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Herrschaft und Alltag: Ein Industrierevier im Dritten Reich.

The social history of the Thousand Year Reich reminds us how difficult it is to describe the boundaries between accomodation and endorsement, between acquiescence and acceptance, between complacency and complicity. The very complexity of sorting out these issues makes the "German problem" our problem. In this massive study of Nazi rule in the Saarland, returned to German jurisdiction only after the plebiscite of 1935, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Gerhard Paul conclude that the Third Reich was founded on a broad-based consensus. The "domination" and "daily life" of their title do not stand in opposition; rather Nazi rule was only possible because of the support, collaboration, and enthusiasm of many Germans for National Socialism.

Mallmann and Paul are especially concerned with challenging those who seek to explain the absence of opposition to the Nazis by invoking an all-powerful state and a repressive Gestapo. In this account, the Gestapo emerges as anything but an efficient agent of organized terror. In the Saarland, its youthful, relatively inexperienced staff found itself drowning in a sea of data and directives, by no means the omniscient, ubiquitous agent of a totalitarian state. Echoing the findings of Robert Gellately's recent study of Wurzburg, the authors conclude that the Gestapo was effective not because of its organization or personnel, but because of the extensive cooperation of private citizens with the secret police.(1) For many "normal" Germans, denunciation became a vehicle for escape from parental control, for the resolution of conflicts within the community, at the workplace, among heirs, or within marriage; it was the primary source of information for the regime at the local level. "Without the army of voluntary informers the Gestapo would have been blind" (p. 241), Mallmann and Paul conclude. In their account, Nazi terror comes from below. The omnipotent totalitarian state was a myth propagated by the Nazi regime and, argue Mallmann and Paul, reproduced by a generation of postwar historians who sought to explain why Germans failed to oppose Nazis.

The regime's popularity stemmed from its ability to manipulate a language of a social revolution that was national and to back up propaganda with a "socialism of deeds." Attacks on "speculators" and "asocial" entrepreneurs gave the Nazi regime in the Saarland a specifically populist quality. Economic expansion, social policies that addressed problems of unemployment and an inadequate housing stock, popular participation in mass organizations, and a broad range of party-sponsored cultural and leisure activities provided material bases for propagandistic promises that things would get better and better.

Mallmann and Paul concede that consensus was by no means absolute, but they reject interpretations that elevate all forms of dissent to the level of political opposition. Higher rates of geographic and social mobility and threats to traditional socio-cultural values accompanied rapid economic modernization after 1935, but the citizens of the Saarland who were alarmed by these developments attributed no responsibility for them to the Nazis. For Mallmann and Paul, the work slowdowns or organized work stoppages and strikes that accompanied full employment were defensive reactions against worsening conditions on the job, not indications of resistance to the National Socialist state. According to the authors, such activities as joking about the regime, failing to give the Hitler salute, listening to foreign radio broadcasts, attending a jazz club, or even desertion from the army should not be celebrated as forms of resistance. They maintain that equating all expressions of dissent with political opposition contributes to an exculpatory mythology, hatched first by exiled Germans in the thirties and propagated uncritically by a postwar generation of historians in search of that "other Germany," the Germany that had not succumbed to Hitler.

These sobering conclusions provide a powerful corrective to studies that seek to rehabilitate German society under Hitler either by historicizing "everyday life" or by blaming a tyrannical Nazi state for the passivity of the German population. Mallmann and Paul's moral balance sheet indicates how quickly postwar Germans erased deeply troubling parts of their most recent past and how successfully a critical generation of postwar historians reproduced mythologies of individual Germans who held little or no responsibility for Nazi horrors. In this regard, their work parallels a number of other recent studies of "everyday life" in the Third Reich, which, from a range of perspectives, have set out to describe the bases for consensus, rather than assuming an opposition that the Nazis brutally crushed.(2)

Ultimately, however, resistance is in the eye of the beholder. While Mallmann and Paul provide a devastating critique of those who would find opposition everywhere in the Third Reich, they never offer any clear sense of what would constitute meaningful political resistance to the regime. Disappointing as well is their failure to provide any systematic discussion of women's experience or the ways in which gender figured in the policies of the Third Reich. They take to task those who insist that German women should be written off as unwitting victims of a state dominated by men and a "male ideology," but they do relatively little to provide a corrective. Women appear in statistical charts on wages and general discussions of labor force participation rates; they receive brief mention for their virtually exclusive role in cases of denunciation within the sphere of the family; elsewhere, however, we do not learn much of how women's "daily life" differed from men's. Thus, in their elaboration of Nazi social policies, the authors provide no sense of how the regime's pro- and anti-natal policies were administered at the local level. When they discuss the specific nature of women's support for the regime, they uncritically reproduce familiar images of "women of all ages lingering in prayer before a picture of Hitler adorned with candles and flowers" (p. 159). Even in their treatment of the war years, as struggles over provisioning intensified and the "family became the special focus of life" (p. 80), the "homefront" - where by war's end, women far outnumbered men - is never analyzed in gender-specific terms. The extensive literature on women under National Socialism seldom appears in the authors' footnotes and is poorly represented in the bibliographic list of "frequently cited literature."

Other topics are also most noticeable by their absence. Though the authors mention in passing that after the beginning of the war, homosexuals became more prominent among those deemed "unfit for the collectivity" (gemeinschaftsunfahig) (pp. 155, 283), there is no comprehensive discussion of the persecution of those deemed "asocial" on the basis of their sexual identity or the intensification of attacks on gay men after the purge of the SA in 1934. Topics that have been marginalized in the literature on the Third Reich appear here only on the margins as well.

These silences are particularly frustrating because Mallmann and Paul's extensive look at regional and local level archives would have provided an opportunity for a more nuanced discussion of how the Nazis moved from theory to practice in the administration of policies affecting those destined to reproduce the "master race" and those whose sexual practices made them a threat to the "racial state." This criticism does not mitigate the importance of Mallmann and Paul's conclusions, but it does suggest that their book does not challenge well-established methodological frameworks for studying the intersection of politics and society in the Third Reich.

This brick of a book indicates that the debate over responsibility for the Third Reich is far from over. Unfortunately, a detailed regional study of this sort is unlikely to find a non-German audience that extends much beyond specialists. The authors' decision to provide no thematic subject index will not enhance the possibility for readers to use it selectively. Still, together with other regional and local studies, Mallmann and Paul's work indicates how far our understanding of the Third Reich has come from accounts that described helpless Germans confronting an all-powerful Nazi state. They contribute to a far more troubling and complex picture of National Socialism in which "daily life" was not the source of resistance to Nazi "domination"; rather, in the Thousand Year Reich domination was firmly rooted in the cooperation and complicity of daily life.


(1.) Mallmann and Paul acknowledge Gellately but were not able to obtain his book before their manuscript went to press. See Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945 (Oxford, 1990).

(2.) See, for example, Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich: Bavaria 1933-1945 (Oxford, 1983); Lutz Niethammer, ed., "Hinterher merkt man, dass es richtig war, dass es schiefgegangen ist": Nachkriegs-Erfahrungen im Ruhrgebiet (Bonn, 1983); the multivolume series, Martin Broszat, Bayern in der NS-Zeit, vol. 1-6 (Munich, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983); and Detlev J. K. Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life, trans. by Richard Deveson (New Haven, 1987).
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Author:Moeller, Robert G.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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