Nazi Local: Placing the Production of Power in the Third Reich

Conference Group for Central European History 3
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Parlor D (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Andrew Bergerson, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Maiken Umbach, University of Manchester

Session Abstract

The notion of an omnipotent National Socialist state terrorizing the population into submission has long been complicated by historians who demonstrated the polycratic nature of the Nazi state, the systemic incoherence of planning and execution of policy in the central administration, the readiness of society to police itself in the name of a racially pure Volksgemeinschaft, and the importance of everyday practices for the production of ordinariness under oppressive political conditions. In the context of war-driven racial policy, historians now underline a certain degree of leverage within the Reich’s institutions, such as the army, the SS and the Gau-leadership, mindful that such leverage was always subordinate to and legitimized by the Nazi regime’s totalizing ideological frame. Conversely, recent research also stresses the readiness of individuals to participate in exclusionary practices and anti-Semitic violence. In light of this, it serves to investigate to what extent such ideologically contained and clearly limited ingenuity remained a consistent feature of local politics more generally. Local consortia, coordinated institutions, permitted publics, the local press and the urban corps of welfare workers not only destroyed previously existing social bonds but also mobilized new collectives.

Problematizing the ‘local’ as a conceptual category and exploring its analytical weight, this panel seeks to understand the role played by municipal administrations, institutions and individual citizens in the production and reproduction of the regime’s power. In spite of the politics of Gleichschaltung [coordination] lower level administrators, cultural experts, and interest groups attempted to mobilize local particularities and achievements in the name national issues. Thus much of the day-to-day workings within permitted and coordinated institutions (and publics for that matter) continued to perpetuate the illusion of doing ‘business as usual’ by partaking in politics without partaking in power. Moritz Föllmer and Anne Berg will focus on the urban landscapes of Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. Föllmer concentrates on individual Berliners and their responses to conformity pressures as the regime opened venues for individual self-empowerment and retreat into conspicuous domesticity. Berg, in contrast, will focus on local institutions and their respective attempts to place a nazified Hamburg onto the cultural map of the Third Reich. Taking us to the Nazi celebrated rural idyll of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Joshua Hagan will explore the local initiatives in reshaping the town as a thoroughly nazified model of the prototypical old-town idyll. Together we are interested in the role played by local identities (individual and collective) in articulating visions that shaped and sustained Nazism at the level of the state, the region and city. Moreover, we hope to gain a better understanding of the impact of local bonds in mediating between individual interest and the social utopia of Volksgemeinschaft or people’s community promulgated by the Nazi state.