“Fearless Females of the Global Renaissance”: A Critique of “Renaissance” in the New World.

On 17 February 2015, the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies sponsored two lectures jointly presented as Fearless Females of the Global Renaissance.

In one presentation, Marsha Fazio covered Arcangela Tarabotti, a 17th-century monachized nun who wrote extensively on her dissatisfaction with the monastic lifestyle forced upon her and other “unmarriageable” Venetian girls of the same socioeconomic standing. Tarabotti’s works condemn the church for its dishonesty in portraying the convent as a sugar-plum paradise to young, impressionable girls. Her writings also condemn the Catholic Church for disregarding the free will of women who might have neither the interest nor the constitution to don the habit. Written in the 17th century, her works are positively proto-feminist, a fact made plain by the title and content of one book in particular, Paternal Tyranny, which the Church added to the index of banned books because of its anticlerical stance.

In the other presentation, Professor Sharonah Fredrick discussed the problems with the historical characterization of Malinche, the 16th-century Nahua girl who has been treated by historians, artists, and Mexican society in general as a harlot and as a traitor to the Mexican people. Likely 15 years old during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Malinche was chosen by Hernan Cortes to translate and to assist him as he treated with the tribes surrounding the Aztec Empire. She bore Cortes a son, Don Martin Cortes, who turned out to be the conquistador’s favorite among all of his children, legitimate or illegitimate. Spanish chroniclers write that Malinche was key in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Influenced by the nationalist agendas of 19th-century romantic historians, modern Mexico still holds Malinche’s name and character in contempt. Diego Rivera painted her with tattoos – marks that only a prostitute in the Aztec Empire would bear. Her place of birth is continually disputed, with no region in Mexico wanting to claim her as theirs for fear that associations with her will bring contempt upon them. Even academics in Mexico – historians, anthropologists, archeologists – play the petty game of disowning Malinche. It’s a common insult on the streets of Mexico to say, “La Malinche es tu madre.” A malinchista refers to those who are allured by foreign values, who have no national (i.e., Mexican) spirit.

But Sharonah Fredrick reasons that Malinche is a national scapegoat for those who cannot come to terms with the fact that Spain stood to conquer the Aztec Empire with or without the assistance of a figure such as Malinche. Frederick continues that while Malinche bore Cortes a son and enjoyed relative favor from him during the conquest, it’s inaccurate for scholars to characterize her as Cortes’s intimate lover: Malinche was a slave, and as such, she could not have consented to the relationship and to her pregnancy. Cortes did with her as he pleased.

Last, it’s important to note that the accounts documenting the role of Malinche in the conquest of the Aztec Empire were written by Spanish men. Unlike the Venetian nun Tarabotti, who was armed with a pen, Malinche does not have a voice in the historical record to tell her story during the conquest. A chronicler writes that Malinche wept as the Cholula people were slaughtered in the thousands by Cortes, who, heeding Malinche’s warnings about their plans to turn on him, preempted their revolt. But again, because she does not have her own voice in the record, we do not have a clear idea on the source of those tears. Did she weep under the burden of guilt, knowing that she was complicit in the slaughter? Did she weep perhaps because the tension of being pulled in two opposite directions, in one direction by the Cholula and in the other by the Spanish, proved too much for her on a psychological or emotional level? Did she weep at all? Should her role in the Cholula uprising be qualified? Having access to Malinche’s own words would have allowed us to answer these questions with more satisfaction. But instead we must make do with the biased words of conquering men as we try to characterize Malinche.

The speakers framed their lectures with the notion that these women were actors in a global renaissance. Indeed, there is a new tendency in academia to apply the concept of the Renaissance more broadly to the world and not to limit its application exclusively to late-medieval and early modern Europe. Meaning the rebirth of a society’s intellectual, literary, artistic, and civic traditions that might have been lost or muted in previous eras, the term “Renaissance” can be quite loaded, and often it is selectively used (and withheld) to periodize eras of history. Medieval Europe showed many instances of cultural and intellectual rebirth in various areas – for example, in the Carolingian empire or in Visigothic Spain – but many historians continue to reserve the Renaissance for the flourishing and export of Italian achievements from the late 14th century to the 17th century.

Thus, it’s problematic even to apply the term to certain European societies while withholding it from others, so I cannot see how the situation in Mesoamerica should be folded into the idea of a global renaissance, especially in light of all the horrors committed on the indigenous. There was no rebirth of anything there: the slavery, genocide, and wanton destruction of Mesoamerican society represents an antithesis to the very idea of a renaissance.

These lectures, which nevertheless skillfully highlighted the problems in constructing comprehensive women’s histories from primary source material, would have succeeded with another title that did not incorporate the idea that the Renaissance can and should be observed on the world stage. Tarabotti enjoyed a sympathetic audience among intellectuals who were equally skeptical of clerics in Venetian society. One might say that in spite of her monachization, Tarabotti benefited from the Renaissance atmosphere into which she was born. But I fail to see how we should consider Malinche in the context of the Renaissance, or a renaissance, unless we use the term comparatively to show that one society enjoyed the benefits of a renaissance while the other faced the antithesis of a renaissance. This comparative use of the term was absent from the pair of lectures.


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The functionalist view of the Holocaust is not a revisionist view

For a detailed analysis of the intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate in Holocaust historiography, see my essay about the Nazis’ Madagascar Plan

A Hollywood conservative has been outed as a Holocaust revisionist from the ’90s. He had changed his name from David Cole to David Stein to cover up his unsavory past, but after he and a friend had had a falling out, this friend approached the media with the revelation. David Cole, a Jew, still holds his revisionist reviews even while he, as David Stein, has produced respected documentaries on the Holocaust. He cynically explains that he produced these documentaries because the public wanted them and because he needed an income. Other Hollywood conservatives who had fraternized with Stein have since abandoned him.  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/03/david-stein-cole-holocaust-revisionist)

However, this Guardian article should have taken better care in summarizing Cole’s positions, as it manages to associate a valid historiographical interpretation of the Holocaust with Cole’s revisionist views. Specifically, reporting on Cole’s views, the article states “that there was no overarching, genocidal plan, but an evolving, morphing policy which claimed perhaps 4 million, rather than 6 million, Jewish lives.”  Cole’s reworking of the death toll is in fact a common revisionist tactic that reeks of pseudo-scholarly analysis; but certain Holocaust historians, called functionalists, have subjected primary source material to rigorous scholarly analysis to conclude that the Holocaust resulted from the evolving policies implemented by Nazi bureaucrats who had continually failed to solve the Jewish Question in Europe by other means, such as forced emigration and mass resettlement. Other historians, called intentionalists, disagree with the functionalist notion that the genocide resulted from the compounding failures of the Nazi bureaucracy. Intentionalists instead maintain that the genocide was a top-down affair implemented in accord with Hitler’s absolute will.

I would be willing to bet that most people who reflect upon the Holocaust understand it in intentionalist terms (even while they’ve never heard of intentionalism). Networks such as the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, when they cover the Holocaust specifically and World War II in general, focus on the personalities of Hitler, Himmler, Goering, and Goebbels, a focus which thereby conditions people to approach the Holocaust from a perspective that is positively intentionalist. The functionalist view, because it de-emphasizes ideology and analyzes the Nazi bureaucrats motivated by banal careerism, does not lend itself to the sensationalism that ratings-based television demands.

It seems then that functionalism is academic to a fault, whereas intentionalism, notwithstanding its theoretical merits and its basis in scholarship, lends itself more readily to popular audiences who have a hard time appreciating arguments and conclusions that do not focus exclusively on Hitler, his so-called henchmen, and their impetuses. In fact, if others do not likewise focus exclusively on the same personalities and on the same causal factors behind the Final Solution, then they must be in the business of apologizing for National Socialism and its ideological underpinnings. So goes the logic.

At the risk of being presumptuous, I suspect that the Guardian article’s writer, having no exposure to the nuanced historiographical interpretations surrounding the Holocaust, has been conditioned by this pervasive intentionalist position and tends to view anything short of this position as revisionist. Otherwise, he would have taken care to explain that while the revisionist David Cole in part promulgates a functionalist view of the Holocaust, this functionalist view is not a species of revisionism.


Filed under Academic, Genocide, History, Holocaust

Unrealized and Underutilized: Madagascar in Nazi Genocidal Planning and the Island’s Subsequent Position in the Intentionalist-Versus-Functionalist Debate in Holocaust Historiography

Jake Thompson


Qualifying arguments on either side of the intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate in Holocaust historiography, this essay analyzes facsimiles of official Nazi documents and memoranda, diplomatic missives, diary entries, and newspaper articles against the interwar settlement studies of Madagascar to argue that the Madagascar Plan inhered in the Nazis’ greater genocidal mission. This essay further suggests that these interwar settlement studies—conducted by England, France, and Poland with the intention of resettling Polish Jews to the island—enticed the Nazis to use Madagascar in order to obfuscate genocidal guilt as they implemented an ostensibly European, not exclusively German, solution to the Jewish Question. 


In May 1940, circumstances worked out in such a way that gave the Nazis a false sense of security in the future of their Jewish policy. The Nazis marched through Paris, occupied northern France, and pressed the remainder of the country to capitulate and, on many issues, collaborate with the Third Reich. Specifically, Vichy France, named after the resort city from which Marshal Pétain’s government operated, was obligated by treaty to relinquish its East African island colony of Madagascar to the Germans so that the latter could resettle four million Jews on the island to settle the Jewish Question.

But the plan never left the tables of the Foreign Office and the SS. This grandiose resettlement scheme proved just as disappointing as previous Judenrein policies before it. The plan never materialized when England, the great maritime power, failed to surrender according to Germany’s plan in 1940. Resultantly, the Nazis did not have the Royal Navy at its disposal to transport the Jews to the now-Vichy colony. But even if they had opted to use their own fleet, the Germans might not have been able to reach their destination without first encountering the British at sea.

However, it is important to note that the full implementation of this resettlement scheme rested upon more than England’s surrender. Vichy France, which nonetheless agreed to the Nazis’ armistice conditions in writing, might not have complied with the Third Reich’s demands on all matters in practice. In an 18 February 1942 press conference in Washington, D.C., Vichy Ambassador Gaston Henry-Haye refuted the claims that his government agreed to hand Madagascar over to Japan and Germany, who jointly wanted to use the island as a military base. He further claimed that Vichy had not gone beyond the armistice deal of 1940—that, in effect, Vichy stood by its neutrality in the war. His government, too, maintained that it would fight to defend its colony against such a military occupation by either Axis member.[1]

Arriving at the Final Solution to the Jewish Question in January 1942, the Nazis subsequently called off the Madagascar Plan in early February 1942.[2] Henry-Haye, who did not address the Jewish Question in this February 1942 conference, might have regarded the 1940 peace terms pertaining to the Madagascar Plan as an issue entirely separate from the one he was addressing at the conference, specifically, the potential Axis occupation of the island for military purposes. While Vichy had agreed to relinquish Madagascar to the Germans in 1940 for their Judenrein objective, Vichy had no intention to relinquish it to them now strictly as a military base in 1942, according to the ambassador.[3] But it is doubtful that Vichy altered its Madagascar leasing policy so drastically only a week after the Nazis officially abandoned the Madagascar Plan. In other words, it is doubtful that Vichy went from inclination to disinclination,  that is, from allowing Germany access to Madagascar per the treaty to denying Germany access to the island in defiance of the treaty. Vichy must have upheld a consistent policy because it had no practical reason to be inconsistent. The 1940 terms of peace between the Third Reich and Vichy, as they applied to Madagascar, stipulated that the Germans would acquire the island for naval purposes in addition to resettlement purposes.[4] The Nazis wanted to occupy the island militarily in 1940, so their similar demands in February 1942 would not have held Vichy to any new burdensome conditions.

