Swastika Night – english Review
Swastika Night, published in 1937, describes Europe several hundred years in the future. The continent and a half of the world is dominated by Germany. It is a religious, authoritarian state that worships Hitler, the son of the Thunder God. And in which women have no rights.
The remarkable thing about Swastika Night is the year of publication. Unlike many alternate-world novels in which the Nazis rule the world, this one was published during their reign, two years before the start of World War II. The author, Katharine Burdekin, recognized the goals and methods of Nazism and projected them into a possible future. Thus, strictly speaking, Swastika Night is not an alternate world story but a dystopia. It was published in the German Federal Republic as late as 1995 under the title Nacht der braunen Schatten (Night of the Brown Shadows).
A completely clueless world
The world of Swastika Night is a world without the slightest inkling of history. Only two books exist – Hitler’s holy book and technological manuals. The only knowledge of this society about the past is that Hitler – a blond, superhuman hunk – subjugated the ‚lower races‘ of the world and since then the great German Empire has ruled over one half of the world. The other half has been subjugated to a Japanese Empire. Although centuries have passed since Hitler’s war, there has been little technological progress. The organization of the empire is rather feudal, the ruling class of Germans being knights who control smaller estates.
Hardly anyone has heard of Jews in this world – only the few Christians tell stories about them. The Christians themselves are a persecuted minority. They are forced to wear a red cross on their clothes, live in their own settlements, and are despised as unclean and vile. In the hierarchy of this society they are at the bottom, above them the population of the subjugated countries and above them the Germans – at least the men. For women have no social rank in this dystopia. Their only task is the birth of children. As soon as male-read children – of course the gender image of this society is completely binary and cis-normative – are 18 months old, they are taken away from the women and grow up in their father’s household. This is because women and men live completely separate lives here. The only reason to go to the women’s quarter of a settlement is for sex – consensuality is not possible in this society – or to pick up a boy. Since women are little more than livestock here, there are naturally no romantic heterosexual relationships. Love between men, on the other hand, is considered normal.
When Alfred meets Hermann …
Whether this kind of relationship also occurs between the two protagonists, Alfred and Hermann, is not entirely clear. Alfred is a young Briton on a pilgrimage to Hitler’s holy airplane in Munich. On the way he visits his friend, the servant Hermann. Both of them catch the eye of the knight Friedrich von Hess, whose family has kept a secret for centuries. Von Hess has no heirs left. He is faced with the choice of taking the secret to the grave or finding an alternative. Much of the rest of the book is about the thoughts and consequences when worldviews collide.
Swastika Night is a remarkable book. First, because Burdekine, who published the book under the male pseudonym Murray Constantine, clearly articulates goals of fascism such as the Shoa and the war of conquest. Of course, Hitler and the fascists had made clear what their goals were through their speeches, their actions, and their policies. Ways and methods also stood out. What Burdekine highlights again in her book is the tremendous misogyny of fascist ideology. The image of these short-shaven women, dressed in baggy clothes and excluded from any social participation, takes the ideology of the cult of motherhood and subjugation to the extreme.
Thoughts about men and women
All the more illuminating are the thoughts of Alfred. In the course of the novel he learns that women were not always like this and that it might be important to think about them in a new way. At the same time, he discovers the idea that men are not free in this world either. They must always obey, have no choice, and thus are really just strong children. In this way, Burdekin formulates what has become increasingly apparent in the discussion of toxic masculinity in recent years – namely, that this image of men also harms men. Of course, Alfred’s findings do not produce any major upheavals in this dystopian world. Rather, they are small steps on the way to a less bad world. They are sparks of humanity in a world dominated by violence.
Of course, Burdekin also depicts violence in Swastika Night, most reminiscent of the street violence of the early Nazi years. Boots stomping on those lying on the ground. The purposeful brutality of death camps, on the other hand, does not appear, only banal everyday brutality. Her depiction of a completely brutalized society is not always easy to read. But Swastika Night is a fascinating read. It shows that forgetting history can be a political tool. The narrative of the ‚good old days‘ seems, of course, innocuous against a complete erasure of historiography, but it is ultimately a first step in that direction. The more we know about the past, the less history can be interpreted unilaterally by one political group. And Swastika Night is less of a look at the future and more of an immersion into a past time when fascism may have been easier to recognize than it is today.
Swastika Night is currently available as an e-book for €3.99.