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The introduction discusses the state of the current research on the post-1945 history of East and West Germany, explains the agenda of the special issue and discusses its main topics. The focus is the politics of survival in the chaos of collapse and the controversial debates about the agenda of the reconstruction. In these discussions different visions competed, from the restoration of traditions to efforts of a post-fascist modernization. The introduction questions the postwar success narrative by discussing the “burdens” of the Nazi past, such as Nazi perpetrators, displaced people, expellees and refugees, including the returning German-Jewish survivors. It also engages with the problems of the Cold War division by exploring the “new beginnings”, which were debated in relation to the past of Nazi, Weimar, and Imperial Germany, among them: cultural diplomacy, welfare policy and eldercare, family policy and gender roles, and popular culture. The essay calls for more comparative and transnational research of the postwar era, especially in the areas of the integration into the Cold War blocs, the postwar shifting of borders and peoples, narratives of victimhood, and memory tropes about the war and postwar.
This study analyzes the marriage patterns of five hundred highly successful women in modern German-speaking Central Europe. Among the women at the very top of their professions, women of Jewish descent were more likely than non-Jewish women to marry while they pursued their careers. The results of our quantitative study—67.6 percent of women of Jewish descent married versus 51.6 percent of non-Jewish women—provide a unique body of data that complements and contributes to other research that identifies distinctive aspects of Central European Jewish life patterns: the high number of Jewish women university students, the importance of women of Jewish descent in a number of fields, and Jewish families as early adopters of a modern family form with a small number of children and intensive investment in each child.
Population registration has figured only peripherally in histories of state formation in modern Europe. Although the registries never fully shed their original security function, the emergence of the interventionist state transformed the personal data or information collected by the registries into a central element of state administrative power. However, the ways in which this information could be used by both the civilian administration and the police to govern individuals and populations were limited by the use of paper as a means of data storage and transmission and by the information processing technologies available at the time. Rather than viewing the population registries and, later, the National Registry (Volkskartei) primarily as instruments of the Holocaust, this article embeds them in a longer, alternative history, which explores the relationship between population registration, information, information processing, and state formation between the mid-nineteenth and the mid-twentieth century.
The discussion of the hand-made and hand-written cookbook of Ruth Bratu, who was evacuated from Prague in a Kindertransport in 1939, leads to a wide-ranging exploration of what we expect and what we can know about the cookbook. It discusses its recipes as well as Ruth Bratu's use of the cookbook's pages for handwritten notes about the 1941/42 political gatherings of exiles of the German Social Democratic Workers’ Party in the Czechoslovak Republic in London. Above all, it is a reflection on Alltagsgeschichte, the use of a single document as a vehicle of historical interpretation, and not least the sensory recognition that this cookbook evoked for the author.
Following the 1918 collapse of the two major empires that ruled central Europe, Austria-Hungary and Germany, successor states inherited billions of increasingly depreciating paper monies. The conversion of imperial currencies posed enormous difficulties for successor states and exposed the limits of an emerging international order that rendered the pan-European predicament of defunct imperial currencies the problem of individual states. This article compares the first, and one of the last, conversions of imperial currencies, taking monetary transitions in Alsace-Lorraine (1918) and Transylvania (1920) as case studies. Although historians usually treat western and east-central European history separately, the conversion of imperial currencies produced similar outcomes in both the former Alsace-Lorraine and Transylvania. Differences emerge where one would not expect them: the phasing out of the paper mark was coupled with systematic ethnic discrimination against Germans in Alsace and Lorraine, while in Transylvania, some ethnic minorities even managed to benefit from the process.
Only a minority of Germans involved in Nazi crimes were prosecuted after the war, and the transnational history of trials is only beginning to be explored. Even less well understood are the ways in which those who were tainted by complicity reframed their personal life stories. Millions had been willing facilitators, witting beneficiaries, or passive (and perhaps unhappily helpless) witnesses of Nazi persecution; many had been actively involved in sustaining Nazi rule; perhaps a quarter of a million had personally killed Jewish civilians, and several million had direct knowledge of genocide. How did these people re-envision their own lives after Nazism? And how did they reinterpret their own former behaviors—their actions and inaction—in light of public confrontations with Nazi crimes and constructions of “perpetrators” in trials? Going beyond well-trodden debates about “overcoming the past,” this paper explores patterns of personal memory among East and West Germans after Nazism.
