Shelley Baranowski. Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 368 pp. $25.99, paper, ISBN 978-0-521-67408-9.

Reviewed by Daniel Becker

Published on H-German (July, 2013)

Commissioned by Chad Ross

"Ambitious" may be one of the best one-word ionable "transnational" and seemingly more "tra‐ epithets to characterize Nazi Empire. "Hybrid" is ditional" national perspectives.[1] If nothing less, probably another. Shelley Baranowski seeks to then, this synthesis of recent research should provide a synthesis of recent research on German prove quite helpful--and not only to newcomers to nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism; pro‐ the subject matter--even though it only ofers little pose her own original, interpretive grand narra‐ explicit historiographical discussion or relegates it tive of continuities and discontinuities in modern largely to the footnotes when it does. (Unfortu‐ German history; and present this mix in the for‐ nately, the book also does not include a bibliogra‐ mat of an undergraduate textbook. phy.) On the frst count, the breadth of Baranows‐ Baranowski ofers a rockier ride as she delves ki's reading is impressive. She draws on a broad into the treacherous waters of the continuities array of research, in both English and German, question. Following a current inspired by Hannah published over the last two decades. She adeptly Arendt's observations (in The Origins of Totalitar‐ weaves threads from "new imperial histories" of ianism, 1951) on the emergence of modern "race" 's overseas adventures and recent stud‐ discourses during the heyday of "high imperial‐ ies on nationalism, antisemitism, and political cul‐ ism" and recently heralded in particular by Jür‐ ture into a colorful tapestry of German mentalités gen Zimmerer,[2] Baranowski suggests that the before which she lets "the drama of German im‐ unusual trajectory of German imperialism--which perialist aspirations" unfold (p. 6). Unlike some not only oscillated between continental and over‐ other accounts of German imperialism, moreover, seas directions but also teetered between "the as‐ hers does not become too dangerously entangled piration to imperialist expansion and the simulta‐ in a self-referential, postcolonial universe and re‐ neous fear of dissolution at the hands of its impe‐ freshingly approaches the subject from both fash‐ rialist rivals"--can explain why Nazism, the Sec‐ H-Net Reviews ond World War, and were un‐ barely mentioned) informed and laid the intellec‐ leashed by Germany and not by other imperialist tual groundwork for the Nazis' genocidal quest powers (p. 4). "Comparative studies that explore for in eastern Europe several the links between empire, colonialism, and geno‐ decades later. She points to certain similarities cide," she writes, "are ofering new ways to his‐ and parallels, but these often end up more coinci‐ toricize the Nazi regime's obsession with the bio‐ dental than substantive under closer inspection: logical endangerment of the German Volk and its that Hermann Göring's father was the frst gover‐ mutually reinforcing remedies, the acquisition of nor of German Southwest Africa (present-day 'living space' (Lebensraum) at the expense of the Namibia) does not a historical continuity make, Slavs and the extermination of the Jews" (p. 3). Al‐ despite the Nazis' obsession with hereditary though she does not dare to speak its name, she health. One could argue, of course--and Bara‐ seems intent on replacing the old ar‐ nowski hints at this--that German overseas colo‐ gument with a new one, perhaps in an attempt to nialism was ultimately not much of an incubator rebut Hans-Ulrich Wehler's question "why a phe‐ of proto-Nazi ideas and that Hitler's "program" nomenon as secondary in actual history as the drew much more on the continental imperialist short-lived German colonial history can attract so tradition. But that would require a more compli‐ much interest."[3] cated, less tidy grand narrative in which German And this is where Baranowski's troubles be‐ imperialism is not as uniform as Baranowski of‐ gin. For one, she does not in fact ofer a compara‐ ten portrays it. After all, German imperialism--or tive study. While she draws some interesting par‐ perhaps better, German imperialisms--contained allels between Germany's experience of becoming fssures not only about where to expand but also itself a "colony" after World War I and fnding its by which means and to what purpose;[4] fssures "national liberation movement" in the Nazi Party which, moreover, were refected in the strange on the one hand, and the American South under phenomenon (which Baranowski acknowledges Reconstruction and the subsequent emergence of only in passing) that many of the staunchest advo‐ the Jim Crow social system on the other, she does cates of overseas colonialism wanted little part in not push this promising comparison beyond some the violent Germanization of eastern Europe even anecdotal glosses. In other words, she does not when it was becoming abundantly clear that this muster a concerted efort to establish what distin‐ was where the imperialist ship had sailed.[5] guished Germany's extraordinary imperialism, Baranowski seems quite aware of these interpre‐ which supposedly bred Nazism, from the ordi‐ tive and argumentative pitfalls, and this is refect‐ nary imperialism of other European powers or ed in her prose: she often dithers and opts for sug‐ the United States, which did not--but nevertheless gestions, not assertions--there are a surprising shared some of the same obsessions that fueled number of passages written in subjunctives and the Nazi drive to the east: eugenics, fear of misce‐ conditionals--and makes allusions, not connec‐ genation, and even a kind of existential angst. In‐ tions. The grand narrative to explain whence Nazi stead, one is sometimes left with what feels like a imperialism came therefore remains somewhat classic post hoc ergo procter hoc argument. murky. Furthermore, Baranowski struggles, like Zim‐ One last point: if the purpose of a textbook is merer and others before her, with establishing primarily to serve as a source of basic informa‐ clearly how racism and the philosophies of colo‐ tion on which to build further discussion and stu‐ nial administration in Africa before World War I dent research, Nazi Empire may be ill-suited to (Qingdao and Germany's Pacifc possession are teaching undergraduates with little to no prior knowledge of German history. Structured chrono‐

