Hitler's Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich

Hitler's Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich

by Paolo Giaccaria, Claudio Minca

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Lebensraum: the entitlement of “legitimate” Germans to living space. Entfernung: the expulsion of “undesirables” to create empty space for German resettlement. During his thirteen years leading Germany, Hitler developed and made use of a number of powerful geostrategical concepts such as these in order to justify his imperialist expansion, exploitation, and genocide. As his twisted manifestation of spatial theory grew in Nazi ideology, it created a new and violent relationship between people and space in Germany and beyond.
With Hitler’s Geographies, editors Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca examine the variety of ways in which spatial theory evolved and was translated into real-world action under the Third Reich. They have gathered an outstanding collection by leading scholars, presenting key concepts and figures as well exploring the undeniable link between biopolitical power and spatial expansion and exclusion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226274560
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/21/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Paolo Giaccaria is assistant professor of political and economic geography at the University of Turin, in Italy. Claudio Minca is professor and head of cultural geography at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands.

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Hitler's Geographies

The Spatialities of the Third Reich

By Paolo Giaccaria, Claudio Minca

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-27456-0


For a Tentative Spatial Theory of the Third Reich


In his account of modernity and barbed wire, Reviel Netz explicitly identifies "the geographical" at the core of National Socialism: "Here is how the Nazis saw it: people were divided into races, struggling for space ... Germans were the landed people par excellence" (Netz 2004, 194). On many occasions, Hitler proclaimed the necessity of Lebensraum for the German people, a "Volk ohne Raum" (literally "people without space" — the title of a popular 1926 book by Hans Grimm), in Eastern Europe, which was depicted by the Führer in a 1937 secret meeting as an "empty space" waiting to be colonized. Again, from Netz:

The Nazi aim for the future was ... expansion, so that, in the plains stretching East of Germany, a living space — Lebensraum — would be created for present-day Germans. ... Nazism was essentially a colonizing ideology. The goal — a typical twentieth-century goal — was to bring a certain space under complete control. (Netz 2004, 194)

If National Socialism was a revolutionary movement and the Third Reich a revolutionary government, as suggested, among others, by Martyn Housden in his biography of "Lebensraum manager" Hans Frank (2003, 71), they were both supported by a genuine "spatial revolution," to use the terms of Carl Schmitt, who was often described as the "Crown Jurist of the Third Reich" (see Minca and Rowan 2015a, 2015b). This "struggle for space," at the core of the Nazis' geographical imaginations, reached its peak with the war between what they saw as two antithetical races — the Germans and the Jews — in competition for resources, not least among them space itself. The related "spatial revolution" began with urban pogroms in the 1930s, which violently disputed the right of the Jews to inhabit certain parts of the city and their very living spatialities, but by the 1940s, with the advent of the war, the spatial revolution took the form of ghettoization, deportation, detention, death marches, and, finally, systematic extermination.

In the process of producing Nazi Europe — a judenfrei and Germanized continent — millions of people were forced to leave their homes and were relocated, with the millennial aim of creating a revolutionary new cultural and political geography of Europe, where the Germans and the other (surviving) peoples were supposed to find "their proper place" (see, among others, Aly and Heim 2002; Browning 2004).

The entire geography of Jewish Europe now revolved around the death camps ... As killing institutions, the geographical reach of the death camps (in particular that of Auschwitz) was remarkable. The death camps killed people coming from the entire continent — all the way from Greece to Norway, from France to the Soviet Union. This was based on a geography of concentration and transportation spread across the continent. (Netz 2004, 219)

As noted in the introduction to this volume, despite the popularity and widespread use of spatial concepts and metaphors in the Nazis' imperial discourse, including in policy pronouncements, a comprehensive examination of the relationship between geography, spatial theory, and the Third Reich remains to be developed. However, the topic has not been entirely neglected. In the following section, we therefore attempt to provide a brief outline of what we tentatively identify as five main "streams of reflection" that have so far engaged with "Hitler's geographies," albeit in different ways and moments, and that mark the necessary starting point for this book project. While being entirely aware of how imprecise and incomplete such an operation may prove, we would like to qualify these five "moments" as: (1) the Lebensraum debate in the 1980s, mainly in the field of geography; (2) the (rather scattered) literature on the dark geographies of genocide of the following decades; (3) the "regional turn" in Third Reich historiography; (4) the recent work on the "cultural history" of the Third Reich; and, finally, (5) the intersections between political philosophy and geography that in recent years have focused on questions of space, biopolitics, and calculation in relation to National Socialism.

