It is regarded by some as a work of considerable literary merit, while publisher Ed Keating and journalist Warren Hinckle, who organized a committee to defend the play as a matter of free speech, considered it "dramaturgically flawed. In 2007, Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Romanian spymaster, alleged that the play was part of a larger KGB campaign to discredit Pius XII. A leading German newspaper opined "that Hochhuth did not require any KGB assistance for his one-sided presentation of history. Some commentators have seen the play as an attempt of Hochhuth to transfer the guilt of his own people to other, more notable, persons, thus trying to acquit his own people and relatives from consent to Nazi crimes.
The play in its unedited version is over five hours long and also includes the true story of Kurt Gerstein, a devout Protestant and later a member of the SS who wrote an eyewitness report about the gas chambers, and after the war mysteriously died as a POW.
The play was first performed in Berlin on February 20, 1963 under the direction of Erwin Piscator. It received its first English production in London by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1963 in a translation by Robert David MacDonald. It was directed by Clifford Williams with Alan Webb or Eric Porter as Pius XII, Alec McCowen as Father Fontana and Ian Richardson. In the United Kingdom, it has since been revived by the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in 1986 and at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 2006.
This theme of the play has overshadowed the main thrust of the drama which is a debate on the ethics of area bombing of civilian areas by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War with particular reference to Operation Gomorrah, the Royal Air Force firestorm raids on Hamburg in 1943, and culminating in a lengthy debate between Winston Churchill and the pacifist George Bell, Bishop of Chichester.
Controversy arose in Britain in 1967 when the mooted premiere at Britain's National Theatre was cancelled, due to the intervention of the National Theatre board, despite the support for the play of Laurence Olivier, under pressure from his wife, and Kenneth Tynan. At the time of the controversy in Britain, Irving was the only historian who gave "unequivocal" support for Hochhuth's thesis, others consulted by Tynan considered it highly improbable. Despite this setback, the play was produced soon after in the West End with John Colicos in the cast. The English translation was again by Robert David MacDonald. In the UK, the play was seen on tour in the early 1990s, and received much critical acclaim and full houses when revived at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 2004.
In 1978, his novel A Love in Germany about an affair between a Polish POW and a German woman in World War II stirred up a debate about the past of Hans Filbinger, Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg who had been a Navy lawyer and judge at the end of World War II. The affair culminated in Filbinger's resignation.
For A Love in Germany, Hochhuth was awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis in 1980.
His 1987 drama Alan Turing featured one of the fathers of modern computer science, who had made significant contributions to breaking German ciphers during World War II. The play also covered Turing's homosexuality.
In 2004, he again caused controversy with the play McKinsey is Coming, which raises the questions of unemployment, social justice and a "right to work". A passage in which he put the chairman of the Deutsche Bank in one line with leading business men who had been murdered by left-wing terrorists and also with Gessler, the villainous bailiff killed by William Tell, was widely seen as advocating or at least excusing violence against leading economy figures. Hochhuth vigorously denied this.
In March 2005, he became embroiled in controversy again, when he defended David Irving in an interview with the German weekly Junge Freiheit. Irving had been sentenced in Britain (2000), Austria (2006) and Germany (1993) for his Holocaust Denials. Germany also barred him from ever entering the country for the same reason. Hochhuth called Ivring a truly great and very serious historian and judged the accusations against him as “idiotic” When confronted with Ivring’s statement, that "Less people died during the Holocaust than on the backseat of Edward Kennedy's car, (one) and that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz", Hochhuth defended Ivring as a great historian and called all this black humour, probably provoked.
Paul Spiegel, the President of the Central Jewish Council in Germany, argued that with these statements Hochhuth himself is denying the Holocaust. After weeks of uproar, Hochhuth finally issued a weak apology.
Hochhuth has also collaborated with scripts for cinema and television: