Verboten, Verrucht, Verpönt. Deviance, Crime and the Illicit in Global German History

Verboten, Verrucht, Verpönt. Deviance, Crime and the Illicit in Global German History

Forschungsgruppe "The Other Global Germany: Transnational Criminality and Deviant Globalization in the 20th Century"
Vom - Bis
07.07.2022 - 08.07.2022
Victoria Morick, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Germany's increasing global interconnectedness during the past centuries was accompanied by the emergence or enablement of new ideas and practices of criminality and deviance. These often included not only crossing spatial boundaries, for example as part of trading goods, but also borders of different perspectives on what was considered legal and moral. The aim of this workshop by the project “The Other Global Germany: Transnational Criminality and Deviant Globalisation in the Twentieth Century” was to provide insight in such ‘dark’ and ‘grey’ areas as a part of ‘Global German History’ since the nineteenth century. These areas are often hard to grasp because they were meant to remain silent by definition, as well as due to the inaccessibility of the sources. However, as BODIE ASHTON, SARAH FRENKING and NED RICHARDSON-LITTLE (Erfurt) pointed out in their welcoming remarks, the deviant often leaves a trace in different archival records. They suggested using a wide methodological framework including border and gender studies, but also questions about race and class, which might help to get a better glimpse at those actors that often remain silent.

The first panel followed the traces of illicit colonial knowledge practices by approaching the trafficking of human remains. In her opening presentation, HANIN HANNOUCH (Vienna) discussed the connection between deviant globalization and German anthropology following the scientific work and travels of Gustav Fritsch. Hannouch showed how Fritsch used and became part of a network of human traffickers that helped him collect human eyeballs for his research on race in Germany, uncovering the links between the expansion of anthropological knowledge and illicit practices of appropriation.

DIEGO BALLESTERO (Bonn) underlined this link by arguing that the trafficking and commercialisation of bodies were essential parts of anthropological practices in South America. Based on examples such as photographs that were not always taken spontaneously in the field, but sometimes staged according to racial categories of the colonial imagery, or the life of the indigenous girl Damiana Kryygi and the circumstances under which her head was transported to Germany, Ballestero further highlighted the role of colonial power relations in commercialising human remains.

In the final talk, ANNA SZÖKE (Berlin) also underlined the relevance of networks of exchanging human remains for anthropology around 1900. Following several examples on how this scientific field worked at the time, among them the activities of the ‘Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte (BGAEU)’ as well as the role of Rudolf Virchow and his anthropological interests in such networks, she showed that networks played a crucial role within the scientific field in the German area as well as locally. Szöke argued that Virchow seemingly perfected the system of exchange and created a network of various groups, like travellers or missionaries, that he encouraged to collect for him locally. Additionally, he could make use of his position as a public figure.

LORA WILDENTHAL’s (Houston) following comment encouraged reflecting on the specific role of colonialism in the presented case studies in contrast to other cases in which individuals are detached from where they come from.

The second panel moved from illicit scientific networks to illicit market networks. PAUL FRANKE (Marburg) followed the traces of two works of art, “Princess of Urbino” and “The Holy Family with Angel/Ruhe auf der Flucht,” showing how illicit activities were incorporated in the art trade. The examples highlighted how illicit connections were used to purchase art and avoid legal restrictions on cross-border movement as well as how art dealers often moved fluently between licit and illicit spaces. Franke therefore concluded that legal and illegal are often indistinguishable and should both be included when looking at this market’s architecture and economic history.

Moving to the second half of the twentieth century, DAVID SPREEN (Cambridge, Massachusetts) discussed the outsourcing of the illicit in connections between West Germany and Southern Rhodesia. Spreen showed that even though the German state officially supported sanctions during the Civil War (1964-1979), German institutions often did not insist on their implementation when it came to interests of German companies like car manufacturers. The companies, on the other hand, sometimes outsourced illicit trades by sending goods to partners in South Africa who then forwarded them. Preliminary analysis in another case study suggested how a fellowship program impacted the relationship between Zimbabwe and West Germany, but also illicitly violated the officially neutral position of Germany regarding the war, as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) involved in the war mostly chose their combatants for the program. Even though an NGO administered this program, one can assume a certain amount of state involvement.

