Monthly Archives: May 2014

Backing Hitler

Backing Hitler

Gellately, Robert.  Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.


In Backing Hitler, Gellately completely reevaluates the role that the German population played in the establishment and maintenance of the Nazi dictatorship.  Moreover, he seeks to answer the problematic question of just how much the Germans knew of the Nazis’ more heinous policies.  He provocatively argues that not only did most Germans know that their country had a Secret Police and a concentration camp system, but that they supported (or at least took pride in) the government’s heavy-handed war against those “who were regarded as ‘outsiders,’ ‘asocials,’ ‘useless eaters,’ or ‘criminals’” (vii).  The Nazi regime that emerges from Gellately’s story is not one that enforced uniform terror on everyone with no regard for popular opinion; instead, we learn of a state obsessed with finding out what its “Aryan” people thought of it.  Consequently, the Third Reich was as dependent on the Volk’s consent to function as it was on forced coercion.

Central to Gellately’s argument is the observation that “Hitler wanted to create a dictatorship, but he also wanted the support of the people” (1).  Therefore, Nazi leaders had to keep the Aryan core of the utopian Volksgemeinschaft in mind when establishing the networks of state power.  In order to tap into the power of the people, Nazis capitalized on the widespread desire to return to a more stable, traditional German society, a society that the liberal, democratic Weimar Republic had destroyed.  The Nazis, then, did not try to hide the fact that they used violence and coercion in dealing with their enemies (portrayed as enemies of the German people).  Initially, Communists were targeted, arrested, and thrown into the new network of concentration camps.  What may be surprising to readers is the fact that these concentration camps were not kept a secret either.  The opening of the famous Dachau concentration camp in 1933, for example, was announced with front-page headlines (51). Gellately argues that even if Germans did not agree with the stories of excessive violence associated with the concentration camps, they did not protest because “most of the coercion and terror was used against…social groups for whom the people had little sympathy” (2).

Gellately traces distinct phases of consent for Hitler and Nazism.  The first phase was when the Nazi government was able to provide tangible results: a recovered economy and a drop in the crime rate (1933-1938).  The second phase began with the start of the war and lasted until 1944, and was one in which Germans increasingly consented to the implementation of “police justice,” or the ‘preventative’ use of force against even potential criminals, outside of the jurisdiction of the courts.  During this time, the concentration camp inmates became an integral part of daily life as they were marched to and from factories to work for the German war effort.

The book is most concerned with the level of popular knowledge of and consent for the Nazis’ violent and authoritarian methods.  Gellately concludes that the regime made sure its secret police wasn’t much of a secret at all.  The media was used not as a way to simply “brainwash” Germans, but to present the regime’s violence as taking a firm stance against crime and undesirables, thus forging a harmonious “racial community of the people.”  The Nazi surveillance state encouraged citizens to join the cause and denounce anyone who was an enemy of the people.  In fact, 50% of all recorded denunciations came from everyday citizens, even if the motives for these denunciations were selfish.  In conclusion, Gellately states, “On balance, the coercive practices, the repression, and persecution won far more support for the dictatorship than they lost” (259).


For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews here.

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The Grad Life

As our semesters are wrapping up, here are a few reflections on the life of a grad student: 

X conference questions

How often does this happen at conferences? Sometimes even the audience member forgets what s/he was supposed to be asking!


X Daily Crisis



X God of Procrastination



X Humanities vs Social Science




X Writing & Drinking

Categories: edumacation, Humor, Nerdgasm | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany


Fout, John C.  “Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: the Male Gender Crisis, Moral Purity, and Homophobia,” in Fout, John C., ed.  Forbidden History: the State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Subject: A reevaluation of the fight between homosexual rights advocates and moral purity reformers in late Imperial Germany.

