Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich

Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich

Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich

Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich


As the crisis in Israel does not show any signs of abating, this remarkable collection, edited by an Israeli and a Palestinian scholar and with contributions by Palestinian and Israeli women, offers a vivid and harrowing picture of the conflict and of its impact on daily life, especially as it affects women's experiences that differ significantly from those of men.

The (auto)biographical narratives in this volume focus on some of the most disturbing effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a sense of dislocation that goes well beyond the geographical meaning of the word; it involves social, cultural, national and gender dislocation, including alienation from one's own home, family, community, and society. The accounts become even more poignant if seen against the backdrop of the roots of the conflict, the real or imaginary construct of a state to save and shelter particularly European Jews from the horrors of Nazism in parallel to the other side of the coin: Israel as a settler-colonial state responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian nation.


I thought I knew the main trends of twentieth-century history when I began to translate this book. After all, I have been a professional historian of twentieth-century Europe for nearly forty years, specializing in Germany, Italy, and Central Europe. I was wrong though: I missed one of the most important—the evolution of the culture of the body and its principal artistic expression: dance. Dance merges with bodily ideals, with race, eugenics, health and beauty, and it cuts across the cultural currents of mysticism, sectarianism, and utopianism out of which National Socialism and Italian fascism were to emerge. Dance provides another one of the inner connections between the grandiose rallies and the spectacles of fascist politics, politics as aesthetics or theater, as Walter Benjamin famously put it.

My ignorance is not unique to me. Ask any group of well-read Europeans or Americans if they have heard of Arnold Schönberg or Vasily Kandinsky, and they will look at you with astonishment. Of course, they know those names. Try Rudolf von Laban on them and you will find that they have never heard of the Kandinsky or Schönberg of the dance world and, what is more, do not realize their ignorance. Why one of the greatest Western arts forms—think of the popularity of Swan Lake or The Fire-Bird—should not be regarded as worthy of study in our principal academies continues to puzzle me. Consider whether a university would be complete without the history of literature, the history of art or the history of music, then ask how many of them teach the history of dance. Think about the importance of dance in every ancient, medieval, tribal, aristocratic or bourgeois culture, and then reflect on how little the educated person seems to know about it.

This book attempts to fill a small but important gap in our understanding of the twentieth century and does so through the medium of dance: the role of dance in the emergence and consolidation of National Socialism in Germany. It has three parts, very different in tone but not in purpose. Part I is an autobiographical essay by the dancer Lilian Karina, who worked in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, went into exile first in Hungary and then in Sweden. Her essay looks at the way dance became mixed up with racism, anti-Semitism, and then Nazism itself. She asks fundamental questions about why dance of all the main modern arts was so congenial to the Nazi leadership and why the dance community accepted censorship, the exclusion . . .

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