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The Bard of Eugenics: Shakespeare and Racial Activism in the Third Reich

Author(s): Gerwin Strobl
Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 323-336
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
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2and had at various times dabbled in verse and drama. roughly midway between Hitler's appointment as Chancellor and the inception of the 'Euthanasia Programme'. for instance. therefore. Vol 34(3). The annual meeting of the German Shakespeare Society in Weimar provided the setting. CA and New Delhi. some of Germany's leading literary critics and beaux esprits attended an unusual exposition of nazi eugenic theory.249 on Tue.1 This article considers how this curious document . second. as evidence of the degradation of German intellectual and cultural life in the Third Reich. 3 See. because it reveals how complicity with the regime and its aims was gradually established even among sections of German society that had initially sought to keep nazism at arm's length. because it demonstrates how such complicity provided the basis for the progressive escalation of nazi racial policy. and though he held a doctorate in Germanistik. because it highlights the often incongruous ways in which nazi ideology was disseminated. Giinther.3 It seems doubtful that in the normal course of events he would ever have been invited to address the high-minded circle of Bildungsbiirger that made up the German Shakespeare Society.110. The author of the paper in question. This content downloaded from 38. that deserves comment is its context. third.ThousandOaks.Journalof Contemporary HistoryCopyright? 1999 SAGEPublications. the document is remarkable in itself. The first thing about the paper. Those associated 1 Hans FK. was an influential academic figure in 1930s Germany. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Shakespeare's birthday the unlikely occasion. because it demonstrates that this was done as much through individual initiative as organized propaganda.London. Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft. 323-336. 'Shakespeares Madchen und Frauen aus lebenskundlicher Sicht'. published subsequently in the Society's Jahrbuch for 1937. Neue Folge 14 (Weimar 1937) 85-108.37.008935] GerwinStrobl The Bard of Eugenics: Shakespeare and Racial Activism in the Third Reich In April 1937. The German Shakespeare Society was (and is . its postwar reincarnation) a learned society dedicated to Shakespearean studies. Hans Baldenwegs Aufbruch: Ein deutsches Spiel in vier Auftritten (Munich 1920) and Lieder vom Verhiingnis:Gedichte. meist aus der Vorkriegszeit (Kassel 1925).323-336. and fourth.foreshadowed and facilitated Germany's deadly eugenic experiment. The event itself took the form of a paper with the title 'Maidens and Matrons in Shakespeare: A Practical Perspective'. his name was not generally associated with literary criticism. Hans FK. [0022-0094(199907)34:3. Giinther. 2 The Doktorarbeit was subsequently published: Zur Herkunft des Volksbuches von Fortunatus und seinen Sohnen (Freiburg im Breisgau 1914). 73.ostensibly an exercise in literary reflection . 'Maidens and Matrons' is a remarkable document for several reasons: first.

indeed. Giinther.249 on Tue. more recently. above all. Volkischer Beobachter. which he dedicated to Hans Frick. an influential figure in interwar theatrical practice. he turned to eugenics proper with Volk and State in Relation to Heredity and Selection (1933). 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . but such guests all brought with them substantive cultural credentials. 7 Cf. In 1922 he published A Racial Typology of the German People. were invited to address its annual conference at Weimar. 6 Cf. in turn.324 Joural of ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 with it therefore tended to have a professional interest in literature. where Schiller had once taught.the subject of his first academic interest . the various presidential addresses published in the Jahrbiicher of the period.6 His presence in Weimar was therefore significant.5And it was from Rosenberg's hands that during the 1935 Nuremberg rally Giinther received the first ever NSDAP Prize for Science. he had largely defined it. wreaths would be laid at the royal tombs. in the 1920s. he became active in social anthropology after the first world war. followed two years later by A Racial Typology of Europe. or rather that country's ruling family.or RassenGiinther. This content downloaded from 38. For. There. he wrote a timely Racial Typology of the Jewish People in 1929. as he was widely called . Here it seemed safe to exhibit its otherwise discreet royalism. on the other hand. Alfred Rosenberg became the dedicatee of a tract on the harmful effect on the Nordic race of urbanization. in individual members of humanity. It did so ultimately to avoid charges of political partisanship and to preserve a polite air of academic detachment. The closest the Society got to an overtly political stance was its pronounced devotion to the land of Shakespeare's birth. replaced the dowager GrandDuchess with a commoner as its patron. Having abandoned.very obviously stood for the 'New Germany'. all similarity with the poet-historian ended.4 Hans Gunther's literary connections were.110. which immediately went into reprints. engagement. Martin Luserke. A year later. and here a clear theme soon emerged in his research. had not merely contributed to German racial theory. the Society had only very reluctantly.even in the nazi era betray a sentimental attachment to the House of Saxony-Weimar. historical linguistics . Its meetings . some. was in its outlook a remnant of another age. Having adapted for popular use his original German Racial Typology (the so-called Volksgiinther). however. After a brief detour into antiquity (A Racial History of the Greeks and the Romans. 5 Die Verstidterung (Berlin and Leipzig 1934).and Germanistik. or death in the House of Windsor occasioned elaborate 4 The list of previous guests included the likes of Hugo von Hoffmansthal or. as the official citation stressed. 13 September 1935. the German Shakespeare Society. 1928). rather more tenuous: all that could be said in his favour was that he had held a chair at Jena.7 In fact. whereas Schiller was interested. Giinther . by comparison.37. and the annual presidential address invariably included loyal references to members of the royal house. Amateur Shakespeareans were not unwelcome: the Society's Jahrbuch occasionally published pieces by them. Giinther was concerned with groups. Every birth.

