Sexual liberations under Nazism

The Nazi regime encouraged Germans to experience playful heterosexuality. Many women Aryan were able to benefit from professional and emotional opportunities. Is there a contradiction between the promotion of sexual freedom and the confiscation of political freedom??

The link between Nazism and sexuality is not a new field of research. Much has been written about Goebbels' sex addiction, about Himmler's crude letters to his mistress, about whether Hitler had a micropenis. But all these projects aiming to approach history through the (very small) end of the lens failed to take into account the role played by sexuality for ordinary citizens who experienced Nazism.

Redeploying sexuality

We know that totalitarian ideologies did not stop at the bedroom door. They sought to permeate individuals even in their privacy, and not just to control their public actions. The Nazi regime approached the sexual question in a radically rational way: it was theorized, in the same way as the reduction of unemployment or military strategy.

Primo Lvi wrote magnificent pages to express his dismay at the face of Nazi barbarity. His rationality and morality did not allow him to access the logic of this regime. And, in fact, it is not easy to have an approach understanding of the history of Nazism (even if Elissa Mailnder never uses this term).

Very often, Nazism remains absolute otherness, unintelligible, either because researchers cannot or do not want to venture into the twists and turns of this criminal ideology, or because the psychology of Nazi leaders is pathologized, leading to madness. Furthermore, historiography has tended to reduce Nazism to a monstrous epiphenomenon with no solution of continuity with the history of XXe century, an outbreak of absolute barbarism, therefore ahistorical.

How is sexuality a key to understanding the adherence to National Socialism of tens of millions of women and men, Germans and Austrians, and its continuities before and after?? What to do with the apparent paradox between confiscation of political freedom and promotion of sexual freedom?

The prism of sexuality is fruitful to explain why many had the feeling of finding their place in the Third Reich (obviously on the condition of being heterosexual and Aryan). Nazism adroitly used sexuality, not to repress it, but to redeploy it according to its objectives and reinvent it according to racist criteria. Individuals were encouraged to experience playful heterosexuality for both reproductive and recreational purposes. According to Christian Ingrao, Nazism is a matter of hatred and anguish, (), but it is also a matter of hope, joy, fervor and utopia. Thinking of sexuality under Nazism as an oppressed and disciplined sexuality would be a very reductive vision, and Elissa Mailnder provides a masterful demonstration of this.

Everyday stories

Mailnder's sources are very varied in their nature: letters, diaries, photographic albums (notably the Sammlung Frauennachlsse of Vienna, collection of private funds of women), propaganda films, film by Billy Wilder The Scandalous Woman of Berlin (1947), documents of the American military administration between 1944 and 1949, testimonies of readers of the magazine Liebe und Ehe. The author is aware of the impossibility of verifying the authenticity of these testimonies, but she starts from the postulate that the heuristic interest does not lie in the truth, but rather in the truth status which a story enjoys in a given society.

The method is that ofAll tags, the history of everyday life, which is also a history of representations. It is a matter of attempting to restore, by assuming the fragmentary nature of the sources, the subjectivity of individuals. The book also owes a lot to Alf Ldtke. His concept of as for oneself (Eigensinn) allows us to understand the mechanisms of appropriation (or not) of external constraints by individuals. Like the concept of Resistenz by Martin Broszat, it is often used, also in research on GDRto understand how individuals lived the dictatorship.

Moreover, the author could have relied on James Scott andinfrapolitics ordinary people, an important tool for thinking about domination without alienation: the challenge is to highlight the fragmentary actions of resistance, hidden outside the field of vision of power, what James Scott calls the hidden text (hidden transcript). It would have been very effective in describing the case of the Austrian judges studied by Mailnder, who took advantage of the small margin they had to interpret Nazi matrimonial law.

Women and the Nazi regime

The architecture of the work is well thought out, in seven completely different chapters which are so many spotlights. The periodization (1930-1950, and not 1933-1945) is surprising at first glance. In fact, the work covers the period from the early 1930s to the 1950s, and this periodization highlights the fact that Nazism was precisely not a parenthesis.

