The Politics of Fertility in Twentieth-Century Berlin
Cambridge University Press 2010
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 15, 2011 Elizabeth Heineman
Many of us know that Nazi regime tried to control Germans’ fertility: some people should reproduce more, according to the National Socialists, and some should reproduce less or not at all. Policies like coercive sterilization for the supposedly “unfit” were the flip side to benefits for “racially fit” Germans who propagated. But the fact is, many states the world over have tried to exert control over their citizens’ reproductive practices. Even with radical differences in government, the notion that the state’s health depends in part on its citizens’ fertility can be remarkably stubborn.
In her book, The Politics of Fertility in Twentieth-Century Berlin (Cambridge University Press, 2010), Historian Annette Timm takes us to “the belly of the beast”: to Germany’s capital, Berlin. But her interest isn’t so much in the ideology of reproductive politics as in its implementation. What programs did the German state – and the municipality of Berlin – establish to enhance the “health of the nation”? How did these programs survive over no fewer than five regimes: the liberal Weimar state (1918-33), Nazism, foreign occupation, and finally Communist rule in the East and liberal democracy in the West? How did they respond to economic and demographic crises, like the wave of rapes and the influx of homeless refugees at the end of the Second World War? How did new medical technologies, like penicillin and the birth control pill, help to steer this history?
Anyone who follows reproductive politics and the politics of health care today knows that these issues are still with us. Annette Timm’s book helps us to put them into perspective.