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Wer Ist Walter?


The book „Wer ist Walter? International Perspectives on Resistance in Europe during World War II” gathers 32 contributions and case studies on the history of resistance against Nazism, fascism, occupation and collaboration during World War II, as well as on its transmission after 1945, especially in Museums. The authors are historians, curators and other researchers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Germany, Serbia and other countries.  

The book is another result of the international research project “Wer ist Walter? Resistance against Nazism in Europe”, organized by crossborder factory, History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE), and Jasenovac Memorial Site, with the support of the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ) and the German Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF).

The book can be ordered from one of the four partner organisations or downloaded as a pdf (complete edition or individual articles) from this website. 

Note: For the pdf edition, the illustrations have been reproduced in a lower resolution than in the print edition.

Introductory Part

Introduction: Wer ist Walter? | Elma Hašimbegović / Nicolas Moll / Ivo Pejaković

Vladimir Per“Valter”, the main organiser of the communist-led resistance in Nazi-occupied Sarajevo during World War II, is a legend in Sarajevo, but unknown in most other parts of Europe. As a starting point for the present book, the question “Who is Walter?” stands symbolically for the observation that many of us in Europe know little to nothing about the history and memories of resistance to Nazism, fascism, occupation and collaboration during World War II in other European countries. After providing an overview about the development of historiographical research dealing with resistance during World War II in a European perspective, the introduction explains the aims of this book, which wants to contribute to the efforts of looking at resistance in Europe in a more interdisciplinary, international, transnational and comparative perspective. Geographically, the main focus is on four countries that represent different regions and historical and political contexts in Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France and Germany. The gathered case studies address, from different perspectives, transversal topics that we deem important to better understand the history and complexity of resistance in the mentioned countries and beyond. The introduction then shortly presents the 32 texts gathered in this book in eight parts — one introductory part, four parts on different aspects of the history of resistance until 1945, and three on the transmission of this history since 1945, especially in museums.

Why Did They Resist? Motivations for Entering into Resistance in the Independent State of Croatia | Hrvoje Klasić

During World War II, most of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was occupied, while in its central part, the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH) was established, in which the Germans and Italians installed the Croatian nationalist movement — the Ustasha — in power. Yugoslav communists were ready to fight against the occupiers and their local collaborators at the start of the war. This led to the formation of the Partisan movement, which became the largest and most effective resistance movement in Europe by the end of the war. The success of this movement was largely influenced by the Ustasha regime’s repressive policies towards political opponents, as well as the regime’s intention to “cleanse” Croatia of non-Croat peoples. In this context, the support of Serbs, mainly Serbian peasants, who became targets of ethnic cleansing and mass crimes from the very beginning of the NDH, proved to be crucial. This work analyzes the various motives that led the inhabitants of the NDH to join the Partisan movement, which ranged from patriotic and anti-fascist reasons to existential ones, such as the need to save their lives, as well as other motives such as revenge, self-interest or Russophilia.

Comparing Resistance in Yugoslavia with France and Germany | A Conversation with Robert Gildea and Christl Wickert

Each country in Nazi-dominated Europe was in a specific situation and had characteristic features regarding resistance against Nazism and fascism, which does not exclude some similarities and parallels. In occupied and dismembered Yugoslavia, the communist-led Partisan movement became a massive resistance and liberation force against German and Italian occupiers and their collaborators. How was the situation in France, another occupied and collaborating country, and in Nazi Germany, the country that invaded and occupied large parts of Europe during World War II? In order to provide an overview of resistance in France and in Germany and to better understand differences and common points in comparison with Yugoslavia and between both countries, Robert Gildea and Christl Wickert discuss the following aspects in relation with France and Germany: The general context, the beginnings of resistance, main motivations for resistance, the communist party’s role, resistance inside and outside the own territory, key moments for the development of resistance, resistance as multi- and transnational phenomenon, women in resistance, armed resistance, post-war visions by resistance movements, the contribution of resistance to the defeat of Nazi Germany, and narratives about resistance since 1945.

Part 1. Where to Resist? Spaces of Resistance

The Mountains as a Place of Resistance: The Case of the French Alps (1943-1944) | Yvan Gastaut

Mountainous areas played an important role in the history of resistance in Europe during World War II. This text focuses on the case of the French Alps, studying the real and symbolic dimensions of the mountains as a space of resistance. After the Vichy regime introduced the Compulsory Work Service in 1943, the Alps became a place of desertion and refuge for many young men and soon also for the creation of armed resistance groups, the so-called maquis. Two sites in the Alps became emblematic of the French Resistance: Les Glières and Le Vercors, where important maquis were formed and included in strategic considerations for the Allied war effort, but which were eventually crushed by German troops and collaborating French forces in 1944. Despite and because of this tragic fate, both places became symbols of heroism and constitutive parts of the French Resistance myth. They also contributed to changing French society’s perception of the Alps, a region that was unfamiliar to many until the war and that the Vichy regime had tried to turn into a symbol of its own ideological values. With the area around the village of Saint-Martin Vésubie in the Southern Alps, the text also addresses the role of the mountains as a place of refuge for persecuted Jews and of solidarity with them by parts of the local population.

