Occupied Everyday Life

Occupied Everyday Life – New Perspectives on the Western Allied Occupations (1945–1955)

Valentin Bardet (Sciences Po Lyon), Élise Mazurié (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg/EHESS), Stefanie Siess (Universität Heidelberg/EHESS), Félix Streicher (Maastricht University)
EHESS Paris, Campus Condorcet
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
19.01.2023 - 20.01.2023
Emanuel Marx, Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris (DHIP)

In the last decades, the phenomenon of military occupations has sparked a renewed interest at an international level. While traditional historical works have focused on the economic, political and cultural aspects of occupation, more recent studies1 have integrated an approach “from below” in order to shed light on overlooked dimensions of occupations, such as everyday relations. For two days, the participants of the present research workshop for young scholars followed the increased focus by researchers on studying not only politics of occupation, but also the social and everyday configurations that emerged in occupational settings. This workshop thus had two objectives: firstly, it sought to showcase new research on the Alltagsgeschichte of military occupations in the Western zones in Germany and Austria after 1945. Secondly, it also aimed to examine military occupations as asymmetrical power relations between social groups (occupier/occupied) in order to understand the link between everyday interactions and the overarching global occupation policies.

The conference opened with a first panel (“Doing occupation”) dedicated to analyzing the meanings and consequences of the relations between the different groups that structure the occupations. STEFAN LAFFIN (Hannover) analyzed a unique case of occupation – the Allied occupation of Sicily and southern Italy between 1943 and 1946. In his presentation, Laffin shed light on the practices and decision-making processes of the Allied Civil Affairs Officers (CAOs) – later on also called Military Government Officers – who enforced the occupation on site. He argued that the occupation of Italy should be distinguished from other occupations for its multi-layered character: over a very short period, Italy, a former occupation power itself, came under German rule and was shortly thereafter “liberated” by US and British forces, which turned out to be yet another occupation. In a second step, he analyzed the historiographical treatment of the Allied occupation and advocated the analysis of the intricacies and emanations of local occupations beyond a national historiographical framework. In his talk, FÉLIX STREICHER (Maastricht) dealt with a key aspect of the process of ‘doing occupation’: the issue of legitimacy. Since occupation is a form of foreign domination, occupiers always suffer from an inherent lack of legitimacy among the occupied population. This is particularly visible in the unstudied case of the Luxembourgish Occupation Zone in the Landkreise of Bitburg and Saarburg, where the authority of the small and newly formed Luxembourgish army was undermined by its dependency towards the French Gouvernement Militaire. Streicher argued that the Luxembourgish occupiers initially tried to compensate for their inherent lack of legitimacy by implementing repressive strategies of rule and coercive measures. From 1946 on, they resorted to more conciliatory measures, wanting to appear rather as “good occupiers” by providing food security and job possibilities for the German population. SILVÈRE GAUDIN (Besançon) completed the discussion about the practicalities of “doing occupation” by presenting a case study of a specific social group of occupiers. On the basis of sources from French diplomatic archives, he examined the trajectories and experiences of the French experts of the Military Security Office (MSO), which were responsible for the de-militarization and disarmament of Germany. Gaudin demonstrated that these experts actively participated in the stability of the occupation through their daily work and networking with German entrepreneurs, scientists and civil servants.

