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Social body, racial body, woman's body

Geburtenpolitik in Deutschland, 1912-1945 : Diskurse, Politik und Praxis
[journal article]

Usborne, Cornelie

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Abstract "This article compares the responses to the declining birthrate by three very different regimes in Wilhelmine, Weimar and Nazi Germany. In their intent these policies were markedly different: just before and during the First World War a declining birthrate symbolized national decline, sapping national progress and military power and the central aim was to boost fertility almost at any price; eugenics was not yet a major influence on official Wilhelmine policy. In the wake of the devastation reaped by the lost war and also influenced by the depression at the end of the 1920s the democratically elected governments of the Weimar Republic attempted to 'rationalize' reproduction to suit the prevailing socio-economic circumstances and the belief in modernity in industry and everyday life. They favored 'fewer but better children' but their policies remained fragmented and heavily contested; lawmakers tried to balance individual rights and collective interests, welfarism and eugenic concerns. In contrast, Nazi leaders developed a comprehensive and sophisticated system of selective reproduction based on racial prejudice; legal safeguards to protect the rights of individuals were ruthlessly dismantled. Material and ideological inducements to boost the birthrate benefited only 'Aryans' and healthy Germans. A series of extremely repressive measures were introduced: on the one hand they were meant to curb the breeding of the 'unfit', like Jews, gypsies, or those considered congenitally diseased and, on the other, they aimed to curb individual birth control by those deemed 'fit'. But of course the picture is more complicated. If we compare official population programs with their implementation at the local level and also with the reproductive strategies employed by ordinary women and men, a more subtle picture emerges about the regimes which is marked by both fundamental changes but also striking continuities." (author's abstract)
Keywords Germany; Weimar Republic (Germany, 1918-33); twentieth century; sterilization; politics; family policy; discourse; practice; Third Reich; Nazism; declining birth rate; reproduction; genetics; historical analysis; race; racial policy; selection; woman; fertility; population policy
Classification Population Studies, Sociology of Population; General History
Document language English
Publication Year 2011
Page/Pages p. 140-161
Journal Historical Social Research, 36 (2011) 2
Issue topic Fertilität in der Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts: Trends, Theorien, Politik, Diskurse
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works