Web site contribution
Elissa Mailänder on Bigamy and Nazi Pronatalism
Journal of the History of Ideas - BLOG
Yanara Schmacks: Your article introduces the case of Otto M., a Kiel-based university professor who specialized in phytopathology and pharmacognosy during the Third Reich and in postwar West Germany. M. had an openly bigamous relationship and lived in a shared household with his wife and another woman whom he considered his “second wife” in a “community marriage.” He had children with both women and justified his lifestyle with reference to Nazi pronatalism and eugenic principles, framing himself as a “prodigious father” contributing to the Volk. How are M.’s case and the trajectory it took illustrative of the unique and often contradictory National Socialist sex and gender politics? How is it situated within the völkisch ideology favored by leading Nazi figures like Heinrich Himmler and myths about a Germanic past? Elissa Mailänder: At first glance, the polygamous professor reads like a tremendously eccentric curiosity. Yet a closer look reveals that this man believed that, by fathering and rearing many racially “pure” and “healthy” children, he was acting in a “morally righteous” way in a distinctly völkisch sense. This adjective, so difficult to translate, refers to a rather quirky current of thought that developed in German-speaking countries at the end of the 19th century, gaining particular traction after World War I. Covering trends like the escape from metropolitan urban life to reconnect with nature, nutritional awareness, and naturopathic medicine, followers of this eclectic movement shared an undemocratic, ethnic conception of national community that further exalted its presumed Germanic roots. Most importantly, the völkisch logic rejected foreign influences and racial differences as threats to an allegedly pure Germanic race. Cleverly, the Nazis then drew upon this ethno-racist and eugenic ideologyfrom the 1920s,reinforcing asense of belonging via inclusionary racism and declaring the family as the biological stock of an ethnically defined People’s Community (Volksgemeinschaft).