Partisan Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina During the Second World War: A Comparison of the Towns and the Countryside | Dino Dupanović

The Partisan resistance movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina developed differently in towns and in the countryside. Connecting urban and rural areas was one of the Partisans’ major challenges. In order to understand the role of the towns and of the countryside in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the communist-led Partisan movement during World War II, the text will address the following questions: what influence did communists have in towns and villages in Bosnia and Herzegovina before World War II? What was at the core of the disconnect between communists in the towns and Partisans or communists in the countryside when the uprising began in 1941? What were the differences in resistance patterns among communists in towns and countryside? From when can we see a clear synergy of action among all communists, regardless of whether they were in the towns or on the periphery, in remote Bosnian mountains like Kozara or Igman or the canyons of Neretva and Sutjeska, or in urban centres like Banja Luka, Mostar, Sarajevo, or Tuzla? These questions will be answered using the example of Bosnian Krajina, a region in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina that became the centre of the Partisans’ liberation struggle, and partially through examples in other regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Resistance with Words and Weapons: Michał Borwicz and the Resistance in the Lemberg-Janowska Camp | Markus Roth

The groundbreaking study of resistance in concentration camps written by Hermann Langbein, a former prisoner in Dachau and Auschwitz, is based on a broad concept of resistance. Since people in the camps were to be mentally and physically exterminated, acts that raised the morale of the concentration camp prisoners, according to Langbein, were already to be understood as acts of resistance. Michał Borwicz’s actions inside and outside the Lviv-Janowska camp are exemplary for a close connection between intellectual and cultural resistance on the one hand and active struggle on the other. Both have hardly been considered in research so far. Together with others, Borwicz organised secret literary evenings in the camp. At the same time, he sought armed forms of resistance, which were controversial amongst his comrades in the camp. After his successful escape from Janowska, Borwicz fought as a Partisan against the Nazi occupiers and persecutors in the southeastern part of occupied Poland. In addition, he helped persecuted Jews by, among other things, organising the rescue of a Jewish girl from the Janowska camp and coordinating help for her living with a false identity. Documenting such acts of resistance was an important part of Borwicz’s activities. Already during the war, he wrote a treatise on literature’s role in the camp. After the war, he continued this and paid special attention to documenting the Jewish resistance.

“I’ll Take You in the Orchestra Right Now”: Music and Spaces of Resistance in Nazi Camps | Élise Petit

Numerous accounts written after World War II by survivors mention the presence of music in concentration camps, mainly to accompany the marching of the Kommandos in the morning and in the evening. Many of them also mention the strength of music, which, thanks to its soothing power, was said to have helped people get through the worst hours in the camps. While no official document from the Third Reich has been found regarding the creation of orchestras in the concentration camps, inmate music ensembles of various sizes were nevertheless constituted on the orders of commanding officers in a vast majority of camps. The function of a Lagerkapelle, or camp orchestra, was first and foremost to synchronise the steps of the prisoners work units (Kommandos), in order to facilitate their counting as they marched from the roll call square (Appellplatz) to the camp gate in the morning and in the evening. The Lagerkapelle could also be requisitioned to entertain the SS, or to accompany punishments and executions. Music thus mainly served the Nazi system of moral and physical destruction. However, from the very first days of captivity in the camps, music, particularly collective singing, established spaces for communication and moral or artistic resistance for certain inmates. This contribution shows how musical initiatives can be linked to a form of “resistance” in specific places and spaces of the camps: as a means to transgressively stand up against the Nazi camps system, as a life-affirming survival mechanism, but also as a vehicle of moral and cultural sustenance. 

Part 2. Fighting on Several Fronts? The Role of Women in Resistance

A Ring of Invisibility - Wives and the Resistance against National Socialism in Germany | Juliane Kucharzewski

Academic research regarding the so-called Kreisau Circle (Kreisauer Kreis) predominantly focused on male contributors despite the fact that these actors had wives who either participated personally or were privy to all events. Later on, these wives were used as mere sources for their husbands’ deeds while their own potential contribution was overshadowed by their husbands’ legacies, leading to their reduction to secondary roles. This article aims to address this research gap. Right from the beginning, wives became the backbone of the Kreisauer Kreis and were essential for basic logistical and organisational work as well as for the concealment of all activities. They were further responsible for providing for the family and keeping the everyday business alive so that any resistance activities could have been made possible at all. They were aware of possible life-threatening consequences. Due to their own self-perception and cultural imprinting as wives and mothers first, this double position created a conflict of roles and of their own image as women. These contributing wives regarded themselves as mere listeners but hardly as resistance fighters. Nazi ideology reinforced this assessment even more as it never accused them of being members of the resistance but defined them as ignorant wives. Women of the so-called Rote Kapelle, on the other hand, were arrested and executed by the Gestapo. This disparity does not diminish the importance nor does it justify the longstanding invisibility of wives of the Kreisauer Kreis.

