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Reverberations of War in Europe since 1945
This collaborative project, funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of £729,928.00, analyses reverberations of the Second World War across Europe through the Cold War and beyond. It seeks to shed new light on the complex legacies of war for generations of Europeans, and, through coordinated in-depth studies, aims to develop a new theoretical approach focussing on ‘communities of experience’ and ‘communities of identification’, thus going beyond prevalent ‘collective memory’ studies which tend to remain limited by a largely national focus and often unwarranted assumptions about lines of transmission. Four inter-related themes connect a later present to a difficult past: reckoning, reconciliation, reconstruction and representation. Each implies an attempt to build anew under changed circumstances, attempts that are coloured by later social, political, and also emotional and cultural contexts. The project is not merely inter-disciplinary and comparative, but also transnational in approach, since it explores the development of supranational patterns in an age of increasingly global cultural representations as well as population mobility. Participants in the project are working on a variety of themes and geographical areas; we are also collaborating with colleagues across Europe. While coordinating all strands of the project as Principal Investigator, imy own part of the research focusses on 'Reckoning with Nazi Persecution: "Perpetrators" and "Victims" in Austria, East and West Germany, France and Poland'. Hitler’s war was distinctive in its deeply ideological character and extraordinary brutality. Using memoirs, diaries, archival sources, interviews and an extensive secondary literature which has not as yet been brought together in this way, my research explores changing constructions of the past among different communities of experience and identification across generations, in the context of varying public confrontations with the legacies of Nazi terror in five rather different post-war states. It traces the ways in which individuals who had been involved in Nazi racial and political persecution, whether construed as ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’ (themselves labels to be problematised), later developed different kinds of often deeply fractured autobiographical narratives and conceptions of ‘reckoning with the past’, contributing to the development of new post-war communities of identification. In all cases, survivors among Jewish and political victims of Nazi terror had divergent post-war experiences of ‘return’ or more or less unwilling relocation to new contexts (particularly on the part of Polish Jews), shaping strategies of coping and bearing witness (or not) under differing later circumstances. Former collaborators, facilitators and perpetrators too developed varying responses to changing political, social and juridical challenges in the post-war period: not merely facing or evading but also in part shaping distinctive patterns of memorialisation, the outcome of legal challenges, the character of media debates and prevalent discourses in changing later circumstances. Systematic comparisons are made 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.
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