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Colonial crossovers: Nazi Germany and its entanglements with other empires

  • Patrick Bernhard (a1)

Nazi Germany’s place in the wider world is a controversial topic in historiography. While scholars such as Ian Kershaw argue that Hitler’s dictatorship must be understood as a unique national phenomenon, others analyse Nazism within comparative frameworks. Mark Mazower, for example, argues that the international concept of ‘empire’ is useful for comprehending the German occupation of Europe. Using an approach native to transnational cultural studies, my contribution goes a step further: I analyse how the Nazis themselves positioned their regime in a wider international context, and thus gave meaning to it. My main thesis is that, while the Nazis took a broad look at international colonialism, they differentiated considerably between the various national experiences. French and British empire-building, for instance, did not receive the same attention as Japanese and Italian colonial projects. Based on new archival evidence, I show that the act of referring in particular to the Italian example was crucial for the Nazis. On the one hand, drawing strong parallels between Italian colonialism and the German rule of eastern Europe allowed Hitler to recruit support for his own visions of imperial conquest. On the other hand, Italian colonialism served as a blueprint for the Nazis’ plans for racial segregation. The article thus shows the importance of transnational exchange for understanding ideological dynamics within the Nazi regime.

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1 Kershaw, Ian, ‘Hitler and the uniqueness of Nazism’, Journal of Contemporary History, 39, 2, 2004, pp. 239254 .

2 Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, the Germans, and the final solution, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 354 .

3 On historiography, see also Daniel Hedinger, ‘The imperial nexus: the Second World War and the Axis in global perspective, pp. 184–205 in this issue.

4 See Antic, Ana, Conterio, Janna, and Vargha, Dora, ‘Conclusion: beyond liberal internationalism’, Contemporary European History, 25, 2, 2016, pp. 359371 .

5 Ivani, Mario, Esportare il fascismo: collaborazione di polizia e diplomazia culturale tra Italia fascista e Portogallo di Salazar (19281945) , Bologna: Clueb 2008 ; Bernhard, Patrick, ‘Konzertierte Gegnerbekämpfung im Achsenbündnis: die Polizei im Dritten Reich und im faschistischen Italien 1933 bis 1943’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 59, 2011, pp. 229262 .

6 Mark Roseman, Devin Pendas, and Richard Wetzell, eds., Beyond the racial state: rethinking Nazi Germany (in preparation).

7 Roberta Pergher, ‘Looking at the “racial state” through the window of fascist Italy’, conference abstract, 21 March 2017).

8 Mazower, Mark, Hitler’s empire: how the Nazis ruled Europe, New York: Penguin Press, 2008 .

9 Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich: a new history, London: Pan Books, 2000, p. 531 .

10 See Armitage, David, Foundations of modern international thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 191 .

11 Osterhammel, Jürgen, Die Verwandlung der Welt: eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, 5th edn, Munich: Beck, 2010, p. 606 .

12 As the debate on the possible nexus between Nazism and colonialism has concentrated almost exclusively on the Holocaust, this aspect will not be dealt with in this article. See, most recently, Baranowski, Shelley, ‘The colonial roots of Nazi violence: the place of the Holocaust in Nazi imperialism’, in Tobias Hof, ed., Empire, ideology, mass violence: the long 20th century in comparative perspective, Munich: Utz, 2016, pp. 7196 .

13 Chartier, Roger, Cultural history: between practices and representations, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993 ; Ankersmit, Frank, Meaning, truth, and reference in historical representation, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2012 .

14 Hunt, Lynn, History writing in the global era, New York: Norton, 2015 .

15 Hall, Stuart, ‘The question of cultural identity’, in Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert, and Kenneth Thompson, eds., Modernity: an introduction to modern societies, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996, p. 598 .

16 Middleton, Alex, ‘French Algeria in British imperial thought, 1830–1870’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 16, 1, 2015, pp. 115 .

17 An overview is provided by Buettner, Elizabeth, Europe after empire: decolonization, society, and culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 1214 .

