Home Leave – Soldiers between the Front, Family, and the National Socialist Regime

Employees (IfZ):  Dr. Christian Packheiser

The Second World War was a major turning point in the private lives of nearly the entire German population. Around 18 million Wehrmacht soldiers were torn away from their familiar environments. They had to find their way in a military world that left little room for self-determined action. As a result of their long absence and divergent experiences, their brief reunions with relatives at home were increasingly accompanied by irritation. From the point of view of the regime, the demeanor of those on leave from the front and the quality of their personal ties at home played a decisive role in the course of the war.

Christian Packheiser analyses the clash of individual desires and state interests among those on leave from the front in three thematic complexes:

The project begins by examining the historical context and the allocation of leave in theory and practice. The regime’s propagandistic assertion that it was permitting more privacy than the Supreme Army Command had done during the First World War reflects demonstrates the importance of temporary leave as a pragmatic instrument of power. A comparison with Allied armed forces underscores this finding. More than the democratically legitimized states of the West, the National Socialist dictatorship was dependent on improving the mood of the population with both material and intangible promises. The project examines whether the practice of granting leave demonstrated a growing willingness to take into account changing conditions on the home front and in private relationship structures.

Secondly, the project focuses on the regime’s aim to gain control over the behavior of soldiers on leave in the public space. The measures taken to influence them ranged from attempts to control movements to restrictive forms of surveillance. These also included bonus goods that appealed to the soldiers’ self-image as well as campaigns against “defeatism”. The study examines the successive expansion of care institutions for soldiers on home leave, as state assistance aimed to bring about control through concessions. The medial staging of soldiers was primarily intended to strengthen resolve on the home front. This leads to the question of the extent to which the external appearance of those on leave would become an indicator of inner loyalty. Lastly, the analysis of family-motivated breaches of norms has revealed the willingness to accept considerable sanctions at times in order to defend the bastions of the private.

Thirdly, the investigation turns to the soldier’s reunions with their families. Attempts by the Nazi regime to take control of the situation are most visible when domestic harmony appeared under threat or the soldiers’ willingness to deploy seemed to be in doubt. At the same time, enormous efforts were made to enable soldiers to find women to marry and hence to increase the birth rate. It is interesting, within this context, to observe the conflict between home leave as a state-conceived space for male regeneration and the actual erosion of traditional gender roles. For the families concerned, their reunions were strongly marked by the divergent experiences they underwent during their periods of separation. Revealing the extent to which individual wishes in fact correlated with the aims of the Authorities allows conclusions to be drawn concerning home leave as a means of stabilizing the system.

The study was accepted as a dissertation by the Faculty of History and the Arts at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich in Winter Semester 2017/18.

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