the episode did underline the Society's potentially precarious position. unusually civilized and undoctrinaire.. however. Gundolf was known to have rejected the youthful Goebbels's request to act as his Doktorvater. 372-8. op.249 on Tue.and usefully low party membership numbers . The Society initially reacted to the age of Gleichschaltung in the only way it knew: by emphasizing its collective patriotism and otherwise abstaining from anything that might be considered remotely controversial. this anachronistic ethos came under some pressure after 1933.' 10 The counter-attack was led by Rosenberg's monthly journal: see Heinrich Bauer. of course.110. (That threat had seemed acute. Shakespeare als Vorbild habe den deutschen Dramatikern das Leben nur verbittert. Moreover. in the vain hope of safeguarding a cherished piece of civilization. and both duly fell out of favour during the war (Schirach over his liberal cultural policy during his This content downloaded from 38.37. The relatively urbane head of the theatre section in the Propaganda Ministry. In the case of Germany's Shakespeareans. a modus vivendi had to be found. was duly admitted. 1). as Goebbels had in his undergraduate days been a pupil of Friedrich Gundolf. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ..were happy to provide discreet assistance: Baldur von Schirach (whose father. 'Shakespeare . a former director of Weimar's Court Theatre and a prominent member of the Society had effected crucial introductions) and Gauleiter Josef Wagner of Westphalia (a region which had supported the Society during the financially grim years of the depression). 12 Schirach and Wagner were both. Germany's foremost Shakespearean in the early twentieth century. this proved at first less disagreeable than had been feared.. Here the Society followed a pattern endlessly replicated across German cultural and intellectual circles. 9 For a retrospective summary of such anti-Shakespearean sentiment. he was. decided to swallow their distaste for politics and make overtures to the Nazi Party. two further nazi figures with cultural connections . so auch sein Stichwortdialog.and often unworldly .'2 8 1937. by nazi standards. stets sei die deutsche Dramatik von fremden Vorbildern nur verleitet worden. Deutsche Dramatik der Gegenwart (Berlin 1938). Jahrbuch.ein germanischer Dichter'. This proved insufficient: vehement verbal attacks on non-German playwrights by party activists intoxicated by their first taste of power threatened not just the Society but its very raison d'etre. the year Rassen-Gunther expounded Shakespearean eugenics. 11 Seen from the vantage point of 1933 that connection was. was no exception. the Reichsdramaturg Rainer Schlosser. as worthy . sei er typisch undeutsch. The proceedings opened with excited references to the forthcoming Coronation in London and expressed the Society's earnest wish that the new King's reign might be 'long and beneficent' (cf.10In the jargon of the time and of the members' middle-class background. 40: 'Dort wo Shakespeare heute und alle Zeit seine Wirkungen erziele. Wie seine Stoffe typisch englisch waren.)"1If Goebbels remained mercifully aloof.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 325 tributes.. and with his immediate elevation to the board of governors receded the danger of someone more senior appearing on the scene. distinctly problematic.8 Inevitably. Jewish. cit.9If these moves were swiftly rebuffed by the party hierarchy. Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte. for example. Hermann Wanderscheck. 41 (August 1933).

an approach by Hans Giinther therefore admitted of only one reply. That consideration was not without relevance in Gunther's case. had insisted on establishing a chair for Giinther (who had already been recommended. Judging by the opening remarks in his paper. time as Reichsstatthalter in Vienna. perhaps some amongst his listeners who might be 'a little alarmed' at his attempt to link Shakespeare with eugenics. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .37. a price attached to continued corporate existence in the Third Reich.326 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 By 1937 this policy of constructive engagement seemed to have succeeded. For that year. Mein Eindruck von Hitler (Pahl 1969). however. There was. he was elected to the Shakespeare Society's board of governors in 1936. His calling. his freedom and ultimately his life).14 After the Machtergreifung. which contained both Jena and Weimar. the university's senate had voted in vain against chair and incumbent.. Wagner because of his Catholic convictions which cost him his office. Though in professional terms a complete outsider. crucially. unsuccessfully. he nevertheless appears to have been uncertain of his welcome from ordinary members. by Frick to the same university as a suitable candidate for. and the university's attempts to prevent his installation. however. 86 (this and subsequent translations are my own).249 on Tue. He had been a member of the Society for some years. Giinther. It was now extremely difficult to exclude from the Society's meetings and publications other nazi Shakespeare enthusiasts. For Germany's Shakespeareans the future seemed secure. Goring addressed party members afterwards. and in the evening nazi students saluted Gunther with a torchlight procession to his house. Wilhelm Frick. A year later. His inaugural lecture was attended by a deputation of eminent nazis led by Hitler himself. This content downloaded from 38. the Society's three nazi protectors between them had contrived to organize a special Shakespeare Festival for the Hitler Youth in Josef Wagner'sWestphalia. 15 Giinther. Also. There were.15The thought evidently did not deter him. 13 For details of Giinther's appointment.13Gunther's installation after such public opposition was an important early nazi triumph. cit. was rather more than a mere amateur. op. the geographical proximity of Jena had made it easy for him to attend the annual Weimar conference (and gave communications from him added urgency: Jena and Weimar were not just linked by a serviceable railway line. such as Rassen-Ginther.110. This had not been unopposed. he delivered the opening lecture. professorships in philosophy. had. the matter of how he had acquired his position at Jena. Thuringia's new minister responsible for higher education. they shared the same political chain of command at Gau level). The proceedings were to be inaugurated by Rudolf Hess. The state of Thuringia. and his paper on 'Maidens and Matrons in Shakespeare'. eugenics and Rassenkunde). Giinther. he remarked. the Fiihrer's deputy would thus complete the Bard's nazi canonization. see the Jenaische Zeitung for 28 May and 4 June 1930. pre-history. been the first German Land to fall to the nazis. The chair in anthropology to which he had been appointed in 1930 had been created especially for him. 19. of course. 14 Cf. that year. For there was. variously.