18 Lindner, Ulrike, Koloniale Begegnungen: Deutschland und Großbritannien als Imperialmächte in Afrika 1880–1914, Berlin: Campus, 2011 .

19 Stefan Esselborn, ‘Übersetzer Afrikas: das Internationale Afrikainstitut (IIALC/IAI) und die Praxis afrikanistischer Expertise, 1926–1976’, PhD thesis, University of Munich, 2016.

20 See Ben-Ghiat, Ruth, Fascist modernities: Italy 19221945 , Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004 .

21 Daniel Hedinger, Der Traum von einer neuen Weltordnung: die Achse Tokio–Rom–Berlin, 1931–1942, forthcoming Munich, 2017.

22 See Reto Hofmann, ‘The fascist new–old order’, pp. 166–83 in this issue.

23 On the worldwide interest in fascist Italy, see the overview of Bauerkämper, Arnd, ‘Interwar fascism in Europe and beyond: toward a transnational radical right’, in Martin Durham and Margaret Power, eds., New perspectives on the transnational right, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 3966 .

24 Russell, E. J., ‘Agricultural colonization in the Pontine Marshes and Libya’, Geographical Journal, 94, 4, 1939, pp. 273289 .

25 Bernhard, Patrick, ‘Borrowing from Mussolini: Nazi Germany’s colonial aspirations in the shadow of Italian expansionism’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 41, 2013, pp. 617643 .

26 Kundrus, Birthe, ‘From the periphery to the center: on the significance of colonialism for the German empire’, in Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp, eds., Imperial Germany revisited: continuing debates and new perspectives, New York: Berghahn, 2013, pp. 243266 .

27 Hachtmann, Rüdiger, ‘Forschen für Volk und “Führer”: Wissenschaft und Technik’, in Dietmar Süß and Winfried Süß, eds., Das ‘Dritte Reich’: eine Einführung, Munich: Pantheon, 2008, pp. 205226 .

28 Gabriel Liulevicius, Vejas, The German myth of the East: 1800 to the present, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 188 .

29 National Archives, Berlin (henceforth BArch), R 3001, 22364, fol. 145, memo from Oberjustizrat Cusen, Reich’s Ministry of Justice, December 1938.

30 See letter of Bernardo Attolico to Foreign Minister Ciano, 19 November 1938, in I documenti diplomatici italiani, ottava serie: 1935–1939, Rome: Ist. Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2003, vol. 10, p. 460.

31 See Schubert, Werner, ‘Das imaginäre Kolonialreich: die Vorbereitung der Kolonialgesetzgebung durch den Kolonialrechtsausschuß der Akademie für Deutsches Recht, das Reichskolonialamt und die Reichsministerien (1937–1942)’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische Abteilung, 115, 1998, p. 97 .

32 BArch, R 113, 1634, letter from the Reich’s Office for Spatial Planning to the German Foreign Office, 12 March 1937.

33 See BArch, R 113, 1634, letter from the Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft für Raumforschung to the Reichsstelle für Raumordnung, 21 March 1939. On the information returned by Italy, see Political Archives of the Foreign Office, Berlin (henceforth PA-AA), DBR, 1248a, vol. 1937–1939.

34 BArch, R 113, 1586, fol. 13, memo from the Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft für Raumforschung, no. 1972/40, March 1940.

35 Arbeitswissenschaftliches Institut der DAF, ed., Das Kolonisationswerk Japans im ostasiatischen Raum, Berlin: Eigenverlag, 1941 . The working papers are collected in BArch, NS 5/IV, nos. 39864–40000.

36 Thus Wilhelm Wengler in his presentation during one of the sessions of the Committee for Colonial Law, April 1938, in Schubert, Werner, ed., Akademie für deutsches Recht 1933–1945: Protokolle der Ausschüsse, Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2001, vol. 12, p. 414 .

37 For more details, see Bernhard, ‘Borrowing from Mussolini’, pp. 6212.

38 Guettel, Jens-Uwe, German expansionism, imperial liberalism, and the United States, 1776–1945, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013 .

