Citizen Hausfrau, Citizen Civil Defense Worker: Defining the New German Woman in the Early Cold War Germanys

Friday, January 6, 2012: 10:10 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Nicholas J. Steneck, Florida Southern College
For Germans, the decades following the country’s defeat in May 1945 were ones of physical reconstruction. They were also decades characterized by cultural rebirth and social reorganization as people struggled to define what the term “German” meant in an era of Cold War. This paper examines how in the two Germanys one specific aspect of Cold War military planning – civil defense – was used to define, impose, and reinforce specific gender identities. In both cases, the ruling political elite wished to make a clear break with the Nazi past and fulfill their visions of the role women would play in postwar society. The paper’s primary focus is on the West German experience. Here, officials and civil defense proponents viewed the program as a means to reinforce the conservative social and cultural values characteristic of the Adenauer Era, and did so through sophisticated print and multimedia propaganda campaigns. In the East, civil defense played a similar role in the process of identity-creation, providing the state with an important socializing instrument. The paper concludes that comparing the West German experience with that of its eastern neighbor suggests that both used civil defense to educate the population to think and act as citizens of the “new Germany,” but in doing so created new roles for women that were remarkably similar to those embraced by the Nazi regime.
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