it is worth reflecting briefly on his audience. 18 See. If public defiance was unrealistic. they knew that the published proceedings of their Society's annual meetings had a wide academic readership outside Germany.16and he had come to talk about 'heredity. suppression. Quis tacet consentire videtur. however.from Society activities: meetings and formal dinners were attended as before. The Society's records for 1933-36 suggest the belief. judging by the review of the meeting in Rosenberg's Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte (87. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . no one could prevent him from speaking without imperilling the Society's existence . representing a well-established tradition in Shakespearean scholarship. Gunther would not have been mistaken in detecting around him a degree of unease. A few days after the Weimar lecture. and had done so in sometimes very forthright terms. the true nature of the Third Reich must finally have become apparent to them.110. as the Society had. This time there seem to have been objections. shown itself noticeably unafraid to voice doubts or objections. Giinther's eugenic address was not merely distasteful. But. articles submitted and subscriptions renewed. common during those years. and they possessed sufficient powers of imagination to predict the likely effect abroad of its forthcoming volume. Fur diesen setzen sich uberhaupt erst jetzt die Fronten gegeneinander This content downloaded from 38. its sustained hostility over the years to the new translations by Hans Rothe of Shakespeare's plays. and perhaps more important point is that it changed the relationship of the assembled academics with the regime. and the individual scholarship of its members. moreover. private gestures were not.249 on Tue.7 To appreciate the effect these words would have had when they were uttered. 19 There exists.19 16 Ibid. For one thing. quite another to accept his 'research'. Giinther apparently read the same paper at a joint meeting in Berlin of the German Philosophical Society and the Nordic Society. as the Anglo-Saxons call it'. selection. hat er also auch zu einer Klarung der Fronten beigetragen. The second. a Rubicon had been crossed: it was one thing to accommodate socially a political figure.'8 The suggestion that the members somehow failed to appreciate the import of Giinther's paper. a 'eugenicist. that an embrace of nazism could be a partial or conditional affair. and birth statistics'. The men before him were for the most part eminent literary critics. for instance. Their reaction is therefore instructive. All the more so in this case. In short. and the effect of their own silence in answer to it. Yet no one withdrew discreetly . daf3 die Machtiibernahme nicht gleichzeitig die Entscheidung des weltanschaulichen Kampfes bedeuten konnte. 85.37. Er ist deshalb ganz besonders begrufienswert. With Giinther's paper. The reviewer's reaction to such criticism is particularly revealing: 'Abgesehen von den Aufbauwerten.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 327 he explained. was that of an Erbgesundheitsforscher. in the past. die der Vortrag Giinthers alien Horern unserer Art gegeben hat. it was an insult to the Society's intellectual tradition. indirect confirmation of this say nothing of their own careers. 547-50). Es ist klar.even temporarily . 17 Ibid. clearly. June 1937. must be rejected as unconvincing.. It is difficult not to conclude that the decision to carry on as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred was anything other than a conscious act: a pretence of operating in a civilized society.