2 H-Net Reviews logically and organized into a familiar sequence [2]. See the recent collection of Zimmerer's of chapters (the Bismarckian and Wilhelmine various essays on the subject, Von Windhuk nach eras, World War I, the Weimar Republic, the Auschwitz? Beiträge zum Verhältnis von Kolonial‐ "peace years" of the Third Reich, and two chapters ismus und Holocaust (Berlin: Lit, 2011). See also on World War II and the Holocaust), it seems to the critiques by Robert Gerwarth and Stephan provide a traditionally straightforward political Malinowski, "Hannah Arendt's Ghosts: Refections history. Since it is interested in making a very spe‐ on the Disputable Path from Windhoek to cifc (if somewhat muddled) point, however, it Auschwitz," Central European History 42, no. 2 leaves out much context that one would like to (2009): 279-300; and BirtheKundrus, "German have included in a textbook--whether for courses Colonialism: Some Refections on Reassessments, on modern German history more broadly or on Specifcities, and Constellations," German Colo‐ the Third Reich or even on German imperialism nialism: Race, the Holocaust, and Postwar Ger‐ more narrowly. While one learns quite a bit about many, ed. Volker Langbehn and Mohammad Sala‐ the arcana of right-wing politics, for example, the ma (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), Left receives but a cursory treatment. Other im‐ 29-47. portant topics--such as social policy and high and [3]. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, "Transnationale popular culture during Weimar's "crisis of classi‐ Geschichte--der neue Königsweg historischer cal modernity," or even consent, resistance, and Forschung?," in Transnationale Geschichte: The‐ Resistenz in the Nazi era--are barely touched men, Tendenzen und Theorien, ed. Gunilla Budde, upon. (As an aside, there are frequent and irritat‐ Sebastian Conrad, and Oliver Janz (Göttingen: ing misspellings and rather eccentric punctua‐ Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 161-174. tion.) [4]. See Woodruf D. Smith, The Ideological All that leaves us with another one-word epi‐ Origins of Nazi Imperialism (New York: Oxford thet: "ambivalent." Like other syntheses, Nazi Em‐ University Press, 1986), which Baranowski cites pire certainly has many strengths--and many somewhat selectively. weaknesses. It should not be read as the defnitive [5]. For example, see Klaus Hildebrand's old summary statement of an interesting avenue of but important study--which Baranowski does not recent research, but as an important contribution cite--Vom Reich zum Weltreich: Hitler, NSDAP und to a debate that has lingered in the historiography koloniale Frage 1919-1945 (Munich: Wilhelm on Germany at least since the period covered in Fink, 1969); and, more recently, Karsten Linne, the book. The Sonderweg may not be alive and Deutschland jenseits des Äquators? Die NS-Kolo‐ kicking, but under a diferent name and in a dif‐ nialplanungen für Afrika (Berlin: Ch. Links, 2008). ferent, "postcolonial" guise, it is not yet dead and buried either, despite Baranowski's (and others') claim to the contrary. For that reason, Nazi Em‐ pire is--perhaps because of its problems--a book that specialists in German and European history ought not to ignore. Notes [1]. In this sense, Baranowski's study mirrors Dirk van Laak's similarly conceived Über alles in der Welt: Deutscher Imperialismus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005).

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Citation: Daniel Becker. Review of Baranowski, Shelley. Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler. H-German, H-Net Reviews. July, 2013.


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