Remaking an Individualistic Metropolis: Berlin under Nazism

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
Parlor D (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Moritz Foellmer, University of Leeds
Before the advent of the Third Reich, Berlin was frequently depicted as a city where sharp-elbowed individualists competed with each other. In establishing a new ideological and institutional framework in the previously unloved German capital, the Nazi regime was compelled to accommodate and redefine this crucial dimension of urban life. Crucially, propaganda suggested that Berliners now enjoyed a far wider range of options for self-realization than under the stifling Weimar ‘system’. Extraordinary professional or athletic exploits seemed as available as ordinary domesticity and leisure. Conversely, archival sources show that Berliners themselves, even when unwilling to subordinate their personal interests and desires to the higher good of the Volk, could still foster them through appropriating Nazi rhetoric and practice. This frequently included personal enrichment and self-empowerment at the expense of the Jewish minority, which was thereby pushed into increasingly desperate struggles for survival and agency. The consensus between the Nazi regime and a large proportion of the capital’s non-Jewish population through the redefinition of legitimate individuality became strained in the second half of the war. The pressure to conform to increasing disciplinary requirements, notably in the workplace, clashed with a widespread tendency for privatist withdrawal. Yet, it many cases Berliners continued to exploit Nazi rhetoric and practice for their own purposes. And as some of the surviving correspondences show, it could be precisely the desire for a return to ordinary domesticity that fueled the loyalty to the Third Reich, whose ultimate victory would ensure an individualistic future for soldiers and their families. Collectivistic subordination prevailed only in the retrospective image of Nazism, which was formed immediately after 1945 through a consensus between allied occupiers, domestic democrats and the many Berliners interested in obscuring their own involvement in the regime. 
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>