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Tag: Nazi Germany

Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Reviewed by Kate Docking.

Reckonings, authored by Mary Fulbrook, analyses the various implications of Nazi atrocities on both an individual and state level. A key aspect of the book explores how the judicial punishment of those involved in National Socialist persecution in the decades following the war could vary vastly between states. The stories of Rudolf Zimmerman and Walter Thormeyer provide a particularly poignant example of this. Zimmerman lived a seemingly innocuous life before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Residing in a village near the city of Mielec in Poland, Zimmerman helped his father’s farming business. When the SS came to Mielec, Zimmerman soon became involved in Nazi atrocities; he murdered Jews, and was later also involved in selections and deportations. After the war, Zimmerman became a ‘model’ socialist citizen in East Germany; he even acquired awards for his work. However, Zimmerman’s dark past soon caught up with him. He was arrested by East German authorities in 1966, put on trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. Walter Thormeyer, who was Zimmerman’s superior during the war, was tried in West Germany, and received a lesser sentence; he was condemned to twelve years in prison, in spite of the copious amount of evidence pertaining to his participation in murderous crimes. The cases of Thormeyer and Zimmerman are reflective of how East and West Germany often adopted different approaches to the handling of those involved in Nazi crimes; harsher punishments were (generally) dealt out in the GDR, whereas the Federal Republic embodied a more lenient approach.

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CFP: ‘Keep Smiling Through’: British Humour and the Second World War

Two-day interdisciplinary symposium – 12/13 September 2019

University of Kent

In conjunction with Special Collections and Archive, home to the British Cartoon Archive

In wartime, as circumstances become increasingly bleak with military losses and civilian deaths mounting, something very distinctive happens to humour. There is an evident demand for an opportunity to laugh: a release from the increased working hours, the separation from loved ones, the dual burdens of work and maintaining a household, the fear of sustaining battle wounds and death. Indeed, war and comedy are intimately connected. In the Second World War, variety shows which included comedy sketches and humorous songs performed for servicemen provided an essential means of respite from both the boredom and the horror of battle, while home front popular culture, in the form of radio programmes, feature films, documentary films, newsreels, cartoons and songs, parodied the conflict and were crucial morale-boosters as the war evolved into a protracted struggle. But it was more than just a coping strategy and a form of escapism; it was also a key element of ‘Britishness’. As Sonya Rose asserts, humour served to define British national character, much of which was constructed in opposition to the humourless Nazis. And of course since 1945, the Second World War has sparked the imagination of scriptwriters. Unlike the First World War, the cultural memory of the later war is replete with stories about the conflict that use humour as a device.

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Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Collaborators: Conference Report

Written by Kate Docking. There has been a lack of meaningful scholarly engagement with the utility of the terms ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘bystanders’ and ‘collaborators’ as historical concepts. Too often, the word ‘perpetrator’ is used by historians without any explanation as to its meaning. But what exactly makes a ‘perpetrator’? How do we define a victim? Have the connotations of these terms changed over time or been overly politicised? Is it the job of the historian…

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the 2018 Guernsey Heritage Festival

Written by Richard Guille.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) is a Studio Canal film directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), based on the award-winning 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It follows a young English writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), who is contacted in 1946 by Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey pig farmer (Michiel Huisman). Learning of his membership of a unique book club formed during the German occupation of Guernsey, 1940-45, Ashton visits Guernsey to discover more. In the process, she learns about the occupation and the experiences of islanders during the war, notably the tragic story of one woman, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay). Whilst the film downplays the grittier parts of the book in favour of the story’s romantic dimension, a number of controversial and marginalised aspects of Guernsey’s occupation are portrayed. This article teases out the themes presented by the film and the implications of these for public occupation memory in Guernsey. It considers the films’ promotion in Guernsey, with this years’ Guernsey Heritage Festival (30 March to 10 May 2018) focusing solely on the occupation. This latest foray into presenting the public history of Guernsey’s occupation retains a focus on well-trodden ground at the expense of marginalised areas in occupation memory depicted in the film.

