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Greg Eghigian and Matthew Paul Berg, eds. Sacrifice and National Belonging in Twentieth-Century Germany. Arlington: Texas A&M University Press, 2002. 229 pp. Index. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 1-58544-207-0.

Reviewed by Dieter K. Buse, Department of History, Laurentian University.
Published by H-German (June, 2003)

Would any person in the Federal Republic of Germany consider sacrificing his or her life to obtain territories in Poland? Is the altar of the fatherland still a place on which to deposit the dead youth of a generation? Sacrifice of self for the nation seems a difficult idea to apply to most present-day Germans. Ironically, for fifty years British and American governments did not want the Germans to go to war and to sacrifice themselves, yet now those same governments insist that Germans should be willing to do so. To accept suffering on behalf of a national community previously seemed a norm designed to attain national belonging, but now seems almost foreign to present-day Germany, even if it was an integral part of its past. National sacrifice in Germany has become historical metaphor and memorial. This indexless book illuminates the theme well, even if the reasons for the change remain implicit.

Sacrifice and National Belonging presents diverse case studies on the theme of German sacrifice in the first part of the twentieth century. One chapter moves far into the nineteenth century and two essays cover post World War II protest and memorialization. More than half the text, however, concentrates on the first half of the twentieth century before death for the nation lost its appeal. The introduction, by anthropologist John Borneman, summarizes the authors' arguments at too great a length. Though Borneman provides a solid theoretical and historiographic overview on sacrifice--perhaps better formulated by Eghigian (pp. 93-94) and Silke Wenk (pp. 201-03)--he asks odd questions about public remembrance: "How does one create a Germany without creating a Nazi Germany" (p. 13)? I suspect that one would be accused of being ahistorical, or very biased, if one asked "How does one create a United States of America without creating a slave-trading and owning (racist) United States, or without creating a country that perpetrated major war crimes in Vietnam?" Exceptionalism has limits, and post-World War II Germans have been quite capable of devising a federal Germany without it being Nazi in reality or identity. Indeed, they had some help burying the historic Nazi elements, thanks to their Cold War and NATO allies, as the information employed during the debates about the Wehrmacht war crimes exhibit underscored.

In "The Meaning of Dying: East Elbian Noble Families as 'Warrior-Tribes' in the 19th and 20th Centuries," Marcus Funck traces the idea and the reality of sacrifice as a survival strategy for one small, but significant, social group. Funck thinks that the military history of death should be, and can be, combined with the social history of the Prussian nobility. Beginning with the example of the Wedel family, Funck notes that seventy-two members died in Frederick II's wars. Though not defining precisely what is meant by "family," and not clarifying the role of inter-marriage among the clan-families--which might have shown another aspect of family survival--Funck details the Wedels' deaths in military service: 217 served as officers between 1817 and 1914; in 1913, 61 of 128 members served as active officers. From 1817 to 1914, 18 died in service; during World War I some 24 died. Funck seeks to illustrate the long process by which such families became military clans with their ideals militarized. To do so, he employs the idea of service over generations to explain the preparedness for "killing and being killed" (p. 28).

Funck insists that his evidence can be organized around the three concepts of self-sacrificing man, of men as sacrificers and of memory employed to reproduce the value of self-sacrifice. However, much of the evidence seems randomly collected from memoirs and does not demonstrate in depth the economic dependency upon military functions of such families that the author asserts. The way aristocratic women viewed their sons in relation to the concept of sacrifice opens up a topic that could be explored much further. However, Funck does show the lengths to which many families went in order to demonstrate their members' valor, to applaud their own leadership and to celebrate their "fallen" (including the portrayal of those killed in pre-war plane crashes or those who succumbed to spotted fever as war heroes). Funck touches upon, but does not clarify, the extent to which myth dominated the historical construction of sacrifice. He notes the transformation of clan sacrifice into national sacrifice for aristocratic families and attributes it to "pressure from the national patriotic associations" during the Wilhelmine era (p. 44). However, he also claims: "After the transformation of aristocratic thought on sacrifice into a national ideology after the Great War and especially during National Socialism, the 'return of belief' reappeared at only disparate moments" as in the Resistance" (pp. 48-49). How that national ideology functioned in relation to clan-sacrifice is left vague.

