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German Colonialism

German Colonialism: Race, the Holocaust, and Postwar Germany

Volker Langbehn
Mohammad Salama
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    German Colonialism
    Book Description:

    More than half a century before the mass executions of the Holocaust, Germany devastated the peoples of southwestern Africa. While colonialism might seem marginal to German history, new scholarship compares these acts to Nazi practices on the Eastern and Western fronts. With some of the most important essays from the past five years exploring the "continuity thesis," this anthology debates the links between German colonialist activities and the behavior of Germany during World War II. Some contributors argue the country's domination of southwestern Africa gave rise to perceptions of racial difference and superiority at home, building upon a nascent nationalism that blossomed into National Socialism and the Holocaust. Others remain skeptical and challenge the continuity thesis. The contributors also examine Germany's colonial past with debates over the country's identity and history and compare its colonial crimes with other European ventures. Other issues explored include the denial or marginalization of German genocide and the place of colonialism and the Holocaust within German and Israeli postwar relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52054-6
    Subjects: History, Religion, Political Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Reconfiguring German Colonialism
    (pp. ix-xxxiv)
    Volker Langbehn and Mohammad Salama

    Holocaust historiography has undergone major changes in recent years. Discussions in the 1960s and 1970s centered on models of fascism, totalitarianism, or the historiography of Nazi Germany rather than the Holocaust per se. Beginning in the 1980s, historical research viewed either Nazi anti-Semitism or alternative concepts such as modernity, technology, race, and eugenics as the primary cause of the Holocaust.¹ In the past decade colonial aspects of the Nazi project have become an important research focus. Newly established frames of reference, which include genocide and globalization, have triggered a reevaluation and redefinition of the parameters within which to understand the...

  5. Part I. Colonial (Dis) Continuities:: Framing the Issue

    • 1 Borrowed Light: Nietzsche and the Colonies
      (pp. 3-28)
      Timothy Brennan

      Many of Nietzsche’s most vivid remarks on colonialism have circulated underground for some time. Hardly unknown, they are eagerly seized on as evidence of his antinomian spirit. To take one recent example, Massimo Cacciari’s Geofilosofia dell’Europa links the decline of European Empire (a corollary of the fall of European Man) with the emergence of a new and welcome oncept of the “West.”¹ In the book’s epigraph Cacciari summons Nietzsche’s words in prophetic support: “I have absorbed in myself the spirit of Europe—now I want to strike back!”² We have here, in microcosm, the kind of riposte to European humanism...

    • 2 German Colonialism: Some Reflections on Reassessments, Specificities, and Constellations
      (pp. 29-48)
      Birthe Kundrus

      In late October 2006 former chancellor Gerhard Schröder publicly praised Vladimir Putin (and not for the first time). Asked by representatives of the media why businessmen are thrown into prison in Russia, Schröder replied: “We send tax evaders to prison, too. But we don’t have Siberia at our disposal.”¹

      Leaving aside the political and legal scandal of this statement, as well as Schröder’s presumably rather cool yearnings for Siberia, one might read his witticism as an involuntary expression of the German imperial dilemma of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: discussions always revolved around something that Germany didn’t have. This is...

  6. Part II. Lebensraum and Genocide

    • 3 Against “Human Diversity as Such”: Lebensraum and Genocide in the Third Reich
      (pp. 51-71)
      Shelley Baranowski

      Much of the debate on colonialism and the imperial imagination in German history focuses on the links between Imperial Germany’s colonial experience overseas, especially in Africa, and the Nazi regime’s campaigns to acquire “living space” (Lebensraum), remove or eliminate racial inferiors, and exterminate the Jews. To be sure, scholars are reluctant to impose simplistic continuities between the Holocaust and the most notorious event in pre-1918 German colonial history, the Herero and Nama genocides in Southwest Africa between 1904 and 1908. Nevertheless, historians of Imperial German colonialism have identified concepts and practices that laid the foundation for the murderous fantasies of...

    • 4 Hannah Arendt, Imperialisms, and the Holocaust
      (pp. 72-92)
      A. Dirk Moses

      Hannah Arendt has made a comeback with scholars of German colonialism and mass violence via renewed attention to her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Routinely cited in the 1970s, she was subsequently forgotten as Holocaust researchers focused on anti-Semitism or conducted regional case studies and as German historiography studied the postwar legacies of the dictatorships and the cultural history of German modernities.¹ The revival of colonial and imperial questions with the transnational paradigm and the exhaustion of the internationalist and structuralist frameworks in Holocaust research have driven some scholars to revisit “grand” historical theory.² In this context Arendt’s argument...

    • 5 Caesura, Continuity, and Myth: The Stakes of Tethering the Holocaust to German Colonial Theory
      (pp. 93-120)
      Kitty Millet

      In Landscape and Memory Simon Schama describes Białowieża, a primeval forest at the border of Poland and Belarus, in relation to the German concept of the Urwald. Quoting Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz to get at the underpinnings of Białowieża as Urwald, Schama demonstrates the forest’s imagined significance to the Poles and then, by extension, to the Germans, Lithuanians, and Russians: “—in a dense fog beyond which, ‘fables so declare,’ is a kind of primitive paradise: an ark of species, animal and vegetable; some of every kind. . . . Their progeny are sent beyond the secret cradle-world, called ‘Motherland’...