Berty Albrecht and her Role in the French Resistance: An Exceptional Case? | Robert Belot

Berty Albrecht (1893-1943) was the co-founder of and a key figure in one of the most important French resistance movements, Combat (Fight). Her engagement ended dramatically; on 30 May 1943, after being arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, she took her own life in her prison cell in order not to speak to her persecutors. This text aims to explain Albrecht’s journey in the French resistance by connecting it with her pre-war life. Indeed, we can see a continuity between her choices in the 1920s and 1930s, when she stood up for feminist, social and international causes, and her resistance against the occupation of France by Nazi Germany and the collaborating Vichy regime during World War II. In all this, she was led by her conviction that it was possible to improve humanity and her belief that Europe could one day be united and peaceful. The text also deals with the evolution of Albrecht’s place in France’s collective memory, from her death until today, since this is key to understanding her historical significance and is also indicative of how women in general have been acknowledged in history. More generally, the text addresses the question whether Albrecht’s story can be seen as typical or exceptional regarding the role of women in the resistance in France.

Women in the Partisan Movement from the Territory of the Independent State of Croatia: Quantitative Analysis of the Regional, National, Urban, Age, and Professional Structure of Losses | Dragan Cvetković

Based on the partially revised list of the “Victim of the War 1941-1945, the gender structure of Partisans from the territory of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH) was made. In the extremely complex war fought on NDH territory, women made up 7,63% of the losses of the Partisan movement. Engaged mostly in the background activities, but also in the military units, women were killed throughout the entire war, with half of the losses suffered in 1943, the most murderous year for the Partisans from NDH territory. In this year, the percentage of women killed among all Partisans reached 11,66%. Most of the Partisan women came from Bosnian Krajina, Banija, Kordun and Lika. Women of all nationalities were represented in the movement, with Serb women accounting for 80,77% of their losses, Croat women  14.34% and Muslim women 2,45%. Serb women, facing the threat of annihilation in the NDH, were pushed massively to participate in the fight, accounting for an 9,16% of Partisan losses within their national group. Croat women were 4,73% and Muslim women were 2,72% of total Partisan losses within their national group. Over 90% of the killed female Serb Partisans were from rural areas and settlements with under 10.000 inhabitants. They were of all ages, and most were dependents. On the other hand, significant parts of the perished Croatian and Muslim Partisan women were from larger cities, mostly aged 15 to 24, with a significant participation of educated persons among them.

Both Woman and Partisan: Emancipation and Partisans Movement in Syrmia (1941-1944) | Aleksandar Horvat

The paper aims to present the process of emancipation of women fighters, which took place in a short period and at a very accelerated pace, by analyzing documents, Partisan press and memoirs of participants of the People’s Liberation Movement in Syrmia (Srem). Starting from the wider context of the traditional peasant society in Srem in 1941, which was dominantly marked at that time by the usual prejudices about women and their capabilities, especially in armed struggle, the paper examines the process of growing and overcoming the patriarchal social structure through the resistance movement, as a basic framework of emancipation. Through individual examples, the paper researches the emancipatory role of People’s Liberation Movement and the growth process of women, from faithful companions of their husbands without clear ideological and political positions, to self-conscious Partisans demanding equality with men. The subject of the analysis is the various problems faced by female Partisans, such as the refusal of men to allow them to carry weapons or to be commanders of Partisan units, the attitude of parents — especially fathers — towards them in combat, but also the occurrence of psychological and physical abuse of women by fighters or their husbands. The paper will also discuss the role of the Women’s Antifascist Front and the Partisan illegal press in building awareness of a self-aware and equal woman fighter.

Part 3. “Grey Zones” of Resistance and Collaboration

SS-Men Against Nazism? The Controversial Case of the Mutiny in Villefranche-de-Rouergue (17 September 1943) | Xavier Bougarel

The 13th SS division, known as the Handschar division, was created in February 1943. It was made up of a majority of Bosnian Muslim soldiers and German officers. This division was sent to France in July 1943 for training, and came back to Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1944, where it fought the Yugoslav Partisans with great brutality. However, the event that has attracted most attention in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and France is the mutiny of its engineer battalion on 17 September 1943 in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, in southern France. 

The memory of this event has undergone major transformations between 1943 and today, particularly in the 1990s, following the break-up of the Yugoslav federation. Many questions were raised. Were the mutineers Yugoslavs, Croats or Bosniaks? Were their motives anti-fascist, nationalist or apolitical? Did they have links with the French Resistance?

In an attempt to answer these questions, we will show how difficult it is to reconstruct the exact course of the mutiny, the motives of the mutineers and their real or alleged links with the French Resistance. In this context, historians and journalists have often resorted to various conspiracy theories. The Villefranche mutiny has thus become the object of all kinds of speculation and mystification, whereas the lack of unambiguous proofs should imply the utmost caution.

