"Diaries of the Night" from Nazi Germany

Speaker: Sloane Nilsen

How can dreams inform us about history?

In 1966, German-Jewish journalist Charlotte Beradt released her magnum opus "The Third Reich of Dreams," a slim book containing over a hundred nightmares she had collected from ordinary Germans who lived in Berlin during the first six years of the Nazi dictatorship (1933-1939). What they demonstrate is a persistent political climate of anxiety and fear that could follow city residents under threat of persecution into their sleep. The dictatorship haunted them during the day and it haunted them during the night.

How can dreams serve as historical sources? What does the dream collection reveal about everyday life under Nazism? To what extent can a dictatorship take advantage of a natural process like recurrent darkness - the nighttime - to increase power? These are the central questions that students will address through an engagement with excerpts from Beradt's "diaries of the night." Anchored at the intersection of political and environmental history, the talk will encourage students to critically assess the ways in which an anti-democratic politics can impact the places we live and shape the stories we tell to ourselves after our heads hit the pillow. 

About the Speaker

Sloane Nilsen is a PhD candidate in History at UC-Berkeley. He received a BA in History and European Studies from the College of William and Mary in 2017, MLitt in Transnational and Global History from the University of St Andrews in 2018, and MA in History and Literature from Columbia University in 2019. His dissertation examines nightlife in Nazi Berlin, asking how the regime used the hours between sunset and sunrise to consolidate power in the city.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 8th - 12th grade and community college

Preparation:   Please have students watch the short documentary film “The Path to Nazi Genocide” (38min) from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is available online and presents an overview of Nazism from the rise of the party in the 1920s to the Holocaust in the early 40s.

Courses: World History, US History, Global Studies, Psychology, Government; Literature (if the class addresses the Holocaust); any course that focuses on the Holocaust or other genocide or ethnic cleansing.

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