39 Trevor-Roper, Hugh R., ed., Hitler’s table talk, 19411944: his private conversations , New York: Enigma Books, 2000, p. 24 , emphasis added.

40 Ibid., p. 426.

41 BArch, R 3001, 22364, fol. 145, memo from Oberjustizrat Cusen, Reich’s Ministry of Justice, December 1938.

42 BArch, R 1001, 9757, memo from the Colonial Office on policing, 1942.

43 PA-AA, R 100748, fiche 1909, memo from the Foreign Office, 14 March 1934.

44 Unsigned memorandum, August 1936, in Documents on German foreign policy: from the archives of the German Foreign Ministry, series C (19331937), the Third Reich: first phase, vol. 5: March 5–October 31, 1936, Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1966, pp. 853–62. See also Aristotle Kallis, Fascist ideology: territory and expansionism in Italy and Germany, 19221945, London: Routledge, 2000, p. 38.

45 Hitler, AdolfDenkschrift und Richtlinien über die Führung des Krieges im Westen vom 9.10.1939’, in H. A. Jacobsen, ed., Dokumente zur Vorgeschichte des Westfeldzuges 1939–40, Göttingen: Musterschmidt, 1956, p. 4 .

46 On the high frequency of the reports see, for instance, the articles by Herbert von Borch in DAZ, October 26 1938, and November 5, 8, 18 and 20, 1938.

47 ‘Japans Siedlung in Mandschukuo: Erfahrungen und Pläne für die Zukunft’, Frankfurter Zeitung, September 29, 1937.

48 I used the finding aids of the National Archives in Berlin as the basis for my quantitative analysis.

49 Hartmannsgruber, Friedrich, ed., Akten der Reichskanzlei, Regierung Hitler: 19331945 , 7 vols., Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 1999–2015 . The figures are based on the register of the edition.

50 BArch, R 1001, 9714, cable from the German Consul General in Addis Ababa to the German Foreign Office in Berlin, 22 November 1938, p. 1; BArch, NS 5, VI/28041, memo by Rudolf Fitzner, ‘The Italian settlement scheme in North Africa’, January 1939.

51 Elke Fröhlich, ed., Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, part I: Aufzeichnungen 19231941, vol. 6: August 1938Juni 1939, Munich: K. G. Saur, 1998, pp. 360–1.

52 See, for example, R. Vogel, ‘Italien kämpft gegen die Sahara’, N.S. Landpost, 20 May 1938.

53 ‘Libyen mit dem Mutterlande vereinigt’, Berliner Börsenzeitung, 26 October 1938. A very similar account appears in ‘Die vierte Küste Italiens’, Deutsche Bergwerkszeitung, 1 June 1939.

54 Robert Kroetz, ‘Vier neue Provinzen für Italien: Kulturarbeit statt Ausbeutung’, Völkischer Beobachter, 23 October 1938.

55 Harvey, Elizabeth, Women and the Nazi east: agents and witnesses of Germanization, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003, p. 126 ; Douglas, R. M., Orderly and humane: the expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012, p. 46 .

56 See PA-AA, DBR, 713d, letter from Oskar Karstedt, Reich Labour Ministry, to Wolfgang Spakler, social affairs attaché at the German embassy in Rome, 29 October 1938.

57 PA-AA, DBR, 713e, letter from Franz Seldte, Reich Labour Minister, to the German embassy in Rome, 26 April 1939.

58 Stresau, Hermann, Von Jahr zu Jahr, Berlin: Minerva, 1948, p. 310 .

59 Klagges, Dietrich and Franke, Walter, eds., Volk und Führer: deutsche Geschichte für Schulen, vol 5: Der Weg zum Großdeutschen Reich , Frankfurt am Main: Diesterweg, 1941, p. 189 .

60 Der Deutsche Erzieher, 7, 1940, p. 218.

61 Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome, Ministero della Cultura Popolare, D.G. Servizi della Propaganda, propaganda presso gli stati esteri, b. 97, Germania ‘1938’ Ie parte, cable from the Italian consul in Stuttgart to the Italian Propaganda Ministry in Rome, 12 March 1938. See also ibid., cable from the Italian embassy in Berlin to the Italian Propaganda Ministry, 9 July 1938.