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Mapping the Future: The Diercke Atlas in the Third Reich

Written by Mike Anderson.

Cartography has only become a tool for historical research in the past few years. Traditionally, geography and history have been separated – the old adage ‘geography is about maps, history about chaps’ meant that there were few interdisciplinary crossovers. However, in recent scholarship maps have begun to be viewed as tools to understand the worldview of historical cultures and historical actors in and of themselves. When applied to Nazi Germany, this new perspective on cartographic agency reveals a hitherto largely ignored method of instilling propaganda. This article examines how the portrayal of the conquest of Lebensraum in Eastern Europe in geography classrooms and the Diercke Schulatlas für Höhere Lehranstalten, the most popular German school atlas, eclipsed any scholarly or factual analysis of the area.

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Paris Underground: Subterranean Resistance and the Nazi Occupation

Lion de Belfort, Place Denfert-Rochereau

Written by Nigel Perrin.

Paris’s vast underground spaces have long been associated with revolution, resistance and clandestine activity of all kinds. Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables vividly depicted the city’s sewers (a stratum of the city he researched in some detail) as a literal and metaphorical underworld where criminals, fugitives and the dispossessed lurked under the feet of respectable citizens. But it is the 177 miles of interconnecting tunnels and quarries, commonly referred to as the “Catacombs” (despite only a tiny fraction ever being used to accommodate the dead) that have become suffused with a spirit of resistance. Here government troops pursued the revolutionaries of 1848 and the communards of 1871, and the far-Right Comité secret d’action révolutionnaire (better known as La Cagoule) planned to topple the Popular Front government of the 1930s by infiltrating the foundations of the Senate and other government buildings. In August 1944, the underground played a crucial role in a new uprising. From a disused air-raid shelter in Montparnasse, Henri Rol-Tanguy, the Paris chief of the Forces françaises de l’intérieur (FFI, the combined resistance forces operating under de Gaulle’s leadership), fought to liberate Paris from German occupation. His call to Parisians to rally to the barricades and defeat the oppressor held great cultural and historical resonance, while his heroic leadership came to exemplify the ingenuity and resourcefulness of a lightly-armed resistance against a much larger and better-equipped professional army.

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Mayoral Collaboration under Nazi Occupation

Written by Nico Wouters.

International comparative history is often discussed and welcomed but still rarely practised, including in First- and Second World War research. Even today, both fields of historical study remain predominantly national in orientation. However, when the empirical datasets for the selected national cases are sufficiently broad and rich, an international comparison has the potential to combine elements of micro-history with transnational analysis, yielding innovative results that can transcend the insights from exclusively national angles.

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Heligoland, Propaganda and the Anglo-German Relationship

Written by Jan Rüger.

What role did Heligoland, Britain’s smallest colony for much of the nineteenth century and a German naval stronghold in two world wars, play in Nazi propaganda? The island outpost, 50 miles off the North German coast, signalled Germany’s determination to turn past defeat into future victory, but it left open the question what sort of a war the Nazis were preparing for. Behind the bold front, Hitler’s attitude towards Britain remained ambivalent. He was keen to keep Britain at least initially out of a war in which he anticipated Germany would suppress Western Europe and conquer much of Eastern Europe. His belief in the possibility of an Anglo-German accommodation was premised on ideological and strategic assumptions about Britain and Germany which were shared not only amongst the Nazi leadership: ideas about cultural and racial affinities; fantasies about the division of the world between a land-based Nazi empire and a sea-based British empire. The Anglo-German naval agreement, signed by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Sir Samuel Hoare on 18 June 1935, was welcomed by Hitler as an important step in that direction. This was little more than an arms limitation treaty, establishing that the German navy would not expand beyond 35 per cent of the Royal Navy’s tonnage. Still, the agreement was hailed in the German press as putting to rest the historic rivalry between the two nations. According to Ribbentrop, Hitler called the 18th of June ‘the happiest day of his life’.

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