The shorter piece by Brian E. Crim, "'Was it All Just a Dream?': German-Jewish Veterans and the Confrontation with voelkisch Nationalism in the Interwar Period," begins with a questionable set of assertions about nationalism: "Three brands of nationalism existed during the Weimar Republic. One was a liberal and tolerant nationalism present during the Wars of Liberation (1807-1815), the Revolutions of 1848, and most clearly represented by the Weimar Constitution of 1919. The second was the militant nationalism represented by [Ernst] Juenger. The last was an increasingly more racially defined and unequivocal nationalism that emerged after the establishment of a unified industrial Germany in the late nineteenth century and flourished after the First World War [...]. It was nationalism as it developed by the late 19th century that threatened the civil status of the Jewish minority" (p. 65). Studies of the nationalism of the Wars of Liberation, by Karen Hagemann or Dirk Reder, for example, would question the first assertion. That the 1919 constitution represents nationalism is debatable and the "threatened civil status" of Jews had a long, problematic history before as well as after emancipation.

When he turns to the National Association of Jewish Front Soldiers founded in January 1919, Crim is on firmer ground. He maintains that World War I increased popular anti-Semitism with voelkisch nationalism attaining new heights. Crim examines the use made by Der Stuermer of the so-called Jewish military census and veterans' memoirs to demonstrate Nazi distrust of Jewish military participation and achievements. The National Socialist version of self-serving memory is well illustrated. The vain efforts of the Jewish veterans' attempt to support the Weimar Republic and to "work for a genuine national community where the criteria for membership was based on demonstrated patriotism, not the artificial category of race," (p. 75) is revealed by citing from their publications, especially their paper, Der Schild. Crim demonstrates the difficulties of the Jewish veterans' association in dealing with the "fractious legacy" of the war and argues that after 1933 it "was no longer combating the fringe, but rather, seeking reconciliation with the majority" (p. 79). This is perhaps the most interesting part of Crim's account, namely the attempt by veterans to accommodate to Adolf Hitler's state between 1933 and 1935. By the latter date many, including mothers of former servicemen, more realistically asked for what they had sacrificed during World War I. Crim rightly concludes that by then the Nazi myth of war sacrifice had become the dominant ideology: "Jewish veterans were not included in the National Socialist war narrative, but Jews certainly were" (p. 84).

Greg Eghigian has argued elsewhere that the social state is one of the continuities in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. Here, in "Injury, Fate, Resentment, and Sacrifice in German Political Culture, 1914-1939," he utilizes four special interest groups to see how aspects of social concern aided the transformation of Germans into Nazis. This transformation "poses nationalism as a profound moral question.... Morality and social fate are [...] inextricably bound up with twentieth-century German national belonging" (p. 91). The concept of "resentment" informs his attempt to "understand the very modern allure and innovation that National Socialism brought to German political culture" (p. 92). Assumptions about injuries and suffering, or "styles of emotional expression" and "a community of shared feelings," he thinks, make people see themselves more as victims than as sacrificers. The Central Association of German Invalids and Widows, the International League of Victims of War and Work, the various eugenic critics of the Weimar Welfare State, and the National Socialist Winter Relief Drive all organized themselves around suffering and sacrifice. But only the Winter Relief made "the honor of sacrifice, the community of social fate, and a social conscience of national belonging" integral to their welfare policies. Through a terse review of organizations from across the political map, Eghigian illustrates the commonality of social compensation demands, yet also demonstrates the divergent assumptions about how the demands were to be administered and meaning ascribed. Though chronologically taking the National Socialist organization's history far beyond when the others ceased to exist, Eghigian does demonstrate the way in which social resentment played a decisive role in shoring up Nazism: "What made Nazi social welfare different is that it nationalized, martialized, and collectivized this as well as other social fates; nationalized, in that it made social entitlement a function of citizenship; martialized, in that it envisioned helping in terms of struggle and battle-readiness; collectivized, in that it assumed personal fates had implications for the entire community. Nazi moral resentment, forged by the national sacrifices of World War I, thus embraced the promise that social redemption could only come through a moral renewal via sacrifice and self-sacrifice" (pp. 106-07). Eghigian captures elements of the special Nazi dynamic of "nicht mitzuleiden, mitzukaempfen"; however, he does not illustrate in any depth who accepted this version of national sacrifice. Though Eghigian's account is highly reasonable, only a reception history would confirm this account's credibility.