Naturally, Vichy could have been maintaining consistent policy that safeguarded German interests in the Indian Ocean. To this end, Ambassador Henry-Haye could have been presenting his government’s Madagascar policy to the newly belligerent United States in such a way that obfuscated Vichy’s willful collaboration with Germany in the war. However, Eric T. Jennings’s study of Vichy’s imperial policies would lend support to another notion, namely, that Vichy, from 1940, intended to keep Madagascar for itself—to reap the benefits of the island for itself, sans Germany—despite the specifics of the armistice agreement. This study, in effect, corroborates the assumption that Vichy would have defended Madagascar from Axis occupation in 1942, just as it would have defended its colonial outpost in 1940, had Germany acquired England’s naval resources. From the beginning, Vichy maintained a consistent policy that safeguarded its own interests, not the interests of the Germans.

Specifically, as Jennings details in his study, Vichy promoted the reactionary National Revolution in unoccupied southern France. Believing that the principles of the Third Republic were too decadent, Vichy assumed an authoritarian position that promoted a rightist national character. This National Revolution had a ripple effect, as the tenets of this revolution resonated well with the colonizers and administrators of Madagascar—an island that, geographically speaking, appeared closer to British and Gaullist influences. The ripple must have been powerful, or at least it must have been well timed: if this colonial outpost espoused itself in Vichy principles so readily, then it must have embodied these principles before the seat of government moved from Paris to Vichy. Vichy’s political stances only affirmed what the colonizers on Madagascar had already felt.[5]

Thus, Vichy thrived in Madagascar from the outset, and it did not require German influence and initiative to institute rightist change.[6] In Madagascar, as in all of the colonies under its control, Vichy made certain investments based upon these self-actualized right-wing policies. For example, the pro-Vichy administration wanted to establish structure, hierarchy, authority, and tradition on Madagascar. Specifically, the administration strictly regulated the business practices of Chinese and Indian immigrants, who, according to the administration, had too much influence on the island’s economy. In essence, a caste system placed European merchants at the forefront of this new colonial order while disenfranchising the native population and the Asians.[7] Vichy, quite far from Madagascar, even went so far as to extend its metropolitan Jewish discriminatory laws to the island, prohibiting the mere 26 Jews on Madagascar at the time from selling grains and cereals.[8] In effect, the pro-Vichy colonial administration earnestly wanted to create an infrastructure on the island it had just acquired from the Third Republic. Vichy had too many interests on Madagascar to allow Germany the freedom to restructure the island for resettlement purposes.

Unfortunately, historians will never have the opportunity to evaluate Vichy’s (lack of) practical complicity with the Nazis on Madagascar: Germany, for its part, failed the initial test against England to acquire its fleet. But what convinced the Germans that they could have acquired Madagascar with such ease? The Third Reich might have been misled by the fact that France, during the interwar period, allowed other nations to probe Madagascar for settlement. British anti-Semites Henry Hamilton Beamish, Arnold Leese, and a man using the pseudonym Egon van Wingene proposed the idea of using the island as a Jewish reservation in the 1920s. Subsequently, the British, Polish, and French governments, establishing the Joint Distribution Committee, gave the Madagascar idea its first official backing, even though nothing came of this three-nation collaboration on the matter.[9]

However, the issue once again materialized between France and Poland, and the two nations even sent a three-man commission, known as the Joint Commission, to study the feasibility of using Madagascar as a settlement for Polish Jews in 1936. Some reports on the commission’s findings said that the island could sustain a long-term European settlement, but that the carrying capacity was limited to 60,000 settlers. Furthermore, these settlers had to stay on the island’s north-central plateau—specifically, the Ankaizina highlands—because this region alone offered the only suitable soil on the island.[10] Because the project held few prospects in light of the island’s limited carrying capacity, the French and the Polish governments did not bring this settlement scheme to fruition.

Indeed, France’s motives in allowing Poland and England potential access to its colonial outpost are unclear from a historical perspective. Historical analysis takes for granted that France allowed other governments to consider using its island, yet the analysis does not pursue the question of why. England had a colonial empire at its disposal for settling the Jewish Question; in other words, England certainly did not require France’s holdings. Moreover, although the maelstrom of power politics at the turn of the century brought France and England together with the Entente cordiale in 1904, the taint of colonial rivalry still existed between them.  Particularly, since 1898, France, mostly from the political right, took on the spirit of Fashoda out of fear that its African colonies might fall under the English sphere of influence.[11] Indeed, then, France’s accommodating stance on Madagascar was an aberration, for England had almost acquired its own set of keys to this Francophone outpost.

It is reasonable that Nazi Germany, waging a successful Blitzkrieg against France in 1940, possibly thought that it could demand Madagascar through war, for France had uncharacteristically allowed other nations—most notably its historic imperial rival, England—to consider utilizing its colony in times of peace. From this interpretation, one might conclude that the Nazis’ demand for Madagascar was not as radical as it was conventional—indeed banal.

Furthermore, Nazi Germany might have accurately gauged the Fashoda Syndrome still prevalent in the collective psyche of France’s political right, the body seated in the Vichy government. The Nazis’ demand for Madagascar therefore appears strategic in a geopolitical sense: perhaps the Third Reich thought that it could appeal to the French right, which certainly wanted to restore France’s tarnished colonial image from the perceived decadence and mismanagement of the Third Republic.[12] Nazi influence over Madagascar could remedy the effects of the shameful alliance between France and England, which France had maintained at its own expense, according to Vichy. If France were to welcome German influence, in other words, then it could counteract English influence.

If the Nazis entertained these notions about the French right and Fashoda, however, they certainly discounted the fact that France—either republican or Pétainist—held Germany in contempt particularly since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. And memories of Verdun did not assuage these contemptuous feelings. If the Nazis entertained such notions, furthermore, they were wholly oblivious to the aforementioned sense of independent right-wing initiative that Vichy sought in Madagascar. In sum, if the Nazis assumed they had a carte blanche to use Madagascar however they willed, then they failed to appreciate just how opportunistic the French right had been in exploiting the Third Reich’s victory over the Third Republic.

Indeed, the extent to which Vichy had been willing to relinquish Madagascar to Germany requires a deeper analysis that warrants a study of its own. But for the purposes of this essay, it suffices to say that Nazi Germany followed the examples of England, France, and Poland by pursuing Madagascar as the solution to the Jewish Question. On the surface, therefore, Nazi Germany, which nonetheless had Europe under the sword, was motivated by European convention, not by genocidal intent.

But Nazi Germany’s seemingly conventional approach to the Jewish Question has fueled an academic controversy: Madagascar has a place in one of the most lasting debates in Holocaust historiography, mainly because this resettlement scheme, in hindsight, forces Holocaust historians to interpret it according to the subsequent genocide that began in eastern Europe in 1941. Intentionalists and functionalists, the two opposing schools in this debate, both use Madagascar to advance their arguments regarding Nazi intent in the Holocaust. Specifically, intentionalists—who maintain that Hitler had always intended to kill the Jews and had therefore geared the Nazi Party’s bureaucratic apparatuses to accomplish this end—view the Nazis’ relatively conventional, benign stance on the Jewish Question vis-à-vis Madagascar with skepticism. Chiefly, Philip Friedman, Gerald Reitlinger, and Lucy Dawidowicz believe that the resettlement plan merely served to mask the Nazis’ true intent, namely, to implement racial extermination from 1941 onward. To these intentionalist historians, Madagascar served as a diversionary tactic. Also in step with the intentionalists, Eberhard Jäckel denies that Adolf Hitler had ever intended to take the plan seriously, for it contradicted his earlier “programmatic schemes.”[13]

On the other hand, the functionalists—who maintain that the Final Solution resulted from the polycratic and competitive nature of the Nazi bureaucracy, not from the absolute will of Hitler—reference the Madagascar Plan as a prime example of how the Nazis did not programmatically seek the annihilation of the Jews from the beginning of Hitler’s Weltanschauung. Functionalists emphasize that before the Nazis conceived of the Madagascar Plan, they promoted Jewish emigration. The terror the party inflicted upon the Jews did not betray genocidal tendencies as much as it represented the extent to which the party had gone to force this emigration. According to the functionalist line of reasoning, what distinguished the Madagascar Plan from other failed solutions was that this particular solution’s failure lowered the threshold for murder.[14]  In other words, the Madagascar Plan served as an outlet for previous Judenrein policies that had ultimately failed; it was a Plan-B of sorts. But after the Madagascar Plan failed, the frustrated Nazis had no other recourse at their disposal but murder, so the genocidal floodgates were irrevocably opened.

Yet the arguments of both the intentionalists and the functionalists have their limitations. If Jäckel claims that Hitler never took the Madagascar Plan seriously,[15] his dismissal of the plan prevents him from recognizing that it could very well have been a version of the Final Solution compatible with his intentionalist interpretations of the Holocaust.  Clear intent does not equal clear means: even if Hitler had intended to kill the Jews from the very beginning, he never stated in clear terms how he wanted them annihilated. Madagascar therefore could have served as the site for genocide.[16]  In fact, by looking at the official planning of the Nazi scheme and comparing it to the feasibility studies conducted by France and Poland—studies of which the Germans could not have been ignorant, as this essay will later argue—one might conclude that Madagascar was in fact the site for the Nazis’ genocidal initiative. Yet the intentionalists, who oftentimes criticize the functionalists for depending too much upon clearly enumerated documents to make their conclusions, ironically marginalize previous Nazi Judenrein policies if these policies do not live up to Hitler’s saber-rattling rhetoric in retrospect. In the end, the crimes of the Einsatzgruppen, which provide historians with a pre-Wannsee example of the Nazis’ manifestly genocidal tendencies, receive substantial scholarly treatment because they readily confirm Hitler’s rhetoric, while the Madagascar Plan receives little because it does not readily confirm this rhetoric.