This article examines how German Protestant missionaries to the Herero people influenced colonial “native policy” in German Southwest Africa in the years leading up to the Colonial War of 1904 to 1907. By the late 1890s, burgeoning European settlement increasingly displaced the Herero from their traditional territory. While colonial officials promoted more settlement, missionaries had developed a concept of conversion that linked Christianization with living in self-sufficient agricultural communities, and hoped to place limits on Herero displacement. Thus, missionaries and colonial officials engaged in protracted political negotiations over the creation of inalienable “native reservations” for the Herero. I show that missionaries’ model of Herero conversion prompted them to promote an alternative mode of settler colonialism that would make room in Southwest Africa for self-sufficient Herero settlements. Prior to the Colonial War, missionaries succeeded in convincing the colonial government to begin creating reservations, thus shaping colonial policy according to missionary priorities.
This article investigates interwar people-smuggling networks, based in Germany and Czechoslovakia, that transported undocumented emigrants across borders from east-central Europe to northern Europe, where the travelers planned to sail to the United States. Many of the people involved in such networks in the Saxon-Bohemian borderlands had themselves been immigrants from Galicia. They had left a homeland decimated by the First World War and subsequent violence and entered societies with limited avenues to earn a living. The “othering” of these Galician immigrants became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as those on the margins of society then sought illegal ways to supplement their income. This article concludes that the poor economic conditions and threat of ongoing violence that spurred migrant clients to seek undocumented passage had driven their smugglers, who also faced social marginalization, to emigration and the business of migrant smuggling.
The despoliation of the Strasbourg Cathedral during the Jacobin Terror of 1793–94 has long been considered a high point of revolutionary iconoclasm, which manifested for some the anti-enlightened nature of the Terror regime and the violence inherent in the French Revolution itself. The hybrid space—linguistic, cultural, and political—in which these vandalizing acts took place, however, brings to the fore the problem of Franco-German cultural transfer and its politics of emotion as a significant, yet previously untapped, interpretative layer. This article explores the emotional vocabularies used by both French and German commentators, which substantiated their divergent stances regarding historical consciousness, aesthetic sensibility, and national identity in the debate on the legitimacy of revolutionary violence. It argues that while it contributed to the denouement of intercultural transfer in the German-speaking sphere, the vandalism debate also had long-term consequences for German communal identity formation in a sentimental key.
The historiography of the postwar Germanys often examined the Nazi legacy and the remarkable efforts needed for economic and social recovery after 1945. In both the FRG and GDR, the consequences of the war and resulting “flight and expulsion” featured prominently in public discourse and were among the most pressing challenges in the early postwar years. Examining how the competing regimes in East and West Germany attempted to solve the humanitarian crisis caused by the forced migration of 10 to 12 million German refugees in the first years after World War II reveals that the discourses and policies started from common points of departure yet diverged into competing narratives underpinning the states’ political and social agendas. Reconstructing the evolution of how the forced migrations were discussed and leveraged in the neglected period immediately after the war opens new perspectives on how Germans shouldered the burdens of dictatorship and defeat.
This article reconstructs the history of the famous anecdote about the battle at Langemarck, where German youth allegedly sang “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” as they hurled themselves against British soldiers, bayonet in hand. Variants, including in poetry and other creative genres, helped to shape a public discourse about bravery. I also reconstruct the discourse on music and war in music journals and daily newspapers, suggesting possible influences on the German High Command, where the anecdote originated. The musical establishment initially ignored this lore—so remote was music in the concert hall from community music-making, including on the battlefield. Yet the enormous weight given to propaganda efforts eventually led musicians to write about and respond compositionally to the Deutschlandlied. The article concludes by examining the conflicting political meanings of the Langemarck anecdote in the decades after World War I.
This article examines the unexpected behind-the-scenes relationship between the conservative Catholic chancellor Heinrich Brüning and Marxist theorist Rudolf Hilferding. This relationship is the starting point to understand both the politics of toleration and the political and cultural ecosystem in which this friendship came about. The German Social Democratic Party's policy of tolerating Brüning's conservative minority cabinet was hotly contested and has been viewed skeptically by political historians ever since. This article analyzes the mechanics of toleration through Brüning and Hilferding's relationship and demonstrates how Hilferding became the indispensable intermediary between the German cabinet and the socialist party. Toleration was a replacement political process in a polarized climate. A behind-the-scenes informal coalition that included the socialists, as well as the conservative cabinet, muddled through governing and policymaking with backroom negotiations instead of parliamentary debate. Although it failed, toleration was a last-ditch political strategy trying to preserve the Weimar Republic.
Starting out from the question of how history and law relate to each other, the article traces the influence of historical interpretations in the making of the Nuremberg Trials, taking these as examples for transitional trials more generally. In trying to explain Germany's apparently aberrant historical evolution, special-path explanations forged by historians gained in prominence after 1933. Several schools of historical thought proved particularly influential, among them the Namierites in Britain, the Andler-Vermeil school of Pangermanism in France, and the so-called Kehrites who emigrated from Germany to the US. These ideas then traveled to Nuremberg where they informed the prosecutors’ understanding of German history, leaving a discernible impact on the trials’ design and dynamics. In Nuremberg's aftermath, these trial narratives would come to inform influential strands in postwar historiography, with the special path both enjoying popularity and inviting heavy criticism to the present day.
