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review by Harold Marcuse, published in: Journal of Modern History 68:1(March 1996), 249-51.

John Boyer and Michael Geyer (eds.)cover of Resistance against the Third Reich, Resistance against the Third Reich, 1933-1990 (Studies in European History from the Journal of Modern History)(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995), 368 pages. $4/16 and searchable at amazon

The history of resistance has always attracted both patriotic and other morally motivated historians; the history of anti-Nazi resistance is no exception. However, as research into the history of everyday life in Nazi Germany has progressed, the absolute dearth of opposition that would satisfy these aims has become increasingly apparent, and studies of resistance reveal more and more about mechanisms of conformism. This observation applies as well to the present volume, whose chronological range "1933-1990" indicates its presentist orientation. The significance of the collection lies in the promising perspectives it opens for the study of forms of apolitical refusal and partial opposition.

The scholarly character of this collection gives it a decided edge over a similar collection of essays on anti-Nazi resistance: Contending with Hitler: Varieties of German Resistance in the Third Reich, ed. David Large (Cambridge, 1991). This slightly older volume, to which several of the same scholars have contributed (in fact, the essays by David Large and Klemens von Klemperer are common to both), seeks "to raise in America the awareness that a number of Germans had opposed Hitler in various ways" (vii). This stands in sharp contrast to the serious efforts made by the authors of the Geyer/Boyer collection to explain the predominance of conformity and exceptionality of resistance in Nazi Germany, and the legacy they left for postwar Europe.

The first five essays in this collection are examples of the history of everyday life at its best: they combine insightful discussions of larger issues with sophisticated analyses of revealing sources. Claudia Koonz' essay on the ethical problems created by Nazi eugenics reconstructs the forceful redefinition of the terms of the eugenic debate during the early years of Nazi rule in order to better analyze letters and reports from Catholic and Protestant archives. Koonz shows that "single-issue dissent" by no means precluded general support of Nazi rule, and that such narrowly focused resistance was predicated on the continued existence of norms countering those established by Nazi ideologues.

Omer Bartov's study of disciplinary problems among soldiers on the Eastern front, and Alf Lüdtke's analysis of letters written by workers drafted into the army to their former employers confirm the converse of Koonz' finding: where preexisting counternorms were no longer present, soldiers had no moral scruples about the implementation of the regime's barbaric racialist policies­­regardless of their disposition towards the regime itself. Both authors identify a mechanism Lüdtke terms "coping and appropriating" (73), whereby soldiers exposed to enormous hardship internalized Nazi dogma and thus regained an illusion of subjectivity. This phenomenon helps to explain how the unintentional "victims" of Nazi demands became accomplices in the destruction of its intended victims.

Debórah Dwork and Christiane Moll have contributed two groundbreaking essays. Dwork embeds her oral history research on rescuers of Jewish children in German-occupied Europe in the broader interpretative context of the "assaulted private realm." Moll, a scholar affiliated with the White Rose Foundation in Munich and intimately familiar with the vast primary and secondary material on this group, offers for the first time in English access to new archival evidence on the White Rose recently discovered in East Berlin and Moscow, including Gestapo interrogation protocols of several of the primary members. No scholar interested in this group can pass by Moll's detailed reconstruction of events and comprehensive assessment of the secondary literature, in which she points out the distortions resulting from the past preoccupation with the role of the Scholl siblings.

This entire group of essays drives home the lesson that non-conforming behavior was not only exceptional, but also that it was motivated by a broader political morality only in exceptional cases such as the White Rose. In Bartov's words, morally motivated choices were only available to individuals who were "totally different from the vast majority of their contemporaries" (51).