Christopher Browning, a functionalist, recognizes that the Nazis’ removal policies and the party’s destructive nature represented the same general vision. Specifically, he makes the claim that the Madagascar Plan, if instituted, “would not have been viewed as falling short of Hitler’s pre-war threats of blood and destruction” in the historical record.[17] Browning’s general assertion is valid—that Madagascar could have been the site of the genocide; but his use of the phrase “blood and destruction” carries semantics more applicable to active means of killing, namely, to the crimes of the Einsatzgruppen in Soviet territories. Naturally, bloodletting would have occurred on the island, as the Nazis planned on running it as a police state, under SS administration.[18] But Browning implies that the whole genocidal situation in Madagascar would have been bloody due to such force—equal in ferocity, almost, to the Final Solution—when in fact the island hosted many diseases, offered little soil conducive to agriculture, and offered even less space for settlement.[19] Active killing inevitably would have occurred in piecemeal, pogrom-like incidents, though the genocide would not have been characterized by such incidents, but instead by a slow, passive process of starvation and sickness.[20] The Madagascar Plan did not offer a different end; it only offered a different means to that end.

Tobias Jersak tries to bridge the gap between the intentionalists and the functionalists. In fact, he asserts that this historical debate is obsolete in light of his and others’ recent findings.[21] Jersak maintains that the Germans did not want a war of world conquest from the beginning. When the war broke out in Europe, they had counted on and thus prepared for a war of attrition more comparable to Verdun.[22] Only after much deliberation did the Germans opt for a Blitzkrieg action, almost out of pandemonium. Furthermore, only after the unexpected success of this action did the Nazis mythologize it, develop a sense of hubris, and take on a policy of domination.[23]

Jersak believes that this new approach to the Blitzkrieg sheds new light upon the Final Solution on the basis that the Germans, who had anticipated a long war in the West with France, never planned to use this war’s longevity as a smokescreen to solve the Jewish Question.[24] The Jewish Question existed before the war, and Germany wanted support from other European nations in instituting a final solution (not to be confused with the Final Solution) during the interwar years. In one instance, Jersak references a 1938 speech in which Hitler called upon Europe to cooperate with him on the basis that “‘sufficient space for [Jewish] settlements’” existed to achieve such a permanent solution. When the war broke out, Hitler had even opted to put the problem aside until the war’s finish, when those other nations that had failed to “‘come together so easily’” would finally recognize the importance of joining the Third Reich in carrying out a territorial solution. However, Hitler also gave his oft-cited speech of prophecy, which promised that if the Jews plunged the world into another war, they would face destruction, not Europe.[25]

Juxtaposing Hitler’s mentalities, Jersak concludes that Hitler prioritized a settlement solution, but that he gave ample consideration to a “radical alternative” if events did not work out as otherwise planned.[26] The Madagascar Plan, which required France and England’s cooperation, did not work out, so Hitler had to resort to the alternative.

Jersak therefore implies that the intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate is obsolete on the grounds that Hitler entertained two solutions at once—one solution that called for mass resettlement (functionalist) and one that called for mass murder (intentionalist). Yet this dialectic synthesis lacks substance, mostly from the intentionalist standpoint: even though he maintains that Hitler considered and ultimately sanctioned mass murder, Jersak in essence promulgates a functionalist argument by believing that Hitler gave priority to a manifestly non-lethal solution, the Madagascar Plan. By regarding the systematic murder of the Jews as an alternative solution, not as the centerpiece to Hitler’s Weltanschauung, Jersak theoretically distances himself from any intentionalist support.

Furthermore, Jersak implies that Hitler’s two alternatives were radically different from one another—that the Führer weighed one extreme against the other. In effect, by prioritizing the resettlement option at the beginning, Hitler did not make concrete plans for extermination until matters failed to go according to plan.  However, Jersak fails to consider that the island could not support a settlement—a fact the Nazis had to have known as they weighed their options and devised their lofty plans. If the Nazis took the resettlement scheme seriously, as Jersak believes, then they must have taken it seriously because it failed to support an actual settlement, not because it offered some non-lethal solution.

Despite the implications that the Madagascar Plan has had on the intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate, and despite the fact that many scholars have used this debate as a lens through which to view the scheme, the secondary literature on the plan is relatively limited. Few scholarly treatments of the Madagascar Plan have gone beyond a chapter section’s length in monographic studies or a paragraph’s length in journal articles. The only recent book-length studies on the Madagascar Plan are Magnus Brechtken’s “Madagaskar für die Juden” and Hans Jansen’s Der Madagaskar-Plan, the former advocating the intentionalist argument and the latter advocating the functionalist. Brechtken, who concludes that the plan was an incoherent, fragmented myth, believes that the extermination camps in the East were more practical and more effective than something as lofty as the Madagascar Project. Jansen, on the other hand, argues that the plan was to be carried out in earnest—that it was not lofty and incoherent.[27] But these books represent the exception to the rule that otherwise places the Madagascar Plan in an ancillary position within the broader intentionalist-versus-functionalist debate in Holocaust historiography.

Notwithstanding this relatively limited treatment of the Madagascar Plan, enough source material exists that invites a deeper look into the Madagascar Plan as it applied to the Nazis’ overall genocidal intent. Specifically, the German Foreign Office and the Gestapo, whose drafts of the Madagascar Plan constituted the fundamental groundwork for the resettlement scheme, created an outline so negligent of the 1936 Joint Commission’s less-than-optimistic conclusions that the party’s oversimplified, indeed utopian,[28] construction of the Jewish settlement appears more malevolent than benevolent. In addition, the Madagascar Plan’s idealistic program deviated from the National Socialist construct of the Jew: Jews, according to the Nazis and to anti-Semites in general, were anathema to the very lifestyle required of them by the Madagascar Plan.  Therefore, it is more than plausible that the Nazis took Madagascar seriously not because it offered something as benign as a territorial solution to the Jewish Question; but instead, the Nazis took this island seriously because it provided them with a site that—due to its inhospitable conditions and limited space, coupled with the fact that urban Jews did not have the experience necessary to till the poor soils—could realize the final destruction of the Jews while obfuscating the party’s responsibility for the death of millions.

On 25 May 1940, a month before the French surrender, Heinrich Himmler wrote a memorandum to Hitler advocating resettlement as the solution to the Third Reich’s racial policies. In the memo, presented to Hitler at his headquarters Felsennest in Rodert near Munstereifel,[29] Himmler proposed splintering off all of the “racially undesirable” peoples in the East in order to keep them from uniting. But with regard to the Jews, Himmler proposed sending them “to Africa or some other colony.”[30]

The controversy of this memorandum centers on Himmler’s last remark: “…this [resettlement] method is mildest and best if we reject the Bolshevist method of physical destruction of a people as un-Germanic and impossible.”[31] Jersak takes Himmler’s memorandum at face value, believing that “the ‘Final Solution’ of the ‘Jewish Question’ was certainly not sought in physical extermination,” as evident by this remark.[32] Richard Breitman, on the other hand, has acknowledged that the Nazis must have at least contemplated the “physical destruction” of the Jews and other racially undesirable people prior to this memo, for the matter must have been an option at that point in order for Himmler to dismiss it nominally in his memo to Hitler.[33] However, even though Breitman, an intentionalist, recognizes the genocidal implications of this memo, he still has misgivings about the Madagascar Plan being a real solution. In essence, he maintains that Himmler proposed Africa to Hitler in order to convince Hitler, Hermann Göring, and Governor-General Hans Frank that the SS was doing its job in developing a solution.[34] Furthermore, advocating a resettlement scheme in Madagascar allowed Himmler and the SS the necessary time to devise its real plans for the Jews in the East without attracting unnecessary suspicion.[35]

If Breitman, from an intentionalist standpoint, believes that Himmler proposed Africa merely to satisfy the various strata of the Nazi hierarchy with one tentative proposal,[36] then Breitman—again, from an intentionalist standpoint—should concede that the plan itself had some genocidal value. If the plan did not have this genocidal value, per intentionalist reasoning, then Hitler would not have been satisfied. Indeed, while Himmler’s language is implicit, if not entirely vague, in the memo, one might parse the semantics of the memo to conclude that Himmler did in fact sanction mass murder by means of Jewish expulsion to Africa.

Specifically, with regard to his semantic choices, Himmler said he “hope[d] that the concept of Jews will be completely extinguished through the possibility of large-scale emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony.”[37] The date of the memo suggests that Himmler was referencing Madagascar as the African locale. Of course, the Nazis frequently used ambiguous language in their documents, equivocating between the use of a word or phrase in such a manner that masked their intentions. For instance, the Nazis euphemized their eventual extermination efforts with the phrase Final Solution in 1942; but before Wannsee, final solution described the state of other Judenrein policies, each time connoting a non-lethal plan of action, such as forced emigration. Therefore, Himmler, in earnest, might very well have advocated mere relocation, especially because this memo predated the Final Solution of 1942. However, the memo might also testify to an equivocation centered on the word concept—an equivocation that Himmler arguably used to obfuscate the Nazis’ genocidal intentions for the island.

Himmler’s use of the word concept is peculiar in that Himmler applied it to the Jews differently from how he applied it to other racially undesirable peoples. Himmler took care to say that the “national concept of Ukrainians, Gorals, and Lemcos [could] disappear in [Nazi-occupied] territory” over a long period of time.[38] Specifying their national concept, Himmler implied that he only wanted to deprive these splintered groups of any nationalist impulses. Indeed, the Nazis wanted to use these eastern peoples for slave labor, so keeping them alive, but without a national identity that might later provide them with an impetus to unite and rebel, made sense.

But in contrast, Himmler applied no modifier whatsoever to “concept of Jews” to explicate his meaning or his intention. He did not specify, as he had with the splintered groups, that he hoped to extinguish the national concept of Jews through emigration. And how could he? The Jews were a people without a nation, whose influence was conspiratorially international. Nor did Himmler specify, much less imply, that he hoped to extinguish the religious concept of Jews through emigration. But again, how could he? Himmler, a Nazi, understood Judaism to be a racial construct as much as a religious construct. According to the scientific racism that informed and justified the Nazis’ Jewish policies, a Jew could not renounce his faith to become a non-Jew, because Judaism inhered in his person, his character, and his motives. By process of elimination, it seems that Himmler could only have meant to extinguish the concept of Jews as people on earth, with Madagascar serving as the sight of their deathly travails.  Himmler’s closing remark that “…physical destruction of a people [is] un-Germanic and impossible”[39] thus reads like face-saving afterthought meant to obfuscate the fact that the Nazis wanted to pursue the annihilation of a people by means of mass resettlement.

Before 1940, however, the Germans did not have a comprehensive plan for Madagascar. They did not conduct any feasibility studies of their own, but in all likelihood, they filed away the findings of the 1936 Joint Commission, which assessed the feasibility of a Jewish reservation on the island.

Reporting on the commission’s conclusion on 31 December 1937, the Polish government maintained that the central plateau of Madagascar, notably the Ankaizina district, was “‘quite suitable’” for settling Europeans of a peasant background, but that the amount of Jews it could send to the island proved “‘manifestly impossible’” to indicate.[40] But matters were not even that simple: this report implied that the entire plateau could support habitation. Ankaizina did in fact yield suitable soil, but this report failed to mention that it yielded only so much good soil. The report, in effect, failed to communicate that the commission had failed to indicate a settlement number because the scarcity of quality soil presented them with too big a variable.

