1938 is considered the key year in the radicalization of the persecution of European Jewries as well as in preparations for the war of aggression against Poland. The discussion in the historical literature generally cites a few central events of this year and describes them as framing conditions. They include the German annexation of Austria, the Évian Conference, the Sudeten crisis or the Munich Agreement and the November pogroms. Narratives about 1938 feature a strong emphasis on foreign policy, which is in turn centered on the West. Opening perspectives towards the East, to the Eastern and East-Central European states, which were transformed in the course of the years 1938/39 from independent state actors into occupied countries has been productive for the ongoing historical discussion.
Two central processes took place simultaneously in 1938: The radicalization of anti-Jewish persecution in Germany and the annexed territories and planning and preparations for the German invasion of Poland. From this point in time, we should think of military history and the history of persecution as intertwined. The racist/ethnicized reorganization of Europe violently implemented by Nazi Germany began in 1938 and beyond. Discourses of social engineering, “social hygiene“ and a territorially based ethnic order, some of which had been ideologically dominant for decades took concrete effect, along with a politics of exclusion.
Recent historical studies have frequently distorted our view of the remaining autonomy of the East (Central) European states, integrated into the transnational network of states, under the label “bloodlands“ (Timothy Snyder). The perspective adopted here understands the states of the region as core European states, which operated until the German invasion as independent actors in the international framework. The aim of this approach is to provide a fresh perspective on otherwise overlooked actors and events.
Two thematic areas are of particular interest for the conference: First, new interpretations of and research on the traditional narrative elements of 1938 and beyond that were introduced above, and second, new ways of looking at 1938 and beyond from the viewpoint of the East (Central) European states. The political debates and decisions on nation and ethnicity, self- assertion, borders and defense are of particular interest. This encompasses topics such as new laws and discourses on nationality/citizenship, border disputes, rearmament and minority conflicts.
Central questions for the conference
- Which additional relevant events involving preparations for war and persecution can be located in the period of 1938 and beyond?
- What current research findings and reinterpretations exist on the central events of 1938 outlined above?
- How does our understanding of the crucial years change if we take into account the agency of the Eastern and East-Central European states as sovereign states up to the German invasion, that is, if we consistently think “from the East.”
Please send suggestions for contributions, 1–1.5 pages with a short biographical note, by 6 April 2018 to Alina Bothe (firstname.lastname@example.org). The selected participants will be informed as soon as possible.
We intend to publish selected contributions. We are currently applying for funds for travel and accommodation.
Contact: Alina Bothe, Freie Universität Berlin, email@example.com