Soviet Prisoners of War between Collaboration and Resistance. The Stalag III D Berlin 1941-1945 as a Case Study of the “Grey Zone” | Kolja Buchmeier

The case study investigates various forms of resistant behaviour and collaboration of Soviet Prisoners of War (POWs) in Berlin during World War II through a systematic evaluation of personal cards (Personalkarten) and ego-documents. The imprisonment and forced labour deployment of Soviet soldiers in German custody have already been studied in detail. However, less research has been done on the individual and collective experiences of the POWs, some of whom spent several years in an existential predicament. How did these people experience their captivity? What strategies did they pursue to improve their situation? And what room for action did they have? 

After introductory remarks on the history and special features of Stalag III D and the labour deployment of Soviet POWs in Berlin, this paper will examine the prisoners’ scope for action based on various file studies. It argues that research must explore the grey areas, contradictions and fluid transitions between collaborative and resistant behaviour. What first appears as collaboration was not necessarily always ideologically motivated but even linked to resistance in many instances.

From Resistance to Collaboration: The Evolution of the Chetnik Movement in Serbia During 1941 | Milivoj Bešlin

The paper focuses on the evolution of the Chetnik movement in occupied Serbia in 1941. Created as an anti-occupation movement in May 1941, the Chetniks of Draža Mihailović participated in the summer of the first year of the war in liberating a large territory of western Serbia from German occupation. In the free area, which would later be called the “Republic of Užice”, during summer and autumn 1941, the Chetniks cooperated with the anti-fascist Partisan movement led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. However, the strengthening of the Partisans and their determined fight against the occupying troops dampened the liberation fervour of the leadership of the Chetnik movement. At its expense, the anti-communist segment of the nationalist-royalist Chetnik ideology gained the upper hand. In  summer 1941, Mihailović sent first emissaries to the German occupiers, on the last day of October he ordered a general attack on Partisan positions in the free territory of western Serbia, and on 11 November, direct negotiations between the Chetnik leadership and Wehrmacht forces took place. At the meeting in the village of Divci, the Chetniks offered the Germans military cooperation in order to destroy the Partisan movement. By the end of the first year of the war, the Mihailović-led Chetnik movement had taken decisive steps to turn from an anti-occupation into a collaborationist force.

Between Legalism and Convictions. The Langres’ Section of Gendarmerie and the Resistance in 1944 | Marius Hutinet

Focusing on one section of the French Gendarmerie as an illustration, this paper’s first goal is to make the reader understand the particularities of this law enforcement section, both before and during the war, to comprehend the complexity of identifying the gendarme’s ambiguous role during World War II. Firstly, this article exposes the general context in which gendarmes of the Langres’ section had to evolve. Secondly, as well as describing the Gendarmerie’s situation during the Occupation, it focuses on the presentation of their professional habitus that influenced their very severely structured existence. This paper’s aim is not to represent Langres personnel’s behaviour as representative of the totality of the French gendarmes’ attitudes. This paper tries to give a key to understanding what it meant for those men to participate, or not, in the Resistance in France on the eve of the Liberation. This analysis, coupled with a description of the several levels of involvement that can be observed among the personnel and concrete examples taken from the case study, highlights the plurality of the profiles and convictions of the gendarmes. 

The final goal of this paper is also to open a reflection on the concept of the “Grey zone”, often used by historians to make explicit the position of such precise groups during the World War II period. By studying those gendarmes, this notion is tested and has its weaknesses revealed, which should encourage researchers to re-shape it when considering this type of actor.

Part 4. A Transnational European Space of Resistance? Crossborder Trajectories of Resistance

Brigadistas, Maquis, Partisans: Yugoslav Veterans of the Spanish Civil War in European Resistance Movements | Vladan Vukliš

Over 1.800 Yugoslavs and citizens of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia took part in the Spanish Civil War, mostly in the ranks of the International Brigades. With the fall of republican Catalonia and then the Second Spanish Republic, around 450 of the survivors — now stripped of their citizenship — were placed in internment camps in the south of France, while the rest had managed to secure their return to North America, the Soviet Union and other countries. As the Second World War ignited in 1939, the Yugoslav “Spaniards” prepared for what was seen as the second half of their anti-fascist campaign. After successfully turning the French camps into clandestine communist party schools, they established escape routes towards their homeland. Eventually, over 250 managed to find their way back to Yugoslavia, which was occupied by the Axis powers in 1941, where they would become the backbone of the Partisan army under Josip Broz Tito. Around 60 of those who remained in France would take part in resistance activities, alongside 500 other compatriots. This paper gives an overview of their escape from the internment camps, and, in comparative terms, lays out their role in resistance movements in occupied Yugoslavia and France.