However, a more accurate picture eventually developed, albeit three years later, in 1941. Dr. Eugene Hevesi, writing under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee, used the disparities in the commission’s findings to illustrate that forced expulsion to Madagascar—with the lack of good soil, sanitation, and space on the island—held worse prospects than any pogrom in Jewish history.[41] Hevesi knew in May 1941 that the Germans were not looking to solve the Jewish Question benevolently; he knew that they had deadlier designs.

Hevesi agreed with the commission that the central highlands of the Ankaizina district offered Europeans the best environment for a settlement, but thereafter he made few concessions. While Major Mierczyslav Lepecki, making the most liberal estimate among his staff within the Joint Commission, maintained that the district yielded 240,000 acres of tillable soil for 40,000 to 60,000 settlers, the majority of the 1936 Polish team—notably Leon Alter, a Jew—had far more reservations. Alter instead estimated that only 24,000 acres provided tillable soil, an amount that could only maintain 400 families, or 2000 people—a far cry from Lepecki’s estimates. The rest of the Ankaizina and the central highlands, though just as reasonable in terms of climate, did not have soil conducive to farming, as the area contained an abundance of red laterite clay.[42]

In light of both the scarcity and quality of the soil in the central highlands, Hevesi emphasized that Europeans could never do the amount of labor necessary to survive, and he cited examples from history to demonstrate this point. He cited a late 19th-century French settlement scheme on the island in which young campaigners inhabited the central highlands in question. Within a few years, the majority of these campaigners died, while those fortunate enough to return to France suffered from emaciation and anemia.[43]  Other Europeans whose financial interests were tied to the island knew that the conditions were so detrimental to their health that they dared not stay any longer than they had to, and they certainly did not partake in the plantation work while there. The coolie system made certain that the work would get done, nonetheless.[44]

Thus, Europeans needed to live relatively sheltered lives, according to Hevesi and to most of the commission before him.[45] However, the Jews could never have lived in such a manner, for the scarce amount of land, yielding scarcer amount of food, required almost constant attention. Of course, the Jews might have attempted to perpetuate the coolie system, but the natives, who equated the potential influx of Jews as a new form of oppression and robbery,[46] might never have cooperated—if they did not outright rebel.

Furthermore, a sheltered life might not have been so sheltered, if one considers the sanitary conditions of the island. For one, disease plagued the island in the form of yellow fever, syphilis, and malaria—and the cities necessary for sheltered living were not sheltered from these diseases. Moreover, the Jews could never have eradicated malaria, because doing so would have required them to work, and because doing so would have required them to dry up the rice fields that supported the malaria-bearing mosquitoes. These rice fields, however, supported the native populations’ way of life, so by and large the rice fields and the mosquitoes had to stay[47] if the Jews did not want to elicit a reaction from the already uneasy natives. The Jews, therefore, would have had two options: one, live sheltered lives and allow the threat of diseases to remain; or two, do the work necessary to cleanse the island of these diseases, but risk further health issues in the process.

Notwithstanding these prospects—clearly known to the Polish and the French Commission, even before Hevesi wrote extensively about them—Franz Radamacher constructed the first comprehensive outline of the Nazis’ goals in using Madagascar as a solution to Germany’s Jewish Question.

Naturally, the project had to address the customary anti-Semitic provisions against the Jews. For instance, the Nazis planned on administering the island as a police state in order to keep vigil over their enemy. In addition, the Jews had to relinquish citizenship from their countries of origin in order to keep European culture forever Judenfrei. The Jews were instead to become “citizens of the mandate of Madagascar,” and they were to be subject to SS/Reich Security Office surveillance.[48]

However, the plan itself does not appear genocidal. After addressing these anti-Semitic measures, the plan took on a relatively benign demeanor, stating that the Jews would acquire both soil and relative sovereignty over their own government, their own law enforcement, their own justice, their own economics, and even their own forms of cultural expression.[49]  Additionally, in a later draft of the plan that included Gestapo Captain Theodor Dannecker’s contributions (The Madagascar Projekt), the Nazis contradicted their previous impatience with Jewish emigration by acknowledging that the Jewish settlement on Madagascar necessarily had to be a slow process. In other words, not all of the Jews could settle the island at once. The Nazis recognized that laborers, farmers, and doctors had to arrive first in order to lay the foundations of society. Only after this first wave of settlers established an infrastructure could the rest follow.[50]

In sum, the project did not contain virulent anti-Semitic terms, but it instead used relatively conciliatory language that portrayed the Nazis as overseers of a quasi-Zionist project. They wanted the world to know that the Nazis were granting Jews the soil necessary for them to establish their first homeland in 2000 years—provided they could pass the test of history.[51]

The misgivings the intentionalists have about the Madagascar Plan stem from documents such as Rademacher’s and Dannecker’s respective 1940 outlines. Indeed, the synthesis of the plan, read only for what it presents on paper, does not conform to the Nazis’ programmatic schemes as established by Hitler. But the plan must be read for what it does not present.

Conveniently, the Madagascar Project (Dannecker) lacked specific details that otherwise would have shown the logistical failure of the settlement scheme.  The Madagascar Project portrayed the settlement scheme as something practical, as something that would have provided the Jews, quite innocently, with their own soil. The project’s overall vision, however, depended upon certain assumptions about the Jews that contradicted the Nazis’ previous underlying assumptions about them. Moreover, this contradiction of assumptions appears damning in light of the soil conditions earlier examined. For example, with regard to the progressive settlement plan outlined in Dannecker’s draft, the Jews had to arrive on Madagascar in waves—the first wave being farmers, physicians, and labors. However, on the whole, Jews historically did not work in agriculture, well before the Nazis instituted their anti-Semitic policies. In 1920, only 4.2 percent of Hungarian Jews worked in agriculture, while only 5.8 percent of Polish Jews worked in agriculture, fishing, forestry, and gardening. In Czechoslovakia, Jews conformed largely to the Western European pattern, as virtually none of them worked in this field dominated by non-Jews.[52]  Instead, Jews were relegated to the professions of urban life, such as law, shop keeping, and banking. The Nazis—whose ideology centered on a peasant, rural, agrarian nostalgia—especially did not want the Jews to corrupt this sacrosanct lifestyle. How, then, could the Nazis, who wanted to prevent the Jews from corrupting agrarian values in Europe, expect the same Jews to enter an agrarian setting? Furthermore, the red soil of Madagascar, not abundantly conducive to farming, required not only a basic understanding of agriculture, but, more importantly, it required expertise—something that the Jews, who were limited to the professions, did not historically possess. In effect, Rademacher and Dannecker intended the Jews to struggle on Madagascar; these bureaucrats did not intend the Jews to join the world’s nations.

If the Jews could have mastered agriculture despite their lack of experience, they could not have sidestepped the issue of space. Even if Major Lepecki accurately concluded that the north-central highlands could support 60,000 settlers, the number 60,000 is a mere fraction of four million—the amount of Jews the Nazis planned to settle on Madagascar.[53] In effect, had the settlement scheme come to fruition, approximately 98 percent of the Jewish population on Madagascar would have perished, for only two percent could have reaped the benefits of the 240,000 tillable acres. Leon Alter’s estimate of 24,000 tillable acres exposes the absurdity of the plan’s logistics even further.

Matters might have been worse still as the project sought to strip the Jews of their former European citizenship, making them citizens of the mandate of Madagascar. Unlike the French campaigners who were fortunate enough to return to their mother country, the Jews would not have had such a country to take them in and nurture them back to health. Countries seldom accepted impoverished immigrants, the least of all impoverished, famished, sickly Jews from something as intangible as a mandate.  But even if countries had changed their immigration policies, the SS would have made any attempts to leave—from an island, no less—impossible for the Jews, for it was the Nazis’ objective to prevent the Jews from having any further influence on the world’s affairs. The Germans would not have wanted another Diaspora. Madagascar would not have been a new Jewish homeland as much as it would have been a Jewish prison or, more accurately, a “death chamber,” in Hevesi’s words.[54]

Yet a functionalist might reason that this detail-deficient document merely testifies to the planners’ naïve ignorance of the impracticality of such a long-term settlement—that these planners, while negligent in the deaths of millions of Jews, were not genocidal. To the contrary: this document likely represented these agencies’ purposeful oversimplification of the scheme, which masked the scheme’s murderous implications. The first possibility, naivety, is baseless because neither Rademacher nor Dannecker, in their respective positions as head of Referat D III (Jewish Affairs) of the Foreign Office and Captain of Department IV (Jewish Unit) of the Gestapo, could have been ignorant of the French and Polish settlement studies conducted on Madagascar, which had concluded that the land held few, if any, prospects. Granted, Hevesi wrote his treatise in 1941, a year after the Madagascar Plan, but he gathered his source material from the studies conducted by France and Poland in 1936. If Hevesi had access to these studies, then so did the Germans, especially through the Foreign Office.[55] In fact, in January of 1938, the Foreign Office, under Minister Constantin von Neurath’s tenure, expressed interest in the negotiations between France and Poland regarding the latter’s desire to expel its Jews to Madagascar.[56] It is unlikely, then, that the German Foreign Office in July 1940 would have disregarded the information it had gathered from von Neurath’s 1938 meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Beck, especially in light of the fact that Joachim von Ribbentrop, von Neurath’s successor, discussed Madagascar with Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano on 18 June 1940,[57] less than a month before Rademacher’s draft of the plan. Through his superiors at the Foreign Office, Rademacher must have had official information at his disposal—information that is curiously absent from the draft.

Theodor Dannecker, Adolf Eichmann’s assistant in Department IV (D IV) of the Gestapo, also must have been aware of the previous studies on Madagascar, for his position as Jewish Expert in the department kept him apprised of all matters Jewish.  The Gestapo as a whole knew of Madagascar’s implications on the Jewish Question as early as April of 1938 as it prepared a joint statement with the Schwarze Korps and the Elite Guard, which maintained “‘it is still better business for them [the Jews] to pay the Reich flight tax than to be deported to Palestine or Madagascar tomorrow—the final solution that will come about in one way or another as soon as other States awake to their senses.’”[58]  The joint statement intended to “motivate” the Jews to emigrate on their own accord, and in this respect it meant that a prolonged and abusive stay in the Reich awaited those who did not emigrate. But the statement’s emphasis on “one way or another” implied something more: that the Nazis’ choice of location, not the Jews’ choice, held little promise, but that if the Jews did not take measures to emigrate on their own accord almost immediately, then they would have to settle for what the Germans made available to them. Therefore, even though the Nazis said anything ominous to compel the Jews to leave, there must have been general knowledge present in order for these agencies, namely the Gestapo, to emphasize (quite honestly, not necessarily just rhetorically) that voluntary emigration held greater prospects than forced resettlement. In all likelihood, this general knowledge, either directly or indirectly, came from the studies France and Poland conducted, as well as from the German Foreign Office’s analysis of those studies as they applied to Germany’s Jewish Question. Come Dannecker’s draft of the Madagascar Project, the Gestapo did not change its overall policy of wanting a speedy removal of the Jews from Germany. It did not go from instituting policies and issuing threats aimed at forcing speedy expulsion, on one hand, to instituting policies that called for a slow, progressive settlement of Madagascar, on the other. If Madagascar had become available, the Nazis would have concentrated its efforts on the quantity of the Jews shipped to the settlement, not on the quality of the settlement to which the Jews were shipped.[59] The relative patience exhibited by the Madagascar Project contradicted the party’s “all Jews out” ideology,[60] veneering the genocidal implications of the plan.

