HIST 385 The Aftermath of World War II In Europe


Here is a great reading response by James Reavis about Elizabeth Heineman’s chapter “The Hour of Women: Memories of Germany’s ‘Crisis Years’ and the West German National Identity” in Hanna Schissler, ed., The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968, pp. 21-56:

In the reading assigned for this week titled The Hour of the Woman  by Elizabeth Heineman several interesting ideas presented themselves. First that while there was much that women did in the postwar period that was positive popular opinion chose to paint them in a negative light. Secondly and more interestingly the idea that the good old days of Germany for many people were actually the Nazi years. Both of the facts are unsuprising and both of these facts are troublesome. Despite all that Women had endured during and after the war, all that they had done to help rebuild Germany, all that they had done to support their families, they were still looked down upon for what popular German sentiment termed allowing themselves to facilitate and participate in the moral decay of Germany. The rape of women in Germany was degendered and used by the nation to gain victimhood. Meanwhile women were derided as prostitutes and  ‘Yank Sweethearts’. As our author makes clear though this prostitution and moral decay had invaded all parts of life from lying about their past to German men trying to please American men before fellow Germans. The idea of Nazism being the good old days seemed to underly popular opinion in the immediate postwar period. Instead of seeing the Nazi period as the nadir of morals in Germany they saw the occupation as the nadir. This before anything else, if such is true, should point to the fact that Germans do not deserve the title of victim. If as a German the Nazi period is seen as ‘the good old days’ well then yes in a way strictly for Germans they were good. Plenty of food, a feeling of belonging and pride in the nation, relative prosperity. In the face of all the enormous human suffering being caused in order to bring this about if you can still enjoy it then do not have the audacity to call yourself a victim when the sytem is justly brought to an end at your expense. This is the root of the problem for the historiography surrounding Germany’s war years.

Check out this great reading response about Alice Weinreb’s article “‘For the Hungry Have No Past nor Do They Belong to a Political Party’: Debates over German Hunger after World War II” (Central European History 45, no. 1 [March 2012]: 50–78):

            After reading a history book which provided that Germans were well fed during the Second World War and the fact that Germany had not turned its economy into war-time economy, I have been thinking so far that German citizens did not have to encounter any major problem regarding food. However, Alice Weinreb’s article about German authority’s effort to receive nutritional aid from the United States has changed my perception about the issue of German hunger after the war. Just as how I had thought, American and British authorities thought that Germans were in good health conditions in terms of nutrition, since they looked fat and children’s cheeks red. Officials of the military government demanded documented data to prove that Germans were in fact not being fed well. Attributing deaths from tuberculosis and accidents in workplaces to weakness that derived from lack of sufficient nutritional in-take as a proof by German doctors was not accepted by the Allied authorities as well. Yet, only after a year, a dramatic shift took place in the view of Allied military government as German population that had seemed fat and thus healthy in summer of 1945 suddenly became underfed (68). Weinreb early in the article contends that suffering of Germans due to shortage of food worked to cancel out the existence of the past guilt, which was aided by the Allied bombing on German cities, the experiences of the millions of ethnic Germans expelled from the east, and the suffering of German prisoners of wars held in Soviet Union camps (56). Nevertheless, what had moved the authorities of the military government in the end was a political concern that achieving democracy in Germany would be impossible and that the advent of communism would be inevitable if the problem of food shortage had been neglected. Although “they were Germans” and the political concern was understandable, politics coming prior to humanity did not make me feel comfortable.

Check out this thoughtful reading response by Natalie Johns about the moral issues surrounding the Allied bombing of Germany (Specifically discussed in Arnold, Jörg. “‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Lovely Town … ’: The Allied Air War, Urban Reconstruction and Nostalgia in Kassel (1943–2000)*.” German History 29, no. 3 (September 2011): 445–469.; Niven, Bill, “The GDR and the Memory of the Bombing of Dresden,” in Bill Niven, ed., Germans as Victims: Remembering the Past in Contemporary Germany, pp. 109-129.):

Is war ever fair? Or is it all fair in war? When looking at the Allied bombing of Germany there is a moral blurred line that no one can really say was crossed. To say an entire country and all its population were victimized by the Allied powers is a rather absurd accusation. But there is a question of the women, children, and elderly who possibly took no part in the atrocious acts of the Nazi party (or at least not by choice). Were select groups victimized by the Allied bombings of their homes? And if so do they have the right to reminiscence in sorrow of what was?

When terrible things happen to people, they believe that their pain was worse (or just as bad) as others. To say that German civilians had it coming to them because of what they did to Jews or any other minority is hard to say. Tic-for-Tac at least in the sense of whether someone can feel victimized does not quite fit. Victimization is a personal feeling; it’s not up to the world community to decide whether a whole group of people felt like victims. Germans saw their homes and lives destroyed, how could they not see themselves as victims of both their government, of the war and of the allied powers?

