Symposium I
Symposium II
Exhibition / 52-Hour-Lab
Jean-Baptiste Joly
Vorbemerkungen zu
»Dealing with Fear«

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Since When and Why Are We Afraid
of the Future?

Bertrand Bacqué, Ingrid Wildi Merino
Beetween Fear as a Spectacle
and Interiorized Fear

Vadim Bolshakov
Genetic Roots of Instinctive
and Learned Fear

David N. Bresch
Von irrationalen Ängsten
zu versicherbaren Risiken

Paula Diehl
Dealing with Fear
The Mise en Scène of the SS
in National Socialist Propaganda

Björn Franke
Violent Machines for Troubled Times

Teresa Hubbard, Beate Söntgen
Home and Fear
An Email-Conversation
after the Symposium’s Talk

Iassen Markov, Stephan Trüby
Temple of Janus 2.0
The 5 Codes_Space of Conflict

Jürgen Mayer H., Henry Urbach
Mind the Gap
A Transcript of the Symposium’s Talk

Matthias Aron Megyeri
Sweet Dreams Security® Est. 2003
Notes from an Orwellian City

Jasmeen Patheja, Hemangini Gupta
Fear as Experienced
by Women in Their Cities

Ortwin Renn, Andreas Klinke
Von Prometheus zur Nanotechnologie
Der gesellschaftliche Umgang
mit Risiken und Bedrohungen

Gabi Schillig
The Politics of Lines.
On Architecture/War/Boundaries
and the Production of Space

Gerald Siegmund, Maren Rieger
Die Another Day: Dealing with Fear

Jens Martin Skibsted, Adam Thorpe
Liberty versus Security:
Bikes versus Bombs

Helene Sommer
High over the Borders
Stories of Hummingbirds, Crying Wolves,
and the Bird’s Eye View

Yi Shin Tang
Dealing with the Fear of Abuse
of Intellectual Property Rights
in a Globalized Economy

Margarete Vöhringer
Keine Angst im Labor
Nikolaj Ladovskijs psychotechnische
Architektur im postrevolutionären Moskau

Susanne M. Winterling
Dealing with Fear: an Inside
and an Outside Perspective

Photo Gallery

Paula Diehl
Dealing with Fear
The Mise en Scène of the SS in National Socialist Propaganda

The aesthetics of power is always ambivalent. It has a double function: first, it must show that power can destroy the enemies of the leader, group or regime, and, second, it must attract and encourage identification with that power.

In this sense, the aesthetics of Nazi propaganda was not different from power aesthetics common to anti-democratic regimes. It confronted the public with implicit violence. But, at the same time, it suggested that the spectator could be a part of power, if he or she cooperated with that power, which is typical of totalitarian regimes. In the case of Nazi propaganda, there were some complementary changes in the presentation of power, and most notably, a radical enhancement of these psychological dynamics. Of course, behind the power aesthetics, the regime operated with terror that also enforced the dynamic of fear and identification. But these aesthetics were also closely linked with a racist biopolitics by promoting the ideal of the “Aryan” new man.

The racist ideal of the new man and the body politics of the Regime divided society into two blocks: “superior,” the tall, blond and blue-eyed “Aryans,” and biologically “inferior” persons like gypsies, Jews or mentally ill persons, including also Communists and opponents to the system who were seen in a certain way as “degenerate.”

If Nazi propaganda and terror implicitly or explicitly threatened people with exclusion, banishment and violence; it also promised social inclusion and promoted the fantasies about the perfect “Aryan.” The crucial point in this psychological system was the balance between the fear of Nazi power and the hope to belong to it. The two opposite categories (superior and inferior) had to be articulated in a way that enabled the production of both feelings—identification and fear—while simultaneously removing any certitude of a permanent status inside the national socialist hierarchy.

Indeed, Nazi propaganda never gave complete certitude about the membership of the spectator to the superior category. One could never be sure to be a part of power, because one could always be exposed by the regime for not being sufficiently engaged in national socialist society, or because one might have an hereditary illness, a biological “defect” or a racial “contamination” in his body—as in the case of schizophrenia in the family or having a Jewish grandmother. Potentially every German could be an enemy of Nazi power. On the one hand, Nazi propaganda operated with intimidation and threat, provoking fear. On the other hand, Nazi propaganda promised the spectator to be a part of the regime, to belong to the “Aryan race” and to share the power.

Charlotte Beradt collected dreams of German citizens (Jews and non-Jews) from 1933 to 1939. They reveal very complex relationships between fear, shame, and identification with power. In one of them, a 22-year-old woman with a crooked nose dreamed that she was about to be executed by a blond, blue-eyed officer because she was suspected to be Jewish. In her dream, she started to kiss the officer and asked him to let her escape. This mix of identification, subjection, shame, and fear is quite typical for the people’s dreams after 1933. One of the principal elements of the dreams collected by Beradt is a kind of erotic fascination with the male ideal of National Socialism. I do not mean that these feelings were new, but now they were articulated in ideological motives and racist fantasies. The interesting point here is that the political articulation of emotions took place even by people who did not share the Nazi ideology. These psychological effects of racist ideology, terror, and aesthetics are crucial to understand how Nazi propaganda used fear to bind people to the regime.