The insular nature of the island, as well as the presence of the SS on the periphery, would have made Madagascar no different from a ghetto, though this “super ghetto”[61]—by the very implication of the epithet—would have been one of greater magnitude, and it would have been a permanent site, not a stopgap holding ground.[62] In the European ghettos, Jews could not acquire enough food to meet even ten percent of their caloric needs, and when the Germans caught these hungry and desperate captives leaving the confines of the ghetto, they ordered the Judenrat to make the barrier wall higher at the community’s expense.[63]  The Madagascar Plan, as outlined by the Foreign Office and the Gestapo, never suggested that the Nazis would have acted any differently from how they acted toward the same lot of people who suffered in the ghettos. If four million Jews, desperate and hungry, pled their case to their SS liaisons, the latter would have made certain that this historical test was one that the Jews had to face on their own, against incalculable, indeed genocidal, odds.

Despite the similarities between this conjectural “super ghetto” and the very real ghettos, and despite the genocidal implications of the plan, one might find it difficult to visualize the suffering the Jews would have faced on Madagascar, as this resettlement scheme never materialized. An incident has to occur in order for it to be deemed tragic. Indeed, ovens, gas vans, and “showers”; Treblinka, Chelmno, and Auschwitz-Birkenau: these very real genocidal tools and places are so deeply etched into historical memory that one might hesitate to designate the merely conjectural Madagascar Plan as a genocidal initiative in its own right, especially because sources pertaining to this resettlement scheme never manifestly expressed the Nazis’ will to murder Jews in an institutionalized manner. Rather, when the issue of genocide and the issue of Madagascar enter the same debate, many historians, namely the intentionalists, regard the plan as a diversion, while others, the functionalists, regard it as a serious, though ultimately destructive, attempt to solve the Jewish Question by resettlement, not by genocide. However, the Nazis did not need to leave a clearly enumerated paper trail in order for historians to conclude that the party desired genocide by means of the plan. The timeline of events enumerates plenty: the Nazis formulated the Madagascar Plan in 1940; they loosed the Einsatzgruppen on the eastern populations in 1941; they coordinated a continent-wide genocide in January 1942 at Wannsee; they then called off the Madagascar Plan in February 1942. From this timeline, one can see that the Madagascar Plan officially came to an end at least a month into the Final Solution per the Wannsee Protocol.[64] That is, the Nazis sanctioned the genocide while the Madagascar Plan remained on the books as the official policy. Before the Nazis followed the provisions of the Wannsee Protocol, and thus before they abandoned the Madagascar Plan, they sent the Einsatzgruppen into the East with an obviously genocidal mission. It is logical that the Madagascar Plan, situated at one point between the deployment of the Einsatzgruppen and the meeting at Wannsee, represented a constituent part of the greater genocidal plan. Moreover, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have halted the genocide in 1941 or would have dismissed the provisions in the minutes of the Wannsee Protocol in 1942 had they finally acquired the Royal Navy and the Vichy outpost according to their initial planning. Last, it is improbable that the Nazis in 1940 would have constructed a version of the Madagascar Plan so radically different from the project they continued to consider between 1941 and 1942, when genocide was clearly the modus operandi. Racial extermination inhered in the Madagascar Plan from the inception.

[1] New York Times, “Vichy Denies Deal on Madagascar,” 19 February 1942.

[2] See “Wannsee Protokol” (Berlin, 20 January 1942), in Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union, eds. Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot, trans. Lea Ben Dor (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999): pp. 249-61; see Franz Rademacher, “Memo to Minister Ernst Bielfeld” (10 February 1942), in The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes vol. 12, ed. John Mendelsohn (New York & London: Garland, 1982), p. 2.

[3] New York Times, “Vichy Denies Deal on Madagascar,” 19 February 1942.

[4] Franz Rademacher, “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty” (Berlin, 3 July 1940), in Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Ser. D, Vol. 10 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1957), p. 112; Ernst Bielfeld, “The Territorial Demands on France Regarding Colonies within the Framework of Total Demands” (Berlin, 6 November 1940), in Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Ser. D vol. 11 (Washington, D.C.: United States Printing Office, 1960), p. 491.

[5] Eric T. Jennings, Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940-1944 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 53.

[7] Ibid., p. 49.

[8] Ibid., p. 47.

[9] Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), p.82.

[10]  See New York Times, “Madagascar Studied as a Home For Jews,” 1 January 1938.

[11] Jennings, Vichy in the Tropics, p. 37.

[12] Ibid., passim, especially p. 48.

[13] Christopher Browning, “Nazi Resettlement Policy and the Search for a Solution to the Jewish Question,” German Studies Review vol. 9, no. 3 (1986), p. 500; also see Philip Friedman, “The Lublin Reservation and the Madagascar Plan: Two Aspects of Nazi Jewish Policy during the Second World War,” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Studies vol. 7 (1953), pp. 151-177; Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945 (New York: Perpetua Edition, 1961), pp. 77-79; Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews (New York, 1975), pp. 154-155; Eberhard Jäckel, Hitler in History (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1984), p. 51.

[14] Browning, “Nazi Resettlement Policy,” p.512.

[15] Jäckel, Hitler in History, p.51.

[16] See Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (London: The Bodley Head, 1991), p. 121.

[17] Browning, “Nazi Resettlement Policy,” p. 518.

[18] Franz Rademacher, “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty” p. 112.

[19] See Eugene Hevesi. “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar,” Contemporary Jewish Record vol. 5 (1941), passim.

[20] See Christian Gerlach, “The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler’s Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews,” The Journal of Modern History vol. 70, no. 4 (1998), p. 811.

[21] Tobias Jersak, “Blitzkrieg Revisited: A New Look at Nazi War and Extermination Planning,” The Historical Journal vol.43, no.2 (2000), p. 582.

[22] Ibid., p. 566-8.

[23] Ibid., p. 569.

[24] Ibid., p. 571.

[25] Ibid., pp.. 574, 579.

[26] Ibid., p. 574.

[27] Ibid, 579. See also Magnus Brechtken, “Madagaskar für die Juden”: Antisemitische Idee und politische Praxis, 1885-1945 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1997). Hans Jansen, Der Madagaskar-Plan: die beabsichtigte Deportation der europaischen Juden nach Madagaskar (Munich: Herbig, 1997).

[28] Christian Gerlach also characterized the Madagascar Plan as “utopian.” See Gerlach, “The Wannsee Conference,” p. 811.

[29] Jersak, “Blitzkrieg Revisited,” p. 580.

[30] Heinrich Himmler, “Memorandum to Hitler on Jews and Other Ethnic Groups in the East” (Rodert, 25 May 1940), in Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union, eds. Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot, trans. Lea Ben Dor (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 198.

[31] Ibid., p. 199.

[32] Jersak, “Blitzkrieg Revisited,” p. 580.

[33] Breitman, The Architect of Genocide, p. 122.

[34] Ibid., p. 122.

[35] Ibid., p. 139.

[36] Ibid., p. 122.

[37] Himmler, “Memorandum,” p. 198.

[38] Ibid., p. 198.

[39] Ibid., p. 199.

[40] New York Times, “Madagascar Studied as a Home for Jews,” 1 January 1938.

[41] Eugene Hevesi, “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar,” p. 394.

[42] Ibid., pp. 390-1; see Nizkor Project “The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Session 91” (Jerusalem, 11 July 1961), available from http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/e/eichmann-adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-091-05.html

[43] Hevesi, “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar,” p. 388.

[44] Ibid., p. 384-6.

[45] Ibid., p. 394.

[46] Ibid., p. 392.

[47] Ibid., p.383, p. 391.

[48] Franz Rademacher, “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty” p. 112.

[49] Ibid., pp. 112-113.

[50] Theodor Dannecker, “Madagaskar Projekt” (Berlin, 15 August 1940), in The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes vol. 11, ed. John Mendelsohn (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1982), p. 53.

[51] Rademacher, “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty,” p. 113.

[52] Ezra Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1983), pp. 101, 26, 144. I thank Laura Hudson for providing me with this source.

[53] Dannecker, “Madagaskar Projekt,” p. 52; see Nizkor Project, the “Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Session 91.”

[54] Hevesi, “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar,” p. 381.

[55] Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, p. 82.

[56] Martin Schliep, “Brief for the Conversation of the Foreign Minister with the Polish  Minister Beck” (11 January 1938), in Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Ser. D, vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1953), p. 32.

[57] Galeazzo Ciano, “On Hitler, von Ribbentrop, and Madagascar” (Munich, 18 and 19 June 1940), in Ciano Diaries, ed. Hugh Gibson (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1946), p. 266.

[58] New York Times, “Göring Starts Final Liquidation of Jewish Property in Germany,” 28 April 1938.

[59] See Hevesi, “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar,” p. 385.

[60] See Rademacher, “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty,” p. 112.

[61] Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, pp. 85, 107.

[62] Ibid., pp.112, 152, 165.

[63] Emmanuel Ringelblum, “The Smuggling of Food into the Warsaw Ghetto” (Warsaw, N.D.), in Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union, eds. Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot, trans. Lea Ben Dor. Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp. 228-9.

[64] See “Wannsee Protokol,” pp. 249-61; see Rademacher, “Memorandum to Minister Ernst Bielfeld,” p. 2.


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Ciano, Galeazzo. “Hitler, von Ribbentrop, and Madagascar” (Munich, 18 and 19 June 1940). In Ciano Diaries. Edited by Hugh Gibson. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1946, p. 266.

Dannecker, Theodor. “Madagascar Projekt” (Berlin, 21 August 1940). In The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes Vol. 11. Edited by John Mendelsohn. New York: London: Garland, 1982, pp. 42-62.

Hevisi, Eugene. “Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar.”  Contemporary Jewish Record Vol. 5 (1941): pp. 381-95.

Himmler, Heinrich. “Memorandum to Hitler on Jews and Other Ethnic Groups in the East” (Paris, 25 May 1940). In Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Edited by Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot. Translated by Lea Ben Dor. Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp.198-9.

New York Times, “Göring Starts Final Liquidation of Jewish Property in Germany,” 28 April 1938.

New York Times, “Madagascar Studied as a Home for Jews,” 1 January 1938.

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Rademacher, Franz. “The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty” (Berlin, 3 July 1940). In Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Ser. D, Vol. 10. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1957, pp. 111-113.

________. “Memorandum to Minister Ernst Bielfeld” (Berlin, 10 February 1942). In The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes Vol. 12. Edited by John Mendelsohn. New York & London: Garland, 1982, p. 2.