Main Points: In this chapter, Fout gives a good deal of biographical information on many of the leading homosexual rights advocates (Hirschfeld, Kraft-Ebbing, etc) as well as the emerging moral purity groups of the period.  What makes his chapter interesting is that he argues that while the medicalization of sexuality was obviously a central issue in the story of modernity and sexuality, the role played by Protestant moral purity organizers was just as, if not more, important in shaping understandings of homosexuality (at least in Germany).

This is because Fout’s main focus – and he argues that it was the purity organizers’ focus as well – is gender norms, not “sexuality” in the form of object choice determined by biology.  In this sense, “the moral purity organizations increasingly saw their role as championing the existing – and, in their minds, divinely ordained – gender order” (261).  He goes on to say that the “debate was only outwardly about the sins of sexual vice; in reality it reflected an implicit crisis in gender relations, primarily in the form of a growing concern about eroding gender boundaries on the part of a large segment of the middle-class male population as well as a part of the male working class” (262).

Fout makes clear that an important part in this history is the purity organizations’ relationships with the Protestant and Catholic churches.  These close ties with the Church allowed the organizations to speak with authority in restating the dominant sexual and gender paradigm (277).  This paradigm called for traditional, “natural” roles:  sex was procreative only, and only allowed in monogamous, heterosexual marriages.  Men were meant to be hardened and masculine, dominating over the private, weak and feminine women.  This is why homosexuals were seen as abhorrent, because they blurred gender divides.

While studying these organizations more closely, Fout discovers what he argues is an underlying cause for the widespread homophobia in the late years of the German Empire.  100% of membership in these organizations was men; moreover, 70% of membership had a university education; only 4% came from the working class.  Therefore, the idea of “normality” that these organizations were campaigning for was a very specific, bourgeois notion of acceptability.

Moreover, Fout argues that it was sexism that was underlying these organizations’ homophobia and overall plans.  The “moral purity movement was in reality a male-dominated, clerical-led response to the growing presence of women of all classes in the workplace and in the public domain” (279).  The attack on homosexuality, then, was a tool in the overall attempt to keep women in the private sphere.  “The concern was to “keep men on top” literally and figuratively, and that meant the preservation of the myth of male sexual dominance and female submissiveness in all things sexual” (280).  Male homosexuals threatened this dominance by transgressing gender and sexual norms by being sexually passive.

A last interesting point:  Fout concludes that contrary to Hirschfeld and the entire sexology movement, which sought to establish an essentialist understanding of (homo)sexuality (that homosexuality was inborn and had existed throughout all of history), the moral purity movement advocated for what we would now call a social constructionist view of sexuality: that society and individuals could shape and define appropriate sexual behavior.  “While homosexuals in part may have been victims of their biological makeup, the individual’s intellectual and moral capacities made it possible to overcome the body” (288).

My Comments:  Overall, I thought this was an interesting chapter.  I hadn’t read anything in much detail about the opposition to the emerging homosexual emancipation movement in late 19th century Germany (all of the stuff I’ve read tended to be very focused on the emancipation organizers themselves).  I also thought it was important that Fout reminds us that homosexuality was only one of a number of issues that these moral purity organizations were concerned with.

But, the chapter left me with a couple of questions. Number one: where are the women?  Of course, this is a male-dominated story, but you can’t have a chapter about “sexual politics” and never mention lesbians (or never even mention that you’re not going to mention lesbians).  Did they not receive attention from these purity organizations because they weren’t seen as eroding masculinity (but what about the fact that lesbians were taking “their” women away from them and cutting men out of the picture?).

Also, I’d like to know what middle class women had to say about homosexuals – men and women.  Did they view masculine lesbians as an infringement on traditional femininity?  Or would scholars like Marcus and Vicinus say that there was no “lesbian” at this point in time – only a number of female-female relationships that were seen as acceptable?   \


For more books on modern German history or the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

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Ian Kershaw’s Hitler Biography

Kershaw Hitler


Kershaw, Ian.  Hitler: 1889-1936, Hubris.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.  And Hitler: 1936 – 1945, Nemesis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.