Closing the panel, TRANG NGUYEN (Erfurt) discussed East Berlin’s black market in cigarettes, which has been predominantly Vietnamese since the 1980s. Nguyen’s study from 2019 to 2021 showed that male Vietnamese immigrants coming to Germany without legal documents often perceive themselves as having no other choice but to join this market – not only because they are labelled as illegal by the state, but also because they are assigned a certain social status by other members of the Vietnamese community in Germany. Nguyen argued that their status, the internalization of pre-existing norms and the availability of the pre-existing market encourage their participation in the cigarette market, despite of the associated risks – thereby turning East Berlin’s streets into their social sphere.

In her comment, CAROLYN TARATKO (Erfurt) argued that, despite the variety of markets, all presentations would encourage rethinking the idea of governability of the modern market society while also looking at social spaces through which (illegal) goods move. Moreover, Taratko argued such analyses might serve as new examples for the lived experiences of globalization.

The complexity of the third panel’s topics is already suggested by the prevalence of quotation marks in its title: ‘Problematic’ ‘Communities’. First, YVES SCHMITZ (Duisburg/Essen) talked about the ambivalent relationship between British and Boer traders and the German state between 1884 and 1894 in the area of today’s Namibia. At the time, relatively large numbers of both trader communities were present in the region. On one side, German authorities considered the traders a welcome help, but on the other side also regarded their commercial dominance and relationship to bordering regions like the Cape Colony as a potential threat to their colonial power. Among further reasons for this negative perception were illegal arms trades with local actors that were considered enemies by the Germans. For the traders, however, the illegal commerce offered a way to secure their political and economic influence.

Moving to the time after World War II, SAMANTHA K. KNAPTON (Nottingham) focused on Polish Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany – opening another complex international actor network: the Allied militaries, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and, of course, the DPs themselves. Knapton showed how camps were connected to ‘deviancy’ and ‘morality’, with DPs being judged by authorities painting a black and white image: They praised the usage of the black market by welfare workers but criminalised it in case of the DPs. Another double standard becomes apparent in the context of repatriation: Allied programs that meant to ‘convince’ DPs to repatriate were presented positively, whereas the refusal of DPs to leave was judged with no regard for their concerns and reasoning. Knapton claimed that even DPs’ bodies were policed by authorities searching for signs of ‘physical degeneration’, but also by the ‘community,’ which worried about the ‘moral degeneration’ of ‘the Polish nation’.

Moving forward to the 1970s, BODIE ASHTON (Erfurt) analysed the proliferation of reporting by the West German press about transgender people. Going back to the first half of the twentieth century, Ashton showed that Germany already had a transgender history prior to World War II. However, National Socialism almost erased this history by means of death and silence. Ashton argued that, post-war, an idea of transgender as the ‘other’ and ‘foreign’ emerged. In 1972, the case of a transgender journalist changed the picture, showing the press that transgender people were not as ‘foreign’ as they were typically presented. Afterwards, the topic was increasingly picked up by the media – being shaped by sensationalism, but also a trans moral panic dealing with questions about ‘morality’ and ‘normality’, e.g. by questioning the role of fathers in society.

Closing the panel, ISABELLA LÖHR (Berlin) suggested to include migration research to connect the presented papers together. She added that the term ‘community’ might be problematic in itself and also challenged the idea of ‘problematic’ ‘communities’ by asking about the researchers’ role in applying a notion of being ‘problematic’.

The final panel on transitional networks and policed spaces picked up on illicit practices and networks to avoid state and market regulations, similar to those found in the second panel. Like Yves Schmitz, NED RICHARDSON-LITTLE (Erfurt) focused on arms trafficking, but analysed reversed roles: German actors in non-German colonies. Despite international agreements regulating arms’ import to colonies, German manufacturers found gaps in the regulatory system and the enforcement regimes of other colonial powers. Regarding the role of the German state, Richardson-Little concluded that its full support of the arms control agreements can be doubted. Instead, illicit trade was part of national interest and the state only sought to restrict the arms trade for specific people they did not want to own such weapons.

