Occupied Societies and Local Administration. Statehood – Social Structure – Violence

Occupied Societies and Local Administration. Statehood – Social Structure – Violence

Bergische Universität Wuppertal; Tatjana Tönsmeyer
Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Bergisches Zimmer
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
29.06.2023 - 30.06.2023
Erik Gohlisch / Sonja Mues, Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Regulative presence as part of occupation disempowers statehood while resorting not only to its own authorities and personnel, but also to local administrations, interfering with the social structure of the occupied society. The International Conference “Occupied Societies and Local Administration” commenced with an opening address by TATJANA TÖNSMEYER (Wuppertal), illuminating this specific frame of occupations and outlining the goal of the four panels: digging deeper into sources of local administration and analysing the strength but also pitfalls of comparisons. Underlining the international aspect of the phenomenon of occupation in her address, Tönsmeyer also spotlighted visibility as a key feature. The everyday life under German control meant for the occupied both physical and regulative presence of their intimidators. Despite the physical presence, there was a need for implementation by local administration. After a brief outline of the impacts and hardships occupations brought, Tönsmeyer emphasized that the concept deserves to be researched more in depth and from different perspectives. With a focus on the local population and administration, the point was made that occupation needs to be studied not only through, but also beyond the dichotomy of occupier and occupant. Furthermore, the language of this field of research was a continual topic with Tönsmeyer questioning the use of the term “collaboration”, stressing that this term of moral judgement often seems to pre-empt the findings.

The first panel gave insight into Europeans occupations prior to the Second World War. ANNE GODFROID’S (Brussels) findings, who was unable to attend the conference herself, were presented by DIRK LUYTEN (Brussels). Her paper underlined the manifold of actors in an often-small geographical space and that intention is a rather vague factor in determining occupation policies. In Godfroid’s study, it became clear that with several occupiers in one country, tensions can also arise between supposed allies. With Germany only regaining full autonomy in 1930, especially local administration was a focus for the Belgium occupier to attempt to seize control over the territory west of the Rhine.

SIBEL KOÇ (Wuppertal) explicitly stated the strength of making full use of the concept of occupation studies as she questioned the dichotomic historiography about the allied occupation of Istanbul 1918–1923. Koç was inspecting the experience and mental attitudes that can be traced in the local administration. She showed that not only had the English, French, and Italian occupiers contradicting ideas, but also some used specific areas to operationalize their individual agency and to undermine the other’s rule, taking into consideration the aspect of communication. The already difficult situation was further complicated by an influx of refugees from the Russian civil war, who were injecting new ways of life into the city whose population was at the same time trying to adapt to the situation at hand.

ANN-KRISTIN GLÖCKNER (Halle) underlined in her talk about public displays of power French Zone of Occupation in Southwestern Germany the contrast between intention and result. The topic of visibility was stressed as the paper discussed flags, uniforms, and military parades, asking if the perception of shaming was intended or not. Another point were the different phases of occupation. While the wielding power of the occupiers were never absolute, Glöckner explained that conflict and cooperation are two strands of occupation.

In his concluding comment, CHRISTOPHER KNOWLES (London) reflected on the three presentations with his observation that occupations, while different in various ways, also share common themes and issues that allow for comparisons discussing both similarities and differences. He stressed that no occupation itself is benevolent, since its subject is arbitrary rule and maintained by force of arms no matter what well intentions the occupiers have. Knowles suggested looking for patterns on how occupation is researched and investigating the historicization of that process. He also recommended investigating the concept of shaming under occupation.

Panel II discussed “Law Enforcement and Repression under Occupation: Police, Courts, Denunciation”, opened with a presentation by RADOSAV TUCOVIĆ (Belgrade) about the military occupation and the impact of police practice on everyday life in occupied Belgrade. While this contribution looked at the psychological pressure under occupation, MARCUS ROTH (Frankfurt am Main) explored moral aspects of the general government in Poland. He explained that non-Jewish Poles were able to take part in the exploitation of Jews despite a lower rank in the hierarchy of the German Occupier because while plundering had virtually been institutionalized by the German occupiers, it was pathed on to the occupants. Furthermore, Roth outlined the value of knowledge which members of Polish Administration held, and the National socialists will to execute the confiscations. It left locals room for maneuvering, but Roth also hinted that since this form of agency is hardly ever reflected in files, the dimensions can only be guessed.