The second panel on “Perceptions” addressed the role of mentalities, imaginaries, and emotions in occupied societies. STEFANIE SIESS (Heidelberg) presented her research on the practice of writing as an “intimate act” during French occupation of Southwestern Germany and Berlin. Siess opened her talk by raising methodical questions about the concept of “ego-document”, which can include all sources in which “an ego can reveal or conceal itself”. Siess underlined that ego-documents, despite their inherently subjective and intimate nature, should always be considered on equal footing with other historical sources. Drawing upon several sources from the Association pour l’Autobiographie et le Patrimoine Autobiographique (Ambérieu-en-Bugey) and the Tagebucharchiv Emmendingen, Siess explored how the situation of foreign domination affected the act of writing at the end of the war, during occupation and towards the end of occupation. At the beginning of French occupation, German writings focused on describing the chaos in Germany and depicting French occupiers as enemies, while later writings also evoked the everyday life in the occupied zone: cohabitation and encounters with the occupiers, with examples of how and where they met. Siess also explored French self-perceptions as occupiers and German self-perceptions as occupied, which included feelings and emotions like responsibility, fear, and wounded masculinity. She concluded her talk by looking at writings from the later stages of occupation (1949–1955), showing that the thoughts about a Franco-German rapprochement also emerged in ego-documents. SANDRA SCHELL (Heidelberg) presented her research on Margret Boveri's book, Amerikafibel für erwachsene Deutsche (1946), which aimed at helping Germans to better understand their American occupiers. Schell explored the Amerikafibel in light of the journalist's personal experiences as a “cultural broker”: During the Second World War, Boveri had worked as a foreign correspondent in the United States, where she was interned at the beginning of the war. These experiences deeply shaped her later writings, which drew upon historical, cultural, climatological, and characterologic reasoning to explain the non-Europeanness of the Americans. Schell showed how Boveri’s attempt at facilitating cultural mediation between Germans and Americans relied on a national-conservative interpretation of the figure of the “American” and thus also encouraged feelings of resentment towards the occupiers.

The third panel focused on the categories of gender, class and race in the context of occupied societies. In her talk, LEONIE BAUSCH (Nottingham) analyzed how and why sexual encounters in the French zone of occupation were experienced and perceived in different ways. Bausch argued that while historical accounts have so far primarily focused on the rapes of German women by Allied soldiers, sexual encounters during the Allied occupation of Germany in reality varied greatly, encompassing not only rape, but also romantic liaisons and sexual barter. In her contribution, Bausch added layers to our current understanding of sexual encounters by arguing that other categories such as time, space, age, military rank, etc. so influenced those encounters. NORA LEHNER (Vienna) retraced the administrative regulation of commercial sex by the Police and Allied Forces in Vienna by focusing on a conflict between the French administration and the Police district chief of the 14th district, Anton Kapek, in the spring of 1949. The French occupational forces accused Kapek of withholding information regarding an upcoming raid on Stundenhotels, often used for the purpose of “clandestine” sexual intercourse. In the end, Kapek was transferred to a smaller precinct in the Soviet-administered part of the district as a punitive measure in 1949. Lehner argued that the case of Kapek is indicative of the administrative procedures and surveillance measures established by Allied control agreements to contain venereal diseases in the first post-war years and the practical implementations of “doing occupation”, but also proves the individuals’ room for maneuver against the backdrop of these administrative procedures. The presentation held by ÉLISE MAZURIÉ (Freiburg) situated itself at the crossroads of French colonial history and the historiography of military occupations, she examined the understudied case of French soldiers of colonial origin stationed in Germany. In her talk, she explored the question of the expectations and perceptions surrounding their presence in four garrisons, namely Villingen, Reutlingen, Donaueschingen, and Landau. Mazurié noted that specific expectations existed even before the actual announcement of the arrival of colonized soldiers, demonstrating that the mayors of the municipalities corresponded with each other, fact-checked the reputation of the Northern African troops and relied on religious authorities as guarantors. Drawing upon readers' letters to newspapers from all over Germany, Mazurié also highlighted the local population’s frustrations through press coverings that quickly put a “need of protection” of German women vis-à-vis black occupiers centre stage. Finally, she also discussed the inter-linkage of gender and colonial aspects.

The last panel on “Regulation”, examined the regulation of relations between occupiers and occupants (formal and informal measures), the roles played by actors involved, as well as the practices and mechanisms the latter employed in this process. In his talk, VALENTIN BARDET (Lyon) raised important questions about the understanding of law in the context of occupation. From 1945 on, southwestern Germany was occupied by the French, who established separate military and civilian administrations. The Military Government was reluctant to accept the trial of civilians by Military Courts. Therefore, it proposed the creation of a hybrid court called the "Tribunal Français", which judged French citizens based on both Allied and French law. Bardet argued that the Court's creation in 1946 constituted an important step in regulating the French administration in Germany. Its two main goals were to prevent improper conduct in the administration of Germany and to foster a positive relationship with the German population. In the last presentation, LUKAS SCHRETTER (Graz) discussed the legal and moral implications of child support disputes against British occupation soldiers after the end of the Second World War. Based on a well-illustrated case study of a child born to an Austrian woman and a British soldier, Schretter traced the arguments made for and against the enforcement affiliation proceedings, which would allow for paternity suits to be brought against British soldiers. The National Council argued that there was a crucial need for a legal machinery for affiliation proceedings to be established, while opponents cited damaging effects on British prestige and the danger of British soldiers becoming victims of fraud. Schretter’s presentation raised several questions concerning the regulation of alimony in Great Britain and potential precedents for paternity and alimony suits in the Empire.

