The Promise of Nationalism: Women and Jews in European Nationalist Movements in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

AHA Session 52
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ute Frevert, Max Planck Institute for Human Development
Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden

Session Abstract

The construction of nationalist communities was one of the dominant forces to shape the twentieth century. This was particularly true for Europe in the wake of the First World War, as empires collapsed and [created room for] aspirations of national self-determination. Though highly gendered and often imbued with a hyper-masculinity, the appeal of nationalist messages, even radical nationalist and fascist, was strong enough to attract the support of two groups not typically included as active participants in such movements, or if so, in clearly subordinate roles: women and Jews.

This session seeks to explore the involvement of women and Jews in nationalist discourses and movements without starting from the presumption that this involvement was irrational and misguided. Instead it investigates the attraction of nationalist movements, which could lie precisely in their gender or societal stereotypes, and their offer of places of power and influence in their hierarchies to previously marginalized groups.

Such involvement in nationalist movements could take various forms: It could mean the active participation in the structures of nationalist parties by conservative women. Kirsten Heinsohn will detail this aspect of German and other European nationalisms in her panel. It could be Jewish Italians who developed their own ‘Jewish Fascism’ or joined the ranks of Mussolini’s Fascist movement as Simon Levis Sullam’s research demonstrates. It could take the form of the prolonged intellectual engagement with Hungarian nationalism and fascism right through the Second World War on the part of Hungarian Jews. Ferenc Laczo has explored this aspect of Hungarian history, which stands almost unparalleled in Europe. And it could, finally, result in the endorsement by Jewish German soldiers, and particularly military rabbis, of their country’s imperial designs in Eastern-Central Europe during the First World War. Philipp Nielsen will discuss this often-overlooked chapter of German-Jewish history.

The reasons for such involvement could be manifold, ranging from an ideological commitment to conservatism and/or nationalism, a hankering to restore honor, both national and personal, by joining groups that made honor – often in gendered form – their premise, to a recognition of changing political times and the need to adapt to new and seemingly dominant forces. In presenting the motivations behind this seemingly incongruous and counter-intuitive involvement on the part of groups later to suffer the brunt of nationalism’s extremes, the panelists attempt to give a more complete account of the interaction of race and gender in nationalist communities.

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