SARAH FRENKING’s (Erfurt) final talk discussed the transnational nature of sex trafficking and the difficulties of policing mobility between France and Germany in the early 20th century. She highlighted the potential of police files for this research as they could for example give an insight into police practices and the surveillance of places like brothels or ports, that the French Ministry of the Interior considered crucial for the combat against trafficking. Even though these places offer insight into cooperation between the Hamburg and Marseille police, she also argued that simply looking at such ‘static’ places is not sufficient to analyse the sex trade. She suggested to take the dynamic connections and networks of various actors and their spatial practices into account, as they can be found in interrogation protocols of women travelling e.g. from Paris to Tunis for purposes of prostitution. Even though police files do not always provide ‘complete cases’, they could still provide a better insight in networks and social realities of actors, even the involved women.

In her comment on this panel, but also transferring to the final discussion, JULIA ROOS (Bloomington) pointed out how differently the talks conceptualized the ‘global Germany’, leading to the question of how one could conceptualize ‘the global’. She also raised the question whether a comparative approach could be fruitful to be included when dealing with the ‘global Germany’. Finally, Roos mentioned that many papers presented a global German history from a perspective focusing on the problematic – leading her to ask for positive aspects of the global.

Opening the concluding remarks, Ned Richardson-Little summarised connecting themes, including overlapping categories of the (il)licit, greys zones and morality, space, and its potential for collision of normative orders, the sometimes fluid definitions of people and good as (il)licit when crossing borders, the possible disconnectedness between the official state image and what actually happens, and how deviant flows can help enable the state’s capacity and profits. He also raised two final questions: How can we explain the lack of representation of Nazi history during the workshop and could this potentially be a problem of the field? What is ‘deviant’/’illicit’ and should we question these terms? These questions can be considered a further addition to the insightful new perspectives on Germany’s role in a globalised world the presentations brought along to this workshop that provided an open, encouraging, and appreciative space for exchange.

Conference Overview:

Welcoming Remarks

Ned Richardson-Little, Sarah Frenking and Bodie Ashton (Erfurt)

Panel 1: Illicit Colonial Knowledge Practices

Hanin Hannouch (Vienna): Gustav Fritsch. Three-Color Photography & Human Remains in Imperial Germany

Diego Ballestero (Bonn): “Ich danke auf‘s Verbindlichste für diese wundervolle Gabe“. The Commercialization of Indigenous Bodies and Academic Prestige

Anna Szöke (Berlin): Tracing Networks of Exchange. Rudolf Virchow and the system of reciprocity

Comment: Laura Wildenthal (Houston)

Panel 2: Illicit Markets

Paul Franke (Marburg): Bright Colors and Dark Dealings on a Grey Market. The (il)licit Global Art & Antiquities Trade in Germany (1890-1945)

David Spreen (Boston): Illegal Cars and Harbored Combatants. West Germany, Southern Rhodesia, and the Outsourcing of the Illicit

Trang Nguyen (Erfurt): “What else could I do?” The Case of Undocumented Vietnamese Men Selling Contraband Cigarettes in Berlin

Comment: Carolyn Taratko (Erfurt)

Panel 3: ‘Problematic’ ‘Communities’

Yves Schmitz (Duisburg-Essen): Criminalizing a Colony’s Future. Boer and British Traders in German Southwest Africa, 1884-1894

Samantha K. Knapton (Nottingham): ‘To Save Poles from further Moral and Physical Degeneration’. ‘Deviancy’ and ‘Morality’ in Polish displaced persons camps in post-war Germany

Bodie Ashton (Erfurt): “Two Fathers and Train Divers in Skirts.” ‘Importing Identities’ and Trans Moral Panics in the West German Press in the 1970s

Comment: Isabella Löhr (Berlin)

Panel 4: Transnational Networks and Policed Spaces

Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt): A Humanitarian Menace and Lucrative Business. Imperial Germany, the Arms Trade and the Competing Geographies of Prohibition and Profit in Africa and the Middle East

Sarah Frenking (Erfurt): Immoral Houses, Dangerous Ports, Suspicious Networks. Policing Places and Spaces of the Sex Trade between France and Germany, 1900-1935

Comment: Julia Roos (Bloomington)

Concluding Remarks