Michael Geyer contributes the most imaginative essay, "There Is a Land Where Everything Is Pure: Its Name Is Land of Death." He combines carefully patterned information with novel ideas. The title is a line from Hugo von Hofmannsthal's poetry used in Richard Strauss' opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, which debuted during the great slaughter/sacrifices in October 1916. In Geyer's view it "may well hold the key to why entire nations fight to the point of self-destruction" (p. 121). Geyer clarifies the way the Nazi leadership thought about sacrifice even when the war could not be won after 1942, and the manner in which the populace participated in the role defined for it. For instance, his evidence includes the statement from General Alfred Jodl that Hitler knew by early 1942 that victory could not be attained. Just as the German war machine went into high gear, Hitler sought to fight to the death. German military capability and sacrifice, in Geyer's view, reached their zenith during 1943-44. He provides decisive manpower figures. In 1940 dead/missing soldiers totaled over 60,000, and totaled about 300,000 just after the 1941 attack on the Soviet Union. By 1943 casualties reached 350,000 a month and kept increasing, with the greatest number of deaths in January 1945. Civilian casualties followed a similar pattern. German lethality toward others operated in parallel as Geyer seeks "to demonstrate the deadliness of the Nazi regime, especially in its final years" (p. 125).

This statement raises the question of why Germans fought on long after the war could only end in defeat, or why "war morale did not break" (p. 127). Geyer does not think this result was due to brainwashing, but rather "that sacrifice was the [German] survival strategy" (p. 129). He argues that the community's war effort involved a shared, "rather than imposed imperative" (p. 129). Citing the war letters and diaries collected by Suzanne zur Nieden, he notes the "virtue of community regularly appears as a powerful mobilizing force" including auxiliary female labor. Such materials illustrate an understanding of the need to win based on fear, namely, the fear of revenge and of internal division. In addition, at the top of society Geyer finds the deliberate use of such readiness for sacrifice in order to push toward a war of self-destruction. Geyer suggests fear was a "great mobilizer"--fear of an undefined revenge exactly as Joseph Goebbels wanted. "A nation that had committed atrocities and genocide was not likely to sue for peace. It could not but fight" (p. 132), since it accused the enemy of doing precisely what it had done. "Mirror- imaging," he maintains, "was meant to trap Germans into fighting a lost war: because they had murdered, they would be murdered in turn" (p. 132). The quest for unity and fear of dissolution became part of a paranoid worldview seeking to avoid a calamity, which helped bring a greater catastrophe.

Another element which Geyer seeks to underscore is the will to fight by an appeal to family values, namely that of men as the protectors of home, children and women. Thereby "[s]acrifice became a license to kill and a post-facto justification for genocide" (p. 137). A final element to which Geyer points is the "strategy for myth-making as the main purpose of waging war after it had been lost militarily." This concept of immortality by preparation to die, Geyer thinks, amounted to the Nazi leadership beginning a battle over memory. Geyer's essay is a tour de force filled with information, ideas, and implicit comparisons. It sets out levels in the "quest for immortality that gave death talk] resonance in the first place both within Germany and beyond" (p. 137).

