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Experience and Memory

Experience and Memory: The Second World War in Europe

Jörg Echternkamp
Stefan Martens
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Experience and Memory
    Book Description:

    Modern military history, inspired by social and cultural historical approaches, increasingly puts the national histories of the Second World War to the test. New questions and methods are focusing on aspects of war and violence that have long been neglected. What shaped people's experiences and memories? What differences and what similarities existed in Eastern and Western Europe? How did the political framework influence the individual and the collective interpretations of the war? Finally, what are the benefits of Europeanizing the history of the Second World War? Experts from Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, and Russia discuss these and other questions in this comprehensive volume.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-988-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 A New Perspective on the War
    (pp. 1-9)
    Henry Rousso

    Like memory, the writing of history is as much a product of the past as it is a child of its time. Even when dealing with such a momentous event as the Second World War, the different narratives certainly depend on the past as it “truly happened,” but they also depend on the contexts in which they were crafted after the actual events. These narratives change depending on the available sources, current research questions, and on each new generation of observers. This remark may sound trivial, but living this experience is surprising time and again.

    The present volume, as well...

  6. Chapter 2 Conceptualizing the Occupations of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (1933–1944)
    (pp. 10-20)
    Benoît Majerus

    When Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914, its preparations had largely been limited to the realm of military operations. At some point, there certainly existed long-term plans concerning the fates of the occupied territories, but nobody seemed to have given much thought to how the mid-term administration of these regions was to be organized. During the preparations for the impending war, the partial occupation of France after the war of 1870 was never mentioned. Only in October 1914 did the German general staff for Belgium – and later for Poland – resort to occupation structures directly modeled on the experience...

  7. Chapter 3 The Role of the War in National Societies: The Examples of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands
    (pp. 21-39)
    Chantal Kesteloot

    As an introduction to his dissertation on the significance of the Second World War in the history of the Western European countries occupied by Nazi Germany, Pieter Lagrou raised the question whether the war constituted a fundamental rupture with these countries’ recent history and whether it functioned as a catalyst in the development towards a new society.¹ Considering the question from a broad and long-term perspective, he tended to give a negative answer. Nevertheless, more than sixty years after the actual events, we have not stopped commemorating what appears to have become the most important experience of the twentieth century...

  8. Chapter 4 Myths and Realities of the “People’s War” in Britain
    (pp. 40-52)
    John Ramsden

    Though it may seem both triumphalist and chauvinistic, a British historian has to begin any review of this topic by noting that, ever since 1945, both the greatest reality and the greatest myth about the Second World War for the British people has been the fact that “we won.” Historians do not of course understand “myth” to mean what that concept conveys to the nonhistorian (at least in common English usage), where a myth is a popularly-believed untruth about the past – legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood, for instance. Historians rather use “myth” to denote the way in...

  9. Chapter 5 “We Can Take It!” Britain and the Memory of the Home Front in the Second World War
    (pp. 53-69)
    Mark Connelly

    For the British, the memory and history of the home front has largely been constructed around events in the key year of 1940, the year in which the realities of war came home to the British people, and in which the nation defied the Nazi empire alone. Churchill, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the German aerial bombardment of British cities, and full rationing were all legacies of 1940. The perceived reactions of British people during that year have come to symbolise British wartime spirit, and more widely, British national character as a whole: stoical, good humored, resilient, phlegmatic. The memory...

  10. Chapter 6 Experience and Memory: The Second World War in Poland
    (pp. 70-85)
    Piotr Madajczyk

    Research on Nazi Germany’s occupation policies was strongly encouraged in Poland for political reasons and because society at large was very interested in this topic. Already the earliest studies were of high academic quality. As a basic principle, the context of this research, i.e., the Polish perspective on the twentieth century, was and still is quite different from perspectives prevalent in Western European countries. In the Western European view, two great catastrophes shaped the “short” twentieth century from 1914 to 1989: the First and the Second World War. In Polish historiography as well as in the country’s collective memory, these...

  11. Chapter 7 Remembering and Researching the War: The Soviet and Russian Experience
    (pp. 86-115)
    Sergei Kudryashov

    The twentieth century proved to be one of the most turbulent epochs in the history of the Russian state. Not only did Russia actively take part in various wars and armed conflicts in which, according to vague estimates, its losses amounted to approximately 45 million lives – only taking into account those murdered. It moreover suffered civil war and revolution. As a result of these upheavals, the political system in Russia was repeatedly overthrown, which always also entailed grand social and economic transformation projects. The new holders of power invariably attempted to instrumentalize interpretations of history for their own political...

  12. Chapter 8 Bombing and Land War in Italy: Military Strategy, Reactions, and Collective Memory
    (pp. 116-134)
    Gabriella Gribaudi

    In order to express their experiences in the Second World War and reappraise their grief, the Italians fashioned a view of theResistenza(Resistance) that rested on myths, rites, and symbols of the First World War. The contemporary national view of the history of the Second World War was shaped by a victimization myth stemming from theRisorgimentoera and by the topos of blood spilled for freedom and the fatherland. The fighters were at the center of this view of history: the men at arms who defended the fatherland, defeated Fascism, and founded the Republic on their blood. The...