Raymond Schmittlein and Irène Giron: Two Crossed Trajectories in the French Resistance | Corine Defrance

Irène Giron (1910-1988) and Raymond Schmittlein (1904-1974) met for the first time at the Commissariat français de la Libération nationale in Algiers in November 1943. Their two trajectories converged in the service of the Combat Resistance movement, General Charles de Gaulle’s main relay in North Africa. For eight years, until 1951, they worked together in the Resistance and, after the end of the war, in the French military occupation government in Germany. They were both responsible for education: he as director, she as deputy director. They both returned to France in 1951. Apart from the connection between the Resistance and the French occupation of Germany that characterises these two individuals, there are many similarities in their biographies: both spent their childhoods in binational families; both had German roots, spoke German and had a remarkable knowledge of Germany; both founded mixed families with partners of a nationality other than their own; and above all Schmittlein and Giron became aware very early of the anti-Semitic and expansionist nature of the Nazi regime and clearly expressed their rejection of the Nazi takeover of Europe. How did these factors influence their immediate involvement in the Resistance and their careers as Resistance fighters? I study the impact of transnational families (1) and that of early experiences of Nazi Germany (2) — on the decision to join the resistance and the forms of resistance (3) as well as on the willingness to participate in the occupation of Germany in order to contribute to its democratisation (4). Their double commitment against the Nazi and Vichy regimes on the one hand, and for the democratic renewal of France and Germany on the other, requires a capacity for analysis that goes beyond the national framework. For them, Nazism and Vichysism belonged to the same transnational fascist movement. Resistance therefore became a transnational act. Their mission did not end with the victory over fascism. It continued with a commitment to democratisation, above all to offer a future to German youth.

Yugoslav Prisoners of War from Camp No. 43 in Northwestern Italy: Civil Solidarity, Armed Resistance and Post-war Legacies | Alfredo Sasso

This article explores the distinct and yet interconnected dimensions of civil solidarity, armed resistance, and post-war legacies through the case study of the prisoner of war Camp No. 43 in Garessio, located in the Maritime Alps of southern Piedmont. It begins by contextualising the internment of Yugoslavs in Italy during World War II and their subsequent erasure from post-war Italian collective memory. Then, it offers an overview of the phenomena of civil solidarity and Yugoslavs’ participation in the Italian resistance, emphasising the understudied issue of Yugoslav PoWs and its implications for both phenomena. The case analysis unfolds in four sections, each exploring a different phase of the camp’s history: internment, escape, Partisan struggle, and post-war aftermath. The article reveals elements of continuity, although not always linear and direct, between civil and armed resistance. It further investigates how the former POWs’ involvement in the Partisan struggle resulted in ideologically diverse affiliations. Finally, the analysis of post-war reception uncovers how, despite diasporisation and geopolitical obstacles, memories and relationships linked to the camp have resurfaced through multifaceted interactions encompassing spontaneous and institutional, as well as local and (trans-)national elements. Methodologically, the research is anchored in diaries, letters, correspondences and testimonies from former Camp 43 prisoners, documents from local archives and institutes of resistance and contemporary history, as well as interviews with family members of former prisoners and helpers.

From a Zionist Dream to a Transnational Rescue Network for Jewish Children: Youth Aliyah, 1932/3-1945 | Susanne Urban

In 1933, the German Jewish Zionist and educator Recha Freier founded the “Help Committee for Jewish Youths”, which was the base for the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kinder- und Jugend-Aliyah” (Youth Aliyah). 

Youth Aliyah was organised after the pogroms of November 1938. In comparison with the Kindertransports to the UK and the USA, it was not a rescue movement seeking any country that would take in Jewish children. Youth Aliyah was a programmatic leftist Zionism-based movement although, at the latest from November 1938, it functioned more and more like an overall rescue work as a consequence of the passage of time and extended to many other European countries with the aim of rescuing Jewish children and bringing them to Palestine. 

This story of resistance against Nazi persecution and the Shoah is unique. The purpose was to rescue the vulnerable group of children and juveniles by bringing them to Palestine, building up close-knit groups and trying to help them develop new pride in their Jewishness. 

Youth Aliyah didn’t stop in 1945, but enhanced its work and efforts towards the Shoah orphans and brought thousands of them into Palestine and then Israel — and it still works today for children at risk.

The article sheds light on the procedures and the organisational basis of Youth Aliyah, the people involved, the motifs, successes, and failures and focuses on the fate of groups that had stranded in Yugoslavia to show how this transnational organisation functioned under pressure.

The Partisan Resistance Goes Global: Yugoslav Veterans and Decolonisation | Jelena Đureinović

Yugoslavia provided considerable diplomatic, financial, military and humanitarian support to the National Liberation Front (Front de libération nationale – FLN) during the Algerian War of Independence. The memory, legacies and veterans of the People’s Liberation War were key to these initiatives. This chapter examines the afterlives of World War II resistance, exploring the role of the People’s Liberation War in the context of Yugoslav non-alignment and decolonisation and focusing on the agency of veterans — the Partisans — and their relationship with the anti-colonial liberation movements. The chapter centres on the narratives of the common struggle for liberation and the sharing of the Yugoslav experience of the People’s Liberation War and the postwar building of state socialism in the postcolonial world, focusing on medical assistance to the FLN. The Partisans represent a valuable lens of analysis as key political actors in socialist Yugoslavia, leading agents of the culture of war remembrance and as women and men with a direct experience of war and revolution. Their agency in the decolonisation context transpired through, on the one hand, the veteran association SUBNOR as a socio-political organisation involved in all solidarity initiatives and, on the other, individually as the Partisans occupied leading positions in state institutions, embassies, and other socio-political organisations. The Yugoslav relationship with Algeria and the FLN serves as the main case study for illustrating connected histories of anti-fascism and anti-colonialism.