By contrast, the longest essay is the least satisfying. The language of Uli Linke's "The Violence of Difference: Anti-Semitism and Misogyny," begs for the methodology of social history to provide context, to indicate the precise magnitude of the events and to measure the impact of mentioned statements. She begins with the claim that although "no longer endorsed as an official ideology after 1945, the blood mystique was often visibly inscribed on the historiographic surface of postwar Germany. Residing at the margins of awareness, fantasies of blood were rendered visible in fragments, each appearing by itself" (pp. 148-49). As substantiation for such generalizations, she offers a series of limited examples without any criteria for why the cited persons should be equated with "the German political imagination" (p. 154). Though significant as an illustration of one aspect of the cultural development of postwar West Germany, her attempt to equate the paucity of politicians' linguistic usage with signifiers of the populace's belief fails.

The author attempts to explain the ways that the link between the national community and state are depicted in German cultural vocabulary, in order to show how the bodies of outsiders in postwar Germany are linked to ideas of feminization and contagion, and particularly how these notions are linked to imagery involving blood and liquidation. But no "ordinary citizens" appear via fieldwork, questionnaires or interviews, and none of the rationalist variants of politicians' rhetoric or contrary perspectives attain any voice either. Noteworthy is the lack of any explanation in her account about why the violence against foreigners seems to have ceased after the wave of attacks in the years following unification. Most significantly, the author seems not to realize, despite all the quotations from "fascist warriors," that an earlier era's racism was aggressive and that the nationality concept of the Nazis intended and acted to spread Germanic blood, whereas for the postwar period she only cites a few defensive examples of fear of foreigners and of threatened change to bourgeois norms regarding women and youth. The same politicians who supposedly "legitimized" violence against foreigners seem also to have put in place the limits and the opposition to that violence.

Under the heading "Symbolics of Blood" Linke presents eight terse examples from politicians who employed blood/race related arguments during the late 1980s and early 1990s in defending the previous German naturalization laws. The legal reform under the present government she insists was "unsuccessful" in eliminating the blood principle of nationality, though perhaps she should speak of the genealogical principle. She concludes the "legal reform instituted a two-tiered, caste-like system of national belonging: one German, rooted in blood (natural, authentic, hereditary), the other foreign-German, rooted in space (artificial, inauthentic, unnatural)" (p. 155). One could follow her thinking down this road, except for the omission of all the contrary views in the discussions about the reforms. Had some of the latter been outlined, the "German political imagination" might not appear so simple or one-sided. In some sections, like "Liquidation: Regimes of Feminization" (p. 155), the author repeats earlier assertions as fact, failing to substantiate claims that "German discourse" involves moving from associations of foreigners with blood imagery to their feminization, or showing how this transformation might have occurred.

In her analysis of how Germans imagine Jewish bodies, Linke again fails to provide evidence for her assertions that fascism in Germany drew its images "from fantastic fabrications about female carnality and visions of the destructive power of the vulva and its fluids" (p. 157). This assertion is hard to reconcile with the shapely, friendly female nudes displayed during Nazi street festivals. In a section on the racialization of female bodies, the author draws on Klaus Theweleit's proto-fascist visions, but offers little similar evidence for the post-World War II era. Linke suggests a connection between notions of foreign bodies before and after World War II, concentrating on what she sees as a period of state repression and racial tension throughout the 1980s, when politicians feared a flood from what she terms "this liquid Other." This notion draws on a few solid examples of fear of asylum seekers, but they almost all date from February to July, 1980. Her limited notion of evidence construes even the positive statements of politicians about the desires of foreigners to improve their lives as fostering racial violence (p. 167). She concludes that by such images "German politicians have fostered an atmosphere that legitimates the use of racial violence" (p. 167). Further, "[o]n close inspection, German politicians began to 'see' the foreign flood as an indistinguishable tangle of bodies, a mass of brown flesh," of "dirt" and "excrement" so that "[v]iolence, even murder, could be imagined as a viable defense against this threat" (p. 169). The section on "Social Bodies" repeats the previous findings with harsher language: "Such allegories of gender and race are implicated in the murderous elimination of subaltern bodies in contemporary Germany" (p. 169), by which Linke presumably means the attacks on foreigners during the 1980s. She insists, "we encounter the vision of the armored (male) body and the inundating (female) flood in the purely civilian context of German racial politics" (p. 170). Linke suggests that all of German politics included a racial subtext.