This content downloaded from 38. Should he decide. Aryan sexual wholesomeness was coupled with the notorious ambiguities of the Sonnets. was hardly enough...see WolfgangKeller'selegant attackon a nazi version(withheightenedantisemitism)of Marlowe'sJew of Malta(ahrbuch 77. thoughts of procreation had of course ceased to be a private matter. in the words of the Third Sonnet. For. 20 Ibid. umsoscharferwirdsichan dieserStelledie Linieabzeichnen. What in the Sonnets had been directed at an individual young man was now meant for an entire nation. he turned to something they would understand: Shakespeare's Sonnets. If a German's principal duty in the nineteenth century had famously been to remain unnoticeable to the authorities. 204).Geradean GiinthersVortraghat sich da auf einemwichtigenGebietvielesgeklart. In the Third Reich. 1941. 18 February1937 (quotedin MichaelBurleighand 21 Himmler. an unfortunate mismatch here of ideological intent and literary detail. as it were.110. Giinther. after some conventional remarks about 'nature' and 'nurture' in The Tempest. 192-3).wer sich zu ihr bekenntund wer sich gegen sie stellt. now it was to go forth and multiply. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .37. would also do admirably as a motto for a lecture on eugenics... And Giinther was anxious to draw his audience's attention in particular to the Sixth Sonnet: merely 'to breed another thee'. Not to do so was tantamount to anti-social behaviour.. as ham-fisted literary criticism gave way to ab. Gunther began. which set the theme for the poems. not to do so.Je besserdie Arbeit. Da ist es ein wertvollesKennzeichenjederArbeit. The fair youth of the opening poems is repeatedly urged to transmit his beauty. the addressee of this sentiment had changed. Giinther referred his audience to Shakespeare's views in the Sonnets. if nothing else. (Gunther. it was limited to the hint of conciliation at the beginning of his paper.volkisch consciousness made incarnate. This involved encouraging 'the genetically-fit' male to 'select an appropriate mate'.328 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 If there was any pretence on Giinther's part. That point had been made explicitly only a few weeks earlier by Heinrich Himmler: 'All things which take place in the sexual sphere are not a private affair of the individual. with the general outlines of population policy.249 on Tue. 'ten times happier. but signify the life and death of the nation.'21 Procreation itself was regarded as a political act . and heredity in Cymbeline. quoted in English throughout. But what had merely been risible or embarrassing up to this point now turned sinister. he would.auf der die Frontverlauft. 'From fairest creatures we desire increase'. for as the Bard so aptly put it. as it were. as did his political masters. preferably in 'early manhood'.je klarerundeindeutigerdie Haltung.op cit.22 What Giinther's audience made of all this is hard to determine.) Needless to say. be it ten for one'. he quickly got into his stride. 86. 'unbless some mother'. There was.' For concreteevidencethat criticismof nazi distortionsof literaturewas possible.'Speechto SS-Gruppenfiihrer'.providedit remainedwithin the establishedparametersof literarycriticism.20To illustrate the point for his audience. [Cambridge WolfgangWippermann.86. out of some caprice. incidentally. The opening line of the sequence. 22 Cf. State The Racial 1991].

Giinther. as in Giinther's paper. who had explicitly invoked Giinther's name in his campaign. Gauleiter of Thuringia. intended to help 'direct the gaze of male youth' in an appropriate direction. Ibid. of course. could be tailored to suit the tastes and background of specific audiences.. To this end. however. nature] carved thee for her seal. This. Cf. Ibid.27There were. And thus Giinther. And if Shakespeare alone had failed to sway the more sophisticated listeners among them. was a point ceaselessly repeated by everyone connected with the Third Reich's eugenic enterprise.e. had finally arrived at the issue of sterilization. 88. 85.37. nobler and fairer race' could truly motivate the eugenicist to alter the racial status quo. With literary critics it might. Giinther quotes the Elizabethan poet Sir Thomas Overbury: 'My self I cannot chose. with its 'practical perspective' . take the form of literary quotations. in the wording of the act. op. Cf. whom nature had not intended to procreate'.29And leaving prose behind him to give himself over to the sheer poetry of eugenics. my wife I may/ and in that choice of her it much doth lye/ to mend myself in my posterity. Cf. he did not feel the need to say very much about it. and advising other. then more recherche authorities would have to be invoked.110. This content downloaded from 38. in part. alarm his audience with disagreeable medical detail. In fact. cit. Something loftier was involved: Gesinnung alone ultimately mattered. not let the copy die'.23Here.25All of which moves things beyond the realm of literary appreciation and adds a sharp edge to Giinther's next quotation. less expert.24The act had been adopted after vigorous lobbying by Fritz Sauckel. 14 July 1933. He quotes lines from Twelfth Night: the 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Ibid. unanswerable. Gisela Bock.249 on Tue. rather than mere philoprogenitiveness is thus revealed as the basis of all effective racial policy. Giinther returns once more to Shakespeare. Giinther's paper. was. too. ibid. Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Progeny. and meant thereby. in his discussion of Shakespeare and the Sonnets.lebenskundlich in his own untranslatable phrase. so to speak.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 329 eugenics proper. legislation had been enacted to prevent. the eugenicist was talking in unison with his masters. 87. The economic case for it was. Cf./ thou should'st print more.. also those who were.28But concentrating on the financial benefit of mass sterilization seemed to him to be missing the point. Zwangssterilisation im Nationalsozialismus (Opladen 1986). with whom to continue the Nordic bloodline. men in their choice of mate. Selection. he remarked. taken from Sonnet XI: 'She [i. He did not.'26 This had both private and public implications: finding an appropriate female for oneself. however. Within months of the nazi seizure of power. 'hereditary diseased progeny'. Its justification. 'Only an innate ability to glimpse the final aim of creating an abler. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . genetically beyond mending.. 82. For Shakespeare's golden youth is contrasted with the 'genetically questionable. of course.

