BA Group 2 module, taught by Ana Antic

The module explores the most turbulent decade of twentieth-century European history, and analyzes the multiple axes of extreme violence – political, ethnic, racial, personal – which marked this period and instigated momentous changes in the history of the continent. The course aims to explore how such unprecedented violence against civilians, women and children was experienced by ordinary citizens of European countries, and how it transformed and affected their everyday lives, political choices and social attitudes both before and after 1945. We will trace the process by which fierce political and ideological struggles of the 1940s enveloped ever broader sections of the European populations, and examine how different categories of people behaved under these circumstances, what motivated or deterred them, and how they attempted to make sense of (and survive) the whirlwind of the 1940s. The war disrupted prewar collective identities and networks by relocating millions of people – the class will analyze how these migrations of soldiers, refugees, forced laborers, prisoners and prisoners of war re-shaped the continent and influenced personal and national identities. The module also follows the history of the ethical breakdown which inevitably accompanied material and military destruction, and induces students to identify appropriate sources for studying this tremendous moral decline. Who were the perpetrators, and how did they come to participate in and justify crimes and violence? Moreover, how did the war affect millions of soldiers and guerrilla fighters on both sides of the conflict, and what can their memoirs, letters and statements tell us about the history of the 1940s? What can the recent micro-studies of Belarus and the Ukraine tell us about experiencing the war of annihilation in the East? How did the plans for Germanization and nationalization of the vast territories in Eastern Europe clash with realities on the ground, and how did state-directed violence interact with local motivations and initiatives? The module relies on a variety of primary sources, such as memoirs, letters, court and police documents, and each session is structured around a particular primary document.

The module begins by addressing the Third Reich’s euphoria of the summer of 1940 and its plans for the New European Order of the Community of Peoples, and moves on to discuss the following themes: collaboration and policing, wars within wars in the borderlands, civil wars in Eastern and Southern Europe, resistance and opposition, violence against women and children, experiences of surveillance, the Holocaust and genocide. The module looks at the 1940s as a whole, and questions the significance of 1945 as a watershed moment, focusing instead on important continuities across the ‘year zero.’ It compares Eastern and Western European experiences, and explores how mass violence against civilians fundamentally reshaped societies on both sides of the emerging Iron Curtain. The early Cold War years continued to be marked by the extreme forms of violence known from the wartime years, and the class will explore the concept of postwar Europe as a ‘savage continent’, and analyze the significance of various theories of brutalization. It examines postwar conflicts over the meaning of justice, retribution and victimhood, and traces different forms of violence that emerged from these disagreements in both Western and Eastern Europe. How did the war revolutionize political, social and economic expectations of different sections of the population, and how did the new ideas of social reform co-exist with violent attacks on those labelled collaborators or enemies, as well as with ethnic cleansing and ‘re-settlement’? Did the war prepare Eastern European societies for Communist takeovers? The course ends with an analysis of Sovietization of Eastern Europe in the late 1940s, and explores the dual project of repression and construction of the Homo Sovieticus.


  1. War, society and everyday life: historiographical approaches
  2. The summer of 1940: Volkergemeinschaft and limitations of racial utopias
  3. Germany’s allies: Living in the age of Axis internationalism
  4. Anatomy of collaboration and collaborationism
  5. The economics of destruction: the peculiar case of slave labourers
  6. War of annihilation: Soviet experiences of invasion and occupation
  7. Wars within wars in the borderlands: ‘Bloodlands’ in a European perspective
  8. Ivan’s and Tommy’s war: Soldiers and partisans
  9. Resistance: France, Italy and the Balkans
  10. Everyday life under occupation: opposition, surveillance and participation
  11. The Final Solution: Orchestration, administration, execution
  12. The Final Solution: Experiencing genocide
  13. Civil wars: Yugoslavia as the microcosm of Europe
  14. War as a social revolution
  15. The savage continent: vengeance, justice and retribution of 1945
  16. Violent peace: ethnic cleansing and re-settlement
  17. Political violence and social reform: survivors, policemen, Communists
  18. Heroes in disgrace: Resistance veterans and the reconstruction of Europe
  19. Revolutionary justice: Experiences of Sovietization in the East
  20. Conclusion