'For a genuine and noble nakedness'? German naturism in the third Reich

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This essay, based on primary sources from the privately-run Internationale FKK-Bibliothek and a growing body of secondary literature, examines some of the myths and misconceptions regarding the fate of naturism in the Third Reich. It shows that despite Goering's decree of 3 March 1933, which described the 'naked culture movement' as 'one of the greatest dangers for German culture and morality', naturism did not come to an abrupt halt after the Machtergreifung. While official histories of German naturism talk proudly of the movement's 'persecution' and 'non-violent resistance', there was little concerted effort to close down naturist associations or to arrest individual activists. In fact, without a definitive order from the Führer, Germany's naturists existed in a semi-legal limbo for much of the 1930s. Many National Socialists regarded the clothes-free lifestyle with contempt, but there were elements within the Nazi state - and particularly the SS - which could see significant benefits from celebrating 'the instinct for bodily nobility and its beauty in our Volk'. A mutual desire to de-eroticize nudity helped cement the bond between Heydrich, Himmler and naturist leaders. As a result, German Freikörperkultur passed some of its most important landmarks in the years of Nazi rule, including its very first book with photographs in full colour, a full-length feature film, and a new, more permissive Bathing Law. Thus while George Mosse's Nationalism and Sexuality claims the Nazis 'forbade nudism after their accession to power', a closer examination of the fate of naturism after 1933 reveals a more complex picture, which serves to highlight not only the limits of the régime's totalitarian aspirations, but also the naturist movement's own disparate and problematic heritage. © 2006 The German History Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-84
Number of pages22
JournalGerman History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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