MARIEKE OPREL (Nijmegen) and WIM VAN MEURS (Nijmegen) presented their contributions about the ambivalent term of continuity within the context of the German occupation in the Netherlands and specifically in rural places that have mostly been ignored so far. LAURA BRINKHORST (Nijmegen) presented her research on different questions considering the police practice during the German occupation of the Netherlands, especially regarding the nature and intensity of the interactions between the Dutch police and the German occupiers.

JERZY KOCHANOWSKI (Warsaw) as commentator pointed out the ideological framing of an occupation. He contrasted German occupational policies in the Netherlands and Poland to underline the stark contrasts occupations show even though the occupier is the same. Other questions that enhanced the discussion were how much statistics can reveal about everyday aspects of occupation and what narratives are continued by the scientific community. Specifically for the case of the Netherlands the demand for local studies became clear. Echoing Christopher Knowles, Kochanowski also concluded that one must wonder if a “typical” occupation is even possible to exist if there is no definition of “atypical”.

MICHAL PALACZ (Cambridge) opened Panel III about health and social authorities with a presentation on the regulations on women’s health care during the German in Warsaw, considering the agency of women and local administration, considering the Jewish perspective, revealing that German policies had also gendered aspects intersected with antisemitic overtones. The task to implement their health policies was often given to the Polish public health administration in Warsaw, which inadvertently contributed to stigmatization of Jews.

Considering the discussions about continuities, GAUTE LUND RØNNEBU (Tromsø) referred to humanitarian organizations that both continued and adapted their work during and after the occupation, giving the example of the Red Cross in Norway. The example of German occupation in Norway also showed that the same occupier could have different strategies and politics of occupation in different location in form of a hierarchization of countries regarding the national socialist ideology. Depending on these different strategies in different locations by the same occupier, the narrative and perception of the occupation differs, too. It was another vivid reminder of the agency in every aspect of life under occupation that in this case was studied with a view on institutions.

Furthermore, legacies of occupation can be found in the social structures of former occupied societies. Regarding healthcare, ISABELLE VAN BUELTZINSLOEWEN (Lyon) referred to the continuity of health care magazines and concepts of infant care, which are rooted in the times of German occupation of France but are still practiced until today. She also reminded the plenum that one never had to see the occupier, as was the case in large parts of France, to feel its presence.

The central point of the following discussion was to inspect occupations more regarding the concept of agency, as room for negotiations was sometimes offered, but in the case of the German occupation, ideology often was a factor that set limits, but one, which Michal Palacz showed, could even be exploited. JAKUB RÁKOSNÍK (Prague) strengthened the point of agency in his commentary by underlining that the local administration were indispensable for the occupier without exception. He offered the limited staff, the need for information and pragmatic needs such as the execution of unpopular measures as his prime examples.

With the introduction to Panel IV, Tönsmeyer asked for ways how the topic of occupation can create a bigger public reaction. Using the current Russian war of aggression against Ukraine as point of reference, she demonstrated the ubiquity of the concept.

As the visibility of the occupiers and occupation was discussed within the framework of the First and Second World War, but also within the dichotomy of “resistance” and “collaboration”, the presentation by LIESBETH VAN DER HORST (Amsterdam) about the museal representation of occupation in the resistance museum of Amsterdam emphasized the continuous narratives anchored in public memory. To think about occupation and even the museal representation of occupation means to acknowledge and take into consideration the difference between the academic research of occupation and the public debate. Occupation is often excluded from official public memory.

UTE ENGELEN (Mainz) emphasized in her talk on the Exhibition of the Rhineland Occupation 1918–1930 the need for a shift towards a more actor centric approach. While narratives such as “collaboration” seem plausible on a macro level, a closer look reveals more nuance in the relation between occupier and occupied.

GELINADA GRINCHENKO (Wuppertal/Kharkiv), who currently does research on mass killings of psychiatric hospital patients in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, focused in her commentary on one of the reoccurring themes of the conferences by putting an exclamation mark on the concept of Occupation in historiography and how it translates in the context of exhibitions. Grinchenko pointed out the need to get the visitor of such institutions more involved to transfer the concept to a more prominent topic. On the one hand, a view on the private life under occupation is more thought provoking for the audience, while Grinchenko also asked, how much the historian is allowed to reveal about the private life under occupation to the public.