Because of the lack of evidence presented here, however, it is similarly difficult to take seriously Linke's argument that public nudity was a central image of left political protest during the 1960s, or that it was more than an attention-getting device. The method of presenting evidence in this essay concentrates primarily on theory and isolated incidents. Linke's work also lacks a comparative perspective, either to other nations or other periods of German history. Her contentions about the public fear of nudity in West Germany are supported by six accounts from Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 1980. How becoming bronzed by sun exposure can act as a defense of whiteness remains a puzzle. Also disturbing is Linke's failure to periodize effectively, even when speaking of relatively short moments of history when certain cultural phenomena are postulated as appearing. This problem is most in evidence in the section "Commercialization of nudity: German tourism." Here the allgedly racial media of West Germany are also charged with becoming obsessively pornographic, supposedly in response to the demands of the travel industry. Here conclusions on this matter merely repeat assertions without substantiation: "[i]n contemporary Germany, refugee and immigrant bodies are depicted as wet, devouring, filthy, with insatiable appetites for impermissible pleasures [...] The postwar German state depended on racial otherness as an ideological andstructural phenomenon, which it simultaneously sought to exploit and to destroy [...]. Whether conceived as armored enclosure or natural artifact, the naked body was integral to a symbolic system that worked to anesthetize history in the construction of a new universe of victimhood and sacrifice [...] Germany's political men envisioned the threat of alien bodies as a liquid mass--inundating, flooding, surging. Their terror at this liquid Other [...] [l]inked to the murderous elimination of immigrant bodies, the naturalization of the white body emerged as an indispensable element in the 'purging' and 'cleansing' of the physical interior of the German state" (p. 185).

Certainly, the methodology shares the dangers of the pre-1960s intellectual history, which divorced ideas from social context and conditions. For example, to discuss postwar Germany would require one to ask what parliamentarians talked about in addition to foreigners, as well as how the politicians talked about foreign laborers privately. As a test I picked a relevant book from my shelves and opened a collection of documents from the 1980s. During a secret meeting between Karl Carstens and Erich Honecker, Carstens stated "the Federal Republic has huge problems with its more than two million foreign workers" ["die Bundesrepublik habe mit mehr als 2 Millionen auslaendischen Arbeitskraeften grosse Probleme"], but no floods nor dirty foreign bodies are mentioned. Similarly, in a rational mode, Honecker replied "here some 22,000 Polish workers are active, and they do diligent and orderly work" ["hier seien 22,000 polnische Arbeiter taetig, die eine fleissige und ordentliche Arbeit leisten"].[1]

With this choice of criticism I raise another issue; can one speak of postwar Germany and totally ignore the other German state? From the same documentary collection, in another exchange about the oppositional dissent by Christian peace movements in eastern Germany, Helmut Schmidt suggested to Erich Honecker that "a tolerant and let-it-be attitude" ["eine Haltung der Toleranz und der Gelassenheit"] would be appropriate.[2] Such language seems rational, even liberal, as opposed to images of state repression and anti-foreigner flows of blood or threatening excrement equated with outsiders and women. Similarly I opened one volume of the recent edition of Willy Brandt's writings to see how he speaks about the 1960s. On the student revolts and counter culture, nudity is totally absent from his comments. Indeed, Brandt acknowledges civil rights, access to education, opposing dictators and the Vietnam War as central--none of those topics appear in Linke's patchwork. Regarding the later violence against foreigners, one must ask what was symbolically being stated with the candlelight vigils and directly asserted by those who opposed the violence after the arson and killings at Hoyerswerda--again no such events, actions or bearers of different messages appear in Linke's text. In particular, what were the contents of the statements of those who organized the vigils at the Brandenburg Gate, where 100,000 persons lit symbolic candles, in opposition to violence against foreigners on a cold January 30, 1991? To write as though the passages one cites were the only discourse and to term it the "German discourse" seems questionable. Should Linke not explicitly state how many foreigners were attacked and killed during this era of "state repression" and "legitimization of violence" and explain any patterns of increase and decline? Linke's use of evidence in a way that raises questions for the historian also underlines for me that my experience of living in and observing post-1967 Germany does not fit with her image and ideology--for me her Germany past and present is a very foreign country.

