9 Equality and difference in National Socialist racism

Gisela Bock

This essay aims to shed light on the conceptual couple 'equality' and 'difference' by looking from a historian's point of view at National Socialism in Germany. Two implications of this approach are particularly important. First, the crucial core of National Socialism and its crimes was racism, in both theory and practice. In this context, therefore, 'equality' and 'difference' concern not only gender relations, but also race relations, and the groups that were discriminated against on racial grounds included both women and men. Second, while racism was not confined to National Socialism or Germany, but was an international phenomenon, National Socialism carried all forms of racism to unprecedented extremes. This was possible because National Socialism politicized racism by extending it from the social to the political sphere, transforming it into race policy; and where 'politics are centred around the concept of race, the Jews will be at the centre of hostility'. 1 Racism was from the beginning institutionalized within the state, so that measures ranging from the legislative to the bureaucratic could be marshalled in support of the persecution of Jews and the policy of compulsory sterilization, beginning in 1933, and ultimately in support of the massacres which started six years later. The following reflections will therefore be concerned with the political sphere and with this pair of issues--racist sterilization and racist massacre--which were forms of compulsory intervention in the body and in life. To put them in perspective, I will first outline some of the current opinions held by historians and non-historians on the topic of women and National Socialism, particularly those regarding gender difference and gender equality. In the second section of the essay I shall deal with various gender dimensions of National Socialist policies on

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First published as ch. 5 in Gisela Bock and Susan James (eds.), Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, Feminist Politics, and Female Subjectivity ( London: Routledge, 1992) and is reprinted with permission.

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