When looking at narratives about occupation, the participants concluded that the end to war and occupation is prevalent and the feeling of returning to some former normalcy that does not exist anymore. The mentality of not wanting to think about the legacies of occupation and continuities between the time of and after the occupation can be closer examined within the field memory studies. To think about occupation and even the museal representation of occupation means to acknowledge the difference between the academic research of occupation and the public debate and politics about it.

As occupations are always social processes and dynamics, occupation is not a passive experience by the occupied society because of the regulatory and physical presence of the occupiers. When taking a closer look at occupation and especially social structures under occupation, it is important to have in mind that occupation always means the disempowerment of statehood, taking into consideration occupation-specific aspects and general measures to run a country. While visibility of occupation was another theme of the conference, the participants concluded that the regulative presence of occupation is in many cases even more graspable than the physical one.

Another deduction is that the incapacitation of statehood is a specific characteristic of occupation. At the same time, the concept of agency was prominent in most contributions and underlined the necessity to approach occupation from the perspective of everyday life to closer study the different groups of actors.

Other concepts replace terms such as “collaboration” to analyze social structures and individual agency under occupation, as “collaboration” is not only about moral judgement, but it also anticipates the analytic evaluation (“treason to the nation”). The history of emotions and everyday life as analytical terms deserve to be considered when researching occupation studies as emotions resonate subconsciously in many topics. One aspect offering a new perspective is the relation between different occupiers at the same time and location to unfold coping strategies and narratives.

Conference overview:

Tatjana Tönsmeyer (Wuppertal): Welcome and Introduction

Panel I: Occupations beyond the Second World War

Moderator: Laura Eckl (Wuppertal)

Anne Godfroid (Brussels): The Belgian Occupiers and the Local Authorities in the Rhineland: Legal Framework and Interactions

Sibel Koç (Wuppertal): Social Changes and Everyday Life in Istanbul during the Allied Occupation 1918–1923

Anne-Kristin Glöckner (Halle): Public Displays of Power: Negotiation Processes around the Public Presence of the Occupying Power in the French Zone of Occupation in Southwestern Germany, 1945–55

Comment: Christopher Knowles (London)

Panel II: Law Enforcement and Repression under Occupation: Police, Courts, Denunciation

Moderator: Dirk Luyten (Brussels)

Radosav Tucović (Belgrade): Life under Pressure: The Impact of Police Practice on Everyday Life in Occupied Belgrade (1941–1944)

Markus Roth (Frankfurt am Main): Between Greed and Need – the Local Polish Population and Administration Dealing with Jewish Property

Marieke Oprel (Nijmegen) / Wim van Meurs (Nijmegen): Local Administration and the Pitfalls of Legalism. Comparing the Expropriation and Restitution of Jewish Property in Municipalities across the Netherlands (1940–1950)

Laura Brinkhorst (Nijmegen): Walking the Beat under German Occupation. The Nature and Intensity of Police Interactions with Citizens and the German Occupier before, during and after the Occupation of the Netherlands (1938–1948)

Comment: Jerzy Kochanowski (Warsaw)

Panel III: Health and Social Authorities

Moderator: Gelinada Grinchenko (Wuppertal/Kharkiv)

Michal Palacz (Oxford): Local Administration and Women’s Health in German-Occupied Warsaw

Gaute Lund Rønnebu (Tromsø): Humanitarian Spaces during the Second World War. The Case of Norway

Isabelle von Bueltzingsloewen (Lyon): Fighting Food Shortages and Protecting Vulnerable Populations in Occupied France: the Case of the City of Lyon (1940–1944)

Comment: Jakub Rákosník (Prague)

Panel IV: Museal Representations of Occupation

Moderator: Tatjana Tönsmeyer (Wuppertal)

Ute Engelen (Mainz): Exhibiting the Rhineland Occupation 1918–1930. Fighting Propaganda Topoi

Liesbeth van der Horst (Amsterdam): Collaboration and Resistance during the Nazi-Occupation in the Netherlands in the New Permanent Exhibition of the Dutch Resistance Museum

Comment: Gelinada Grinchenko (Wuppertal/Kharkiv)

Concluding Discussion

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