Many Germans defended local time well beyond 1893, when Germany adopted a time standard bearing on the life of the entire nation. Yet the defining feature of Germany's temporal landscape was its multilayered nature, with North and South adopting different temporal regimes and undergoing different experiences. Focusing on the spread of (railway-induced) standard time and the responses it provoked, this article offers an investigation of German time culture in the nineteenth century. Out of curiosity and because their lives depended on it, Germans took an interest in obtaining the right time from the frequently contradictory horological landscapes they inhabited. Yet their shared curiosity did not breed conformity. The inspectors of the station clocks concerned with accuracy and synchronicity; the townsfolk in southern Germany who fast-forwarded their favorite public clock in order to get to the station in time; the Prussian scientists and villagers who opposed railway time becoming public time—they all, in their own way, contributed to putting time back in its place.
This article examines the resettlement of displaced populations in both postwar German states from 1945 to 1955. Specifically, it investigates who were the displaced populations circulating between the occupation zones, and what methods the German civil governments and occupying military authorities used to aid and resettle them. Through a case study of the Friedland refugee transit camp, this article argues for an expansive understanding of the term “refugee” to include more groups, ranging from Displaced Persons and German expellees to returning prisoners of war and civil internees. It further contends that transit camps were the linchpin in a system to render humanitarian aid, bring refugee movement under state control, and resettle the displaced. Analysis of camp operations and resident populations reveals the state as humanitarian actor in addition to international and charitable organizations, while also complicating the Cold War mythology of Friedland as the “Gateway to Freedom.”
This article traces changing conceptions of maternalism in the West German New Women's Movement from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. I argue that there were two moments in which the concept of motherhood was heatedly discussed and transformed. First, from the mid-1970s onward and within the broader cultural currents of “New Inwardness” (Neue Innerlichkeit) and “New Sensuality” (Neue Sinnlichkeit)—both of which permeated the New Left—motherhood became sensualized, eroticized, and sexualized. Second, these trends were intensified and at the same time drawn into new directions after the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. For while the focus on female corporeality was consolidated, a growing ecofeminist strand successfully reimagined motherhood as tightly bound to nature and life itself. Serving also as a means to deal with the Nazi past, this late 1980s conception of motherhood was marked by a more pessimistic, even apocalyptic outlook.
Historians divide over the question of how far “classic” European colonial experience in overseas empires provided the model for the Nazi empire in eastern Europe. Missing from arguments on either side of the debate have been the colonialists themselves. The Ukraine Project to enlist Dutch plantation companies for occupied Ukraine shows what happened when efforts were made to transfer traditional colonial expertise into the Nazi East. From the perspective of the project's proponents, there was indeed continuity between the two imperialisms. However, the company at the center of the project, the Deli Maatschappij, the ruling and tone-setting firm on Sumatra, saw no connection with its East Indies history and spurned all efforts to take it into Ukraine. Thus the Ukraine Project, despite its short-lived and failed history, complicates arguments from both perspectives and offers a trans-imperial history of a different sort than we are accustomed to encountering.
Historical research has turned in the last years more intensively toward entangled and transnational histories of biopolitics, the family, and the welfare state, but without renewed interest in aging and pension policy, a sphere of human experience that is often interrogated in parochial terms, if at all. An analysis of the culture and policies of old age in East Germany in the 1950s and 1960s shows the importance of a transnational history of this subject. The GDR, the Communist state with the greatest proportion of elderly citizens, needed to create a socialist model of aging. Neither the Communist tradition in Weimar Germany, nor the experience of the other states in the Communist bloc provided substantial guidance. East Germans looked instead for inspiration to West Germany, which was itself engaged in a debate about aging and pension policy. By grappling with the Western experience, including its perceived and real limitations, the GDR in the Ulbricht developed a vision of what it meant to age as a socialist.
This article examines the experiences of Polish-speaking subjects of the German Empire during World War I. Fighting for wartime empires tended to be retrospectively defined as involuntary service to a “foreign” cause. But the author of this article argues that it was very difficult to distinguish ostensibly passive “compliance” from ostensibly active “patriotism.” The apparent tensions between a German imperial agenda and Polish nationalism also proved to be highly navigable in practice, with German war aims often seen as not only reconcilable with but even conducive to the Polish national cause. Drawing on a recent wave of relevant historiography in English, German, and Polish, and incorporating further analysis of individual testimonies, the article explores the various ways in which “non-German” contributors to the German war effort tried to make sense of their awkward wartime biographies.