Hitler's Geographies


Karl Haushofer's popularity in the United States during the war period, when the German political geographer was depicted by many — even outside of academia — as the evil inspiration of the Third Reich's fantasies of territorial expansion, was followed in the wake of World War II by a sort of damnatio memoriae — at least in English speaking geography — around this figure, and the whole Geopolitik project (Troll 1949); an implicit politics of forgetting that, in our view, has delayed if not obstructed any broader critical reflection on the relationship between geography, spatial theory, and Nazism (see Barnes and Minca 2013; also Abrahamsson 2013). In fact, it was not until 1987 that a potential debate on this topic emerged among geographers, when a special issue dedicated to the theme was published by the journal Political Geography Quarterly, with the contribution of both German (Heske 1987) and Anglo-American geographers (Bassin 1987; Parker 1987; Paterson 1987). This debate, largely centered on the history of Geopolitik and the Lebensraum concept ("living/vital space"), was then continued by another special issue in the same journal, two years later, this time entirely composed of articles penned by German geographers (Fahlbusch, Rössler, and Siegrist 1989; Herb 1989; Kost 1989; Ossenbrügge 1989; Sandner 1989; Schultz 1989; see also Sandner 1988; Sandner and Rössler 1994; Kost 1998). The discussion on that occasion went beyond the confines of a critical reflection on Geopolitik in relation to Hitler's imperialism, at least to some degree, including for example an analysis of the role played by Walter Christaller — a key international figure in the fields of economic geography and regional planning in the first postwar decades in the United States and many European countries — who was "employed on the staff of the Main Office for Planning and the Soil, an agency within Himmler's Reich Commissariat for the Strengthening of Ethnic Germandom" (Rössler 1989, 427; reprinted in this volume). Arguably, Rössler's denunciation of Christaller's controversial implication in the Nazi project went substantially unnoticed in the broader geographical community, including those still engaged with Christaller's urban geometries and the related literature and applications until recently. This aspect alone would deserve a close investigation in order to understand why Christaller — and his work — was never held accountable for his direct scholarly implication with Himmler's grand plans for the realization of German Lebensraum in Eastern Europe (see Barnes, this volume, chapter 9).

However, while geographers only began to engage with these complicated legacies in the late 1980s, scholars in other disciplines had already conducted work on these topics. For instance, an analysis of the concept of Lebensraum in relation to Haushofer and Geopolitik had been at the core of historian Woodruff Smith's scholarly preoccupation since the early 1980s (see Smith 1980, 1986). During the same period the planner John Mullin had illustrated the importance of urban and regional planning within the Nazi "rule of experts" (1981, 1982a, 1982b). In human geography, however, the debate on Nazi geography and spatial thought lost momentum quite rapidly after the two special issues highlighted above. The rather isolated interventions on similar areas that appeared in the following decades moved away from historical analysis to focus on other aspects, for example, the legacy of the Geopolitik tradition in relation to contemporary geopolitics (see O'Loughlin and van der Wusten 1990; O'Loughlin and Heske 1991), something that would crucially contribute to the emergence of the field of "critical geopolitics" in the 1990s (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992; Ó Tuathail 1996, 16–43). The broader reflection on the relationship between Nazism and geography — on "the geography and the geographers of the Third Reich" — proposed by those two special issues in Political Geography Quarterly was thus not incorporated by the discipline's mainstream and survived only in a somehow mutated form. Whenever questions of Geopolitik and Lebensraum reemerged during the following decades, they normally appeared outside of geography, mostly but not exclusively in the field of history (Murphy 1997, 1999; Diner 1999; Herwig 1999; Natter 2003, 2005; Baum 2006; Danielsson 2009; Neumann 2009) with the exception of Kenneth Olwig's article on the concept of Raum (Olwig 2002) and Guntram Herb's work on German cartography and Geopolitik (1997, 2002; also Hagen 2009b). Another field of inquiry, geographical in nature, is that preoccupied with the relationship between the Nazis and the environment/environmentalism. The literature with this focus is important, and it has been rapidly growing in recent years (see Lekan 2004; Brüggemeier, Cioc, and Zeller 2005; Uekoetter 2006; Nyhart 2009). The question of nature was indeed central to Nazi ideology, also because it was often articulated via connections to ideas of blood, soil, and regional planning. Two chapters of the present book are dedicated to this issue, one in relation to animal breeding and zoology (Driessen and Lorimer, chapter 6, this volume), the other on conceptualizations of the selva, the forest, as a counter-spatiality compared to the one produced by the city, and the civitas (Giaccaria and Minca, chapter 11, this volume).