Ringelblum, Emmanuel. “The Smuggling of Food into the Warsaw Ghetto” (Warsaw, N.D.) In Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Edited by Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot. Translated by Lea Ben Dor. Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp. 228-9.

Schliep, Martin. “Brief for the Conversation of the Foreign Minister with the Polish Minister Beck” (Berlin, 11 January 1938). In Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Ser. D, Vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1953, p. 32.

“Wannsee Protokol” (Berlin, 20 January 1942). In Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Edited by Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot. Edited by Lea Ben Dor. Lincoln, Nebraska and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp. 249-61.

Secondary Sources

Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. London: The Bodley Head, 1991.

Browning, Christopher. “Nazi Resettlement Policy and the Search for a Solution to the Jewish Question.” German Studies Review Vol. 9, No. 3 (1986): pp. 497-519.

________. The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Lincoln, Nebraska: the University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Gerlach, Christian. “The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler’s Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews.” The Journal of Modern History Vol. 70, No. 4 (1998): pp. 759-812.

Jäckel, Eberhard. Hitler in History. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1984.

Jennings, Eric T. Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940-1941. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Jersak , Tobias. “Blitzkrieg Revisited: A New Look at Nazi War and Extermination Planning.” The Historical Journal Vol. 43, No.2 (2000): pp. 565-82.

Mendelsohn, Ezra. The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University.

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The Nonverbal Implications of Cross-Cultural Communication

People who come from the same cultural background, especially along socioeconomic lines, predictably use the same nonverbal cues to the point that they fail to respect how these cues pervade their interactions. Often, we have to be at the receiving end of an extended middle finger during rush hour or a firm hug from a friend at a reunion to appreciate the powerful role that nonverbal communication plays in imparting our basic, and often base, human emotions.

Cross-cultural communication, however, compels people to use nonverbal cues with greater mindfulness, as even the most innocuous gesture in one society can insult people in another—or, at the very least, it can leave them befuddled in the wake of what transpired.

Thus, nonverbal symbols carry different semantics from culture to culture. If someone sticks his tongue out at a stranger on any street in the United States, for example, he generally means to mock that person. If someone uses the same gesture in Polynesia, on the other hand, he intends to show deference to the person before him (Kirch, 1973, p. 417). In Northern Europe and in the United States, if a person nods her head up and down, she means to answer in the affirmative; but if she shakes her head from side to side, she means to answer in the negative. In Greece, however, the upward movement of the head communicates disagreement, but the downward movement of the head communicates affirmation. Thus, a Greek and an American may struggle to maintain a consistently transparent nonverbal interaction, which could further complicate any possible verbal language barriers. The Greek might regard the American as indecisive, since the American’s full nod encompasses both the affirmative and the negative answer according to the Greek’s perspective (Kirch, 1973, p.417). It follows that the American, after seeing the Greek move his head downward, might interpret this movement as a shorthand version of a “yes” response. Additionally, from the American’s perspective, a Greek who moves his head upward might come off as a person contemplating a thought, not as a person showing his disagreement. The Greek may in fact speak American English, or vise versa; but even so, if neither understands that nonverbal cues do not correspond from culture to culture, then the gestures each brings to the interaction will complicate the other’s decoding process.

Gestures themselves are easy to recognize on a visual basis, even if their actual meanings prove difficult to discern. Again with regard to head movements, if a person answers “yes” but shakes her head “no,” something in her encoding process has gone amiss. Some nonverbal cues, however, are not as easy to recognize when compared to the headshake – i.e., an intentional action that conveys a noticeable, if confusing, a message. Specifically, people use gazes and proxemics to communicate with others on a more subconscious level. With regard to gazes, some cultures view eye contact as a social necessity during conversations, while other cultures view it as a display of disrespect. In the United States, if two people pass each other, etiquette dictates that they make eye contact; in so doing, they acknowledge each other’s existence. An American woman in the streets of France, however, should expect men to look at her as she passes with a degree of intensity that might leave her feeling either flattered or vulnerable (Kirch, 1973, p.420).

With regard to proxemics, one culture may view closeness as an invasion of space, especially closeness among strangers; but other cultures require this close proximity, as good rapport requires it. Thus, Americans—who value their personal space, their “bubble” —might feel confined and violated in any given South American country. On the other hand, an Argentinean in the United States might regard an American as too cold and impersonal if the latter prioritizes his need for space over his conversation partner (Kirch, 1973, p. 420).

Another aspect of nonverbal communication stems from proximity. Before a person can establish proxemics at a business meeting or at any sort of transaction that warrants cross-cultural communication, he must keep a sense of chronemics, that is, a sense of how people value time (Kirch, 1979, p. 422).  Americans have a “time equals money” attitude, whereas Mexicans keep a laidback sense of timeliness. This contrast of chronemics could be problematic, especially in a business setting: Two people may speak each other’s language, to be sure; but if they had planned a business meeting while failing to account for each other’s chronemic priorities, then upon meeting his Mexican counterpart, the American might regard him as undependable and disrespectful, whereas the Mexican might regard the American as uptight, puritanical, and cold. The meeting would have started on a bad note, all because of a cultural misunderstanding.

Indeed, culture is tied to language, and if a society loses its language, it will invariably lose the important, distinguishing aspects of its cultural identity. But verbal language alone cannot express every emotion, every truth, every priority of a culture, so nonverbal language necessarily serves as a counterpart. In fact, research demonstrates that nonverbal language, deliberate or otherwise, accounts for 65 to 70 percent of the communicative process, regardless of setting (Kirch, 1979, p. 423; Allen, 1999, p.69). It thus follows that nonverbal behavior has an equal part to play in defining culture.

Unfortunately, as Kellerman (1992, p. 239) maintains, linguists and language teachers give nonverbal coding processes less respect than they give verbal coding processes. In other words, while academics and teachers, especially those in the Humanities, structure their classes to account for how verbalized language operates in the service of cultural expression, they seldom account for how nonverbal language operates in the same capacity, toward the same end.

Thus, foreign language teachers must expand their pedagogies to include a robust treatment of the nonverbal behaviors particular to a country or region. In so doing, these teachers will not only help their students stay within reach of a “fuller stage of communication in the target language” (Kirch, 1979, p. 423); but in less idealistic terms, these teachers can practically help students mitigate any cultural shock they might encounter should they enter their countries of study for academic, business, leisure, or spiritual and religious purposes.

Some foreign language courses at least make a passing mention of nonverbal behaviors as they relate to culture. In a Spanish course, an instructor might mention, though not necessarily in these words, that Mexican chronemics vastly differ from American chronemics. A German teacher might familiarize her students with German restaurant customs by telling them that it is not at all rare for strangers to share one table in a restaurant. However, these examples seem to be topics of side conversation that come up anecdotally, being presented with a touch of levity. While these examples may in fact capture the lighthearted differences between cultures, the greater truth—namely, that cultures not only speak differently, but that they also act differently—warrants serious attention. It is better for foreign language students to first encounter the nonverbal differences in earnest among classroom peers than for students to encounter these differences as they enter their countries of study with no meaningful knowledge of how the citizens communicate on a nonverbal level.

Works Cited

Allen, Q.A (1999). Functions of nonverbal communication in teaching and learning a foreign language. The French  Review, 72(3), 469-480.

Kellerman, S (1992). “I see what you mean: the role of kinesic behavior in listening and implications for foreign and second language learning.” Applied Linguistics, 13, 239-258.

Kirch, M.S (1979). Non-verbal communication across cultures. The Modern Language Journal, 16(8), 416-423.

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Dante in Transition: The Renaissance as a Continuation of, not a Reaction to, the Middle Ages

Viewing their own intellectual and cultural feats as watershed, Renaissance humanists practically invented themselves by contrasting the merits of their generation with the “barbaric” or medieval tendencies of the peoples before them.[1] It therefore seems as though scholarship from the 19th century forward, starting with Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy in particular, did not advance a new paradigm of thought by separating the Renaissance from the Middle Ages on the basis of the perceived intellectual and cultural differences between the two eras.

If a clear change did occur between medieval and Renaissance mentalities, then when did the one age yield irrevocably to the next? Which personalities—conditioned by their intellectual, spiritual, and social climates—started the process, or which personalities brought the process to a close? One can hardly offer a specific date, as the change did not occur over night or even clearly over the course of one century. And every person an historian analyzes tends to have at least one antecedent, so the historian may be inclined to regard this antecedent as a principle agent in his own right. For example, Petrarch, regarded as the first among the humanists of the Italian Renaissance, had an obvious antecedent in the figure of Dante Alighieri, a medieval man despite his humanist qualities.

In essence, the periodization process of establishing the Renaissance as an age separate from the Middle Ages is problematic, for the overlap between late medieval and Renaissance mentalities makes the end of the former age almost indistinguishable from the latter in many key respects. Lost in the periodization process is the fact that certain figures possess certain traits that permeate the wall between these historiographically separate eras. This essay explores Dante as one such figure.

The piety of medieval society does mark a noticeable contrast between the late medieval period and the period of the humanists, or the Renaissance, when secular pursuits took priority over the otherworldly focus that had characterized the medieval mindset. This contrast has facilitated the scholarly process of separating the ages from each other, of dichotomizing people into the Late Middle Ages, with its emphasis on corporate Christian identity, or into the Renaissance, with its emphasis on individuality, secular civic pursuits, and classical revival.

But it might be necessary to qualify the prevailing notion that the medieval worldview centered primarily on Christendom—and certain historians have indeed challenged this conventional thread of historiography. John Van Engen, for example, surveys historians who question the validity of the “legend” or “myth of the Christian Middle Ages” on the grounds that Christianity did not serve as the primary means of identification among Europeans during the period. Rather, using the methodologies of anthropology and comparative religious studies, these historians make the case that folkloric, non-Christian, classical, pagan attributes continued to pervade people’s sense of identity, thereby informing people’s Christian faith in heterodoxical or heretical ways.[2]

The looseness of orthodoxy continued well into the Late Middle Ages – an era that saw a profound revival in the civic and intellectual styles of classical antiquity. Even in the preceding High Middle Ages of the 12th century, Christians displayed a sincere devotion to classical texts by authors such as Virgil, Ovid, and Horace—texts that the humanists of the Renaissance were likewise to revere. From the 12th century onward, these texts, though pagan in origin, were read, valued, and disseminated among the literate in conjunction with ecclesiastical works.[3]

One might study the work of Dante, historiographically assigned to the late medieval period, to appreciate how the Christian worldview accommodated non-Christian elements. Using these pagan motifs to advance his concept of Christian salvation, Dante testifies to the heterogeneous nature of religious self-identity in medieval Europe. In his Inferno, Dante places mythological figures and landscapes in the setting of Hell as if to imply that Greco-Roman myths play a necessary function in Christian soteriology.

