Borrowing from Mussolini: Nazi Germany’s Colonial Aspirations in the Shadow of Italian Colonialism

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Patrick Bernhard, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung
Few topics have sparked more debate than the question of how colonialism related to Nazism. While the mainstream historiography on Nazi Germany for many years has denied the existence of any serious links between Hitler’s expansionist policies and Germany’s shortlived colonial empire, with the rise of postcolonial studies this view has come under massive attack. As scholars like Benjamin Madley and Jürgen Zimmerer have argued, the colonial crimes committed especially in South-West Africa have to be seen as a sort of mental blueprint for the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe. Astonishingly, this debate has remained stuck in the national paradigm. This paper offers a different, a more European perspective. It illuminates how the colonialism of Mussolini’s Italy, Europe’s first fascist dictatorship, was an inspirational force that appealed to Germany’s postcolonial society as well as to Hitler himself. As will be argued, the Italian example was important mainly in three respects: firstly, Mussolini’s policy of conquest was a significant driver of colonial desires within German society. Secondly, for Hitler enthusiasm for Italian colonialism was a means of consolidating his rule and legitimizing his plans for the brutal conquest of Eastern Europe. Thirdly, Fascist Italy’s colonial empire served as a model when the Nazis started to develop far-reaching plans for a future German colonial empire in Africa. Thus, it is argued that the history of Nazi Germany has to be understood in a transnational and imperial perspective.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>