A well-illustrated and informed essay by Silke Wenk closes the collection. "Sacrifice and Victimization in the Commemorative Practices of Nazi Genocide after German Unification: Memorial and Visual Metaphors," relates only to Berlin. Wenk provides the background to the competition for a "Central" Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, reviewing the proposals and their symbolic contents. She examines in depth the other major memorial to Victims of War and Tyranny, the Neue Wache site with its oversized Kaethe Kollwitz Pieta and all the shifts of meaning that the site has undergone since the Weimar Republic.[3] She explains other memorial sites scattered throughout Berlin (Memorial to Expellees, Flame [spirit of freedom], Nike Carries the Fallen Warrior to Olympus) and discusses clearly their symbolic representation, for instance the image of altar and contact to heaven, before focusing on the various proposals for the "Central" memorial. Wenk makes telling observations on the issue of place (Berlin Mitte) and space: "The point where two axes cross can be interpreted as the navel of a place ... of origin to which we should always be able to return [a]s the place of the community, where people can reassure themselves of their belonging" (p. 215). She rightly has reservations about "negative nationalism," namely the idea "that it was only possible to think of a German nation within the context of the crimes of the Nazi period" (p. 222). However, she earlier seemed to fall into the same limited approach when commenting upon some of the competition proposals. "They make visible the longing for a coherent and unbroken national identity for a country where no possibility of positive, unambivalent identification is to be found in history" (p. 217). And in what country, except in propagandistic civic textbooks, might such a positive, unambivalent identification be found?

The concept of sacrifice "for" needs to be distinguished from sacrifice "to maintain." Were those who have status, attained national honors or won territory--whether aristocrats or mothers identifying with a fatherland--more prepared to sacrifice themselves or their sons, than those who have not attained such gains? Such questions need to be added to those considered in this thought-provoking collection. Indeed, the questions historians ask about group motives--evident in the contributions by Funck, Geyer and Eghigian--seem remote from some anthropologists' approach to sacrifice. Anthropologists have helped historians to understand the rituals of sacrifice, but have they in turn learned the importance of precise social and historical context? This book leads beyond the issues raised about "the fallen" by authors such as George Mosse, but leaves some items untouched. For example, would it not be important to understand the fatherland concept for which political as well as self- sacrifice was made during World War I? Specifically, why were leading Social Democrats ready to sacrifice their party for their country? [4.] Moreover, what concept of belonging -- social versus national--inspired the GDR protestors in 1989? For what were persons willing to sacrifice family, career, even life? An analysis of the statements of participants at various levels would provide some understanding of another "German discourse," one that might be quite rational, humane, liberal and tied to the values of patriotism. The elevation of the nation above all values remains the central question regarding sacrifice in any context, but need it always be seen as negative?[5] Many of the subsidiary questions related to sacrifice and national belonging remain to be explored.


[1]. Heinrich Potthoff, ed., Die 'Koalition der Vernunft': Deutschlandpolitik in den 80er Jahren (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, 1995), p. 100.

[2]. Ibid., p. 166.

[3]. On this, see also Sean Forner, "War Commemoration and the Republic in Crisis: Weimar Germany and the Neue Wache," Central European History XXXV (2001), p. 513ff.

[4]. Michael Geyer, "Insurrectionary Warfare: The German Debate about a Levee en Masse in October 1918," Journal of Modern History 73 (2001): 459-527, has pointed to the "catastrophic nationalism that obliges its citizens to die in order for the nation to live." (p. 463).

[5]. An example of a different approach that finds "a new contract at the heart of national identity: a reciprocity of sacrifice and obligation that bound individuals to the state," via patriotism and acknowledgement of contributions by veterans and nurses is found in Jean Quataert, Staging Philanthropy: Patriot Women and the National Imagination in Dynastic Germany, 1813-1916 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001), p. 223.

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 28/02/04 05:30:16
S D Stein

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