Dante further implies this continuity between the pagan and the Christian by making the Roman poet Virgil his guide through the nine circles of Hell. Virgil is a righteous pagan, his only shortcoming in life having been that he predated Christ’s redemption.[4] Spared from the tortures of Hell proper because of his pagan morality, Virgil spends his afterlife in the peaceful solemnity of Limbo, keeping timeless company with other classical figures such as Julius Caesar and poet Homer.[5] But his righteousness allows Virgil to communicate beyond Limbo. Specifically, he treats with the heavenly Beatrice, who appeals to the poet’s understanding of sin to save the pilgrim Dante, who has wandered from the straight path.[6] Dante’s reverence for Virgil testifies to the fact that the pagan and the Christian fashioned Dante. Dante sought salvation in Christ, to be sure; but only through the efforts of Virgil, a pagan intermediary, could Dante rediscover the straight path leading to Christ.

Dante’s reverence for, and his robust application of, the classics might compel scholars to reassign Dante and his generation to the Renaissance. With Dante inspiring the humanists a generation after his death in 1321, one could indeed make an artful case that Dante should be grandfathered into the humanist tradition. But in making this case, one might find it difficult to discount Dante’s quintessentially medieval attributes. For instance, Dante’s conception of Ancient Rome testifies convincingly to his medieval mindset. To be sure, humanists yearned for a revival of classical Roman life, as Dante had; but whereas humanists such as Petrarch and Machiavelli championed the Roman Republic as the pinnacle of civilization, Dante championed the Roman Empire. To Dante, Christ’s birth during the principate of Augustus Caesar legitimized the Roman Empire.[7] Dante further recognized the continuity between the emperors of Roman antiquity and the German Holy Roman Emperors of his day, whom God had also legitimized by virtue of this continuity.[8] And while Dante had in fact been affiliated with the pro-papal Guelphs, his work de facto supported the imperial agenda of the Ghibellines in Italy after Boniface VIII effected his exile from Florence.

Thus, when Boniface VIII, through his bull Unam Sanctum (1302), sought to subjugate the temporal sovereignty of kings and emperors to the spiritual judgment of the papacy, Dante regarded this action as an attack on the Godly legitimacy of the greater imperial Roman tradition. Dante responded to Unam Sanctum with his treatise On Monarchy,[9] written in the scholastic method that humanists were to dismiss as too Aristotelian in style. Dante reasons that emperors and kings, as temporal agents of God, enjoy authority equal to that of the pontiffs, God’s spiritual agents. Kings and emperors, deriving their power directly from God and not from his vicars, do not have to answer to popes. Peter has no grounds to subjugate Caesar to his will, as each agent wields his divine sword with equal charge in his separate sphere of governance.[10]

Using the scholastic method in On Monarchy, Dante is unquestionably medieval in his style and objective. And his concern with the divine charges of emperors and popes testifies further to Dante’s medieval character. Humanists, for their part, often deconstructed rulers in a manner that showcased their base, earthly aspirations. The divinity of offices did not feature so prominently in humanist analyses. For example, using philology, humanist Lorenzo Valla demonstrated how the popes since the 8th century had derived their temporal authority in the West from a forged document, The Donation of Constantine.

Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532) likewise shows the office of the papacy to be a means of making temporal gains.  Describing Alexander VI as one who “knew the ways of the world,” Machiavelli lauds this pope for his ability to deceive others, to renege on his promises, and to pacify whole regions of Italy with cruelty and despotism. A Borgia, Alexander VI cared more for his family’s status and influence than he cared for his reputation as the Holy Father of Christendom. Machiavelli further encourages the Medici pope Leo X to follow Alexander’s example so that he may unite Italy against foreign intrigue.[11]  Writing to the Medici family directly, Machiavelli naturally appeals to God’s role in empowering great men, namely Leo, to do His will.[12] But one might assume that Machiavelli merely references God out of deference to Leo’s office, for the rest of The Prince is tasked with cataloguing the successes and failures of rulers on the basis of their earthly capacities—that is, on the basis of their abilities to wield cruelty and despotism at will to achieve their political ends. Empowered by their worldly gifts, they seize control, wield influence, and consolidate power—or, hindered by their earthly faults, they fail abjectly in these endeavors. They provide for their own greatness, or they burden themselves in their own tasks. But the will of God does not feature prominently in their deeds—not according to Machiavelli, a Renaissance humanist who observes the agency of man in his own successes and failures.

Key factors distinguish medieval Dante from his Renaissance successors, but scholars would be remiss if they did not acknowledge Dante for his many proto-humanist attributes. Dante may have concerned himself with the divine sanctions of emperors and popes, but his fierce insistence on the independence and strength of the emperors certainly shows how Dante valued and championed temporal meritocracy. In modern parlance, he advocated the separation of church and state. Furthermore, Dante used the scholastic method to structure his arguments, but while medieval figures such as Thomas Aquinas used the method in the service of the Catholic Church, Dante used it to challenge the interests of the Church, fathered as it was by errant popes. Did the Lorenzo Valla—in saying that the papacy “‘patronized falsehood’”[13]—not likewise challenge the interests of the Church?[14]  Did Valla not follow Dante’s example?

Historiography has relegated the Late Middle Ages to the status of “benighted backdrop to the revival of classical civilization in the fourteenth century.”[15] Scholars might continue maintaining this backdrop characterization—but as seen in the feats of Dante, this backdrop was anything but benighted. The Late Middle Ages enjoyed a classical vitality of its own, a vitality that cultivated the Italian Renaissance’s deeper levels of classical thought. The humanists were natural extensions of, not reactions to, their medieval antecedents.[16]

Among the many theories that analyze the relationship between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the transitional thesis supported by Wallace K. Ferguson and Donald Sullivan bears the most strength. Specifically, the transitional thesis maintains that the “traditional elements” of the one age merged with the “new forces” of the next,  the elements and the forces synthesizing in such a way that preserved the integrity of the old world while acknowledging the coming of the new one.[17] Dante’s intellectual and literary legacy is the transitional thesis writ large: Dante’s spirit and agenda, though medieval, inspired the “new forces” of the Italian Renaissance. Humanists continued in Dante’s most exalted legacy.

[1] Herbert Weisinger, “The Attack on the Renaissance in Theology Today,” Studies in the Renaissance vol. 2 (1955), p. 176. Herbert Weisinger, “The Renaissance Theory of the Reaction Against the Middle Ages as a Cause of the Renaissance,” Speculum vol. 20, no. 4 (1945) pp. 461-462.

[2] John Van Engen, “Christian Middle Ages as an Historiographical Problem,” The American Historical Review vol. 91, no.3 (1986), p. 538, 552.

[3] Eva Matthews Sanford, “The Twelfth Century — Renaissance or Proto-Renaissance?” Speculum 26, no. 4 (1951), p. 638.

[4] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, trans. Mark Musa (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 71.

[5] Dante, Inferno, pp. 100-101.

[6] Ibid., p. 67, 81.

[7] See Dante Alighieri, The De Monarchia of Dante Alighieri, trans. Aurelia Henry (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), pp. 59-63.

[8] Dante Alighieri, “On Monarchy,” in Classics of Western Thought: Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, vol.4, ed. Karl F. Thompson (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), pp. 97-98.

[9] Most scholars agree that Dante wrote On Monarchy in the years 1312-13.

[10] Ibid., 93-98 . Boniface VIII, “Unam Sanctum,” in The European Reformations Sourcebook, ed. Carter Lindberg (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), p. 10. Boniface and Dante, in discussing the temporal and spiritual swords, refer to Luke 22: 38 and Mathew 26:52.

[11] Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Prince,” in Classics of Western Thought: Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, vol. 4, ed. Karl F. Thompson (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Johanovich, 1992), p. 284, 287.

[12] Ibid., pp. 290-291.

[13] Christopher Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 2004), p. 91.

[14] See Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York: Harper Books, 1958), pp. 444-445.

[15] Donald Sullivan, “The End of the Middle Ages: Decline, Crisis, or Transformation?” The History Teacher 14, no. 4 (1981), p. 552.

[16] Weisinger, “The Renaissance Theory of the Reaction,” pp. 461-462.

[17] Sullivan, “The End of the Middle Ages,” p. 558. Ferguson, “The Church in a Changing World: A Contribution to the Interpretation of the Renaissance,” The American Historical Review, vol. 59, no. 1 (1953), p. 2.


Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy: Inferno. Translated by Mark Musa. New York: Penguin Books. 1984.

________. On Monarchy (1312-13). Edited by Karl F. Thompson. In Classics of Western  Thought: Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, Vol. 4. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Johanovich. 1992.

________. The De Monarchia of Dante Alighieri (1312-13). Translated and Edited by Aurelia Henry. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. 1904.

Boniface VIII. Unam Sanctum (18 November 1302). Edited by Carter Lindberg. In The European Reformations Sourcebook. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 2000.

Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. New York: Harper Books. 1958.

Celenza, Christopher. The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press. 2004.

Ferguson, Wallace K. “The Church in a Changing World: A Contribution to the Interpretation of the Renaissance.” The American Historical Review Vol. 59, No. 1 (1953): 1-18.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince (1532). Edited by Karl F. Thompson. In Classics of Western Thought: Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, Vol. 4. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Johanovich. 1992.

Sanford, Eva Matthews. “The Twelfth Century—Renaissance or Proto-Renaissance?” Speculum 26, no. 4 (1951): 635-642.

Sullivan, Donald. “The End of the Middle Ages: Decline, Crisis, or Transformation?” The History Teacher Vol. 14, No. 4 (1981): 551-565.

Van Engen, John. “Christian Middle Ages as an Historiographical Problem.” The American Historical Review Vol. 91, No.3 (1986): 519-552.

Weisinger, Herbert. “The Renaissance Theory of the Reaction against the Middle Ages as  a Cause of the Renaissance.” Speculum Vol. 20, No.4 (1945): 461-467.

________.“The Attack on the Renaissance in Theology Today.” Studies in the Renaissance 2. (1955): 176-189.

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Cohesion Through Coercion: A Historiography of the Confessional Challenges to Imperial German Unification

The year 1871 marks a major epoch in German history. This year saw the German-speaking Central European states, which had lacked a robust central government, finally unite under one imperial crown and achieve continental hegemony at the expense of the other Great Powers. In other words, 1871 marked the year of German Unification, when the Germanies became Germany.

But unification does not practically describe the Central European situation in this otherwise watershed year. This term connotes a consenting amalgamation among all parties involved in the process, implying that these parties each projected a common goal and drew from the same, or at least a similar, historical and cultural legacy. Following German Unification, however, the nascent Reich still faced profound challenges from within, as it had failed to transcend the centuries-old religious dualism between Catholics and Protestants. In fact, the imperial government had exacerbated this dualism by seeking coercive legislation to cripple Catholic institutions in Germany.

Because German Unification wrongfully suggests a finished cohesion process, one might distinguish between Unification and unification—between an event and a compromised ideal.  One might also infer that the five historians reviewed in this essay acknowledge this distinction and, furthermore, that they recognize confessional conflict as the chief source of the Second German Empire’s lack of practical unity.