Dark Geographies of Genocide

Under the label of what we have broadly defined above as the "geographies of the Third Reich" we include a vast array of very different and relatively isolated interventions that have appeared in past decades. The debate hosted by Political Geography Quarterly in the late 1980s (focused on the "Third Reich geographies/geographers") was in fact followed by important but rather fragmented attempts to study the spatialities of Nazism and the Holocaust using analytical tools associated with geography. These interventions have spanned from the electoral geographies of Nazi Germany (O'Loughlin, Flint, and Anselin 1994; O'Loughlin 2000, 2002), to the postmodern topologies of the Holocaust (Clarke, Doel, and McDonough 1996), to even the most recent experimental attempts to incorporate GIS-led technology within historiographical accounts of the Shoah (Beorn et al. 2009; Knowles, Cole, and Giordano 2014). While some of this work was undoubtedly original and highly illustrative, the debate initiated by Political Geography Quarterly was fundamentally over. Not only were there fewer and fewer articles focused on these topics in geography journals, but also those that were published were largely unrelated to each other, and very different from one another and the existing literature in terms of the theoretical and methodological approach adopted. These include work on some emblematic spatial manifestation of Nazism — the city (Hagen 2004, 2009a; Till 2005; Hagen and Ostergren 2006), the ghetto (Cole 2003, 2013), the camp (Charlesworth 1992, 2003, 2004b; Minca 2006, 2007, 2015), specific sites and landscape making the geographies of the Holocaust (Giaccaria and Minca, chapter 11 this volume; Knowles, Cole, and Giordano 2014) — or on questions of memory and heritage of the genocidal geographies of the Third Reich, and in particular of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other extermination camps (Charlesworth 1994, 2004a; Charlesworth and Addis 2002; Charlesworth et al. 2006; Carter-White 2009, 2012, 2013; Giaccaria and Minca 2011). Arguably, these approaches, while of great interest if taken individually, remained largely limited to present-day investigations of the spaces and the spatial practices of the Nazis; these "geographies of the Third Reich" were in fact rarely linked to the broader production of the "Third Reich geographies," that is, the body of spatial theories and concepts that populated the Nazis' racialized imperial fantasies and animated their Lebensraum policies (perhaps the exceptions being Clarke, Doel, and McDonough 1996; Rössler 2001; Barnes and Minca 2013).

The aim of the present chapter, however, is that of envisaging, if not a general "spatial theory" of Nazism as yet, at least an embryonic interpretative framework capable of bridging precisely these "Third Reich geographies" and the actual "geographies of the Third Reich." We will return to this aspect later in the chapter, where we lay out the guiding theoretical assumptions behind this project. However, before doing that, it is important to briefly introduce the remaining three fields of inquiry that have inspired this book and our overall project. Two of these "streams of literature" are historiographical in nature. While an exhaustive review of historical work on the spaces of Nazism and the Holocaust is beyond the scope of this volume, and certainly this introduction (see Stone 2010; also Stone's chapter 2 in this volume), it may nonetheless be useful to recall a few recent developments in this literature, since they represent in many ways the condition of possibility for offering a reading of Hitler's geographies consistent with the guiding spirit of this volume.