A roundtable led by LAURE HUMBERT (Manchester) CAMILO ERLICHMAN (Maastricht) and ELISABETH PILLER (Freiburg) concluded the workshop. The three invited speakers discussed the outcomes of the workshop and provided a broader outlook on the current state of the art. The discussants noted that a shift towards diversification in the 2000s brought several interdisciplinary concerns to the field, fostering interests in the categories of gender, race as well as in the issue of marginalized groups, which were also explored in the workshop. Amongst other topics, the importance of archival openings was highlighted. Furthermore, all three of them stressed the importance of understanding power dynamics in occupation regimes, as occupation is a peculiar regime created without intrinsic legitimacy. They also advocated for broadening the scope of occupation studies beyond Germany and Austria and towards a larger comparative history of occupations across time and space. The roundtable was then followed by a final discussion joined by all participants.

Conference overview:

Panel 1: Doing Occupation
Chair: Dr. Laure Humbert (Manchester)

Dr. Stefan Laffin (Hanover): “Doing Occupation” and “Studying occupation” or: Why historiographical and political approaches in the post-war have obscured the perspective on occupations

Félix Streicher (Maastricht): Second-Class Occupiers? Legitimizing Occupational Rule in the Luxembourgish Occupation Zone in Germany (1945–49)

Silvère Gaudin (Besançon): Les experts français de l’Office militaire de sécurité dans l’occupation: actions, relations et perceptions (1949–1955)

Panel 2: Wahrnehmung/Perception
Chair: Dr. Anne-Laure Briatte (Paris)

Stefanie Siess (Heidelberg/Paris): (Re)writing Occupation: Ego Documents from the French Zone of Occupation as sources de l’intime (1945–55)

Sandra Schell (Heidelberg): How to Handle the New Occupiers? Margret Boveri’s Amerikafibel für erwachsene Deutsche (1946)

Panel 3: Schichtung/Stratification (Class, Race, Gender)
Chair: Dr. Elisabeth Piller (Freiburg)

Élise Mazurié (Freiburg): “Reutlingen [had] on the whole nothing to complain about”: Expectations, Perceptions, and Memories surrounding the Presence of French Soldiers of Colonial Origin in local Garrisons in southwest Germany (1945–1960s)

Leonie Bausch (Nottingham): “I am Playing Theatre, out of Fear, out of Self Defence”: Perceptions and Experiences of Sexual Relationships in the French Zone of Occupation in Germany

Nora Lehner (Vienna): “Deux des femmes citées comme ‘Irréprochables’ par le Bezirksleiter ne sont en réalité que des prostituées”: The Regulation of (Commercial) Sex by the Viennese Police and Allied Forces (1945–55)

Panel 4: Regulierung/Régulation
Chair: Dr. Camilo Erlichman (Maastricht)

Julian Wojtowicz (London): Waltzing with the “D-Day Dodgers”: Victimhood and the British Occupation of Post-Nazi Austria, 1945–46 – The Elections of 1945

Dr. Lukas Schretter (Graz): “[…] as we could not bring any legal pressure to bear we had to close the case”: Legal practice and morality in child support disputes against British occupation soldiers after World War II

Valentin Bardet (Lyon): The Rules of Occupation: French Courts in Occupied Germany and the Regulation of Franco-German Relationships

Roundtable Discussion: Where are we, where are we going?
Dr. Laure Humbert (Manchester)
Dr. Camilo Erlichman (Maastricht)
Dr. Elisabeth Piller (Freiburg)

1 Camilo Erlichman / Christopher Knowles, Transforming Occupation in the Western Zones of Germany: Politics, Everyday Life and Social Interactions, 1945–55, London 2018.

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Englisch, Französisch, Deutsch
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