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Reviewed by:
  • Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany
  • Michael Hau
Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany. Dagmar Herzog . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. 361. $32.95 (cloth).

Sex after Fascism is as much about misremembering as remembering the past. Herzog explores the contradictory ways in which Germans after 1945 have interpreted the history of sexuality under Nazism. She rejects simplistic views of Nazism as a regime that suppressed hedonistic sexuality in pursuit of enforcing a conservative morality within the framework of racist biopolitics. Far from suppressing heterosexual desire, Nazi racial policies went hand in hand with an erosion of traditional sexual morals in terms of premarital sex and promiscuity. In these respects, the Nazi period witnessed a continuation of developments in the sexual realm which had already started during the Empire and attracted harsh criticism by Weimar conservatives protesting against loose sexual mores as well as what they considered "Schmutz und Schund" ("dirt and trash") in film and other media. In other respects, there was a sharp break with the liberality of the Weimar years. The regime crushed the homosexual rights movement, and physicians and psychotherapists stigmatized male homosexuality as a dangerous contagion that threatened the development of a "healthy" heterosexuality among young males who had not yet reached their maturity. Many Nazi experts advanced a socially constructionist view of sexuality that emphasized the variability and vulnerability of sexual identity. Therefore, the regime stepped up the prosecution of homosexuals to the point where thousands were murdered in concentration camps.

The core of Herzog's work deals with West German postwar views of sexuality and sexual politics under Nazism. (Only one chapter deals with the sexual culture of East Germany that in her view was more egalitarian in terms of gender relations than the West). Given the profound change of heterosexual behavior and norms under Nazism, she asks how an image of Nazism became entrenched that saw the regime as socially conservative and sexually repressive. On the one hand this perception was due to the contradictory and ambiguous public positions which the Nazis had taken in regards to sexual matters. During the late Weimar republic and during the early years of the regime, Nazi officials aligned themselves with social conservatives and the Christian churches in their denouncements of sexual immorality. This went hand in hand with radical anti-Semitism denouncing Jews as a dangerous source of moral pollution. However, this [End Page 378] alignment with sexual conservatism was only part of the story. At the same time, Nazi sexual experts and popular magazines mocked the prudery of traditional Christian morals which prevented a "healthy" expression of the sexual drive. Hitler and Himmler were both dismissive of church teachings on sexuality and favored extra-marital activities of "racially valuable" men as a way to bind men and soldiers to the regime. During the war, the regime further accelerated the spread of pre- and extramarital heterosexuality by encouraging mixed sex social gatherings of young men and women as a way of boosting morale. However, these "pleasure-enjoining aspects" (62) of Nazism were largely forgotten by the 1960s.

Heterosexual liberality continued into the immediate postwar period, but it was soon replaced by a new post-fascist regime of sexual relations. Backed by the cultural criticism of the Protestant and Catholic churches, the Adenauer years witnessed a resurgence of conservative ideals that emphasized sexual propriety and the domesticity of women. This postwar construction of gender relations was tied to a conservative ideology that saw Nazism as an immoral force opposed to Christian values, while conveniently forgetting the initial complicity between Nazism and conservative Christianity. As Herzog points out, in terms of negative attitudes towards homosexuals there were similarities between the Nazi period and the Adenauer era as demonstrated by the continued criminalization of homosexuality. The most innovative aspect of her interpretation concerns the ways in which discussions about gender relations and sexual propriety frame the memory of the Nazi period. Postwar conservatives saw the moral crisis brought on by Nazism not so much in terms of the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, but rather in terms of a decline of traditional sexual mores.

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pp. 378-380
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