  7. Part III. Looking East:: Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and Politicized Jihadism

    • 6 Germany’s Adventures in the Orient: A History of Ambivalent Semicolonial Entanglements
      (pp. 123-145)
      Malte Fuhrmann

      The question of continuities and breaks in Germany’s relationship with its “Orient,” that is, the regions southeast of the Kaiserreich and the Habsburg Empire, is not easy to answer, because there is no consensus among historians on how to interpret this encounter in the first place. This chapter focuses on the question of how to frame this relationship meaningfully in the context of colonialism and Orientalism. On this basis, I will briefly discuss how we can address the question of continuity without committing the fallacies either of seeing the Kaiserreich’s Orient colonialism as a unique event separated from the rest...

    • 7 Arguing the Case for a Colonial Poland
      (pp. 146-163)
      Kristin Kopp

      In an oft-cited episode reflecting National Socialist perceptions of eastern European space during the Second World War, we follow the prominent author and president of the Reich Chamber of Literature, Hanns Johst, as he joins his close friend, SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, for a brief tour through occupied Poland during the winter of 1939 to 1940.¹ Having surveyed the scene, Johst writes: “The Poles are not a state-building nation. They lack even the most elementary preconditions for it. I drove alongside the Reichsführer-SS up and down that country. A country that has so little feeling for systematic settlement, that cannot even...

    • 8 Colonialism, and No End: The Other Continuity Theses
      (pp. 164-190)
      Russell A. Berman

      Growing scholarly attention to German colonialism has provided a welcome correction to previous paradigms that focused too exclusively on internally and narrowly national processes. An extensive consideration of the history of the disciplines, above all literature and history, might be able to trace the source of that conventionally national and now increasingly outdated paradigm, in German Studies as well as in other fields. Literary fields are grappling with the challenge of “world literature,” as historiography tries to understand what a “world history” might mean. The widened perspective, in any case, which surpasses those national constraints, despite their lingering influence, has...

  8. Part IV. Of Missionaries, Economics, and Intranational Self-Perception

    • 9 The Purpose of German Colonialism, or the Long Shadow of Bismarck’s Colonial Policy
      (pp. 193-214)
      Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann

      Recent economic news has suggested that China’s rising industrial strength threatens Germany’s position as the world’s leading exporter of manufactured goods. The expansion of Germany’s industrial economy started in the middle of the nineteenth century, as did its drive to increase its share in world trade. Germany soon became one of the leading exporters, a position the country has kept up to the present, despite losing two world wars in the twentieth century. The country’s exports and imports reached their initial peak during the last thirty years before World War I. Compared with the figures of 1880, they had more...

    • 10 Christian Missionary Societies in the German Colonies, 1884/85–1914/15
      (pp. 215-253)
      Ulrich van der Heyden

      Probably the longest lasting and most controversial debate over German colonialism has been the decades-long debate about its relationship to the Christian mission. In mission historiography there has been an equally long debate about how closely the Christian mission is connected to colonialism and how close it ought to be. The discussions, which question the very legitimacy of mission work, are revisited repeatedly.¹ Even the Christian churches have criticized the practice and content of Christian missionary activity of the past and sometimes the present.

      The most common question in these debates is whether one should consider the Christian missionaries as...

    • 11 German Colonialism and the British Neighbor in Africa Before 1914: Self-Definitions, Lines of Demarcation, and Cooperation
      (pp. 254-272)
      Ulrike Lindner

      If we address German colonialism within an imperial and international context, we see that the fact of Germany’s being a latecomer in the colonial sphere shaped the whole German colonial enterprise. We could define the wish to attain the same prestige as other European imperialists as a crucial feature of German rule in the colonial world. In this context Russell A. Berman’s interpretation of German colonialism as a form of secondary colonialism with the major aim of measuring up to the other colonial powers proves highly revealing.¹ Or as Birthe Kundrus has pointed out in her article in this volume,...

  9. Part V. Postcolonial German Politics

    • 12 “Kalashnikovs, Not Coca-Cola, Bring Self-Determination to Angola”: The Two Germanys, Lusophone Africa, and the Rhetoric of Colonial Difference
      (pp. 275-293)
      Luís Madureira

      One of the most incongruous sights I encountered during my first trip to Havana—a city renowned for its eye-popping, positively jaw-dropping, incongruities—was an old bus (no doubt donated to the Cuban government by the former Democratic Republic of Germany), lumbering through the dilapidated streets of the Caribbean capital with its original East German destination sign still in place. For one fleeting moment it loomed improbably as a powerful emblem of tragic exile, at once the metonym and the negation of Alejo Carpentier’s “marvelous real,” doomed to search, until the very end of its operating days, for some unpronounceable...

    • 13 Germany, Palestine, Israel, and the (Post) Colonial Imagination
      (pp. 294-314)
      Martin Braach-Maksvytis

      Historians have often noted the almost “pathetic glorification” of the nascent Israeli state by West German observers in the early 1950s and the mid-1960s.¹ This glorification expressed itself in the glowing adulation for the “valiant” Jewish pioneers who “were making the desert bloom,” and who were turning an “old and neglected Palestine” into a “modern, civilized and civilizing state” that could serve as a shining example to the “backward and stagnant” Arab world. A common explanation holds that this attitude emanated from a strong current of a guilt-infused form of philosemitism that reached its zenith during the Arab-Israeli Six Day...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 315-320)
  11. Index
    (pp. 321-328)