along genetic and racial lines./ thy tongue. cit. 'I'll be sworn thou art. an awareness of the virtues of mass sterilization was not limited to National Socialism. Both characters. or of concerned individuals like himself. which he had helped to shape. Himmler was developing a similar train of thought in a secret speech before SS officers. an accident. Himmler was under no such constraints: he was able to promise mass murder as an immediate solution to a eugenic dilemma. the real difference lay not in the individual slants Gunther and Himmler gave to their shared obsessions but in the extent to which each felt able to reveal his true intentions. when she confirms (the disguised) Viola's status as a 'gentleman'. After all.true eugenics . One was limited to reminding the young of their responsibilities in the 'Struggle for Survival'.. he reminded his audience. This underlay all racial policy worthy of the name.37. The near exact chronological coincidence was. What was involved here. according to Giinther. To equate eugenics with suppression of the undesirable was simplistic and misleading even. after all. Likewise. What linked them was a clear eugenic agenda and a steely determination to see theory translated into practice. Giinther's rhetorical flourishes. demonstrate Shakespeare's instinctive grasp of eugenic potential. is 'young. was not a denial of the concept of nobility. while Himmler. and the failure of Germany's estimated two million homosexuals to procreate. to intervene directly was clearly circumscribed. Giinther suggests. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . but otherwise the two speeches were hardly unconnected. admittedly.ultimately hinged on an innate 'sense of nobility'. 192-3. was concentrating on the perceived homosexual threat to reproductive activity in the Reich. though lowly born. A few weeks before Hans Giinther spoke at Weimar about the 'unblessed mothers' of Shakespeare's Sonnets.110. which needed to be translated into procreative action. Giinther feels. for his part.330 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 character of Olivia. and spirit/ do give thee fivefold blazon'. as it were. op. This content downloaded from 38. Cf. fair' and 'in these to nature she's immediate heir'. thy actions.31Its subject was the ongoing effect of the Great War on the Reich's birth rate. Whereas Giinther was deploring the limits to eugenic intervention (but wisely forbore to develop more satisfying scenarios). and hope that their idealism be fired by the eugenic message. Helen in All's Well.249 on Tue. 30 31 Ibid. It is worth reflecting on the symmetry of the two events.30And here Ginther was under no illusions as to the practical difficulties involved: the ability of the state. wise. Giinther may have been talking about positive literary role models to guarantee 'increase' and 'fair issue'. but a redefinition of it. thy limbs. This is both to ignore the man's seriousness and events outside the literary sphere. is conscious of genetic superiority. there is a danger of dismissing it as little more than a colourful example of the nazi grotesque. across the safe distance of half a century of democracy and the rule of law. However. 88. But eugenics . Burleigh and Wippermann. were uttered against a background of eugenic practice. Reading Giinther's paper today. thy face..

. the choice of venue for his reproductive homily was less improbable than it might seem. With them. and on the acceptance of such practice depended the Third Reich's larger ambitions. There is a logical progression from Giinther's racial tracts via the Marriage Laws and forcible sterilization to the attempted mass murder of the eugenically undesirable.33 With this in mind.37. the regime's hopes rested principally on the Volksgemeinschaft's youngest members. But Giinther is also an essential precondition for Himmler.)32 For the time being. 32 Cf. Not only were they the key to all future reproduction. They needed to be supplemented by a racial component in all areas of teaching to provide constant reinforcement of the core message. they were also the most malleable section of society. Surveying the scene in 1933.. In peacetime. Racial primers. at some remove from the immediate front line in the Struggle for Racial Survival. with the full glare of the world media directed on Germany. In eugenics.silent acceptance at the very least . This content downloaded from 38..' (quoted by Bock. The schools and youth organizations of the Reich were therefore the natural battlegrounds for people like Hans Giinther. Acceptance by the public of eugenic theory . 68). and the Society's cultural and intellectual prestige would have been an added attraction. both as a pioneer of eugenics and as its propagandist. and might be counteracted by vigorous political indoctrination. it was necessary to advance cautiously. Giinther. the most promising avenue was therefore propaganda. while useful.was a prerequisite for eugenic practice. careful thought was required about how best to deliver the nazi message. The direct influence of nazi ideology on the production of textbooks in the Third Reich is now widely acknowledged. wenn diese im Bereich der uns gegebenen Moglichkeiten bleiben wollen .. cit. cit. Private literary tastes may have played a part. 'Shakespeares Madchen'. 33 Giinther. the door would thus be open to more overt eugenic intervention. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . his imagination already ranged beyond legal constraints. Giinther had concentrated on the limitations .110. were only a start.if things 'are to stay within legal parameters'. (His choice of the verb 'wollen' over the more common 'sollen' is revealing: clearly. Volk und Staat in ibrer Stellung zu Vererbungund Auslese (Munich 1933). op. Ginther's pronouncements on Shakespeare are a useful reminder that matters went beyond textbooks. as in most areas of nazi policy. 85. the teaching of the churches and of other moral agencies had not yet penetrated deeply. Himmler's speech the hidden reality. They were. Giinther himself had specifically stated that all his endeavour was directed at [Germany's] 'male youth'.249 on Tue. after all. But it seems safe to assume that the assembled professors and Geheimrdte were not the main target audience. Wider didactic ambitions clearly also lay behind Ginther's appearance before the German Shakespeare Society. To ensure maximum effectiveness.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 331 The connection between Hans Ginther's pseudo-literary reflections on Shakespeare and Himmler's calm promise of murder is therefore twofold: Giinther's paper represents the semi-respectable public face of nazi policy in 1937. 19: 'Unsere volkischen und staatlichen Zielsetzungen. All aspects of teaching and education were viewed as potential vehicles for the transmission of nazi racial thought. op.