While reading Arnold’s article shows that Germans did feel victimized, yet felt the need to overcome that victimization, something that many “ethnic” groups in post WWII could have fared better had they done. Victimization during war especially one as great as the one that just ended, was par for the course. War affects everyone in its course. And to say that an entire nationality was not the victims of it simply because they as a people had done terrible things first, is simply wrong.

Here is a great reading response by Molly Teplitzky regarding Tara Zahra’s “‘The Psychological Marshall Plan’: Displacement, Gender, and Human Rights after World War II.” Central European History 44, no. 1 (March 2011): 37–62.

Tara Zahra’s article on the displaced children of World War II displays the new and changing outlook on humanitarianism and human rights.  “It was only during and after World War II that uniting families came to be a central mission of humanitarian and human-rights activists in Europe”(37). Relief groups and organizations had previously combatted typical wartime atrocities, and served to provide the basic needs for those displaced by war. After World War II, the UNRRA and other humanitarian groups made efforts to provide basic needs as well as rehabilitation. Care for displaced persons was no longer physical but also psychological. This change in perspective pertaining to humanity can be seen through the various psychological and psychoanalytical theories implemented into the relief efforts. “Drawing on Freudian theories about the singular importance of emotional relationships within the family, psychoanalysts located the sources of trauma…” (39).  The relief groups worked to reunite family units to prevent further emotional and psychological damages to displaced persons. It is estimated that these relief efforts aided and helped to connect millions with their families. Zahra’s article also brings up contradictory thought on the best approach to “normalize” displaced children and families. Would it be best to reconnect families or to rebuild daily life of children independent of their parents? Debates on which ideology and method to tackle possible psychological issues of children postwar show the increase in interest of what is best for the children. This new incorporation of rehabilitation and deliberation of approaches can be seen as the beginning to the modern human rights ideology.

Check out last week’s featured reading response by Jordan S.  It was written in response to Timothy Snyder’s The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999.

Despite Snyder’s assertion that nationality is not ‘invented, or accidental, or too confusing to categorize’, I find the concepts of state and nation building to be unwieldy. When faced with a complex set of ideas, the sciences often employ basic models as a means of understanding and conveying reality. Take an atom, for example. An image of tightly compacted circles (protons and neutrons) and rings of smaller, neatly dispersed circles (electrons) comes to mind. While this is perhaps a useful introduction to the concept, an actual atom bears little or no resemblance. In this way, traditional thoughts of state and nation building are rather inferior to the reality described by Snyder.

In the case of the Ukrainians and Poles, Snyder tells a common postwar European tale: a territorial dispute ‘settled’ by ethnic cleansing. The language used in the proposed plan for Operation Wisla is hauntingly familiar: ‘to resolve the Ukrainian problem in Poland once and for all.’ Murderous episodes of mistaken identity prove the absurdity of this initiative as Poles and Ukrainians could hardly tell one another apart. And yet, modern state ideas were embraced after 1945, Snyder argues, as a direct result of such ethnic cleansing. This path to nationalism is unseemly and difficult to navigate; it is easy to understand history’s propensity to nuance reality into a more accessible model.

Check out this week’s featured reading response by Meredith Lowe.  It was written in reaction to Marina Cattaruzza, “‘Last Stop Expulsion’– The Minority Question and Forced Migration in East-Central Europe: 1918–49 To Hans Lemberg, in Memory,” Nations & Nationalism 16, no. 1 (January 2010): 108–126.

Marina Cattaruzza’s analysis of the forced migration in the interwar and post war period provided an interesting explanation of the ethnic relocation that occurred throughout Europe. What was not clearly analyzed however, was the construction of these ethnic identities and the true allegiance that populations and individuals had to their ethnic background. She delves into the forced migration of the Germans throughout Eastern Europe without a clear explanation of their background. I found it difficult to understand why so much emphasis was placed on the subversive potential of these minorities when there ancestors had actually lived in the “foreign” homes for centuries. Was there a conscious understanding of German ethnicity? A further explanation of these identities would have provided a better understanding of the unjust nature of these migrations. Many of the explanations given for forced migration remain unclear without a full understanding of the consciousness of ethnic identity. Cattaruzza was successful at conveying the underlying threats that were supposedly felt by foreign governments with regards to their minority populations. However, it remains to be seen if this is a valid point or complete ludicrous without understanding if the Germans in Poland did feel like Germans. Would they have helped Germany during WWII? Logically I would assume no but without proper explanation these rationalizations for ethnic relocation actually make sense in a wartime context. Similarly the German expulsion from other Eastern states was said to prove useful to the British in geopolitical terms. Again, this seems like a logical analysis but if the Germans felt no allegiance to the nation state then Cattaruzza’s argument is strengthened. Overall this article provides insight into the reasoning behind forced migration in addition to useful statistics. However, its lack of explanation of the significance of the ethnicities proves confusing and perhaps undermines the purpose of the article.


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