Review of Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich

Review of Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich

Edited by Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca

University of Chicago Press, 2016

378 pages, 15 maps, 2 plans, 3 charts, and other illustrations; $55.00. Hardcover, e-Book.

ISBN: 978-0-226-27442-3 (cloth); 978-0-226-27456-0 (e-Book)

Review by: Aimée C. Quinn, Central Washington University

Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich

From their earliest days, the ideological masters of the Third Reich viewed cartography and spatial politics as tools for conquest. Not since the Roman Empire has geopolitics seen such grand, imperial, unbridled ambition dominate the world order. Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich is a well planned, meticulously executed work that examines the Nazi mapping enterprise through a new level of interdisciplinary rigor. To this end, the editors, Paolo Giaccaria (Political & Economic Geography Professor at the University of Turin in Italy) and Claudio Minca (Cultural Geography Head Professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands), have brought together the work of scholars from Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States into a scant 378 well-written pages. These contributors provide a broad, academic examination of the way geopolitical and geo-economical concepts were employed as justification for Hitler’s Nazi ideology of expansion and genocide.

The volume itself is well produced, like many monographs designed by the University of Chicago Press, with cream pages and black cloth boards. The dust jacket is bright red, with a pair of maps bearing the captions Verkehrsbelastung (traffic), and Verkehrsbelastung durch Eigenverkehr in den Stadtteilen (traffic within local city districts). There are few illustrations, all in black and white, and although no list of illustrations is included, the standard table of contents, index, and in-depth notes, plus three pages of contributor biographies (in very small type) are present.

The geographies of Nazism are presented as a patchwork quilt in the making. Germany was, at the time Hitler came to power, still a young country learning about its place in the broader world. This book focuses on the zeitgeist fostered and manipulated by this enigmatic leader who, it seemed to many at the time, managed to restore hope through an idealized sense of new purpose.

The body of the text is divided into an introduction section and two parts, each of which is further divided into two sections. The book holds, in all, seventeen chapters from various scholars. The first part of the book consolidates previously-published research from geographers and Holocaust studies experts who have considered what the editors term “streams of reflection” (4) related to Hitler’s geographies and the spatial theories of Nazism. Entitled “Third Reich Geographies,” this first section is composed of reprinted works in eight chapters. Citations for chapters previously published elsewhere are included in the Cataloging in Publication data.

The second part, “Geographies of the Third Reich,” is composed of seven chapters theorizing that the geopolitical aim of the “Nazi Project” is to intertwine Lebensraum (living space) with Weltanschauung (worldview): essentially, that Germany must expand to allow Germans to be German.

Reading through this book, one encounters and explores the varied geographies used by the Third Reich to justify exterminating people. Each of these rationales—economic, social, cultural, linguistic, philosophical, scientific, historical, mathematical, rational, and even moral—is uncovered, examined, and dissected in this remarkable book. The contributors scrutinize Hitler’s strategies and miscalculations bit by bit and thoroughly demonstrate the cold, brutal inhumanity of his unchecked, absolute power.

In the volume’s introduction, “Spatial Cultural Histories of Hitlerism,” the reader learns about the biopolitical (racialist/culturalist/nationalist) powers used by Hitler for spatial conquest and for exclusion. In particular, Chapter Two, “Holocaust Spaces,” by Dan Stone, demonstrates the Nazi vision of the world as a sequence of spatial states wherein the Third Reich would spread their new world order:

… killing Jews followed from the Nazi belief that Aryan prosperity required the elimination of the threat posed by the “international Jew” who therefore had to be removed in order that the Germans could have living space — “living space” understood now not as physical territory but as the possibility of cultural activity (in the sense that we commonly talk of “breathing space”). (47–48)

The concept of “place” goes beyond identity and nationality, requiring an ideology that ties in spatialities and the “spaces of exception” (27). This introduction sets the geographical, cultural, and historical structure for the rest of the book.

“Biopolitics, Geopolitics, and Lebensraum” is the first section in Part I, and offers four chapters examining how Germans viewed their place in the world. Progressing from the idea of colonialism to that of global conquest, these chapters explore the ideas of space and place as the scholars dissect, through the lens of modern-day spatiality, the socioeconomic rationales evoked in the rebuilding of Germany.

The second section of Part I is entitled “Spatial Planning and Geography in the Third Reich” and it focuses on the dynamics of politics and spatial order, beginning with an examination of Heidegger’s writings related to calculation and machination. In this section, the intersection of spatial-geographical ideas of a central Germany and questions of National Socialist ideology are considered. For example, were these geopolitics based more on Lebensraum, or did the “central place theory” of geographers Walter Christaller and August Lösch more deeply influence the “Nazi Project”? Questions related to German identity and the myth of individuality are also examined in this section.

Section 3 kicks off Part 2 with the thought-provoking topic: “Spatialities of the Holocaust.” The editors themselves wrote the opening section chapter, examining Nazi genocide through a biopolitical lens. In this powerfully crafted chapter they piece together the “Nazi Project” from its inception and growth to its ultimate failure:

What the ideologues of the Nazi Eden overlooked was that their envisaged radical separation between selva and città was pure (and poor) academic fiction. There is no Paradise on Earth; the human-in-us and animal-in-us are always co-implicated, with no “rest.” (262–63)

The rest of this section examines the consequences of these Nazi spatialities, with issues ranging from the deliberate creation of new urban ghettos, through “spaces of engagement and geographies of obligation” (282), to how scholars of today connect with these places.

The final section, “Microgeographies of Memory, Witnessing, and Representation” has three chapters, all of which reflect on the future while looking back to the past. The authors ponder the deep significance and cultural geographies related to the silent cities left by the Third Reich. The questions examined and discussed are substantial. The last part of the book asks the readers to consider space and the bio-eco-politics of spatial theory. The closing chapter contemplates the ways monuments such as the rebuilt World Trade Center, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Holocaust Centers transcend their spaces to memorialize and commemorate in the aftermath of significant tragedies; effectively reconstructing a cultural geography of the past. “A relevant aspect of mobilities research relates to emotional embodiments of space and place… Likewise, place must be felt to make sense.” (341)

This book is not for the casual, or the typical undergraduate, reader. For example, although there are recurrent references to the “Nazi Project” in several chapters, there is no explanation for the non-specialist of exactly what aspects of the National Socialist program are included in this “project.” Instead, this book is written for those people who want or need to reach a deep understanding of how geopolitics was used as a weapon in an attempt to build a single, absolute, global power. If you fall into that category of reader, then, as mentioned earlier, Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich is a well-planned, meticulously executed work that should be considered required reading.


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