Bloodlines: National Borders and the Emergence of Popular anti-Semitism in Weimar Germany

Robert Braun, University of California, Berkeley

This paper explores the local level transmission of racism through the study of children’s stories in interwar Europe. In 20th century Europe, many children’s stories aimed to discipline children’s behavior through the inducement of fear. These so called “Kinderschreck” tales frequently featured rather innocent depictions of fantasy figures or animals that acted as bogeymen. In some European villages, however, bogeymen took more racist forms such as that of the “Forest Jew” or the “Dirty Gypsy”. Exploiting fine-grained village level data gathered by folklorists throughout Germany and neighboring countries, this paper shows that xenophobic tales were rare before World War One, became more prevalent in some regions than others and had important implications for the decay of pluralism in interwar Europe. Spatial econometrics in combination with detailed archival work reveal that fear for Jews and Gypsies appeared predominantly in post-war border towns. Here, national borders operated as local focal points for a qualitatively and quantitatively distinct variety of nationalism that was particularly hostile towards groups that were perceived to transcend the nation. The localized racist narratives that emerged in border regions often strengthened xenophobic currents in conservative movements and subsequently provided a fertile breeding ground for early National Socialist mobilization. This paper hopes to contribute to the existing literature on Anti-Semitism by providing a refined and subnational reconceptualization of Hannah Arendt's insights about Weimar's "impossible borders" and the now often disregarded thesis that the Holocaust was partly produced by Germany's central location in Europe. It also extends the sociology of xenophobia through the demonstration that geographic boundaries themselves have an independent effect on the nature of intergroup relationships. As borders between nations activate borders within nations, pluralism often starts eroding at the margins of the state.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 253. The Enduring Global Color Line