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Colin Gilmour

My project seeks to contribute to the burgeoning historical discourse on a phenomenon which is largely unique to the early twentieth century: the convergence and mixing of traditional concepts of “war heroes” and the burgeoning culture of celebrity, the latter characterized by its close association with mass-media and public acclamation. More specifically, my project seeks to document and analyze one particular expression of this phenomenon, namely the development of the “starkult” which arose around military figures under the National Socialist regime during the Second World War (1939-1945). Largely ignored by historians of the period’s Heldenkult, who have primarily focused on the regime’s mythologizing of the dead to establish and bolster its social, political and ideological ideals (Totenkult), the “stars” of the Wehrmacht became living manifestations of heroism and, as such, active propagandists for the regime. They held press-conferences, went on speaking tours and wrote books sponsored by the Party and Wehrmacht’s propagandists. Moreover, like contemporary celebrities, and unlike the heroes of the Totenkult, these men actively engaged with their “fans” among the population: receiving and answering fan-mail, signing autographs, and attended public rallies. Drawing on a wide array of source materials, and particularly upon the archival records of the Party and military’s propagandists, my project argues that this militarized-celebrity culture represents not just an overlooked element of wartime culture in Germany, but also an important and complex mechanism of social control employed by the Nazi regime. Finally, my work seeks to posit this unique wartime phenomenon into the broader development of heroes and hero-worship in Germany during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.