2022 Book Prize Finalist - Sebastian Huebel

Fighter, Worker, and Family Man: German-Jewish Men and Their Gendered Experiences in Nazi Germany, 1933-1941.(University of Toronto Press)
 

Hundreds of people in rows.

When the Nazis came to power, they used various strategies to expel German Jews from social, cultural, and economic life. Fighter, Worker, and Family Man focuses on the gendered experiences and discrimination that German-Jewish men faced between 1933 and 1941.

Sebastian Huebel argues that Jewish men’s gender identities, intersecting with categories of ethnicity, race, class, and age, underwent a profound process of marginalization that destabilized accustomed ways of performing masculinity. At the same time, in their attempts to sustain their conceptions of masculinity these men maintained agency and developed coping strategies that prevented their full-scale emasculation. Huebel draws on a rich archive of diaries, letters, and autobiographies to interpret the experiences of these men, focusing on their roles as soldiers and protectors, professionals and breadwinners, and parents and husbands.

Fighter, Worker, and Family Man sheds light on how the Nazis sought to emasculate Jewish men through propaganda, the law, and violence, and how in turn German-Jewish men were able to defy emasculation and adapt – at least temporarily – to their marginalized status as men. Description from University of Toronto Press.

Q&A with Sebastian Huebel

If your readers take away only one idea from your book, what would you want that idea to be?

Discrimination, oppression, and violence, in Nazi Germany (but not only), often occur in gendered ways; so are/were the reactions by the victims: German-Jewish men experienced Nazi antisemtism in gendered ways and their defiant responses as WWI war veterans, fathers, husbands and breadwinners was highly performative in gendered and other, intersecting ways.

What got you interested in the topic of your book?

My interests lie in the history of my birth country, Germany, especially the history of Nazi Germany, World War II and the holocaust. I study cultural, social and gender history and try to demonstrate how they can all be combined and integrated into an interconnected web of personal live stories that have much to say and teach us. 

For those interested in learning more about your topic, what should they turn to next (after having read your book, of course)?

For instructors teaching the history of (Nazi) Germany and the holocaust and who would like to explore gender and masculinity in primary sources, I recommend the published diaries of Willy Cohn and Victor Klemperer as well as the works by Nechama Tec including Resilience and Courage: Women, Men and the Holocaust. 

 

 

 

 

What work or idea or thinker influenced you the most in the writing of this book?

Marion Kaplan’s Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (Oxford, 1999), Raewyn Connell’s Masculinities (University of California Press, 1993) and the various cultural gender studies on masculinities by George Mosse were most influential. The first, I consider a seminal work on the social lives of German Jews, especially the chapters on the prewar years. I tried to fill a gap and focus more on Jewish men as gendered beings to include in our dialogue. To do so, I greatly benefited from the more theoretical works by Raewyn Connell and the conceptualizations of hegemonic and marginalized masculinities that helped me position and re-position German Jewish men in the dichotomous matrix of power relations within Nazi Germany, as well as the cultural histories of George Mosse that focus on Germany, Jews and gender. 

 

Books answer questions, but they also raise new questions. What questions does your book raise?

I want my readers to ask themselves why it is paramount to include gender in our discussion of the past and how humans, in the case of my book, German Jews, were shaped by multiple, overlapping and competing identities including ones of gender. I want us to ponder how gender can help humans, under the most adverse circumstances, make sense of their lives, provide them with a sense of guidance and orientation, a sense of stability, as well as trigger resilience and resistance within them against regimes and power structures that themselves acted in highly gendered ways.

2022 Book Prize logo with red leaves framing