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History, Knowledge, Linguistics, Mediterranean Sea

The forgotten knowledge of the Mediterranean Sea during the era of National Socialism

“An astounding knowledge gap” is how historian Christine Isabel Schröder from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum refers to the missing knowledge regarding the Mediterranean region in the years 1933 to 1945. German reports about that region hardly ever include this period. Schröder has reconstructed the population’s level of knowledge regarding the Mediterranean region during the time of National Socialism. “Eradicating that non-knowledge constitutes the foundation for political and civil-societal interaction based on mutual respect and equality,” she says. “For a peacable future of the Euro-Mediterranean project.”

The term Mittelmeer first emerged in an encyclopaedia in the 1930s. Previously, it was referred to as Mittelländisches Meer. Credit: © RUBIN, photo: Gorczany

The term Mittelmeer first emerged in an encyclopaedia in the 1930s. Previously, it was referred to as Mittelländisches Meer.
Credit: © RUBIN, photo: Gorczany

What society knew

“I repeatedly noticed that the period between 1933 and 1945 never got mentioned in German lectures about the Mediterranean Sea,” says Christine Isabel Schröder from the Center for Mediterranean Studies. Her research has confirmed that the studies pertaining to the Mediterranean region of that era focus almost solely on its military history. Whereas the historian from Bochum is interested in what society knew and in what way that knowledge was continued after 1945.

The terms Mediterranean Sea and Mediterranean region came into use during the era of National Socialism

In order to gain an insight into what had been common knowledge among the population, Schröder refers, for example, to entries in the major encyclopaedias “Brockhaus” and “Meyer” from different years. She noticed that the terms Mediterranean Sea and Mediterranean region came into use during the era of National Socialism; prior to that, it was referred to “Mittelländisches Meer.” “Raum,” i.e. territory, constituted the central concept of the geopolitics under National Socialism — a term which has remained in use ever since.

Gap in encyclopaedic knowledge

The “Großer Brockhaus” 1955 edition featured a separate, relatively long entry on the Mediterranean region for the first time. However, the period between 1933 and 1945 is not included. “It says nothing about the war in the Mediterranean region, where tens of thousands of Germans fought,” says the researcher. This gap still exists in encyclopaedias today. The war crimes and mass extermination of the Jews, which Germans committed in the Mediterranean region together with their allies, are barely embedded in common knowledge. This is the more astonishing considering that the Mediterranean countries are still among the Germans’ most popular holiday destinations.

Discourses from the era of National Socialism have continued after 1945

Even though the knowledge regarding the era between 1933 and 1945 is not written down in encyclopaedias, discourses that had begun in that period continued long after 1945. Prior to the National Socialist regime, the Mediterranean Sea was referred to as a “link between Orient and Occident.” That changed when the National Socialist party was in power, because they regarded the Mediterranean region as a conglomerate of politically split countries that clashed with each other. This is what the “Brockhaus” edition from 1955 said, written after the end of the Second World War.

Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum 

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