Communicative Practices under National Socialism

Report on the INFOCOM Team's Participation in a Multidisciplinary Online Conference

On June 24 and 25, 2021, the final, digital conference of the DFG-funded projects “Heterogene Widerstandskulturen. Sprachliche Praktiken des Sich-Widersetzens von 1933 bis 1945“ (Heterogenous Cultures of Resistance: Linguistic Practices of Self-Resistance between 1933 and 1945) (Paderborn University, leader: Prof. Dr. Britt-Marie Schuster) and "Sprachliche Sozialgeschichte 1933 bis 1945" (Linguistic Social History 1933 to 1945) (Leibniz Institute for the German Language Mannheim, leader: Prof. Dr. Heidrun Kämper) took place. With the title of the conference referring to “Communicative Practices under National Socialism,” there was a clear focus on the linguistic diversity of forms of resistance as well as everyday usage of language in general and “Nazi language” in particular. The presentations were divided up into three sections, each section beginning with a short introductory lecture. As Prof. Dr. Heidrun Kämper stated in her introductory speech, a particular interest of the conference lay on actor-based analyses of practices of communication within the integrated majority society of the Third Reich.

Dr. Friedrich Markewitz (Paderborn University) and Dr. Stefan Scholl (IDS-Mannheim) provided a brief introduction on “textual communication” in the Third Reich with a focus on discursive practices to locate the self between forced-upon identities as well as individually desired identities. This form of (individual) positioning was an act of “textual linguistic practice” in terms of social inclusion and exclusion. Prof. Dr.  Christina Morina (Bielefeld University) thereafter presented an ongoing project about the role of the Holocaust in diaries of the majority society in six countries (Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Austria). Her usage of "bystanding" referred to the Holocaust as an interpersonal process in relation to the dynamic, situative, and contextual encounter of violence and murder. Diaries, here, present a form of “world testimonials.” Prof. Dr. Simon Meier-Vieracker (Dresden University of Technology) focused his presentation on the football magazine Kicker and its linguistic construction of the “Volksgemeinschaft.” The reports were dedicated to producing a sense of community, just as international football matches themselves were orchestrated as joint collective experiences. The meaning of euphemistic linguistic expressions in soldiers’ letters was highlighted by Prof. Dr. Hajo Diekmannshenke (University of Koblenz and Landau). He demonstrated the creative ways employed to cover up and highlight information as a specific practice of communication.

The second section was dedicated to “guiding concepts” in National Socialist language(s). The introduction by Heidrun Kämper (IDS-Mannheim) and PD Dr. Nicole M. Wilk (Paderborn University) referred to individual ways of understanding resistance as well as propaganda as forms of “re- and de-semanticization.” Here, Andreas Borsch (Trier University) analyzed the discursive creation of “Jewish” topoi in the Gestapo's personal files. As acts of speech, they can reflect cultural codes and, therefore, shed light on antisemitic patterns of argumentation.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to the topic of “practices of language and communication” in the Third Reich. The day was initiated by a presentation on lexical continuities between German colonialism and National Socialism, given by Prof. Dr. Ingo Warnke (University of Bremen) and Julia Nintemann (University of Bremen). Subsequently, Dr. Niccole M. Wilk and Dr. Mark Dang- Anh briefly presented the term “practices of language and communication” and discussed a series of such practices employed under National Socialism. Later, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Bettina M. Bock (University of Cologne) spoke about techniques of sugarcoating and obscuring in the surveillance reports “Meldungen aus dem Reich.” She established a series of communicative strategies, which were employed by functionaries of the Third Reich to conceal certain aspects of what was presumed to be public opinion.

It was then that the two participants of the INFOCOM Team delivered their lectures: Felix Berge presented several specific acts of informal communication as documented in historic sources – that is, private records, files of police inquiries, and surveillance reports. He then indicated the consequences that such communicative practices potentially had on the social procedures and hierarchies on a local level – thoughts which hint at greater questions about authority and society under National Socialism. Manuel Mork initiated his lecture by giving a brief introduction into the state of communication and information in France during the Second World War. He proceeded by describing, with the aid of two specific examples from wartime France, the intricate link between official informational politics and practices of informal communication. The questions that the audience posed with regard to the two lectures threw a linguistic perspective on the work of the two historians.

In the afternoon, two further lectures were held: PD Dr. Nina-Maria Klug (University of Vechta) presented the advantages of a multimodal analysis of newspapers by presenting her interpretation of images and texts from a National Socialist women’s magazine. Lena Haas (University of Trier) demonstrated how the conception of the professional group of “jurists” was successively altered under National Socialism, a process that also called for a linguistic reframing of the profession.

The questions, discussions, and perspectives for future research highlighted by the conference indicate the advantages of an interdisciplinary approach, namely the potential for inspiration between the fields of linguistics and history. For the two participants of the INFOCOM Project, that meant understanding how scholars of linguistics approach the communicative phenomena of the past and which supplementary insights can be drawn from linguistic approaches.

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