The "Regional Turn" in Third Reich Historiography

In the previous pages we mentioned a few historians who have investigated in depth the concept of Lebensraum and the contribution of German academic geography to the production of a specific Nazi spatial ideology. Historical work on the Holocaust has also dedicated considerable attention to specific sites of extermination — particularly to the ghettos (see Tim Cole's pathbreaking contributions at the intersection of history and geography [2003, 2013]; see also Horwitz 2008; Engelking-Boni and Leociak 2009; Michman and Schramm 2011) and, above all, to Auschwitz, presented as the true "capital of the Holocaust" (see Gutman and Berembaum 1994; Hayes 2003; but especially Wolfgang Sofski's detailed work on the topographies of the camp [1997] and Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt's [1996] monumental analysis of Auschwitz and the relationships among the camp, the city, and the surrounding region). However, this interest for "the spatial" has benefited in the last decade or so from a growing number of innovative interventions and the availability of new material coming from the former Soviet Union and Eastern European archives after the end of the Cold War. This material and the related focus on questions of space have contributed to producing a new stream of research on Nazism and the Holocaust that British historian Dan Stone has defined as "regional studies" (Stone 2010, 90–95; see also Herbert 2000):

Remarkably, until a decade or so ago, historians actually knew very little about the ways in which genocidal policies developed in the Generalgouvernement, in the Wartheland, in Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, or Romania. Now each of these places has at least one major study devoted to it. (Stone 2010, 91)


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Hitler’s Geographies, Nazi Spatialities: An Introduction
Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca
Spatial Cultural Histories of Hitlerism
1. For a Tentative Spatial Theory of the Third Reich
Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca
2. Holocaust Spaces
Dan Stone
Part II Third Reich Geographies
Section 1 Biopolitics, Geopolitics, and Lebensraum
3. In Service of Empire: Geographers at Berlin’s University between Colonial Studies and Ostforschung (Eastern Research)
Jürgen Zimmerer
4. The East as Historical Imagination and the Germanization Policies of the Third Reich
Gerhard Wolf
5. Race contra Space: The Conflict between German Geopolitik and National Socialism
Mark Bassin
6. Back Breeding the Aurochs: The Heck Brothers, National Socialism, and Imagined Geographies for Non-Human Lebensraum
Clemens Driessen and Jamie Lorimer
Section 2 Spatial Planning and Geography in the Third Reich
7. National Socialism and the Politics of Calculation
Stuart Elden
8. Applied Geography and Area Research in Nazi Society: Central Place Theory and Planning, 1933 to 1945
Mechtild Rössler
9. A Morality Tale of Two Location Theorists in Hitler’s Germany: Walter Christaller and August Lösch
Trevor J. Barnes
10. Social Engineering, National Demography, and Political Economy in Nazi Germany: Gottfried Feder and His New Town Concept
Joshua Hagen
Part II Geographies of the Third Reich
Section 3 Spatialities of the Holocaust

11. Nazi Biopolitics and the Dark Geographies of the Selva
Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca
12. Geographies of Ghettoization: Absences, Presences, and Boundaries
Tim Cole
13. Spaces of Engagement and the Geographies of Obligation: Responses to the Holocaust
Michael Fleming
14. Hello Darkness: Envoi and Caveat
Andrew Charlesworth
Section 4 Microgeographies of Memory, Witnessing, and Representation
15. The Interruption of Witnessing: Relations of Distance and Proximity in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah
Richard Carter-White
16. A Mobile Holocaust? Rethinking Testimony with Cultural Geography
Simone Gigliotti
17. What Remains? Sites of Deportation in Contemporary European Daily Life: The Case of Drancy  
Katherine Fleming
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