Date of Award

9-1994

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Supervisor

Wayne Thorpe

Abstract

Existing studies of festivity in the Third Reich have focused on its role as an effective instrument of social integration and control; that is, festivals are interpreted either as a form of propaganda or as an outward manifestation of a secular religion. Such approaches, while advancing our understanding public celebration in Nazi Germany, fail to take into account the festival experience as a form of popular culture that mediated between complex forces binding state, economy, and society. Fundamental to this process was the role played by modern technology. In its efforts to involve all Germans in the public celebration of the 'national community', the NSDAP exploited the technical resources of the highly industrialized German state to such an extent that the modern world of technology came to redefine the context of popular festivity in the Third Reich. As an expression of forward-looking nationalist aspirations, however, the Nazi version of the modern festival experience ultimately clashed with the diverse festival cultures already embedded in German society.

The thesis is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the formalization of festivity as a dynamic expression of a forward-oriented ethnically and culturally pure society organized according to the nationalist military ethos of Nazism. Drawing on various public opinion reports gathered by Nazi and state agencies as well as the underground network of the exiled SPD, Chapters 2 and 5 reconstruct the popular response to Nazi attempts to extend organizational control into all areas of public celebration. Ranging from widespread enthusiasm to open dissent, the diversity of popular attitudes vis-à-vis Nazi festivity conforms to the image of a modern, pluralistic society, within whose public arena Germans selected or rejected aspects of festivity according to their individual political, social, economic and cultural needs.

Traditional folk festivals as a form of consumer-oriented popular culture, and Nazi attempts to transform this cultural sphere, is the focus of chapter 3. Chapter 4 examines the functional appeal of the festival industry to a Nazi state determined to alleviate depression conditions and thereby reinforce its legitimacy.

The final chapter, extending many of these themes into the war period, argues that only in the context of a deteriorating war situation did the Nazi state attempt to institutionalize its 'totalitarian' form of social control with respect to the festival and ceremonial. At the same time, however, it suggests that the ultimate failure of an increasingly isolated Nazi administration to recast the culture of celebration and ceremony owed as much to the monumental success of the Nazi festival style before 1939 as it did to the severe restrictions on material and human resources and the declining public morale that accompanied the war.

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