Part 5. How to Transmit? Resistance as Object of Conservation, Documentation, Education and Policy-Making

Resistance Told by Resistors: The Digitised Collection of Reports of Former Prisoners of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp | Robert Parzer

This article explores the digitised collection of reports from former prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp. It examines how the concept of resistance was articulated by survivors and underscores digitisation’s impact on historical research. The Buchenwald Memorial has been proactive in digitising its archives, starting in 1994. In 2021, it launched a notable project aimed at enhancing accessibility and usability of historical documents. The first digitised collection includes 1.146 survivor reports totaling 19.456 pages. These reports, often typewritten statements supplemented by various documents, were initially gathered for a 1960 publication by a committee of former prisoners to document antifascist resistance. The paper highlights the narrative of resistance and self-liberation presented in these reports, revealing the prominent role of communist prisoners in organising resistance efforts. The article concludes by noting the potential for further advancements in digital humanities to enhance historical understanding and accessibility of archival materials.

Footprints of Resistance: Material Culture and Memory of the People’s Liberation Struggle in Socialist Yugoslavia | Sanja Horvatinčić

The memory of resistance and struggle against fascism in socialist Yugoslavia was not only mobilised by the aesthetic or visual narrative potential of memorial sculptural or architectural projects but also by the materiality that served, at the same time, as objective and documentary, and as affective means of transmitting memory. By exploring ways in which memory of resistance was mediated through wartime objects’ and sites’ materiality, this chapter points to the centrality of material culture for contemporary critical studies of heritage-making practices of socialist Yugoslavia. The chapter points to a terminological distinction between the general term “resistance” and the more specific “People’s Liberation Struggle” (NOB) as a framework for understanding the shifting logic of heritage politics in the former Yugoslav region. 

The author places the topic of the materiality of war and revolution within the broader Yugoslav cultural and memory politics. The memory transfer through the materiality of resistance is demonstrated on two levels: (1) How the “authenticity“ of the Yugoslav resistance sites — focusing on Partisan hospitals as one of the central topos of resistance — was treated by conservationists and by artists/architects, and how the traditional monument was rethought to serve as a bridge between the visitors and materiality in situ, and (2) how the material remains of the war were extracted from their original context, and reused in artistic works included in the museums of NOB or memorial houses. Finally, the chapter addresses challenges related to the shifting value of the material culture of resistance in various post-Yugoslav, post-socialist contexts.

The Making of Resistance Heroes: Examples from France | Matthias Waechter

The essay contributes to research on myth-making around resistance by looking into the processes of creating resistance heroes. The history of the French resistance provides ample examples for the way in which resistance heroes come into being. A hero cult around General de Gaulle was already developed during the war, so that he was welcomed as a living myth by the population when returning to French soil. Others were only made into heroes some time after the war was over. Also, resistance heroes often stand for the different political tendencies and strategies of the resistance movement, with each political current cherishing its own mythical figures. As an example for myth-making of French communism, the essay examines the case of the Partisan Colonel Fabien. When the government decided to pay homage to Jean Moulin by transferring his ashes to the Pantheon in 1964, the intention was to create a hero myth clearly related to Gaullism, but also acceptable for all political currents.

Approaches to Reading the Competing Narratives of World War II Resistance in Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina | Mirna Jančić Doyle

This paper reflects on the teaching of competing official interpretations of local resistance to Nazism in primary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). During the war of the 1990s, what used to be the single official interpretation of history in BiH under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia diverged into three competing narratives. Each of the warring parties claimed a unique historical perspective of their national group’s role, and that of other groups, during World War II. These parallel, single-view interpretations of World War II resistance continue to reflect and feed the political rifts in the country, and are disseminated in their simplest form to children through school history textbooks. Depending on their national belonging, children learn a different version of local resistance, enabled by the separate education programmes in BiH. 

This paper builds on extensive existing research and the author’s own reading of textbooks. It summarises the main points of diverging World War II resistance narratives since the socialist era that are contained in history textbooks for the last grade of primary school in BiH. It considers researchers’ discussion of the revised texts, and explores alternative approaches for reading the history textbook as itself part of an historical and cultural archive.

