Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany

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We tend to think of death as a basic and immutable fact of life. Yet death, too, has a history. Death in Berlin is the first study to trace the rituals, practices, perceptions, and sensibilities surrounding death in the context of Berlin's multiple transformations over the decades between Germany's defeat in World War I and the construction of the Berlin Wall. Evocatively illustrated and drawing on a rich collection of sources, Monica Black reveals the centrality of death to the evolving moral and social life of one metropolitan community. In doing so, she connects the intimacies of everyday life and death to events on the grand historical stage that changed the lives of millions – all in a city that stood at the center of some of the twentieth century’s most transformative events.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Twentieth-century Germany is often described as a culture living in the shadow of mass death. Monica Black’s book, however, is the first that traces the changing perceptions, rituals, memories, and sensibilities surrounding death from the Weimar Republic to post-fascist divided Germany. She brilliantly shows not only how the dead haunted the living but also how loss, honor, and moral community were radically transformed in Berlin during these turbulent decades of rapid regime change. This is a first-rate and pioneering account of how Germany’s ‘culture of death’ served as a charged intersection of the personal and political in the middle decades of the last century.” – Paul Betts, University of Sussex

“With great originality and alertness to detail and perspective, Monica Black explores how the dead were buried in a twentieth-century lifetime of mass murder. This is a history in which millions of dead cast a long shadow interrupted by dictatorship, repression, and defiance. It is a ghost story, about the persistent return of the dead in the imagined communities of bereaved, humiliated, and shamed Berliners. It is an artful perspective on the local, national, and mythic histories that make up modern life.” – Peter Fritzsche, author of Life and Death in the Third Reich

“In the middle of the twentieth century, Germany made death its business. This powerful, haunting, ethically acute book puts at its center the primal topics of contamination and violated taboo, fantasies of heroic sacrifice and euphoria in the face of mortality, unrelieved grief, shattered faith, and dread of existential meaninglessness. Death in Berlin is a highly original, continually revelatory history of moral values and their malleability.” – Dagmar Herzog, Graduate Center, City University of New York

“During the air raids of the Second World War and the privations of postwar occupation, under four different regimes, each with its own slant on burial and cremation, Berliners insisted on commemorating their dead in their own ways. With the sensitivity of an anthropologist and the poignancy of a cultural historian, Monica Black probes the personal and social meanings of death. Beautifully written – by turns revealing, moving, and startling – this is a magnificent scholarly achievement.” – Nicholas Stargardt, Magdalen College, Oxford University

"...a fascinating and important contribution to twentieth-century German cultural history." -Annika Frieberg, H-Net

"This is ... a remarkable book that alters our perspective on twentieth-century German history. ... Black's book has overall significance for how we understand Weimar, the Third Reich, and Cold War divided Germany. ... In this wide-ranging survey Black paints death as a rich tapestry." —Mark Fenemore, German History

"In this absorbing study, death becomes a social institution unto itself. By including the dead in the history of Germany, Black provides a compelling history of the living." — Benita Blessing, Central European History

"Monica Black has written an engaging study of the changing meaning of death for the inhabitants of Berlin, stretching from the final years of the Weimar Republic to the erecting of the Berlin Wall." -John Lavalle, Canadian Journal of History

"_Death in Berlin_ is a remarkable piece of scholarship that serves as a model of everyday life history, reminding us that a story 'that resists being told' is often one that has much to say. ... _Death in Berlin_ is beautifully written in a style that is as poignant as it is academically rigorous." - Pamela Swett, Journal of Modern History

"The history that Black outlines [in Death in Berlin] is ... one in which much changed, but in which all sorts of surprising continuities also operated, continuities that demonstrate anew that the history of cultural practices cannot be reduced to expressions of politics but rather have a life and rhythm of their own. [This] exceptional book stimulates many fascinating thoughts and questions and deserves a wide readership." – Neil Gregor, American Historical Review

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Monica Black is Assistant Professor of History at Furman University. She was awarded the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize by the Friends of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC, in 2007 and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council on Germany, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Council for Library and Information Resources, and others.

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Table of Contents




Introduction 1

1 Death in Berlin, circa 1930 19

2 Nazi Ways of Death 69

3 Death in Everyday Life 111

4 Death and Reckoning 145

5 Death in Socialism 187

6 Death and the West 229

Conclusions 271

Bibliography 281

Index 301

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