War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in World War I

War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in World War I

War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in World War I

War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in World War I

Synopsis

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius presents a study of a hidden legacy of World War I: the experience of German soldiers on the Eastern front and the long-term effects of this encounter. Using hitherto neglected sources from both occupiers and occupied, official documents, propaganda, memoirs, and novels, he reveals how German views of the East changed during total war, and how these views affected the return of German armies under the Nazis. This persuasive and compelling study fills a yawning gap in the literature of the Great War.

Excerpt

During the First World War, the experiences of German soldiers on the Western and Eastern Fronts seemed worlds apart. These separate worlds shaped distinct “front-experiences” (even for soldiers who fought on both fronts) which proved to have important consequences both during and after the war, testimony to the impact of war on culture. While all was “quiet on the Western Front, ” a routine hell of mud, blood, and shell shock in the trenches, a different ordeal took shape for the millions of German troops in the East from 1914 to 1918. What they saw among largely unfamiliar lands and peoples, both at the front and in the vast occupied areas behind the lines, left durable impressions. These crucial first impressions in turn had profound consequences for how Germans viewed the lands and peoples of the East during the war itself and in the decades to come, until ultimately these ideas were harnessed and radicalized by the Nazis for their new order in Europe. In this sense, the eastern front-experience was a hidden legacy of the Great War. The failures of the First World War had vast consequences, for out of this real encounter over four years there grew a vision of the East which encouraged unreal and brutal ambitions. It is crucial to understand that when German soldiers invaded the lands of Eastern Europe under Nazi direction during the Second World War, it was not the first time that German armies had been there. Rather, the eastern front-experience of the First World War was an indispensable cultural and psychological background for what came later in the violent twentieth century, a preexisting mentality.

The aim of this study is to reveal the assumptions and ideas which derived from the eastern front-experience, shaped by the realities of German occupation. Above all, it seeks to understand the psychological outlines of this experience and the outlook on the East it produced. The very idea of a galvanizing, transformative front-experience was important in Germany during the war and in its aftermath, as millions searched for some compelling, redemptive meaning to the sacrifices of a global struggle ending in defeat. In the West, this front-experience was marked by industrial warfare, in a blasted landscape of mud, barbed wire, machine-

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