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Wolfgang Mommsen, 73, historian

BERLIN -- Wolfgang Mommsen, a historian who chronicled Germany's imperial past and took part in a historians' battle over whether the Nazis' crimes were unique, died Wednesday, apparently of a heart attack, while swimming in the Baltic Sea. He was 73.

He taught at the University of Duesseldorf, led the German Historical Institute in London from 1977 to 1985, and chaired the German Association of Historians from 1988 to 1992. For the past year, he was a fellow at the University of Erfurt in eastern Germany.

He played a role in a dispute among German academics in the 1980s about the historical context of Nazism and the Holocaust.

It was triggered by publications by several historians who challenged what they portrayed as excessive German guilt about the Holocaust, arguing that the death of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis was comparable to mass killings under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Mr. Mommsen and his twin brother, Hans, also a well-known historian, were in a rival camp of academics who criticized what they saw as historical revisionism.

''We had a clear position against the attempt . . . to create a new nationalism," Hans Mommsen said in a telephone interview.

Wolfgang Mommsen also spent much of his life researching the legacy of German sociologist and economic theorist Max Weber, the subject of his doctoral dissertation.

Mr. Mommsen was born Nov. 5, 1930, in Marburg. His father, Wilhelm Mommsen, was a historian who was barred from teaching after World War II because he allegedly had sympathized with Nazi ideology.

One of his great-grandfathers was Theodor Mommsen, a historian who received the 1902 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In addition to his twin, Mr. Mommsen leaves his wife and four children.

His funeral will be held next week in Duesseldorf.

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