  13. Chapter 9 Italy as Occupier in the Balkans: Remembrance and War Crimes after 1945
    (pp. 135-146)
    Filippo Focardi

    For more than twenty-nine months, from April 1941 to September 1943, Fascist Italy governed most of Yugoslavia and Greece as a military occupation power. The Italian monarchy had already annexed and occupied Albania in April 1939.¹ After Yugoslavia had collapsed under the attack of the Axis powers, the Fascist regime furthermore annexed southern Slovenia and Dalmatia, and de facto came to control the vast territory of the Croatian state ruled by Ante Pavelić. It created a protectorate in Montenegro and incorporated Kosovo and certain parts of Macedonia into Albania, thereby creating the so called Greater Albania.² In Greece, which could...

  14. Chapter 10 Brest under Bombardment (1940–1944): Being in War
    (pp. 147-160)
    Pierre Le Goïc

    What is the meaning of war experiences in the sense of “being in war”? Instead of a “culture of war,” which is based on collective experiences, this chapter takes life in a bombarded city as the point of departure – the effects of the individual’s experiences on his or her character development as well as on the wider community. At a later point in time, these experiences moreover play a significant role in shaping images of the past. But how can the immediate impression, which will invariably be altered by later experiences, be extracted from the torrent of time? In...

  15. Chapter 11 Experiences of War, Memories of War, and Political Behavior: The Example of the French Communist Party
    (pp. 161-179)
    Philippe Buton

    Is the memory of war fundamental to the experience of war? This chapter will examine this question by using the statistics on local support for political parties, which historiography generally considers to be resistant to trends in the field. Indeed, the French sociologist André Siegfried, in his essential book from 1913, went so far as to make the mildly provocative assertion that the map was the deciding factor, determining the most important borders and delivering a geographical overview of voting behavior in advance: “Limestone or granite: that is the great distinction to be made.”¹ I will test Siegfried’s idea of...

  16. Chapter 12 The Air War, the Public, and Cycles of Memory
    (pp. 180-196)
    Dietmar Süβ

    Memory is a contested good: it is valuable and vulnerable, it transforms and deforms itself, it can adapt to new conditions, become blurred or experience unimagined upswings – as did memory of the air war. Since the 1990s, and especially since Jörg Friedrich’s bestseller “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945,”¹ practically no other topic has left a stronger mark on the public landscape of memory in Germany than the debate about the Allied air raids on German cities.² The lines of tension between individual experiences of the war and collective memory of the war came to the fore...

  17. Chapter 13 The Long Shadows of the Second World War: The Impact of Experiences and Memories of War on West German Society
    (pp. 197-213)
    Axel Schildt

    The Federal Republic of Germany is not past history; rather, in the unified Germany of post-1990, which retained the name Federal Republic with good reason, the history of the previous Bonn state remains of great interest and, given the country’s search for a better future, as a point of orientation. This history has to be told to Germany’s new citizens: the people of the former GDR and the many new migrants from different cultures. West Germans, in turn, must become aware of the histories of these new citizens, their new neighbours. In the process, it will be important to appreciate...

  18. Chapter 14 The War in Postwar Society: The Role of the Second World War in Public and Private Spheres in the Soviet Occupation Zone and Early GDR
    (pp. 214-228)
    Dorothee Wierling

    Contrary to some expectations, memories of the Second World War are quite heterogeneous – not only across Europe, but also within the various European states that were involved in the war. These memories are determined by the regional, social, and political affiliations of the individuals or entities in question, to name only the most obvious factors.¹ The term “collective memory” will therefore be avoided in this chapter, not only because the benchmark it most often refers to – the nation – is actually composed of various such “collectives,” but also because the relationship between individual and public memory is always...

  19. Chapter 15 Violence and Victimhood: Looking Back at the World Wars in Europe
    (pp. 229-244)
    Richard Bessel

    In January 1946, schoolchildren in the district of Prenzlauer Berg in the Soviet sector of Berlin were assigned the task of writing short essays about their memories of the Battle of Berlin during the previous spring. Among these were the observations of 10-year-old Winfried Schubarth, who wrote:

    Finally the time is past where we (no longer) have to live in the cellar. When the sirens sounded, we always were afraid. In November 1944 fifteen firebombs fell on our building. The men from our building, however, were at their posts, for they quickly discovered the fires and put them out. When...

  20. Chapter 16 The Meanings of the Second World War in Contemporary European History
    (pp. 245-270)
    Jörg Echternkamp and Stefan Martens

    How tangible the past is does not depend on how far back it dates. Even events that are increasingly regarded as belonging to a different era can attain a new significance when the public’s sensitivity increases, when fundamental conditions of memory and remembrance change (such as in 1989/90), or when historians discover and develop new aspects that enhance the complexity of the research topic. This appears to be particularly true for the Second World War and its aftermath – considering the Europe-wide “remembrance-boom” surrounding the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of 8 May 1945. By the beginning of the 1990s,...

  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 271-272)
  22. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 273-292)
  23. Index of Names
    (pp. 293-294)
  24. Index of Places
    (pp. 295-297)