From hobby to necessity: the practice of genealogy in the Third Reich

Baruah-Young, William Lee (2014) From hobby to necessity: the practice of genealogy in the Third Reich. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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After achieving political power in January 1933, the Nazis began to plan and implement racial policies that would redefine the lives of ordinary men and women. Persistently promoted as health measures, many of the racial policies enacted would go on to have considerable and, in many cases, devastating consequences for the family sphere. This thesis examines one aspect of Nazi policy, the practice of genealogy. Re-envisioned and turned into a civic duty of the ‘responsible citizen,’ this one-time hobby forced Germans to reassess friendships, marriages and courtships.

But why did genealogy gain such prestige under National Socialism? What objectives did the Nazis hope to achieve by weaving the practice into the fabric of central legislative measures? How did society react to obligatory family research? These questions are central to understanding how the Nazis were able to establish and maintain a system of inclusion and exclusion in the Volksgemeinschaft, or People’s Community. Dealing with these issues also offers the opportunity to define the all-consuming nature of Hitler’s regime more clearly. The requirement to perform genealogical research was the mechanism used by the regime to challenge the people’s sense of belonging to community in the family home. The gradual definition of work and social spaces along racial lines merely complemented pressures to achieve Aryan status more quickly. Many were forced to dedicate leisure time to writing to family members asking for genealogical information of relatives. Some also attended genealogical exhibitions and read books for family researchers to move their research forward.

The growing importance and promotion of genealogy is equally important in understanding how the Nazis were able create a climate of fear for the Jews. For example, simple family research guides appeared in national newspapers and town halls and schools were frequently used to stage genealogical exhibitions. At the same time, the press documented the existence and progress of government institutions whose main remit was to collect and catalogue genealogical information of every inhabitant of Germany. It would have been difficult to leave the home and perform everyday tasks without being reminded of the growing radicalism in society. The highly publicised effort to accumulate and centralise genealogical information – as part of a programme to identify and control the nation’s Jewish population – was intended to dampen Jewish morale and feelings of security. Thus, exploring how genealogy was utilised and promoted in society, and also how ordinary men and women viewed and engaged with it, also allows this study to document anti-Semitic policies, as they evolved from limiting freedoms in social and economic spheres to state-sponsored murder.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Information Studies
Supervisor's Name: Moss, Professor Michael
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Mr William L Baruah-Young
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5306
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2014 15:07
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2017 10:58

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