Going east : colonialism and German life in Nazi-occupied Poland / by David Bruce Furber
Includes bibliographical references (p. 374-393)
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Germans “going east” to Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II had experiences that colonial Europeans in the age of empire might have found familiar. Much has been written about overseas empires and the Nazi occupation of Poland. Yet no work to date contrasts these two events beyond the anecdotal level, despite the enormous potential for scholarly interchange. In this dissertation, I use the concept of colonialism where it can most add to our understanding of the events surrounding the Holocaust. Ordinary Germans going to Nazi-occupied Poland had experiences that are quite baffling until comparing them with those of colonial Europeans. The first two chapters provide a working definition of colonialism and set the historical context of German colonialism in Poland. Colonialism, as I conceive it, means authoritarian rule by a minority of expatriates over a culturally different majority whose imputed lack of civilization justifies imperial intervention. Poland's proximity gave German colonialism a flavor different from overseas variants. Uniquely incorporating anti-Semitism into the imperial ideology, Nazi colonialism was also the climax of a colonial encounter beginning in the German-Polish borderlands from the 1740s onward. The final three chapters investigate the motives, social background, and experiences of German civil administrators in occupied Poland. For Reich Germans, Poland provided a reprieve from Nazi authoritarianism, attracting many of the social types who also flocked to overseas colonies. Nevertheless, a survey of 340 bureaucrats who volunteered for the Warthegau shows a preponderance of middle-aged, middle-class, mid-career, married men from mid-sized towns. Reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis' lead character in Babbitt, most had never traveled outside Germany, and suddenly found themselves as members of a “master race” in a conquered land. Reacting to the new environment in ways analogous to the overseas “culture shock” experience, some “went native,” while others perceived a “civilizing mission” toward the locals. Many came to see a “solution” to the “Jewish question” as a necessary step toward Poland's modernization. Although the German experience in Poland was thus unique, the occupiers drew from a larger mentality that bore striking resemblances to other colonial societies. The colonial parallel thus deserves further exploration.
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