Negotiating Racial Politics in the Family

Transnational Histories touched by National Socialism and Apartheid


This book is situated at the cutting edge of the political-ethical dimension of history writing. Henkes investigates various responsibilities and loyalties towards family and nation, as well as other major ethical obligations towards society and humanity when historical subjects have to deal with a repressive political regime. In the first section we follow pre-war German immigrants in the Netherlands and their German affiliation during the era of National Socialism. The second section explores the positions of Dutch emigrants who settled after the Second World War in Apartheid South Africa. The narratives of these transnational agents and their relatives provide a lens through which changing constructions of national identities, and the acceptance or rejection of a nationalist policy on racial grounds, can be observed in everyday practice.

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Barbara Henkes, Ph.D. (1995), University of Amsterdam (Nl.) is senior lecturer Contemporary History at the University of Groningen. She has published monographs, edited volumes and articles (also in the South African Historical Journal) on forms of inclusion and exclusion in the 20th century, including Images of the Nation. Different meanings of Dutchness; Heimat in Holland. Duitse dienstmeisjes, 1920-1950 and Uit liefde voor het volk. Volkskundigen op zoek naar de Nederlandse identiteit, 1918-1948.
Racial relations stunningly revealed in family and society
"This very accessible and well-written historical work uses everyday personal experiences of German migrants in the Netherlands during World War II and of Dutch migrants in South Africa during apartheid to explore racial politics. The ethical dilemmas experienced by the migrants are contained in family documents that mediated their transnational relationships. Writing the history of racial relations comparatively (The Netherlands and South Africa), personalised and contextualised is strikingly revealing of the complexities of the mid-20th century. The book is unusual in its achievement of bringing history (mainly 'her' story) alive in a field too often dominated by dramatic national events. By focusing on the experiences and reflections of 'ordinary people' (especially housemaids and immigrant women in a fraught diasporic context), the author tells a convincing narrative of situatedness, the challenges of conflicting ethical and ideological claims and the agency of individuals in extremely racialised social settings. This is a very much needed new historical approach that prioritizes entanglements and complexities above the determination of political structures.”
Kees van der Waal, Emeritus Professor in Social Anthropology of Stellenbosch University.

"Barbara Henkes’s in-depth analysis of letters, stories and images of migrants who came to the Netherlands from Nazi Germany before World War II and migrants who left the Netherlands for Apartheid South Africa after the war puts flesh on the bones of a transnational historiography. By addressing the entanglements between the histories of Nazism and Apartheid her book builds on Hannah Arendt's classic thesis that the rise of totalitarianism in Europe modern overseas imperialism were two sides of the same coin. In that sense, Henkes' conceptual framework provides an impetus for further fruitful historical research into other (post-)colonial situations. In addition this book, and Henkes work in recent years, has important societal relevance : she sets out to expose racism in Dutch society, which is often downplayed or concealed. With this intervention this book engages with the public debate about the Dutch colonial past, which has been flaring up again since the spring of 2020."
Vincent Kuitenbrouwer, Senior Lecturer History of International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and author of War of words: Dutch pro-Boer propaganda and the South African War (1899-1902). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012.

"All in all, a rich and well-written book, bringing both these personal histories and their larger historical contexts near to the reader". Elsbeth Locher-Scholten, in Fascism 11, 2022.

"In dit fraai uitgevoerde boek over transnationale verwantschapsnetwerken slaagt Henkes erin om inzichtelijk te maken hoe elkaar onderling beïnvloedende categorieën als nationaliteit, ras, klasse, geloof en gender tot soms heel verschillende politieke vertogen kunnen leiden. De combinatie van verhalen over migratie in de tijd van het nationaalsocialisme en in de apartheidstijd is niet bedoeld om een direct verband te suggereren, maar kan helpen om op beide periodes een nieuw licht te werpen en onbekende nuances bloot te leggen.
Henkes schrijft met respect voor haar 'personages'. Het unieke en veelzijdige bronnenmateriaal leidt tot zes vlot leesbare, intieme en some smeuïge minibiografietjes, waarin Henkes een indringend en niet zelden ontroerend beeld van een tijd geeft."
Ingrid Glorie, in: Voertaal (2020-08-31).
• Family and nation as imagined communities
• Race and narratives of Whiteness
• A first acquaintance
• Shifts in time and tongue

Section 1: National Socialism across the German-Dutch border

1. ‘Will my own brother have to fight against us now?’
Safe and risky stories in a German-Dutch family
• Political controversies
• A German-Dutch royal family
• Family and nation under pressure
• Gnadengesuch (Request for exemption)
• Race as the elephant in the room

2. ‘If war comes, I will be tossed to and fro’
Literature as a home for an immigrant from Germany
• Longing for the ‘good’ Germany
• Into the blue
• A Heimat in Holland?
• ‘You are no longer German’
• A sprinkling of sand in the gears
• Guild and shame

3. ‘Even after the war we will stand alone '
Letters as drops in an antisemitic Ocean
• Marriage certificate
• Stateless
• 'A man I had to protect'
• Growing isolation
• Terrified
• Together and yet alone
• ‘One cannot say: it belongs to the past’

Section 2: Apartheid across the Dutch-South African border

4. ‘Can we build a future on this?'
An epistolary love affair between the stamverwante Netherlands and South Africa
• The Second World War in Breukelen and Bloemfontein
• Foreign and yet so familiar
• A shared European origin
• Emigration fever
• On the way to the Promised Land
• The Dutch Reformed Dopper church in South Africa
• ‘A life full of grace’

5. ‘They are so different from us’
Messages from a White women’s world
• Whitening at sea
• A new world in Black and White
• Boers, Brits and Outlanders
• Among the Dutch in Pretoria
• Blank baasskap (White rule)
• A servant hutch in the garden
• Stay or return?
• A White civilisation narrative

6. ‘I never set out to wage war against my family.’
Cinematic explorations of Whiteness
• Family as a gateway to a ‘strange’ world
• The ‘Other’ in the household
• Apartheid at work
• Contact zones
• A tense family reunion
• You must have been – or gone away from – there
• The presence of the past

• Migration and national identifications
• Implicated in racial exclusion
• Touching tales



All interested in the history of the 20th century, in migration history, in family history, in memory studies, in Whiteness studies and in transnational histories connecting Europe and postcolonial South Africa. And for those who are interested in biographical research, life writing, and Oral History.
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