I would like to stress the two sides of Nazi propaganda: production of fear on the one hand and positive identification with power on the other. In order to do that, I will focus on the figure of the SS-Man, which—more than the SA or military soldiers—shaped the Nazi imaginary. Everybody knows the image of the blond and blue-eyed SS-Man in the black uniform. And there is no doubt that this image is linked with a very dark period of German history, with the atrocities of the concentration camps and with fear. The SS was the most active Nazi organization in terror and in the Holocaust. Historians normally pay attention to the threatening aspect of the popular perception of the SS, but they frequently overlook the positive identification with the image of the SS-Man.

Nazi propaganda always associated the racist ideal of the “Aryan” with the dream of the perfect body and projected them on the image of the SS-Man. At the same time, the SS organization was famous for its role in repression, violence, and terror. These two components built the two poles of the mise en scène of national socialist power, motivating both fear and positive identification with the racist ideal of the regime.

SS-Men were presented as a racial ideal and placed on the highest hierarchical level of national socialist society. For Heinrich Himmler, the SS was the biological elite of German society. To become a member of the SS, the man had to prove that there were no Jews, no gypsies, and no hereditary illnesses in his family. His body was checked by a doctor and a race specialist. In principle, an SS-Man had to be tall and he should have “Nordic” physical characteristics. This did not necessarily include blond hair, although this was preferred. Head and face shape, nose, eyes, lips, lower jaw, skin, hair, legs, body hair, body proportions, movements, and posture were objects of this racial analysis. These requirements were extended also to the families of SS-Men. Before being allowed to marry, brides of SS-Men were also examined by a doctor. Himmler could not find enough “Aryan” bodies among the German people to build his SS staff. But only Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard, the “SS-Leibstandarte,” satisfied the criteria of Himmler’s ideal.

In fact, SS-Men were not very different from average German people, and most Germans were not at all close to the “Aryan” ideal. But this discrepancy was not a big problem for Nazi propaganda. Propaganda always works with people’s fantasies and not with material reality. So the aim of Nazi propaganda was not to show what the supposed racial elite really was, but to create an ideal image of SS-Men that were able to provoke fascination, identification, and fear.

Nazi propaganda was interested in the abstraction and idealization of reality. It created an image of the SS by aesthetic techniques. On June 15, 1935 the SS newspaper Das schwarze Korps published a photo of three SS-Men under a huge ensign with the SS rune. They wear black uniforms and their black steel helmets cover half of their faces. The viewer can only see the lower part of the faces. There is no possibility to see their eyes—the symbol of personal identity. Below the picture there is the title: “Kameraden unter der Siegrune” (comrades under the victory runes). There are many elements of power in this picture. First of all, the picture can be cut in two motifs: on top the SS runes with the black background, at the bottom the SS-Men. The camera perspective is from below, suggesting power and the hierarchical position of the SS-Men relative to the viewer. Now let us look at the mise en scène of the SS men: the same division of space is repeated by their bodies. One can barely recognize their faces. The steel helmets visually cut the faces, covering the eyes. The effect is of abstract faces. The uniform is the principal sign of the bodies. Unlike in pictures of Hitler, power is here impersonal and abstract.

Leni Riefenstahl always emphasized this kind of abstraction of power in her films and she linked it to the male body. One good example of this is Triumph of the Will. Here the film director repeats the same aesthetization of the SS as an element of power, and a source of the production of fear and identification with the “Aryan” ideal. In the stairs sequence of the film, Riefenstahl amplified this effect by using the vertical movement of the SS troops marching downwards from the top of the stairs. The camera is placed on the bottom and follows the legs of the SS men. The viewer, taking the perspective of the camera, follows the movements of the SS-Men, fixing on the black boots, the power symbol par excellence.

The way Nazi propaganda constructed the image of SS-Men as “Aryans,” and at the same time linked this image to terror and violence, produced ambivalent feelings and provoked a double source of identification. Nazi propaganda did not only stress the ambivalence of power; it added to these deep contradictions within Nazi ideology—the threat of exclusion and the hope to belong to the regime. The problem was that the ideal of the perfect “Aryan” could never be achieved—nor was it intended to be. In this sense, every member of Nazi society could potentially be excluded. In the same way, nobody could be trusted and, as a consequence, nobody could be completely safe from Nazi power. Nazi propaganda had to maintain the balance between identification and fear, and the image of the SS man offered an ideal object for the projection of these conflicting messages.

This is a working paper. For precise discussion about the topic see: Paula Diehl: Macht—Mythos—Utopie. Die Körperbilder der SS-Männer. Berlin 2005; idem (ed.): Körper im Nationalsozialismus. Bilder und Praxen. München 2006.


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