It would likely seem comically absurd to modern observers that Hitler’s Nazi regime should need to essentially bribe its own citizens with fancy tourist adventures and leisure activities in exchange for ideological obedience. It may seem even crazier to imagine Adolf Hitler himself posing in a relaxed fashion in front of a German landscape to appeal to his citizens’ cultural pride. However, these outlandish premises are the subjects, respectively, of Shelley Baranowski’s book, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich, and Maiken Umbach’s article, “Selfhood, Place, and Ideology in German Photo Albums, 1933-1945.”
The various culture-building projects of fascist authoritarians during the 20th Century, each aimed at creating a homogenous and unified identity upon which the regime could stand. The malleability of culture and identity, and the inherent lack of ideological coherence in fascist movements resulted in these programs having what I view to be somewhat mixed results.
In Baranowski’s book, specifically, she tends to gloss over the fact that the Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude or KdF) project had mixed results and focuses instead on the intended effects of KdF. In the conclusion to Baranowski’s fifth chapter, “Racial Community and Individual Desires: Tourism, the Standard of Living, and Popular Consent,” she correctly explains that KdF “adopted techniques and hedonistic messages of commercial leisure more willingly, and more successfully, than had the Weimar left,” and also that “KdF conveyed the notion that serving the racial community was compatible with personal pleasure.” While these are both factual statements, Baranowski fails to offer in-depth analysis concerning the success or failure of KdF to achieve its states goals despite making note of these successes and failures throughout this chapter.
Throughout her chapter, Baranowski mentions that clashes would frequently occur between KdF tourists and “private” tourists, that KdF tours often intensified regional, religious, and class tensions between Germans, and that KdF tours occasionally sparked hostile feelings toward the regime’s party members who enjoyed more lavish luxuries on KdF cruises. Baranowski also describes that the way KdF tours operated encouraged “the assertive and individualistic behaviour that KdF officially deplored,” and that Gestapo and SD agents who were tasked with monitoring tourists would often be exposed to the very things the regime was worried regular tourists would be exposed to.
All these examples demonstrate the difficulties involved with manipulating culture and identity, the exact reason why authoritarian regimes place so much importance upon doing exactly that, and how dangerously impressive it is that Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Francoist Spain were able to accomplish this feat to varying degrees. If an ideology can infiltrate a culture – the daily lives of laypeople – in ways that scarcely anybody can notice without the benefit of historical hindsight, then one may not even be aware that committing even the most mundane act may be an act of political obedience. As Umbach describes it: to be “relaxed in a disciplined way.”