Given the patriarchal, virilist and anti-feminist character of the Nazi regime, it is surprising to note that it was precisely this regime which considerably developed and professionalized women's work. Many young women were happy with these professional opportunities, to leave their family home without having to marry, to acquire social status, consideration (Nazism gave them the feeling that it took them seriously), to enjoy leisure activities which they did not grasp the political door, as Mailnder shows. Sport, for example, strengthened their emotional ties to Nazism.

This regime also conveyed an image of modernity. We think, for example, of the reception without moral condemnation of single pregnant women in Mutter-Kind-Heime : a wind of modernity, which broke with the Catholic and ultra-conservative line of Austro-fascism in Austria and, more generally, with bourgeois modesty. The regime has, as a result, as Mailnder shows, created a new phenomenon: women for whom it is unthinkable to sacrifice professional, economic, but also sexual and emotional autonomy on the altar of marriage.

In the same way, thanks to the meetings (dance evenings for example) organized between soldiers and women of the Reich Labor Service or the League of German Girls, the war itself came to be seen as a joyful and entertaining enterprise. , has a strong erotic charge, as shown by the correspondences studied by the author. Mailnder shows that Nazism motivated people () to internalize the rules while giving them the space to flourish on a personal level (p. 187).

The history of everyday life allows us to draw conclusions about much more than everyday life: the case of young Erika, who very often changes her object of desire, says something about the transformation, induced by Nazism, of gender relations, brutally shaken in their most traditional aspects (p. 178). It is the same thing for the very relative success of the efforts of the American army, after 1945, to disenchant sex with German women, by offering soldiers alternatives (exhausting them through sport) or by trying to instill in them the idea that it is not the sexual act that makes the man (p. 290).

Affirming Nazi domination

Observation from below also confirms the observation that the boundaries of sexual domination are porous. In the area occupied by the United States, cases of sexual fraternization are numerous, due to the financial power of soldiers, which shows that the line between coercion and consent can be fluid. The author's developments on the patriarchal sexual market in the American zone of occupation echo very current debates.

Mailnder also shows the contradictions of the Nazi system: promoting fidelity and satisfaction in the couple, but also encouraging free sexuality. The Wehrmacht was the only European army to maintain its own brothels, distribute condoms to its soldiers every week and build post-coastal health posts. Sexual war crimes were more or less tolerated, particularly on the Eastern Front, where sex represented a powerful way of asserting Nazi domination (p. 252).

There are some themes that remain too little discussed, but it was obviously impossible to say everything on such a subject. We can regret that the author does not devote any development to the anchoring of the Freie Krper Culture (naturism) in Germany. Likewise, it shows that political education, for example Nazi maternity education, was cleverly hidden in leisure programs and activities. gentle pedagogies using more seduction and motivation (p. 66) and that this is a consequence of the development of educational sciences since the beginning of XXe century. It would undoubtedly have been necessary to explore the role of Steiner, for example.

Some statements could be qualified. Regarding propaganda films, Mailnder writes: Few of them undoubtedly perceived the underlying racial propaganda behind these images, which made their political message all the more effective. (p. 206). We lack sources to know this.

In the same way, the assertion that Nazism acted less by coercion and repression than by incitement and participation (p. 362) seems too hasty: it is difficult to sort things out on this point, and the fact of studying incentive and participation must not come back to minimize repression. Foucault had certainly already insisted on the fact that reducing the techniques of power of the repressive elements was a major error, but showing that Nazism drew its strength from entertainment and sexual energies does not invalidate the knowledge on the extremely brutal mechanisms of repression, they too are the source of strength of Nazism.

I believe that what the book shows ultimatelyit is that in itself the concept of sexual liberation There is nothing fundamentally progressive or liberating about it. This is a very important idea. Elissa Mailnder considerably enriches our perception of the sexual and emotional issues of the Second World War. I personally learned a lot. Nazism is not a fixed doctrine; it's surprisingly flexible. This work confirms it in a very convincing way.