Colonialism and Public Culture in the Third Reich

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Willeke Sandler, Loyola University Maryland
Between 1933 and 1943, a dedicated core of colonialists made it their mission to convince the German public of the centrality of overseas colonialism to both their national identity and Germany’s future. A number of studies have investigated the domestic role of colonialism in Imperial Germany, or planning for a future empire and diplomacy in Nazi Germany. A study of domestic colonialist advocacy in the Third Reich, however, demonstrates the continued importance of these territories beyond the end of empire and in the context of an expansionist dictatorship. Colonialists produced a vast array of publications, exhibitions, rallies, lectures, photographs, and posters, and two million Germans had joined the Reich Colonial League by 1941. In order to maintain this public presence, colonialists had to navigate the overlap and potential conflicts between their visions of empire and those of the Nazi regime. One can envision the relationship between these two groups (which were themselves neither monolithic nor necessarily mutually exclusive) as a Venn diagram. This Venn diagram contained significant points of overlap (German irredentism and the idea of Lebensraum, for example), which enabled colonialists to continue their public activism until 1943. One substantial contrast between the two was the territorial location of empire: Africa or Eastern Europe. While not rejecting the regime’s plans for Eastern European territorial expansion, colonialists sought to maintain the specificity and thereby the importance of overseas territories, Africa in particular. Within this debate, which played out both in colonialists’ organizational politics and their public culture, one can also see the tenacity with which colonialists clung to their (sense of) autonomy in the Third Reich. As such, colonialists’ domestic advocacy tells us about “special interest” driven activities under Nazism and reveals a more contested contemporaneous discussion of continuity between overseas colonialism and Nazi expansion.
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