Mark Roseman, ed. Generations in Conflict: Youth Revolt and Generation Formation in Germany, 1770-1968. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 328 pp. $43.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-521-54568-6.
Reviewed by Benita Blessing (Department of History, Ohio University)
Published on H-German (January, 2008)
When this edited volume regarding almost two centuries of youth revolt in Germany appeared in 1995, it represented one of the few serious attempts to identify and analyze a nation's history in terms of generational experiences. Beginning with the late-eighteenth-century new cult of youth, the thirteen authors together reframed standard periodizations of key German eras, moving through imperial Germany, Weimar, the interwar years, the Nazi era, the post-World War II years of both East and West Germany, and finishing with the aftermath of 1968. Separately and together the chapters offered new insight into the actual and perceived role of young people in a society's political and social life. The volume was an important scholarly contribution to the literature on German history at a time when the history of childhood and youth was struggling to (re-)establish itself as a viable field of research. Almost a decade later, Cambridge University Press wisely produced a paperback edition of the book, so that this well-received work can now speak to a larger audience beyond professional historians. Given the broad time-frame, the logical chronological and thematic progression, and the book's very accessible arguments and language, Generations in Conflict can now become a key text for both advanced undergraduate and graduate classes. This is a welcome and much-needed development for courses focusing on German history as well as on more general themes of childhood, youth, and education in an international context.
A conference about generations in 1991 at the University of Keele was the inspiration for this volume (p. xi). With this collection of essays, Roseman took the bold step of pushing historians--both those who contributed work to the book and those who read it--to think in new ways about German history, and to re-think dearly-held beliefs about various youth movements. The topic of generations has now become a small but viable field in the historiography of German society. Ten years of subsequent writings on young people and youth culture is time enough to ask whether the arguments here remain as viable and convincing today as they were in 1995. Do the book's arguments continue to enhance the field now? Does the topic of "generations" add meaning to extant narratives of German history? Given these questions, it is regrettable that the publishers did not ask Roseman to include a new, second introduction. Re-reading the chapters with fresh eyes, Roseman, as well as historians today, will see some ideas that warrant repeating in an introductory synthesis. Other views merit the sort of slight re- interpretation that a second introduction might have offered.
There can be no doubt that Roseman and his fellow authors will appear in footnotes and syllabi for the foreseeable future. For one, a key theme of the volume--worth repeating--is the intersection between generational revolt and social class, a central aspect of social history with regard to youth and student movements. The results of looking at youth through this lens continue to be surprising. Indeed, pre-existing social class divisions contributed in part to a reification of class disparities in youth movements. Thus, as Rainer Elkar has stated regarding the Young Germany movement, and as becomes clear throughout the volume, one cannot talk at any point of a single youth culture (p. 89). The young people that historians have come to think of as exemplifying "youthful rebels" in eighteenth-century Germany, for instance, were educated young men of the middle class, as Joachim Whaley has demonstrated (p. 49). For this group, literature both formed and reflected their disenchantment with certain aspects of society as well as the tacit acceptance of other mores (pp. 58, 68). Adults' attempts to harness this criticism for the greater social good largely failed. Jürgen Reulecke, writing on young people in the Wilhelmine era, identified middle-class youth as the primary target of social policy reforms. Ultimately, many of those young people broke away from adult-sponsored programs and created their own agendas, best illustrated by the famous meeting on Hoher Meißner mountain, where those present pledged "'self-determination, personal responsibility and inner truthfulness'' (p. 100). Adult labor leaders found themselves faced with the same tendency of young people to follow their own lights: While the adult-organized youth labor movement hoped to improve their younger cohort's daily lives in part by freeing them from political responsibilities, young workers fought--unsuccessfully--for increased participation in the political arena (p. 102).
Gender and religion were also part of this nexus of class and generation. Jacob Bourt's chapter on Jewish generational issues in Wilhelmine Germany brought two other arguments against an imagined homogeneity of youth culture: religion and locality. Interestingly, Bourt concluded that historians should view young Jewish activists as they saw themselves; that is, as part of a larger German political dialogue, indeed as a group desiring to combat antisemitism and Jewish separatism in favor of a model of broad social integration (pp. 119-120). The site of political experiences, on the other hand, mattered significantly: Jewish leaders in the province supported younger peers' desire for social change, whereas Berlin elders feared that young activists' efforts would increase antisemitic feelings among the general populace (p. 117). In one of the few explicit treatments of women in this collection, Elizabeth Harvey's chapter on young Protestant women in the Weimar Republic echoes some of Bourt's observations. Such women, faced with the task of proving women capable in at least some professional arenas, also found themselves torn between religious affiliation and the desire to become part of a larger national Volk movement. In this case, Harvey argued that the conflict was resolved in large part by National Socialist anti-feminist and anti-confessional dicta (pp. 204, 207-209). Another treatment of women and gender roles by Cornelie Usborne, which investigates the image of the "New Woman" in the Weimar Republic, uncovers an astonishingly broad manifestation of "new women" and their critics, with both groups conflating multiple gender ideologies, sexual mores, and social roles (pp. 141, 145). These authors' arguments together serve as a reminder to avoid the trap of simplified discussions about support for the Nazi party among young people, as well as rejecting a clear trajectory of which groups ultimately gained entrance in to Nazi ideological circles. On a side note, the chapters on gender highlight other chapters' nod to gender questions, such as Reulecke's approach, as well Elkar's claims that girls did not seem to be present in earlier generational movements. Usborne's and Harvey's sources point to a need for a reexamination of this assertion, potentially including a call for reconsidering traditional source bases (pp. 89, 98).
