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  • Poverty and Welfare in Modern German History ed. by Lutz Raphael
  • Clara M. Oberle
Poverty and Welfare in Modern German History. Edited by Lutz Raphael (New York: Berghahn Books, 2017. 256 Pp. $130.00).

In this collection Lutz Raphael has gathered the work of eight scholars on the history of welfare and poverty in modern Germany. Rather than a history of the welfare state qua state, the essays focus on the poor and poverty itself, and on the history of the ideas, groups, and economic processes involved in framing and responding to poverty. Who was to be considered poor, who among those deserving of aid? What agency did the poor have in negotiating welfare?

The volume is generally organized along chronological lines, from studies of 17th Century German cities to cases in Wilhelmine, Weimar, National Socialist, and postwar Germany, mostly the Federal Republic. Many of the studies are micro histories, offering welcome nuance to the often Berlin-and State-centric perspectives on welfare that studies in state archives can inadvertently produce. Actors examined include clergy, welfare professionals, doctors, judges, politicians, as well as the poor themselves, from the frail to labor migrants, vagabonds, workhouse inmates, women, children, elderly, victims of National Socialist racial policies, unemployed, to those working below a living wage. Sources range from monastic budget records to political speeches, academic studies, court papers, data on welfare expenditures, incomes, statistics on unemployment and poverty, to pauper letters, newspapers, and legislation.

Following a helpful historiographical overview and introduction by Lutz Raphael, Sebastian Schmidt looks at early modern Mainz and Trier to ask about early German welfare ideas and whether—even in Catholic regions—they were impacted by Protestantism and Humanism. He finds that Catholic leaders, like their Protestant peers, began to embrace state intervention and a system of welfare which was centrally administered and which closely screened potential recipients for eligibility. In practice though, much aid continued to be administered through local monasteries. Next, in an excellent chapter on pauper letters, Suppliken, and other petitions for relief—spanning the 19th and 20th centuries—Andreas Gestrich asks about the agency of the poor. He argues that with increasing literacy, their agency grew as it allowed them to no longer rely on scribes but to access directly even the highest echelons of a regime of welfare administration. From a regime perspective, the letters also functioned as a mechanism for controlling the work of middle and lower administrators. In an interesting chapter, Beate Althammer looks at vagabonds in the German Empire, 1870-1914. Despite an unchanging Imperial Penal Code law, understandings [End Page 1023] of vagabondage shifted fundamentally: whereas in the wake of industrialization and the 1873 stock market crash, in cities like Düsseldorf vagrancy was framed as normal consequence of economic problems, by the eve of World War I the discourse had shifted to medical explanations. Vagabonds now were considered abnormal by nature, and ill, either mentally or otherwise. Inclusion or reform efforts were therefore deemed pointless. By the early 1900s, the German vagrancy debate thus reflected the diffusion of ideas of biological difference and fundamental human inequality. Next, Wilfried Rudloff examines welfare in the Weimar Republic and suggests convincingly it is time we look at the "welfare city," not just the Weimar welfare state. It was cities which took on increasing parts of the economic burden and expanded welfare services, not least evident in the many different interventionist municipal housing programs. Nicole Kramer in turn examines social mobilization and administrative standardization of welfare services during National Socialism. Was the concept of the racial body and people (Volksgemeinschaft) as a category for inclusion or exclusion— introduced to advance National Socialist racial, political and economic goals— able to mobilize society? Where did poverty fit in? Kramer notes a shift in World War II on the part of the potential recipients of social aid -from stigma to entitlement. On the other hand, in questions about the elderly or the application of hereditary law, many of the policies were contested in court. In a fine chapter on gender and poverty in postwar West Germany, Christiane Kuller examines who was rendered poor (the majority were women) and how gender and family stereotypes informed...


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