Archive for category Eastern European History

“Eigensinn”

Supposedly August Landmesser, a German who refused to do the Nazi salute in Hamburg in 1936 because he was engaged to a Jewish woman.

Supposedly August Landmesser, a German who refused to do the Nazi salute in Hamburg in 1936 because he was engaged to a Jewish woman.

I came across this somewhat iconic photo of a German man refusing to give Hitler a Nazi salute and I thought, that’s eigensinn. My German history professor explained what this kind of behavior was last semester. Eigensinn is German. It means stubbornness. Literally, it means, “own sense.” This man is showing both stubbornness and own sense in the photo. He’s stubbornly refusing to do something that is not within his “own sense” to do. He’s defying the system without really defying it. This picture caught my attention because at this time, especially, most Germans did not practice eigensinn, they were very much kadavergehorsamkeit, they obeyed no matter what. This guy stands out among a sea of sheep, which, if he really was August Landmesser, was why he was killed by the Nazi regime shortly after this photo was taken.

Eigensinn was more of an attitude as a response to the absurdity of life under a bureaucratic regime like the Austrians in Austria-Hungary, for example. A classic example of eigensinn can be found in the book, The Good Soldier Swejk, by Jaroslav Hasek. Swejk was a Czech soldier in Austria-Hungary during the assassination of the Austrian prince and the start of the First World War. The book follows him through his adventure in the war while at the same time satirizing Austrian bureaucracy. Basically, Swejk played dumb and got a kick out of watching Austrian bureaucrats, soldiers, officials, etc.  make fools of themselves. This, because although they were very bureaucratic, they were very unorganized, like most every other governmental institution ever known to man. That’s irony. Anyway, I saw this picture on Twitter and thought, I should blog about that.

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Interdisciplinarity, Kulaks, and the Social Construct

I am taking an anthropology/sociology class this semester on race and ethnicity. I have several readings and assignments to do but my final project (I’ve already decided, that’s how excited I am about it), will be a blog, another blog, that will require my interdisciplinary skills as I research, study, and pass knowledge on about genocide and what social constructs have to do with it. I’ve chosen to focus my research on the hotly debated genocide in the Ukraine in 1932-1933. It’s debated among historians mostly whether the famine was intentional or not. Several historians, including Tim Snyder, Yaroslav Bilinsky, and James Mace, agree that Soviet policy forced the famine and that, therefore, it was genocide. As plausible as that sounds historians have yet to reach a consensus.

Another hotly argued point is whether the starvation of millions of kulaks, a class, can be called genocide when the definition of the word requires that an ethnicity be targeted. That is Russia’s argument. And this is mine: in 1932 and well into the 1940’s, kulak was a social construct, created by Stalin, and perpetuated not only by him and his followers, but even, in moments of self-preservation, by the peasants, themselves. Kulak was a social construct that targeted anyone, yes, but it overwhelmingly targeted Ukrainians. Having that leeway to throw in anyone else he didn’t like was a perk for Stalin. I will argue that, being well aware of what genocide was, Stalin created this social construct, the kulak, in order to justify the mass murder of millions of Ukrainians and get around the fact that he actually did target an ethnicity. I’ll be using Tim Snyder’s book, Bloodlands, as one of my sources. You can check out the book review I did on it here.

So how and why did I decide on all this? Well, last semester I took a fascinating interdisciplinary class about Central Eastern Europe at UMKC which, of course, focused on WWI, WWII, all the time in between and on up to the fall of Communism and beyond. Reading Snyder’s book was a class assignment, but it was fascinating. It was in this class when I first heard about this debate of whether or not Stalin’s actions could be genocide. It was clear to me that it was. Now, this semester in this anthropology class on race, I learned that race is a social construct. Biologically, race does not exist, yet, in the real world, it very much does exist. This piqued my interest. If race, something I’ve taken for granted all my life as fact, is actually a lie–a lie created by people in power to keep or gain more power–what other lies in the form of social constructs could there be? Since Snyder’s book and that most interesting class I took was still fresh in my mind, I put the two things together and voila! Interdisciplinarity! Prof. Bergerson would be so proud.

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