We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
OR

View HTML

Download PDF

Rent from DeepDyve Rent from DeepDyve

Sex after Fascism. Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany (review)

From: Monatshefte
Volume 99, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 594-596 | 10.1353/mon.2008.0012

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

"Wer zweimal mit der gleichen pennt, gehört schon zum Establishment." This was the anti-bourgeois litmus test of West Berlin's legendary Kommune I during the heydays of the sexual revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dagmar Herzog's sweeping study of sexuality, memory, and morality and its tangled connections to German fascism already attracted a lot of public attention in the German media in 2006, which featured her research in various venues including radio interviews and cultural magazines such as Cicero. Three major reasons are most likely responsible for the impact of this study beyond the scholarly circles of academia. First, it sets out to thoroughly interrogate the sexual politics of fascism, a topic which has attracted a wider audience ever since Italian avant-garde film makers in the 1970s cast it in the intriguing frame of what Susan Sontag called "Fascinating Fascism." Second, the study traces the reinterpretation of the Third Reich and its sexual politics by the anti-authoritarian student movement of the '68 generation, which remains a major reference point in the identity debates of contemporary Germany. Last but not least, the study chronicles the most lasting revolution of the twentieth century, whose central issues of sexual morality, family planning, and gender equality affected—in various configurations—virtually every citizen during this period.

Chapter one "Sex and the Third Reich" delineates against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic the two contradictory developments of a sexually constrictive and a sexually liberating agenda, both of which informed the ideology of German National Socialism. Whereas the former represents a racist reaction formation against a supposedly Jewish obsession with sexuality, the latter continues the sexual liberalization process of the Weimar Republic, whose permissive pleasures became now the privileges of the Aryan master race. Organizing "Kraft durch Freude" in a variety of ways, the Nazis celebrated joyous and fertile sexuality as both a triumph over Christian morality and as a happy breeding ground for the propagation of the German nation. Chapter two "The Fragility of Heterosexuality" and chapter three "Desperately Seeking Normality" map Germany's chaotic years of transition between the end of World War II and its consolidation into the Federal Republic of Germany. Whereas America's soldiers stationed in Germany applauded the free-spirited "Fräuleinwunder" of the early post-war years, the country's cultural commentators deplored the German malaise of modern "Man in Crisis" (87).

Soon the sexually uninhibited atmosphere of the early reconstruction years gave way to an increasingly stuffy morality, whose reactionary response to sexuality was also a form of exorcizing the profligate immorality and genocidal barbarity of the Third Reich. However, with the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt 1963–1965, a new Nazi prototype began to emerge, the petty bourgeois and sexually repressed Holocaust perpetrator. With the theoretical underpinnings of the Frankfurt School, the New Left forcefully refocused fascism as a pathological form of sexual repression and the ensuing Holocaust as its ultimate perversion. As chapter four "The Morality of Pleasure" illustrates, preaching and practicing sexual liberation seemed to grant young rebellious Germans excellent antifascist credentials in addition to instant libidinous gratification. "Make Love not War" became the popular call to arms in Germany's battle of the sexes, or as the French magazine Nouvel Observateur commented in 1970: "Sex über alles [. . .] Definitely Germany has changed. Pink has replaced brown [. . .] Vibrators, not cannons" (146f.). Complementing this sexual mirage over the old battlefields of World War II, Delacroix's romantic icon "La Liberté sur les Barricades" made a timely comeback in the topless supermodel Uschi Obermaier, the most photographed member of Berlin's Kommune I, who became the quintessential poster girl of Germany's sexual revolution. Not surprisingly, the storming of the beds by the communards of Berlin and elsewhere failed to burst the prison house of sexual repression. Their politics of ecstasy short-circuited as male chauvinism and inveterate misogyny continued to foil their struggle for pleasure and gender equality. In a similar fashion, the experiment of raising a new and freer generation of young Germans in anarchic "Kinderläden" was doomed as well, as many of their offspring were to protest in later years against the authority of their anti-authoritarian...