1934. become more pronounced.249 on Tue. the greater the stature of the writer the more valuable his work became in propaganda terms: this. 13-19). no less.35Giinther's ruminations on Bard and breeding were thus less quixotic than they might otherwise appear. see the speeches by the Reichsdramaturg Rainer Schlosser. By 1937. The published proceedings of the German Shakespeare Society were available in the staff libraries of many German Gymnasien .110. Goethe. he must have hoped that his voice would carry beyond the gathering that heard him speak. This was not unrealistic.34Since the late eighteenth century. Das Volk und seine Buhne [Berlin 1935]. Shakespeare was as much a topic for German schools as Germany's native classics.) If Giinther's true intention was to convince by invoking Shakespeare. the Bard's own racial background. with the regime's grasp on power secure. Shakespeare was luminously Aryan. where even Richard Wagner's ancestry was the object of dark rumours.) Something rather like that was also happening to existing literature. 35 Schlosser had famously invited Germany's writers to re-interpret everything around them in the light of nazi ideology: 'We find that the National Revolution has created anew for us the entire world' (Rainer Schlosser. both the Propaganda Ministry and the 34 Cf. thus providing obvious opportunities for nazi propaganda. (And. he was at the centre of German literary life. one needs to examine why Shakespeare was considered not merely useful but worthy of transmitting the nazi racial message. it is helpful to consider briefly the role of Shakespeare in German education. Jahrbuch 70. Shakespeare's position was unique. Not only was he generally acknowledged as the greatest dramatist in any language since the Greeks. Let us start with the obvious. effectively forcing politically uncommitted schoolmasters to echo in their teaching the ideological message of their nazi colleagues. if anything. had hard-headed reasons for turning to much by official pronouncement as by 'scientific' racial method.37. he was also the only foreign writer to have achieved the status of 'honorary German'. And in those schools the same ideological pressures applied that had carried Gtinther first to his chair at Jena and now to the rostrum at Weimar. therefore. and it was no accident that the German Shakespeare Society should have resided in Goethe's own Weimar. no Gymnasiast would reach his Abitur without encountering in the classroom at least some of the Bard's plays. of course. Giinther. For official nazi pronouncements. 'Shakespeare in unserer Gegenwart'. For once. and in particular since the appearance of Schlegel and Tieck's definitive translation. 1938. 117-33). That much had been established by 1937 . the Festrede at the 1934 meeting of the Shakespeare Society which provides a useful historical overview of Shakespeare's impact on German cultural life (Hans Hecht. was an ideology that revelled in Great Men. Shakespeare'spre-eminence had.332 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 To understand why. Post1933. a kind of self-censorship was prevalent in German schools. had assigned that place to him.the Society's membership roll included a substantial number of schoolmasters. To complete the picture. This content downloaded from 38. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 'Was ist uns Shakespeare?' (Jahrbuch 74. as the literary canon had otherwise been severely truncated. 'Rede auf der Ersten Tagung des Reichsbundes fur deutsches Freilichtund Volksschauspiel in Berlin'. after all. My translation. In a distressingly mongrelized world. 'Der deutsche Shakespeare' and Gauleiter Josef Wagner.