In German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914, author Helmut Wasler Smith analyzes the ubiquitous religious division that accompanied Germany into Unification. In the simplest of terms, Smith “[studies]…what set Protestants and Catholics apart [in imperial Germany].”[1] His work serves to show that Protestants and Catholics were divided in their visions of how the Reich should derive its cultural legacy and how the Reich should function according to each confession’s worldview.

In light of this divide, Smith illustrates how intellectuals from various disciplines tasked themselves with fortifying the newly formed Reich with a homogenous high culture that could provide unity across confessional lines.[2] This confession-transcending culture would invite a sense of camaraderie between Protestants and Catholics, who could thereby celebrate the historical and literary legacies that culminated in the proclamation of the German Empire. But by promoting a national high culture with such zeal, these intellectuals also sought to curtail the unsavory influences of popular folk culture, which carried superstitious, devotional, and irrational connotations commonly associated with a Catholic, ultramontanist, and therefore un-German worldview.[3] With its rational and practical underpinnings, an exclusively Protestant high culture was to be the province of a Germany that epitomized progress and modernity.[4]

Smith thoroughly deconstructs his primary sources to draw out the Protestant biases that governed these intellectuals’ pursuit of a confession-transcending culture.  Enjoying a practical monopoly in establishing the foundations of a German cultural legacy, literary critics such as William Scherer—who stated that “‘Luther’s Bible was the decisive act toward the establishment of a unified German culture and language’”[5]—sought to create a canon based upon the primacy of Protestant literary contributions. Also enjoying this monopoly, kleindeutsch (small-German) historians such as Johan von Droysen, Heinrich von Sybel, and Heinrich von Treitscke, who had all produced work at the time of Unification, adhered to a methodology that teleologically narrated a history that justified, or rationalized, a Reich founded upon Protestant and Prussian virtues.[6]

The imperial government also sought a Reich comprising these virtues. To this end, Otto von Bismarck’s government conceived of the Kulturkampf (1871) as a nation-building strategy that would implement the societal changes necessary to effect cultural homogeneity along Protestant lines.[7] In other words, the imperial government wanted to use the weight of its authority to compel Catholic institutions—and, by implication, Catholics themselves—to acknowledge the primacy of Protestant values in the empire. These repressive Kulturkampf measures only deepened the wounds of an already religiously divided nation.[8] In fact, these measures strengthened Catholic resolve and, in a figurative sense, made martyrs of those on the receiving end of the oppression.

The manner in which Smith describes the failure of the Kulturkampf is reliable for students seeking to measure the degree of unity (or lack thereof) within the empire. But while the Kulturkampf is important for Smith in his study, the struggle itself occupies a sub-section of his greater analysis of what fundamentally set Catholics and Protestants apart in imperial Germany. Students might therefore consult Ronald J. Ross’s The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf: Catholicism and State Power in Imperial Germany, 1871-1887, which focuses entirely on the Kulturkampf Era.  In his study, Ross challenges a common thread in the historiography by actually holding the government responsible for the Kulturkampf’s failure.[9] In other words, the Kulturkampf failed because of the government’s aims, not in spite of them.

Furthermore, one can see how the Kulturkampf even emblematized the disunity among liberals, conservatives, and other anti-Catholic parliamentary parties in addition to the disunity between Protestants and Catholics. While these parties generally held anti-Catholic sentiments, the natures of their contempt varied greatly—a setback that prevented the government from gaining the uniformity necessary to prosecute the Kulturkampf with efficiency and success. Ross aptly concludes that “[t]he Kulturkampf…revealed Imperial Germany’s inadequacies as an authoritarian state and left the nation more divided than ever…[.]”[10]

In Germany without Bismarck: the Crisis of Government in the Second Reich, 1890-1900, author J.C.G. Röhl describes the German Empire as “some exotic plant” that “had been artificially forced in the hothouse of patriotism and war.”[11] Röhl’s conclusion is apt on the basis that this federalized empire was essentially a bloated Prussia that had just digested its neighbors after its victories in the Danish War (1864), the Seven Weeks’ War with Austria (1866), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Prussia annexed Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, North Hesse, Nassau, and Frankfurt, who had all sided with Austria in the 1866 conflict. Finding themselves on the horns of a dilemma presented by the Franco-Prussian War, the remaining German states begrudgingly opted to support Prussia, and subsequently they joined the Hohenzollern kingdom in a greater imperial union at the war’s end.[12] Thus, war did in fact force the empire into existence, but the ephemerality of unity became apparent when Bismarck’s government implemented the Kulturkampf in the same year.

Röhl does not incorporate the Kulturkampf into his argument save for three short instances, but his argument is nonetheless consistent with Smith’s and Ross’s respective arguments. Each historian acknowledges that disunity predominantly characterized the state of Germany, and the latter two historians, Smith and Ross, demonstrate how the religious dualism fueled the disunity. Furthermore, while Röhl does not explicitly follow the examples of Smith and Ross by acknowledging the gravity of religious divide, he does often revisit the uneasy relationship between Catholic southern Germany and Protestant Prussia. This uneasy relationship did nothing to assuage Bismarck’s lingering fear that Catholic Austria, coping with its recent exclusion from German affairs; or republican France, reeling from its humiliation and loss of continental hegemony; or even the pope, establishing the Papal Infallibility Doctrine at Vatican I, could offer this “particularist” Catholic region an alliance against Protestant Prussia.[13]

Yet Röhl’s assertion that Catholics, being represented by the nascent Catholic Center, resented their inclusion in a largely Protestant empire[14] might be at odds with an important thread in Smith’s work, namely, that Protestants and Catholics believed in functionally different versions of the same Reich. Smith criticizes this “two nations” characterization, a characterization that Röhl supports. Smith instead opts for a “two groups with competing visions of the [same] nation state” characterization.[15] But according to Röhl, Catholics desired an exclusion from imperial Germany.

But representing Catholics in the wake of Kulturkampf legislation, the Center did not entertain separatist sentiments; rather, it sought to modify the current nation only to make it more inclusive of the party’s Catholic constituency and that constituency’s way of life. Thus, Catholics resented their exclusion from, not their inclusion into, the Protestant empire. They did not opt for a separate nation; they opted for one with a different trajectory—for one that did not champion a Protestant cultural and historical legacy at the expense of Catholics’ rights to worship, to hold monastic orders, and to appoint clerics who did not have to pass examinations demonstrating their loyalty to a Germany with a Protestant agenda.[16] Catholics organized politically behind the Center to have a greater say in the otherwise exclusionary Protestant empire.

A study by Thomas Bredohl further supports the notion that Catholics in general did not seek a separate nation. Bredohl’s Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party in Wilhelmine Germany expands upon the nature of the Center Party. Moreover, this study juxtaposes the German character of this party with the anti-German, pro-papal depiction promulgated by kleindeutsch historians such as von Treitschke, von Sybel, and their likeminded contemporaries.[17] In essence, Bredohl portrays the Center not as a backward party of Catholics—superstitious, anti-modern, and therefore un-German. Rather, he rightfully characterizes the Center as a pragmatic party that understood the necessities of modernization and Realpolitik.[18]  Furthermore, Bredohl demonstrates that the Center never betrayed any signs of ultramontanism. Contrary to popular belief, the Center did not answer to Rome or receive its orders from the pope. In fact, the Center’s policies often lacked harmony with the Curia’s.[19]

Just as Smith does in his study, Bredohl deconstructs his sources, thus allowing his readers to view the biases of the historians he references and cites. He certainly engages the obviously biased historians of the kleindeutsch school who marshaled their intellectual resources to attack the legacy of Catholicism. But Bredohl presents himself as a responsible historian by demonstrating that he comes to his conclusions only after he criticizes the historians with whom he generally agrees. For example, Bredohl recognizes the depth and importance of historian Karl Bachem’s nine-volume work that expresses the Center’s loyalty to the Kaiserreich, but Bredohl nonetheless acknowledges that certain Catholic biases inhere in Bachem’s work, as Bachem himself belonged to the Center and wanted to promote its German character to make the party’s platform palatable to non-Catholic constituencies.[20]

Bredohl shows how disunity along confessional lines pivotally characterized Germany during Unification. The Center directed its energy toward addressing the substance of this disunity, seeking parity with its Protestant counterparts in controlling imperial institutions such as the army, the civil service, and the educational professions.[21] Furthermore, the Center had to seek this parity while assuming the Sisyphean task of convincing non-Catholics that “‘nothing was further from the minds of its founders than the creation of a fundamental opposition to the government…the new German empire…and its emperor…’”[22] Rather, the founders and those who followed their legacy fundamentally opposed the direction of the government and the political and cultural trajectory of the empire, but never the institutions themselves.

Indeed, Germany unified in 1871, but only nominally. Even the parties that had forged this empire knew that unity, in the truest sense of the word, evaded it. The Kulturkampf’s proximity to German Unification underscores the fact that religious divide qualified German unity at the most fundamental levels of culture, society, and government. In essence, the concepts of German unity and religious division are mutually inclusive: one cannot be discussed without the other also being duly cross-referenced, for example, in a hypothetical index aiming to familiarize general students with the salient themes of modern German history. The historians reviewed in this essay construct a version of the Second Reich that accounts for this qualification to German Unification along confessional lines. These otherwise nuanced studies converge to show that the kleindeutsch historians of the 19th century had failed to force a historiographical legacy of an empire that was itself conceived through force.

[1] Helmut Wasler Smith, German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 10.

[2] Ibid., passim, 20-37.

[3] Ibid., 21, 35.

[4] Ibid., passim, 27-37.

[5] Ibid., 23.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 20. Also see Ronald J. Ross, The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf: Catholicism and State Power in Imperial Germany, 1871-1887 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998), 24. Ross cites Smith on the definition of the Kulturkampf.

[8] Smith, German Nationalism, 42.

[9] Ross, The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, 12-14.

[10] Ibid., p. 34.

[11] J.C.G. Röhl, Germany without Bismarck: the Crisis of Government in the Second Reich, 1890-1900 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), 17.

[12] Ibid., 15.

[13] Ibid., 18.

[14] Ibid., 18.

[15] Smith, German Nationalism, 50.

[16] Ibid., 14; Ross, The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, 6.

[17] Thomas Bredohl, Class and Religious Identity: the Rhenish Center Party in Wilhelmine Germany (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2000), 10.

[18] Ibid., 17.

[19] Ibid., 9.

[20] Ibid., 11.

[21] Ibid., 13. Bredohl cites Ronald J. Ross’s Beleaguered Tower: the Dilemma of Political Catholicism in Wilhelmine Germany (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976). For more information on laws prohibiting Catholics from the educational professions, see Ross, The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, 6.

[22] Ibid., 11. Bredohl quotes Bachem from his nine-volume study Voregeschichte Geschichte und Politik der deutschen Zentrumspartei.


Bredohl, Thomas M. Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party in Wilhemine Germany. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2000.

Röhl, John C.G. Germany without Bismarck: the Crisis of Government in the Second Reich, 1890-1900. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

Ross, Ronald J. The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf: Catholicism and State Power in Imperial Germany, 1871-1887. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998.

Smith, Helmut W. German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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