Ian Kershaw’s biography of Adolf Hitler has, in the last decade, come to stand as perhaps the definitive account of the Führer’s life.  This two-volume biography seeks to put Hitler in his appropriate historical context, and as such can also be seen as a history of the Third Reich rather than just a narrow biography of just Hitler himself.  Consequently, Kershaw humanizes Hitler, revealing a narcissistic man of quirks as opposed to the images of a mythical figure that have emerged, and indeed, that the Nazis themselves promulgated.

After very quickly outlining Hitler’s birth and early years, Volume 1 (1889-1936, Hubris) turns to Hitler’s time in Vienna.  He demonstrates that while Hitler retrospectively overemphasized how he had crystalized his worldview during those years, “there can be no doubting that the Vienna ‘schooling’ did indeed stamp its lasting imprint on his development” (30).  Of greater consequence was the impact on Hitler’s worldview of the First World War.  Kershaw then adds that the doctrine of Lebensraum wasn’t incorporated until years later, so that Hitler’s worldview can only be regarded as fully formed starting in the mid-1920s.

When dealing with the Nazi Machtergreifung (seizure of power), Kershaw attributes the National Socialists’ takeover more to the failure of others than to the Nazis’ own political maneuvering.  Democrats didn’t do enough to stop the eroding of the republic in the first place, and the conservatives who helped place Hitler in power seriously underestimated him.  In January 1933, Franz von Papen dismisses reservations over Hitler’s chancellorship, stating, “We’ve hired him” (421).  Such sentiments could not have been more wrong.

Kershaw’s account highlights the emergence of the Hitler cult and the impact that this adoration had on Hitler’s own self-image.  Seeing the widespread support from the German people, Kershaw argues, gave Hitler self-confidence.  But the Hitler cult was also largely self-fashioned through political theatrics.  “He was above all a consummate actor,” Kershaw writes (280).  The adoring crowds only saw the image of the Führer that Hitler and Goebbels wanted them to see.  The political successes of the early 1930s epitomized by the reoccupation of the German Rhineland in 1936 turned Hitler’s egomania into destructive hubris.

Volume 2 (1936-1945, Nemesis) focuses on the radicalization of the Nazi regime, especially during the war years.  Central to this volume is Hitler’s role in the Holocaust.  Nemesis – and indeed, both volumes as a whole – represents a middle ground in the “intentionalist” (the Holocaust was Hitler’s intention from the start) versus “functionalist” (the Holocaust was the result of a slow but steady radicalization of policies) debate.  Kershaw demonstrates that Hitler was indeed a powerful dictator who set the overall goals for the Nazis, including his “prophecy” of 1939 that if the Jews started another world war they would be annihilated.  But Kershaw also shows that the concept of “working towards the Führer” meant that Hitler’s subordinates did not need specific orders for how to carry out their leader’s vision.  Therefore, while the how may not have been planned from the beginning, Kershaw argues that genocide was “central, not peripheral, to what had been deliberately designed as a “war of annihilation”” (461).

In conclusion, the focus of Kershaw’s books is “not upon the personality of Hitler, but squarely and directly upon the character of his power – the power of the Führer” (Vol. 1, xxvi).  In this light, he studies the structures that allowed Hitler to achieve such power.  But, this biography also shows that “without Hitler and the unique regime he headed, the creation of a program to bring about the physical extermination of the Jews in Europe would have been unthinkable” (Vol. 2, 495).

For more books on the history of modern Germany, see my full list of book reviews. 

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What Difference Does a Husband Make?



Heineman, Elizabeth D.  What Difference Does a Husband Make?  Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany.  Berkley: University of California Press, 1999. 

Subject: A triangular comparison between the legal status of (un)married women in Nazi Germany, and then in West and East Germanys, and how these states used marital status to define role of women.