40 Ibid. 87. serious scholars were obliged to dignify them with reviews. June 1937. Um Shakespeares Nordentum (Aachen 1937). This particular aspect of eugenics was an enduring preoccupation with Giinther.though there was perhaps a touch of the Dinaric type about him. On such 'findings'. 38 Gattenwahl zu ehelichem Gluck und erblicher Ertiichtigung (Munich 1941). 37 For this and similar insights. Hans Giinther went much further. With regard to racial awareness.) 39 Characteristically. as Guintherwas at pains to explain.) The Bard's Germanentum had also been substantiated by Giinther's own profession.110. a clear idea of what marriage should be about. it followed that he had written Nordic plays and verse. (Of course.40(Here Shakespeare proved 36 See. with classic nazi circular reasoning. his work had earlier helped authenticate his own Nordic status. A few years later. (Interestingly. in 1941.37(The absence of any proof that the man in the portrait was Shakespeare had briefly been acknowledged but had not otherwise been allowed to undermine the analysis.. However. The cranial measurements in Shakespeare'sportrait were scrutinized and found to be squarely within the Nordic range . 93). 'innate'. Giinther saw in Shakespeare's work a potential manual for appropriate selection of a mate. and Shakespeare had perceived as much (cf.249 on Tue.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 333 Rosenberg Office concurred. Shakespeare's rural origins practically guaranteed his Aryan pedigree. he was able to re-launch that little booklet at the height of the Adenauer Restoration in 1951. 547-50. depended decisions in all aspects of private and public life in the Third Reich.36(The press and the various party organs duly greeted each Shakespearean production in the Reich's theatres with the same racial refrain. was racial awareness (at any rate on the man's part). In this regard. he would publish the essence of his thoughts on the matter in the form of a popular guide: Partner Selection for Marital Happiness and Hereditary Toughening. the Third Reich's marriage laws had provided an overall framework to prevent any further dilution of 'Aryan' racial purity. again. see Gustav L. 'Shakespeares Madchen'. he suggests. and linked up with that an unambiguous definition of the respective roles in marriage and society of the sexes. according to Giinther. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Since Shakespeare was thus indisputably Nordic. Only sustained racial consciousness could do that. in The Merchant of Venice. he tries nonetheless: Jessica. Yet everyone nonetheless persisted in keeping up the pretence of academic normality. because Jews lack the Aryans' inner life. Plessow. is such a flat character. of course.37. op. Giinther evidently realized the difficulty of attempting to prove 'racial awareness' in Shakespeare.38 The basis of a happy union. this would not bring about an immediate eugenic improvement. cit.. Germany's Shakespeareans were entirely representative of wider professional practice in the Third Reich.) If these logical contortions provided the general ideological background to nazi appreciation of the Bard. Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte. 'the Jew's daughter'. he declared. not 'acquired' or even 'capable of being acquired'. As the title of his paper suggests. Respected learned publications were forced to publish them.39The characters' individual nobility offered a more promising avenue: their superiority was. This content downloaded from 38. 90.) Pictorial evidence apart.

was not merely politically suspect but undermined the very basis of eugenics. the maidens in Shakespeare were 'intended to provide an ideal image'.47Education.besides which she tempts Anthony into a racially doubtful union). It goes to the heart of Giinther's concept of womanhood. were of the essence. 'albeit to be read between the lines'. had felt unable to award a first prize: 'There was not one photo among [the entries] that would have merited the prize. This does not. When the magazine Volk und Rasse had organized a photographic competition in 1926 of the perfect Nordic face.) What Giinther. it had proved almost impossible to decide on the claims of any one individual.43The all-male jury of racial experts. 99-100. 1 (2). 43 The details of the competition were announced in Volk und Rasse. They are gloriously feminine: utterly convincing both in their virtues and characteristic feminine failings. 99. after the deadline for submissions had been extended to the end of the year..45(Seen in the light of these comments. was at heart a Teutonic maiden and 'Mediterranean only in as much as the plot demanded it'. What delights him about Shakespearean maidens is precisely their idealization. 92. Giinther felt no need to provide further evidence. These were so solid. February 1927. 'Shakespeares Madchen'.'44The contrast with the male selection had been striking. for instance. ibid.. 92.. it might. it is perhaps no accident that at Weimar Giinther should have dwelt so long and lovingly on the fair youth of the Sonnets. diminish their attractiveness. it seems. was a different matter. This is amply borne out by his eugenic assessment of Shakespeare's gallery of female characters. such superabundance of male beauty. he decides. 44 Cf. rub off onto the reader or spectator. op.) If this 'innate' awareness of nobility dictated the characters' behaviour in the plays. the results were finally discussed the following February.110. that they might inspire fair youth to sire 'noble issue'.37. the shortcomings of Germany's women had been starkly revealed. The jury had been faced with such an embarrassment of genetic riches. and only a few fail the test: Cressida (too wanton) and Cleopatra (ditto . May 1926. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . as Giinther knew all too well.42This manifest detachment from reality is more than a picturesque detail.334 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 more clear-sighted than Germany's own dramatists: Schiller's insistence on universal brotherhood. 2 (1). The list of maidens and matrons of whom he approves is long. for all their 'vivaciousness'. 1-11. 47 Ibid. Giinther chief amongst them. with luck.46On the other hand.. even Juliet. 45 Cf. Reality. sketched with the hope. This content downloaded from 38. prized above all in a woman was decorous passivity. and his masters. with the exception of Miranda in The Tempest. were Windsor's eponymous merry wives (too merry). is 'unnecessary for the 41 Ibid. After all. also suspect. 46 Cf. There the problem was of a very different order.41 What then made Shakespeare's female characters exemplary? Their solidly Aryan traits. he feels. all Shakespeare's female characters are uneducated. 42 Ibid. he is struck by the thought that. obviously. cit. Volk und Rasse.249 on Tue.