62 Kant, Hermann, Der Aufenthalt: Roman, Leipzig: Reclam, 1986, p. 264 .

63 There were about thirty local branches in the Reich. See Archivio Storico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Serie Affari Politici, Germania 1931–1945, b. 74, fasc. 2, letter from the Italian Ambassador in Berlin to the Italian Foreign Office 21 June 1943.

64 PA-AA, R 61301, Activities report of the Deutsch–Italienische Studienstiftung for the year 1938/39, p. 2.

65 Archives of the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation, Berlin, 3.2002.7605, letter from Second Lieutenant Robert Witzke, 31 March 1941.

66 Marwan-Schlosser, Rudolf, Rommels Flak als Pak: das Flak-Regiment 135 als Rückgrat des Deutschen Afrikakorps, Wiener Neustadt: Weilburg, 1991, p. 107 .

67 Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte, Stuttgart, Sammlung Sterz, letters from Private Hans Eisenstein, 22 and 25 May 1941. For further evidence, see Carlo Gentile, ‘Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Kampf gegen Resistenza und Zivilbevölkerung’, in Schlemmer, Thomas, Klinkhammer, Lutz, and Osti, Amedeo, eds., Die ‘Achse’ im Krieg: Politik, Ideologie und Kriegführung 1939 bis 1945, Paderborn: Schöningh, 2010, pp. 492518 .

68 Schmidt, ‘Wie ich Libyen sah: ein Land voller Gegensätze, dessen Wesen man nur langsam kennen lernt’, Westdeutscher Beobachter, 19 March 1942.

69 Scholars such as Birthe Kundrus have long assumed that the German legislation was in part inspired by the Italian experience, yet I am the first one to provide further evidence to support this idea. See Birthe Kundrus, ‘Von Windhoek nach Nürnberg? Koloniale “Mischehenverbote” und die nationalsozialistische Rassengesetzgebung’, in Kundrus, Birthe, ed., Phantasiereiche: zur Kulturgeschichte des deutschen Kolonialismus, Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2003, pp. 110131 .

70 PA-AA, DBR, 777c, letter from the German Foreign Office to the German embassy in Rome, 27 November 1937.

71 BArch, R 1501, 127192, fol. 169, invitation to the meeting of the Academy for German Law on colonial matters, 14 May 1939.

72 See, for instance, Meregazzi, Renzo, ‘Lineamenti della legislazione per l’impero’, Annali dell’Africa Italiana, 2, 3, 1939, p. 12 .

73 Meregazzi, Renzo, Die Grundlagen des italienischen Kolonialrechts und der faschistischen Kolonialpolitik, Rome: Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, 1939 .

74 ‘Strafmaßnahmen zum Schutze des Rassenprestiges gegenüber den Eingeborenen von Italienisch-Ostafrika’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft, 1, 2, 54, 1939, pp. 109–12.

75 Tilitzki, Christian, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie in der Weimarer Republik und im Dritten Reich, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002, part 1, p. 1108 .

76 PA-AA, Rome Quirinal (secret), 119, letter from the German Foreign Office to the Germany embassy in Rome, 3 October 1941.

77 BArch, R 1501, 127192, fol. 82, report by Freytagh-Loringhoven, president of the Committee for Colonial Law, 16 June 1938.

78 Wengler, Wilhelm, ‘Die Kritierien für die rechtliche Abgrenzung der verschiedenen Bevölkerungsgruppen in den Kolonien’, Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, 8, 1938, pp. 4883 .

79 Wengler, Wilhelm, ‘Die Rechtsstellung der Mischlinge im italienischen Kolonialrecht nach dem Gesetz vom 13.5.1940’, Zeitschrift der Akademie für Deutsches Recht, 8, 1941, pp. 127128 .

