Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Monica A. Black

Committee Members

Vejas G. Liulevicius, Daniel H. Magilow, Denise Phillips


This dissertation is a cultural history of the practices and ideas that constituted poor relief under the Nazi regime. It argues that Nazis practiced an inward-looking and exclusionary type of charity that aimed at the salvation and protection of German people, not the alleviation and resolution of material problems. Nazi officials, who came to power with little experience or interest in social work or public welfare, drew on the traditional moral values of a middle class who often perceived the increasing visibility of poverty and destitution in modern Germany as a threat to bourgeois order. A new National Socialist conception of poverty, infused with moral-racial interpretations, became a central theme of Nazi propaganda and a call to action to animate German collective action to building an idealized and homogenous national community through initiatives like the Winter Help Aid. However, these charitable activities only served the purposes of the National Socialist government—to spread Nazi ideology, protect Nazi loyalists, and guarantee a Nazi future. These thinly veiled initiatives often created conflicts with the needy individuals, German donors, and social workers, all of whom had their own expectations about how poor relief should unfold and used charity as a mode to negotiate and renegotiate the contours of society under Nazi rule. This shifting notion of poverty would also come to serve as justification for Nazi imperial ambitions in Eastern Europe as well as shaping relief efforts once Allies began bombing the German home front. However, Nazi conceptions of poverty ultimately jeopardized the ability to respond effectively to new conditions of destitution wrought by total war. Consequently, needy civilians reevaluated once more their social values and the usefulness of Nazi ideals as the Third Reich crumbled to the ground.

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