The Participation of Roma in the Yugoslav Partisan Movement as an Argument for their Recognition as a National Minority in Socialist Yugoslavia | Danijel Vojak

The history of Roma in the countries of the former Yugoslavia is still an insufficiently researched area. One of the under-researched aspects of the history of Roma suffering in World War II is their participation in the anti-fascist Partisan resistance movement led by Josip Broz Tito on the territory of the occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Some Roma joined Partisan units after escaping from deportations to camps, or became Partisan fighters after escaping from numerous camps where they were detained, tortured and many members of their family were killed. Some Roma particularly stood out for their courage in the fight against the Nazi occupation authorities and their allied regimes. This paper analyzes the question of how the post-war authorities in socialist Yugoslavia treated the participation of Roma in the Yugoslav anti-fascist resistance movement, especially in Croatia, and at the same time answers the question why this aspect of Roma history was insufficiently known to the general public and insufficiently recognized by the Croatian and Yugoslav political authorities. In particular, this paper analyzes the development of the Roma political movement in Yugoslavia led by Slobodan Berberski and other Roma intellectuals, and how they advocated for wider social and political recognition of the participation of Roma in the Partisan movement in Yugoslavia. In the 1970s, this very aspect was one of the key arguments in their attempts to regulate the position of the Roma as a national minority in Yugoslavia.

Part 6. How to Represent Resistance in Museums?

Filling a Gap: The “Women in the Resistance against National Socialism” Exhibition of the German Resistance Memorial Center | Dagmar Lieske

It may sometimes appear as if the history of National Socialism, which by now can fill entire bookshelves, has been thoroughly explored. However, there are still remarkable gaps. One of these is the role of women in the resistance, which has not yet been systematically examined. In June 2019, the German Bundestag finally passed a resolution to provide financial support for research on this aspect of National Socialist history. A project on this topic began in 2020 at the German Resistance Memorial Center.

The following article describes the “Women in the Resistance against National Socialism” Exhibition of the German Resistance Memorial, which is one outcome of this research project. The exhibition will be opened on 10 July 2024 and shows a very diverse sample of 32 women, each of whom acted against the Nazi regime in different ways. In the article, two examples are described, focussing on how gender affected womens’ resistance of women and the consequences they had to face. The exhibition does not view women as a collective. Instead, we want to enable visitors to gain insight into individual biographies and the scope of action available to women.

Narrating the Glorious Resistance: The Permanent Exhibition of the Museum of the Revolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina | Nedim Pustahija

In post-World War II Yugoslavia, significant efforts were made to institutionalise and commemorate the People’s Liberation Struggle (Narodnooslobodilačka borba, NOB) during World War II. This was done in an attempt to create a new collective memory and identity. The Museum of the Revolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, established in late 1945, and its permanent exhibition opened in 1966, played a significant role in these endeavours. This study delves into the thematic and narrative structure of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which depicted the Partisan movement and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Komunistička Partija Jugoslavije – KPJ) as central to the resistance against fascism, promoting themes of heroism and “brotherhood and unity”. By analysing the key exhibition narratives about the Partisans and the “others”, the article addresses questions such as: What did the exhibition show? How did it present these narratives? What was omitted, and why? What raises the importance of such questions is the fact some of the narratives and facts that were omitted were well-established facts in the Yugoslav historiography of the time. Additionally, the article discusses the external reviews and feedback received during the exhibition’s planning stages, revealing the political and cultural considerations involved in curating a national historical narrative.

Dealing with Yugoslav Resistance during World War II, Then and Now: The Case of the Museum of Yugoslavia | Ana Panić and Veselinka Kastratović Ristić

In 1996, the Museum of Yugoslav History was founded in Belgrade. This was the result of the merger of two previous institutions: The Memorial Centre “Josip Broz Tito” and the Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Nations and Ethnic Minorities. The founding of a museum dedicated to a non-existing country only five years after its break-up during the bloodiest European war in the second half of the twentieth century was a purely political act. By no means was it the result of a thought out cultural policy, or the desire for musealization of Yugoslavia and socialist heritage. On the contrary, the legacy needed to be dealt with as something undesirable. In this text, we will first analyse the Museum of the Revolution’s practices regarding the topic of antifascist resistance in Yugoslavia during World War II, and then observe the changes that have occurred in the way of displaying and interpreting the same items in the newly founded institution — which was again renamed in 2016 as the Museum of Yugoslavia. We will also consider the struggle of curators seeking objective presentation of facts regardless of political context and demands, lack of interest by the founders, and the absence of state and social consensus. The Museum of Yugoslavia, which inherits an unwanted and dissonant legacy, opened the museum’s collections dealing with the fight against fascism and shared them with artists, scientists, curators and various communities who will read and interpret it in different ways.