80 For an intriguing aspect of Fascist racial policies see Martina Salvante, ‘Violated domesticity in Italian East Africa, 1937–1940’, in Burrill, Emily S., Roberts, Richard L., and Thornberry, Elizabeth, eds., Domestic violence and the law in colonial and postcolonial Africa, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010, p. 98 .

81 BArch, R 3001, 22364, fols. 144 and 414, memo from Oberjustizrat Cusen, Reich’s Ministry of Justice, December 1938, p. 4, and Résumé on the deliberations concerning Dr Wengler’s guidelines, March 1939.

82 Friedrich Schack, ‘Die italienische Rassenpolitik in Afrika’, Afrika Rundschau, 4 August 1940.

83 Minutes of the session of the first working group on ‘the state in the new protectorates’, 7–9 December 1938, in Schubert, Akademie für deutsches Recht, vol. 12, p. 470.

84 See the presentation of K. Zoepke from the NSDAP’s Office of Racial Policy, in ibid., p. 501.

85 Tassinari, Giuseppe, ‘Die landwirtschaftlichen Entwicklungsmöglichkeiten Abessiniens’, Berichte über Landwirtschaft, 23, 1938, pp. 599620 .

86 Wolf, Gerhard, ‘The East as historical imagination and the Germanization policies of the Third Reich’, in Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca, eds., Hitler’s geographies: the spatialities of the Third Reich, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016, pp. 93109 .

87 National Archives, Prague, 2325, sg. 109–11/127, ka. 145, excerpt from a speech given by Heinrich Himmler at the SS-Junkerschule Tölz, 23 November 1942. See also Smith, Bradley F. and Peterson, Agnes, eds., Heinrich Himmler, Geheimreden von 1933 bis 1945, Frankfurt am Main: Propyläen-Verlag, 1974, p. 273 .

88 Helmut Müller-Westing, ‘Der Siedlungshof in Libyen: Rechtsgrundlagen der faschistischen Volkssiedlung in Libyen, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Siedlungsvertrages’, PhD thesis, Prague: Rechts- und staatswissenschaftliche Fakultät, 1941, printed, Bozen: Author’s edition, 1941.

89 Ibid., p. 9.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid., pp. 63–4 and 131. On the contracts between Italian settlers and the Fascist regime, see Pergher, Roberta, Fascist borderlands: nation, empire and Italy’s settlement program, 192243 , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017 (in press).

92 Müller-Westing, Helmut, ‘Der Siedlungshof in Libyen: Teil 1’, Neues Bauerntum, 34, 1942, p. 218 .

93 BArch, NS 19, 1596, letter from Heinrich Himmler to Ulrich Greifelt, 20 November 1941, and letter from the Reich Commissariat for the Strengthening of Germandom to Rudolf Brandt, personal assistant to Himmler, 10 August 1942. On German interest in Italian colonialism, see also Roberta Pergher, ‘The consent of memory: recovering fascist–settler relations in Libya’, in Albanese, Giulia and Pergher, Roberta, eds., In the society of fascists: acclamation, acquiescence, and agency, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 169188 .

94 Fiebrandt, Maria, Auslese für die Siedlergesellschaft: die Einbeziehung in die NS-Erbgesundheitspolitik im Kontext der Umsiedlungen 1939–1945, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014, p. 445 .

95 Bernhard, Patrick, ‘Hitler’s Africa in the east: Italian colonialism as a model for German planning in eastern Europe’, Journal of Contemporary History, 51, 2016, pp. 6190 .

96 Alexander, Jeffrey C., The dark side of modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013 .

97 Dickinson, Edward Ross, ‘Biopolitics, fascism, democracy: some reflections on our discourse about “modernity”’, Central European History, 37, 1, 2004, pp. 148 .

98 See, for example, Bauman, Zygmunt, Modernity and the Holocaust, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989 .

99 The discussion on the relationship between Nazism and modernity is taken up by Bavaj, Ricardo, Die Ambivalenz der Moderne im Nationalsozialismus: eine Bilanz der Forschung, Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003 .

100 Hunt, Lynn, ‘The world we have gained: the future of the French Revolution’, American Historical Review, 108, 2003, pp. 119 .

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