Between National Socialism and Soviet communism: The politics of self-representation among displaced persons in Munich, 1945–1951
This dissertation examines how displaced persons in postwar Munich created political “communities of interest” to represent what they understood as their collective experiences and aspirations. It highlights how divergent narratives about National Socialism and Soviet communism formed the basis for the development of distinct political groups. While opposition to repatriation was the starting point for all these groups, they diverged widely in how they interpreted the war years and envisioned the future. In particular, Jewish and non-Jewish DPs represented their interests in very different ways. Among Jewish DPs, the dominant political orientation was defined by a rejection of diaspora life and an embrace of Zionism. This orientation was underwritten by a historical narrative that identified the years of Nazi persecution and genocide as the culmination of a longer period of antisemitic discrimination and persecution in Europe. Experiences under Soviet communism were not usually highlighted. Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and other non-Jewish DPs also highlighted experiences of Nazi occupation and persecution, but they viewed national chauvinism, not antisemitism or racism, as the core of the National Socialist project. However, experiences under National Socialism were overshadowed by experiences under Soviet rule and by concerns about Soviet dominance in postwar eastern Europe. Anti-communism emerged as the dominant political orientation among non-Jewish DPs.
In explaining the formation of these communities of interest, I take a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, these communities were shaped by the specific social, political, and economic context of postwar western Germany. For Munich, the policies and practices of the American occupation authorities were key. On the other hand, they reflected the political self-consciousness that Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and other eastern Europeans had developed during the interwar and war years. Of central importance were the solidarities forged in the context of persecution, resistance, and collaboration. Thus while I examine how the conditions of displacement shaped the political outlook and actions of displaced persons, I also emphasize pre-existing political solidarities and transported political ideologies. I bring these two elements together in examining how displaced persons reworked older ideas to fit their needs in postwar Germany.
0615: Political science