Representing Resistance in Museums: The Case of the Buchenwald Memorial | Maëlle Lepitre

This paper deals with the representation of resistance in museums through a case study of the Buchenwald Memorial. The Buchenwald concentration camp (1937-1945) is famous for its international resistance organisation. This movement — created in 1943 under the leadership of German communists — aimed to continue the fight against Nazism from behind barbed wire, and among other things, contributed to the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945. After the war, Buchenwald became the centre of the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) anti-fascist memory: the history of the resistance was misused to represent the GDR as the “good Germany”, and therefore legitimise its existence in the Cold War context. An important tool for this political instrumentalisation was the camp museum (opened in 1955, and redesigned twice), which tended to reduce the history of Buchenwald to the history of the resistance movement and depicted communists as flawless heroes. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the political use of the resistance in Buchenwald was highly criticised, triggering a reorientation process. As a result, a new exhibition on the camp’s history was opened in 1995, which gave a more complex picture of the resistance fighters in the camp. This paper aims at describing the evolution of the representation of resistance in Buchenwald in the political context, and at analysing the way resistance was portrayed before and after 1989.

Part 7. (Why) Do We Need Museums about Resistance? Working on Resistance within Changing Sociopolitical Contexts

What Remains from the Museum of the Revolution of the People of Croatia? A Personal Perspective | Nataša Mataušić

In this text, I present and analyse the different steps that led from the abolition of the Museum of the Revolution of the People of Croatia (MRNH) to the creation of the new virtual Museum of Anti-Fascist Struggle. I do this from the perspective of someone who has been part of this process. Indeed, from 1984 on, I have worked as curator in the MRNH, overseeing the Collection of photographs, films and negatives, and also within the Croatian History Museum from 1991 to 2021. I will focus on the establishment and work of MRNH, its integration with PMH and my efforts to establish a new museum of Anti-Fascist Struggle. I try to explain these processes by including my personal experience over the decades and present the arguments for why I think it is necessary that Zagreb gets a real museum about the anti-fascist struggle in Croatia during World War Two once again. The content is divided into seven thematic units. In the final part of the text, I express my opinion as to why anti-fascism is still important today, not only in Croatia, but also in the European context.

Art as Resistance and Representation in Museums and Memorials: A Case Study from France | Marie-Edith Agostini

In the darkest hours of Nazi persecution, art proved itself to be a formidable tool for political, psychological and spiritual resistance for those who wanted to reappropriate their identity and pass on their memories. Artistic creations — whether they were the work of professional artists or amateurs in need of a medium that could amplify their voices — countered the process of dehumanisation implemented by the oppressors. In the present text, Marie-Edith Agostini talks about three exhibitions she worked on at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris which have dealt with the question of resistance through arts by those who have been persecuted by the Nazi regime: “Scenes from the Ghettos” (2013), “August Sander – Persecuted/Persecutors, People of the 20th Century” (2018); “The Holocaust and Comics” (2017). Among the questions the exhibition’s makers had to address are: What do we show and how do we show it? How do we tell the heartrending stories of the victims without crossing the line into voyeurism? How to encourage visitors to engage personally with the exhibited topic and items? The text highlights the role arts can play in museums and memorials in order to convey a difficult history in a sensitive way and the importance of scenography and design in this process.

Remembering All-Yugoslav Antifascist Resistance through Performative Practices in (front of) the Post-Yugoslav Metamuseums | Nataša Jagdhuhn

This study addresses ritual group visits to memorial museums dedicated to socialist heritage and memory of World War II in post-conflict, post-socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia and Serbia. In the existing literature, this topic is most often discussed in the field of (Yugo-)nostalgia studies. Contrary to this approach, this research observes this phenomenon as a cultural performance with clear political messages. The analysis is based on material collected through interviews with representatives of anti-fascist associations and museum curators, newspaper reports, ethnographic and museological literature, as well as personal experience of participating in these gatherings on important historical dates. The aim of this chapter is to 1) reveal the conceptual roots and political motives for the restoration of “socialist pilgrimages” in the successor states of Yugoslavia and 2) define the main messages that these museal spectacles seek to convey. The central question, whose answer unites both stated goals is: Which aspects of remembrance of World War II and socialist Yugoslavia group visits to museums as cultural performances try to convey? It will be claimed that since post-Yugoslav (meta)museums have not found a way to represent the history of World War II (and socialist Yugoslavia) in a transnational key — as the only historically justified perspective — performing heritage in (and in front of) museums could be understood as a form of resistance to this type of historical amnesia and revisionism. 

Researching and Communicating the Diversity of Resistance since 1967: Studienkreis Deutscher Widerstand 1933-1945 | Thomas Altmeyer

The article focuses on the Studienkreis Deutscher Widerstand 1933-1945. This association  was founded by former resistance fighters, scientists and pedagogues in 1967, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was established to research and convey the social and political extent of the resistance movement. The work was also done to give the German resistance more recognition in the post‑war Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). At the time, the focus was on the resistance of individuals and organisations associated with the labour movement, as it had received little attention in Western Germany. 

Over the years, a library and an archive have been set up and more and more media, such as  scientific magazines and several exhibitions, have been published. With the great commitment of volunteers in the daily work and in several projects, the association works on various topics of resistance. In 2022, the Studienkreis opened a new memorial site about a concentration camp in Frankfurt and forced labour. 

The article focuses on the development of the organisation, the establishment of the memorial site, forms of cooperation and the challenges of the work.

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