Main Points: Heineman shows that single women (whether they were widows, divorcees, or simply spinsters) were all defined by their status in relation to married women.  Under Nazi rule, the married woman was seen as the bearer of the German Volk, quite literally: good German mothers gave birth to good German citizens and passed on good German morals.  Unmarried women were often viewed as “asocials.”  While this is nothing particularly new, Heineman shows the extent to which the state was involved in encouraging women to marry; financial and legal incentives were implemented in an attempt to inspire women to settle down with a man.

Another of Heineman’s arguments is that an inferior view of unmarried women survived the upheaval that the loss of WWII and the subsequent occupation caused.  There was a moment in the final years of the war and the initial years of occupation in which the instability meant the state could no longer influence marital status.  But as two new Germanys were established by the Allies, the place of the state returned.

In East Germany, economic necessity along with the Communists’ favorable view of workers (including working women) meant that the state narrowed the gaps between married and single women.  Equality, including equal pay for women was established early on.  Unmarried women held almost no stigma as long as they were 1) contributing to the labor force, and 2) still raising children.

In West Germany, however, the dominance of married womanhood soon returned.  The previous 10 years when women were forced to work and take on “manly” roles because their husbands were off fighting, dying, or being taken prisoner were seen as an inconvenient, shameful necessity that had to be overcome.   This was a part of Chancellor’s Adenauer’s family politics that was meant to restore the true and “normal” family dynamic that had been disrupted by the war’s end.  Critics claimed that this Adenauer family looked too similar to Hitler’s ideal of family.  But marital status remained the main signifier of female identity, and welfare state entitlements and some legal rights were all tied to whether or not a woman was married.

Heineman concludes that 1945 was a lost opportunity for German feminism because that moment of instability could have been seized to put forth a new understanding of female identity, one that was not tied to marriage with a man.  Instead, traditional roles were reinstituted in West Germany.

My Comments:  This book doesn’t really deal with sexuality itself, but instead focuses more in gender.  But I picked it to read because the Adenauer era of family politics was an incredibly important stage in the development of the history of homosexuality in Germany.  During this time, the monogamous, heterosexual married life was reinstituted as the norm, and homosexual movements were forced to come up with a new image for themselves to get a chance of dialogue with policy makers.  Conservative, masculine, “respectable” homosexuality replaced the flamboyant “fairy” image.

Also, I think another important point from this book is in showing how concerned the state was with gender and sexuality.  It attempted to (and in many cases was successful) control the definition of “woman” by dictating that women should be married.  By passing laws, or restricting benefits, the state meant to control womanhood and manhood.  But this book shows that the female population was divided in one way that the males were not: marital status.


For more books on modern German history or the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historically Hardcore

Below are some poster proposals for the Smithsonian.  Unfortunately, the posters, designed by Jenny Burrows and Matt Kappler were never approved…I’m not sure why.  They’re totally badass!  


X rgd1T


X G Kahn


X Got Shot



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The Institutionalization of Homosexual Panic in the Third Reich


Pink Triangle

Giles, Geoffrey J.  “The Institutionalization of Homosexual Panic in the Third Reich,” in Gellately, Robert and Nathan Stoltzfus, eds.  Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.


Subject:  An article about how the Nazi regime defined and persecuted homosexuality in Germany between 1933 and 1945.


Main Points:  Giles is, in my opinion, the preeminent US scholar of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, and his work is always based on meticulous scrutiny of German primary sources.  This article is no different.  Giles breaks this article into 6 subsections:

  1. “Hitler’s Indifference and Himmler’s Homophobia” – In this section, Giles shows that homophobia was not one of Hitler’s obsessions. Instead, he remained rather indifferent to homosexuality (even against allegations that there were homosexuals in the highest of Nazi ranks), focusing instead on the consolidation of power and the elimination of the “Jewish question.”  Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was indeed homophobic, Giles argues, possibly stemming from an incident in his youth.  After the purge of high-ranking Nazi homosexuals in June 1934, Giles argues that Hitler hyped up homosexuality as the excuse for the purge to assuage his guilt at having a long-time loyal supporter murdered (Ernst Röhm).
  2. “The Dimensions of Homophobia” – This section explores four different dimensions to the Nazis’ anti-homosexual policies.  First, there was a cultural side to these policies: outrage at nudist or homosexual organizations, publications, and nightclubs.  Second, ideological opposition to homosexuality complemented cultural hostility.  Ideological opposition includes the definition of “manliness” and how homosexuality was essentially a defilement of manhood.  Though, there was a fine line to balance, because it was believed by most German (not just Nazis) leaders at the time that homoeroticism could actually strengthen the bonds between men (238), though the preferred term for this bond was “comradeship.”  Homosexual acts were a perversion and violation of the close-knithomosocial world of many of the Nazis’ “men leagues.”  Third, was the political dimension of Nazi homophobia.  It was believed by many that homosexuals would band together by a sense of loyalty to one another that superseded loyalty to the state and party.  As a result, if homosexuals were allowed into leadership positions, they would only offer promotions and new positions to fellow homosexuals, until a series of gay cliques ran the Nazi party, and thus, Germany.  And lastly, there was a social dimension to the Nazi policies against homosexuals.  Giles explains this dimension in terms of population control.  “The German population had suffered a serious bloodletting in the First World War,” he writes (239).  So, any challenge to a growing birth rate was a threat to the German people and nation, which is why abortion and homosexuality were policed by the same bureaucratic office.
  3. “Definitions of Homosexuality” – This section was most interesting, but one of the shortest unfortunately.  Here, Giles shows how there was no clear definition of what homosexuality actually constituted.  Most homosexuals at the time went by the original definition of Paragraph 175 (anti-sodomy law), which labeled only anal penetration as “unnaturally indecent.”  So, mutual masturbation, caressing, and even kissing were not necessarily considered homosexual at all – by those doing the caressing or by those enforcing the law.  In fact, Giles gives evidence that suggest such male-male sexual acts (like mutual masturbation) were fairly common in the homosocial world of the military and labor service and was viewed as normal, healthy men letting out some sexual frustration in the absence of women.  Therefore, when the definition of indecency in Paragraph 175 was purposefully generalized in 1935, there was a lot of outcry from all sides when men who by no means considered themselves “homosexual” were being arrested and permanently labeled as such.
  4. “Modes of Persecution” – Explores the different types of punishment that “175’ers” faced.  Himmler believed that sexologists were wrong about homosexuality being inborn – at least for the most part.  He felt that 98% of “homosexuals” were actually men who had been seduced by “true” homosexuals.  That is why, most men prosecuted under 175 were sentenced to a time of hard labor, or a stint in a concentration camp for reeducation.  This was meant to get them back on the right track.  A harsher punishment was reserved for “true” homosexuals (pedophiles and rapists):  castration or a life sentence in a concentration camp.
  5. “Denunciation” – This section shows that most arrests of homosexuals were made because of denunciations by fellow citizens.  Beyond some anecdotes, this section is not particularly enlightening, except in reiterating the common confusion about what actually constituted a “homosexual” act.
  6. “Wartime Radicalization” – Giles concludes by showing in this section how there was a radicalization of the Nazis’ persecution of homosexuals during once the Second World War broke out, reaching 168 convictions under Paragraph 175 per month during the war years.  But, Giles curiously doesn’t really make a conclusion as to why this radicalization happened.  I can only conclude that it probably had more to do with a fear of needing to shore up manhood and reproductive goals during wartime.


My Comments:  This article was helpful in gaining some statistics as well as showing that, even though Hirschfeld was German and writing during this time, the medical discourse of a total and separate “homosexual” hadn’t taken hold in larger parts of the public and military yet.  The result was that men who had been placed in a homosocial environment, where even homoerotic bonds were somewhat encouraged, were taking part in what we’d today label “homosexual” acts without ever considering themselves homosexual, or even abnormal.  This is just more evidence for the socially constructed nature of (homo)sexuality.

For more book reviews on modern German history or the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

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