Nazis pressed ham radio hobbyists to serve the Third Reich – but surviving came at a price (Washington, DC)

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Bruce Campbell, College of William & Mary

(THE CONVERSATION) When people have free and unfettered choices of activities, they both entertain and express themselves through their pastimes – whether stamp or coin collecting, scrapbooking, gardening or tinkering with electronic gadgets. But what happens when those free spirits – particularly those whose hobbies have taught them specialized technical skills – suddenly find themselves living in a dictatorship?

As a historian of national socialism, I note that my newest research into German radio hobbyists has found a cautionary tale. Authoritarian governments or movements often subvert and take over civic organizations – including seemingly unimportant hobby groups – as part of seizing power. My work suggests that people involved in technological hobbies, such as radio, may be able to retain a bit more personal freedom than those in less strategically important ones, such as singing or sports. But that liberty can come at the cost of complicity.

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