Subsequent chapters continue the theme of the need to question any single definition of a German youth presence, or even an inherent tendency of youth to revolt. In the introduction, Roseman points out that historians often define generations differently in post-World War I historiography; generations went from being sociological stages that young people organically passed through to generational cohorts--that is, groups of people whose experiences in youth continued to unify them (pp. 5-8). Richard Bessel, using the example of the so-called front generation of post-World War I, convincingly argues that none of these definitions address the question of what social and, implicitly, historiographical, purposes the concept of a generation serves (p. 121). In his words, generations are "imaginary concepts" that, because they are so often politically expedient, must be carefully deconstructed historically in terms of intended and unintended consequences of the mobilization of any generational myth. Peter Lambert, writing on the German historical profession, reminds the reader that historians are neither above nor removed from generational conflict--like any other social group, historians are susceptible to and utilize the idea of generational differences in order to achieve professional and ideological goals (pp. 164-183). Roseman's contribution on the "non-revolution" in the mining workforce and labor relations in the Ruhr from 1945-47 is an excellent reflection on when and why contemporary society and, later, historians, expect generational conflict that does not in fact take place (pp. 269-270; 288-289). Had Roseman been asked to write a second introduction to this volume, he might now have argued less forcefully for a "tradition of youthful revolt" in Germany or elsewhere (pp. 2-3).
Those essays that examine youth and the National Socialist regime--the factors leading up to young people's reasons for supporting or protesting Nazi politics and the aftermath of these decisions--are especially compelling in their underlying trope of defining what generational conflict actually is. Certainly, the Nazi "movement' called attention to itself as offering the revolution to change Germany, so that one might refer to Hitler Youth or BDM (League of German Girls) members as revolutionaries themselves. But when these groups became part of the dominant social and political system, even constituting a majority of the members, it becomes difficult to identify when a revolution becomes the establishment, or whether there is even a clear "generation" fighting another. Here, again, as Alexander von Plato and Dagmar Reese respectively note, these groups also experienced the Nazi period in a multitude of ways, in turn affecting how they became members of post-World War II Germany, regardless of East or West (pp. 31; 211-212; 228-229). Von Plato's and Reese's use of interviews with former Hitler Youth and BDM members continue the argument against one single Nazi-era experience for young people; their interview partners even differed in how they assimilated their memories of those years in to their own life narratives. Michael Buddrus's treatment of the "Hitler Youth generation" as one general group that communist leaders in the Soviet Zone did not effectively communicate with is thus less convincing and, in this volume, almost out of place. Buddrus's portrayal of the Hitler Youth as an association that gave young people "a system that would explain everything and would engender ... an identification with the ... regime" (p. 267) does not allow for the multi-faceted experiences of Hitler Youth or BDM members, and represents the Free German Youth (FDJ) as solely an arm of the Soviet Zone and GDR Communist Party. Both interpretations do not correspond with the other chapters in this volume, and have been dismissed in the broader literature as well. Additionally, his citations of official documents that comment on youth behavior, without reference to sources from young people themselves, is also unique to this volume (p. 267). Equally confusing is Buddrus's concluding sentence that East Germans embodied a "traditional willingness to submit to authoritarian rule" and that the "imposition of the new dictatorship in East Germany was accepted with so little resistance" (p. 268). In one sense, of course, Buddrus's chapter fits quite well in the volume; the overwhelming acceptance of a dictatorship model in the mid-1990s for post-World War II eastern Germany is potentially part of a generational conflict among historians of the Soviet Zone and GDR.
The final chapter of Generations, Heinz Bude's work on the 1968 generation, is at first disappointing for being the final chapter: why stop at 1968 in the Federal Republic? What about 1968 in the GDR? What about more essays on the GDR in general? But Bude's essay is exceptionally strong in that it touches upon almost all the questions raised by his fellow authors, and thus functions as a conclusion of sorts, leaving these other historical questions for a new set of authors. The student revolts of 1968 have become a stand-in for larger social conflicts of the late 1960s and early 1970s throughout the West. Yet Bude asserts that 1968 conflicts in West Germany were more characteristically German than international, thus affirming Roseman's claim in the introduction that there is something particular about generational conflict in Germany (pp. 1-5). Bude, to some degree following Roseman's work on the Ruhr, identifies the 1968 cohort as having failed to conduct a revolution, in particular, failing to "deidentify with the parental generation" (pp. 304-305). Given this situation, the West German '68ers could not fulfill their mission to rectify the Federal Republic's refusal to adequately deal with its Nazi past. If 1968 did not in fact truly pit young people against their elders, or achieve a rupture with a previous generation's ideology, then we must truly ask when is a revolt a revolt, and when is a generation a generation in and of itself? On this note, Bude finishes the chapter and the book on an exciting path of questions that, a decade later, continue to be fresh and even, as it were, revolutionary.
. See Jürgen Herbst, Requiem for a German Past: A Boyhood among the Nazis, new ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002); and Alan McDougall, Youth Politics in East Germany: The Free German Youth Movement 1946-1968 (Oxford: Oxford/Clarendon Press, 2004).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Benita Blessing. Review of Roseman, Mark, ed., Generations in Conflict: Youth Revolt and Generation Formation in Germany, 1770-1968.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.