Resistance against the Third Reich is actually divided into three sections whose cryptic titles (e.g. "Apocalypse, Human Solidarity, and the Restoration of Politics") do little to highlight the common themes of the individual essays, which tend to be concealed by their scattered placement. Frank Trommler's discussion of German conceptions of normality, although grouped in the first section, begins a series of essays which are more conceptually oriented and further from the sources of the everyday. Trommler's analysis continues the discussion begun by Koonz of Martin Broszat's term Resistenz, or "refusal" (146), subsuming everyday behaviors which did not conform to Nazi claims on private activity, but which were not intended to destabilize the regime. In his analysis of how the Nazi regime was able to co-opt Resistenz or at least keep it innocuous, Trommler outlines a mechanism of adaptation akin to Lüdtke's coping by internalizing dominant norms (125). Klemens von Klemperer's evaluation of Resistenz in his article about "solitary witnesses" who preserved their ethical norms in spite of the Nazi onslaught furthers our understanding of the term.

The title of the book's third section, "Nachholender Widerstand­­Resistance after 1945," contains a double meaning that will not be obvious to readers unfamiliar with the nuances of the German language: the affirmatory appropriation of past resistance in the present, and the compensation for a lack of resistance in the past by resistance in the present. The essays in this section follow so naturally from earlier pieces that they ought to be explicitly linked. For instance, David Large's deft reconstruction of the instrumentalization of the 20 July movement in West Germany follows naturally from Hans Mommsen's argument that the movement's failed coup d'état was largely a symbolic attempt at the "restoration of politics" because it was so obviously futile.

Mommsen and Large's pieces taken together cover a topic closely comparable both to Tony Judt's analysis of French intellectuals' inadequate responses to the fascist challenge and their post-war legacy, and to Jeffrey Herf's incisive reconstruction of competing Marxist understandings of fascism and the repression of the Mexican-exile variant by Ulbricht and Pieck in 1950s East Germany. Werner Jeanrond's article on postwar German theological responses to the Christian "Non/Resistance" during the Nazi era reads like a postscript to the theological discussion of Nazi eugenics outlined by Koonz. Also, von Klemperer's argument that counternorms were only preserved by individuals or within small groups links Koonz, Bartov, and Lüdtke's findings for their groups with Raymond Mengus' detailed analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's gravitation toward explicitly political resistance.

Finally, this latter group of essays contrasts with Michael Geyer's concluding argument to rehabilitate Resistenz as the basis of inofficial spheres of communication whose post-glasnost flowering so quickly brought down ostensibly stable regimes at the end of the 1980s. Geyer's dissonant note makes for a fascinating conclusion and challenges the reader to reread the sources and interpretations of the earlier essays with this aspect in mind. His project of developing a history of civic morality will require detailed diachronic and cross-cultural comparisons; it would have been furthered by the inclusion of a translation of Martin Broszat's seminal essay on Resistenz.

It would have been the task of the introduction to highlight common themes and point out the synergistic potential of the articles. In fact, this collection's weakest aspect is the organization of the whole. This volume inaugurates a series, "Studies in European History," which will reprint thematically related articles previously published by the Journal of Modern History. In this case a 1992 supplemental edition has been reproduced verbatim with the insertion of three additional pieces (Dwork, Moll, and Herf). No new, unifying introduction replaces the old, in this respect already inadequate one, nor is there a list of contributors, and even the index appears to have been an afterthought, as it is missing from the table of contents and does not include the footnotes. Such shortcomings will hopefully be remedied in future additions to the series.

[I omitted the following text from the final draft: This collection lends itself to use both in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses. It offers undergraduates lucid introductions to important issues and exposes them to models of historical research, interpretation and writing. Graduate students will profit additionally from the methodological discussions (see Lüdtke on the problems inherent in semi-public letters, 71 Alfred Frei and Dwork on oral history, 86ff, 91f; and Moll on the use of Gestapo interrogations, 176f), and they will find many references to topics that need to be addressed with further research, such as the emerging field of perpetrator history with recent work by Christopher Browning, Daniel Goldhagen, and Ernst Klee (cf. 46n24).]

Harold Marcuse
University of California,
Santa Barbara

published 1996, uploaded 1998 (web archive), formatting updated 8/5/06
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