RESHAPING THE NATION: COLLECTIVE IDENTITIES AND POST-WAR VIOLENCE IN EUROPE 1944–48“
World War II entailed an unprecedented amount of violence and suffering, only part of which was caused by the actual fighting. Against the background of a looming unconditional, total German defeat at the end of the war, German occupation in many cases degenerated into brutal physical violence against civilians. Immediately after the end of the war, societies in nearly all formerly occupied countries were drowning in a wave of more or less spontaneous violence. People in the liberated countries directed their wrath not only against former Nazis and against ethnic Germans in general, but also attacked domestic “collaborators” and national “traitors.” The complex phenomenon of Endphasegewalt involved transitional violence, violent rituals, extermination campaigns, national cleansing, rage, retribution, rape and other forms of opportunism. Endphasegewalt infused the everyday experience of millions of Europeans at the time.
In the course of the last few decades, historians and other researchers have published many studies concentrating on different cases of violence during the period. Mostly, they sought explanations for political decision making or proposed models and descriptions of the social practices connected with violent behavior. These macrosocial perspectives left out the very important performative aspect of violence: people were putting their conceptions of the ideal postwar society into practice through violence. Was violence a meaningful act meant to empower new collective identities, or was it only the coincidental product of accumulated frustration and rage? To answer these questions, the conference will adopt a micro- and local-historical perspective. It will compare events in selected regions of several occupied countries that were affected by German occupation policies.
The conference will focus on violent acts occurring at the end of World War II in the context of nationalism as reshaped by previous war experiences. For the first time in modern history, German occupation served as a tool not only for economic expropriation of the material wealth of defeated societies but also for racial reordering of occupied populations. Even though there were important differences between the occupation regimes that Germany established in in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and those in Central, Northern, and Western Europe, the Nazi administration utilized national and racial categorizations as the crucial framework for strengthening its rule in all occupied countries. The Nazis used both domestic perceptions of nationality in the occupied lands and “racial” classifications at the same time. As a result of the Nazis‘ racial dividing lines, nationality lost many of its former imaginative aspects. Occupation powers inscribed nationality and race onto the fate of individuals, which in many cases became a matter of life and death.