archives’ staff. He explained how they are responsible for determining whether and how the Bundesbank had reached decisions in the past on contemporary issues, and which arguments had proven persuasive. Evaluating documents in terms of the archival value of their content is a complex task, Mr Balz noted, adding: “There’s no telling what issues the future might bring, so it takes experience and a degree of intuition to filter out the documents that really matter.” Mr Balz highlighted the growing importance of the Historical Archives in a current climate characterised by information overload and fake news. “In times like these, the authenticity of these sources is priceless,” he remarked, noting the keen interest in the Historical Archives as a dependable source of information.

Historical commission exploring Bundesbank history

Magnus Brechtken, Deputy Director of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte, IfZ) in Munich, used the symposium to present some preliminary findings from a longer-term research project supported by the Historical Archives. Entitled “From the Reichsbank to the Bundesbank”, this project involves an independent historical commission analysing the history of the Reichsbank and the early years of the Bundesbank. The period under review begins in 1923-24 with the stabilisation of Germany’s new currency after the period of hyperinflation and the beginning of Hjalmar Schacht’s first term of office as Reichsbank President. It ends in 1969 with the end of Karl Blessing’s term, the last Bundesbank President to have belonged to Hjalmar Schacht’s inner circle.

Professor Brechtken is leading the Bundesbank-commissioned multi-year project alongside Albrecht Ritschl, Head of the Economic History Department at the London School of Economics. Outlining the aims of their project, Professor Brechtken explained that the project will cast light on specific crimes committed during the war and how these were dealt with after 1945, besides providing insights into the role, personal responsibility and influence of central bank figures in changing political systems. In summary, the project offers an opportunity for historical self-reflection on the role of central banks in civil society, a topic of discussion even today. A historical reappraisal of the German central bank’s role during the Third Reich is long overdue, he said, adding that similar projects took place at Volkswagen and Bertelsmann in the 1980s, and later on in government ministries as well.