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Reverberations of War in Germany and Europe since 1945

This collaborative project analyses reverberations of the Second World War across Europe through the Cold War and beyond. It hopes to shed new light on the complex legacies of war for generations of Europeans, and, through coordinated in-depth studies, develop a new theoretical approach. It is generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the period 2010-2014. 

UCL Research team 

Principal Investigator:   Professor Mary Fulbrook

Co-Investigator:  Dr Stephanie Bird

Research Fellows: Dr Julia Wagner, Dr Christiane Wienand

Research Students: Gaelle Fisher, Alexandra Hills

Associate student: Christiane Grieb

Research Programme

‘Reverberations of war’ are complex and multi-facetted, not always adequately captured by a concentration on ‘collective memory’. This project focuses on four inter-related themes, selected because each intrinsically connects a later present to a difficult past: reckoning, reconciliation, reconstruction and representation. These are often in some tension with one another: a search for ‘reckoning’, for example, may preclude openness to overtures of reconciliation. Each of these terms implies – despite the linguistic connotations of ‘return’ – an attempt to build anew out of the ruins, under changed later circumstances. Such attempts are coloured by later social, political, and also emotional and cultural contexts, in which imaginative engagements in film and literature play a powerful role in shaping aspirations and perceptions; hence the involvement of literary scholars as well as historians in the project.

The project challenges collective memory approaches that assume lines of continuity between earlier ‘communities of experience’ and later ‘communities of remembrance’. By contrast, we seek to explore the relationships between ‘communities of experience’ and later ‘communities of identification’, which may not be closely related to communities of origin. The focus is also shifted from the nation state ‘container’ of remembrance practices to a comparative and trans-national European level of shifting identifications. 

A part of the project entails inter-disciplinary collaboration with colleagues across Europe, including a series of informal workshops and international conferences. 

Interrelated strands of the project

The project is also being carried out through a number of interlinked in-depth explorations of different facets of the wider set of questions, of which some details are provided below.

Prof Mary Fulbrook

‘Hitler’s War’ was distinctive in its deeply ideological character and extraordinary brutality. This part of the project explores representations of the past among different communities of experience, and patterns of transmission across generations, in the context of public confrontations with the legacies of Nazi terror - trials, official rituals of commemoration, memorials, media and historical debates, informal social relations - in five rather different post-war states: Austria, East and West Germany, France and Poland. In all cases, survivors among Jewish and political victims of Nazi terror had divergent post-war experiences of ‘return’ or unwilling relocation, shaping strategies of coping and bearing witness (or not) under later circumstances; former collaborators, facilitators and perpetrators developed varying responses to political, social and juridical challenges. Systematic comparisons are undertaken in the light of wider debates about a possible ‘hybridisation’, ‘cosmopolitanisation’ or ‘Europeanisation’ of ‘collective memory’ in a context of population mobility, European division and integration.  

Dr Stephanie Bird 

This part of the project looks at the emotional legacies of war and how traumatic and devastating effects of conflict are transformed into cultural products that elicit pleasure. It focuses on texts that are particularly concerned with suffering and victimhood but which incorporate a comic or humorous dimension, understood broadly. The relationship of suffering to humour is particularly interesting because it crystallizes the question of how far the representation of trauma produces pleasure and how the ethical significance of that pleasure can be understood. Anxiety around the pleasurable and entertaining dimensions of fiction is particularly acute in relation to the role of comedy in the representation of traumatic events. 

Dr Julia Wagner

Julia Wagner is working on 'Reconstruction and the ‘Memory’ of the Occupation: Germany – Italy – Greece after WWII'. Through the comparative analysis of three interrelated national case studies she is exploring long-term effects of occupation politics during World War Two on both former occupiers and occupied. The selected countries are particularly interesting as Greece was at times occupied and governed jointly by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (as well as Bulgaria), before Italy changed from occupying power to occupied country in 1943, subsequently itself becoming the object of ruthless economic exploitation and terror of Nazi occupation. The post-war regimes of Italy and Greece were keen to distance themselves from charges of collaboration with the Germans, and to portray themselves as heirs of resistance movements. This project explores the impact of the occupation on cultural, social and political developments in Greece and Italy during the post-war period, as well as analysing public discourses on German and Italian occupation (including local collaboration, resistance and restoration and, in the case of Italy, the war crimes committed in Greece); it also looks at the long-term effects on individuals and families in terms of psychological after-effects and memory-constructions. Conversely, it examines the experience of the German occupying personnel themselves and how earlier occupation experiences were reflected upon in public and private discourses (for example, on restitution, rearmament, tourism, labour migration) in the FRG and the GDR, themselves subject to Allied occupation after 1945. 

Dr. Christiane Wienand

Christiane Wienand is undertaking research on ‘Reconciliation after 1945 – experiences, ideas, practices'. 

Reconciliation projects, whether initiated by the state, by non-governmental organisations or at the grass-roots level, were rooted in various sets of experiences: the shock of the Holocaust, the war as an experience of mutual killing, as a civilian experience, and mass migration and occupation as results of the war. On the state level, these experiences influenced official West German policies of reconciliation and compensation, such as ‘Wiedergutmachung’ with Israel, German-French friendship, or Chancellor Brandt’s ‘Ostpolitik’. They also stimulated the establishment of transnationally active non-governmental organisations, such as the religiously motivated Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste and the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk, as well as war veterans’ associations. Further campaigns evolved to promote international understanding through town twinning schemes or church partnerships, as well as the more controversial activities of German associations for refugees and expellees. Furthermore, these experiences fostered non-institutional personal connections. At all levels, reconciliation efforts aimed at integrating the younger generations, who became the core reconciliation activists. The reconciliation efforts are analysed as transnational activities which established formal and informal contacts and networks across Europe and elsewhere, including Israel. Using selected case studies, Wienand’s study examines the concepts of reconciliation developed by activists; the practices of reconciliation initiatives; the motives behind different reconciliation activities; the reception and evaluation of reconciliatory efforts by participants and critics; and the broader political, societal and intellectual impact on post-war Europe.

Gaelle Fisher

'From Survival to Belonging: The case of German-speakers from Eastern Europe relocating to Germany after the end of the Second World War.' The focus of this project is displacement; the project involves comparing systematically two communities which were uprooted as a result of the Second World War. 

Alexandra Hills

The starting point of this project is the uneasy self-identification of Italy and Austria as historical perpetrators and victims of the historical legacy of the Third Reich. The project explores representations of war, emotions and gender in films and literature of these states, focussing primarily on the 1970s.

Christiane Grieb

This related project focuses on 'Justice by Judicial Notice: The War Crimes at Nordhausen-Dora Concentration Camp under American review, 1947.'