Conference Reshaping the Nation: Collective Identities and Post-War Violence in Europe 1944–48

International conference Reshaping the Nation: Collective Identities and Post-War Violence in Europe 1944–48,

Date: 16 – 17 May 2019 

Venue: Karolinum of Charles University in Prague

Keynote speaker: professor Norman Naimark (Department of history, Stanford University)

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.

Historical research on nationalism has often focused on the nineteenth century, on World War I, and on the inter-war period. Researchers have not paid much attention to the concepts of nationhood, nationalism, and nation building in the period directly after World War II. It is an open research question how the extreme forms of racism promoted by the Nazis during World War II influenced the experience of individuals in the postwar period.

The conference will analyze the composition of nationalities (who belonged to the national community?), the legitimizing function of nationalism, and its relation to acts of violence at the end of war and to the reshaping of postwar societies. At the same time, we want to address the differences between countries. How did a specific occupation policy in a specific place, with its specific national and racist criteria, influence the “responses” of the occupied society? Is there any evidence of a biological understanding of nationhood? How did competing concepts shape a new understanding of the “nation”—particularly taking into consideration the different political and cultural developments in various nation-states after the war ended?

Programme of the conference

16. 5. 2019 Karolinum, Prague (Small Hall)

(Charles University, Ovocný trh 560/5, Praha 1)

9.00                Registration

9.30                 Conference opening

9.50–11.35      Panel 1: Introducing Justice

Chair: Jaromír Mrňka (Prague)

9.50     Barbara De Luna (Bologna – Paris) & Greta Fedele (Bologna – Paris): Redefining national identities through justice: a comparative analysis between Italy and France

10.10 Anika Seemann (Cambridge): „Mentalities of War, Mentalities of Peace“: Capital Punishment in the Norwegian ‘Treason Trials’, 19411957

10.30 Henrik Lundtofte (Ribe): Danes against Danes. September 1944 – May 1945

10.50–11.35 Discussion

11.3512.05 Coffee Break

 12.05–13.30    Panel 2: Micro-Histories of Exclusion

Chair: Ota Konrád (Prague)

12.05   Tereza Juhászová (Prague): Good or Bad Mantak? Exclusion of Slovak Germans from a Local Community

12.25   Tasos Kostopoulos (Athens): Cleaning Out Greece of the miasma of its “Sudeten”: Macedonian Slavs as an unwanted minority in the aftermath of the Second World War

12.45–13.30 Discussion

13.3015.00 Lunch Break

 15.00–16.45    Panel 3: Gender Perspectives

Chair: Beate Fieseler (Düsseldorf)

15.00 Caroline Nilsen (Chapel Hill): „German Brats and Tarts“: Gender, Sexuality, and Collective Memory in Post War Norway

15.20   Marta Havryshko (Lviv): Dangerous Liaisons: Women, Sexuality, and anti-Soviet Resistance in Ukraine

15.40   Justina Smalkyte (Paris): Ethnicity, Gender and Multidirectional Violence: A Case Study of the Formation of a Local Force (Vietine Rinktine) in German-occupied Lithuania (FebruaryMay 1944)

16.00–16.45    Discussion

 16.45   Coffee Break

18.30 Keynote Norman Naimark (Stanford): The End of the War and the Beginning of the Peace. Where Violence Leaves Off and Reconstruction Begins: Continental Europe 1944–47


17. 5. 2019 Karolinum, Prague (Patriotic Hall)

(Charles University, Ovocný trh 560/5, Praha 1)

9.00–10.45 Panel 4: Creating Ethnicity

Chair: Boris Barth (Prague)

9.00     Aleksandra Pomiecko (Toronto): Assessing National „Consciousness“: The Belarusian Home Defense, 19441945

9.20     Ondřej Matějka (Prague): Between nation and religion. Czech Protestants and the transfer of Sudeten Germans 1945–1948

9.40     Pavlo Khudish (Uzhorod): One step to violence: the relationship between Jews and their “neighbors” in postwar Transcarpathia, 19441946

10.00–10.45    Discussion

10.4511.15    Coffee Break

11.15–13.00 Panel 5: Redefining Citizenship

Chair: Blanka Mouralová (Prague)

11.15   Borbála Klacsmann (Budapest): “Pure Christians” vs. “Working Citizens of the Democratic Era”: How the Claimants of Jewish Property Perceived Citizenship in Hungary

11.35   Petr Sedlák (Prague): Emil Beer, the failed case of trans-integration into life afterwards

11.55   Peter Thaler (Odense): A Glass Half Full or Half Empty? The Postwar Treatment of the German Minority in Denmark

12.15–13.00    Discussion

13.0014.30    Lunch Break

14.30–15.15    Concluding debate

15.15–16.00    Closing remarks

The conference will be held in English without translation.


Boris Barth (Charles University, Prague)

Ota Konrád (Charles University, Prague)

Blanka Mouralová (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague)

Jaromír Mrňka (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague)

Download the programme

Registration form

Conference organization

Conference language is English.


Boris Barth (Charles University, Prague)

Ota Konrád (Charles University, Prague)

Blanka Mouralová (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague)

Jaromír Mrňka (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Prague)