as ever.zahlreichenGenerationensein' (27 January1938). as in the wider reality of the Third Reich.48And here Giinther is. (Significantly. he provides no evidence.53It might seem far-fetched to link Himmler's advocacy of mass murder in the interest of undisturbed procreation with Giinther's careful remarks about marriage. he notes with approval that the course of true love in Shakespeare frequently runs counter to strict Christian teaching. since it might affect the all-important birth rate. and as openly as Giinther dared in 1937.op. He does not divulgewhat the ancientTeutonsdid in drieruplandareas.with its emphasis on practical skills and 'natural feminine grace' . Anything beyond that was undesirable.249 on Tue.if scurrilously. ibid. There. Again. 50 Cf. Yet the emphasis on the 'pre-Christian'. he claims. too. 51 It was not for nothingthat the acronymBDM was generally. perfectly in tune with nazi thought. with its veiled hint of violence. should perhaps make one think again.the League of German Maidens .)50The example of the BDM .providedby the Das SchwarzeKorps. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . it is instructive to remember Himmler's secret speech of the same period. 53 Homosexuals.110.Strobl:Shakespeareand RacialActivismin the ThirdReich 335 development of what is finest in their nature'. 101.were routinelystrangledand dumpedin peat bogs.of the deepermeaningof the 'Faithand Beauty'organization: SS-newspaper 'DerGlaubeist das Wissenum eine Berufung:Siesollenja dereinstMutterderkommendengesunden. The coming all-out assault on Christian morality is surely foreshadowed here.neatly illustrates the point.interpretedto standfor balddeutscheMutter. Naturally. as Himmler had confided to his followers. Ibid. and.49Education was useful only in as much as it reinforced that message and taught necessary 'feminine' skills.37. represents a return to the values of the Teutonic nations of old. cit. This content downloaded from 38. 52 SpeechbeforeSS-Gruppenfiihrer. starken. Seealso the explanation.). one might be inclined to dismiss it as inconsequential verbiage. and a useful reminder that nazi ideology dehumanized even where it meant to praise. and the use of the striking and untranslatable adjective lebensstark.. 18 February1937 (BurleighandWippermann. Even so. 95. were it not for one significant detail. since alleged conformity to ancient Germanic practice was a routine form of praise in the Third Reich.Germanmother-tobe. For the real purpose of its gymnastic routines was of course to prepare young bodies for childbirth. murder (of homosexuals) is promised and expressly sanctioned with a reference to ancient Germanic practice. women figured only as potential breeding stock: the ultimate weapon in the v6lkisch state's armoury: 'The people which has many children has the candidature for world power and world dominion'. 91. What was valued in a woman was her recognition of marriage and motherhood as her essential calling: 'her fate and higher purpose in life' (Beseeligung). This.51In Giinther's paper. Giinther mentions as the supreme expression of lebensstark Germanic passion the plot of Macbeth. Giinther's remarks about the married state are also still somewhat guarded.. Giinther provides an edited version of his masters' ambitions. Giinther confesses to doubts about the over-educated Miranda in The Tempest..52 Here.Himmlerclaims. as Giinther himself put it. and he refers his audience 48 49 Ibid.

dagger in hand. 'Shakespeares Madchen'.55At about this time the regime began to break its own laws when it forcibly sterilized the so-called Rheinlandbastarde . Gerwin Strobl teaches Central European History at Cardiff University. and he mentions as instances of 'far-sighted policy' not just sterilization of the 'diseased'. And sterilization.56Again. 54 55 56 57 58 Cf. Begabtenschwund in Europa (Munich 1959). but in view of Giinther's equanimity about this blatant breach even of nazi law. This content downloaded from 38. op.. 91. and is currently writing a book on German perceptions of Britain.110. Cf. 'Shakespeare's Maidens and Matrons' demonstrates how complicity with the regime's agenda was established by small incremental steps that ultimately led to the gas vans and gas chambers of the 'Euthanasia Programme'.and after. Gunther's inexorable rise and the concomitant decline of the German intellectual tradition are paradigmatic of developments in nazi Germany . ultimately. In his Shakespearean paper he explicitly praises the regime's eugenic agenda. Giinther meanwhile flourished.37. What is indisputable. The fate and fortunes of the protagonists at the 1937 meeting of the German Shakespeare Society are of wider significance. For all his nazi connections.54 Retrospective interpretation must guard against overstating the case. Lady Macbeth steels her husband's nerve to murder. By the 1950s he was in print again and gloomily scanning the darkening racial horizons. Hans Giinther was no more privy in 1937 to the regime's ultimate plans than was his audience. 354. 07 Apr 2015 16:13:45 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . And it adds a definite edge to his earlier observation that women should 'stiffen' their husbands' 'resolve in the Struggle for Survival'. is Giinther's own radicalism. Ibid. cit. does not equal murder.)58But the importance of his paper goes beyond intellectual morality or aspects of nazi racial policy. He is the author of several articles on nazi cultural policy. (By 1941 the German Shakespeare Society had been effectively closed down in spite of its attempts to move with the times. however repugnant and morally reprehensible.57 To conclude. cit. 85. 'Shakespeares Madchen'.people of mixed race conceived during the occupation of the Rhine.249 on Tue. op.even if Giinther's paper is still relatively close to the beginning of that process. It illuminates the background to the Third Reich's murderous eugenic experiment .336 Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 34 No 3 in particular to the scene in the first act where.. op.. survived the war and. even the collapse of the regime. but 'protective custody' and what he coyly refers to as 'other measures'. this is not murder. however. his reference to Lady Macbeth does seem significant.. Bock. and the final destination was not yet fully visible. Hans Giinther's bizarre exercise in literary criticism provides a stark glimpse of German national life in the Third Reich. cit. 95. Cf. Giinther was among the 'experts' whose views had been sought about this.