Visualizing Victory, Visualizing Defeat: The Material Culture of Occupation in the Wake of World War II

AHA Session 173
Central European History Society 7
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Price Room (Palmer House Hilton, Fifth Floor)
Pamela M. Potter, University of WisconsinMadison

Session Abstract

This panel contends that the occupation in World War II and its aftermath was in many ways a visual occupation. In the aftermath of 1945, the visual became a site of contestations over the victories and defeats of World War II. During the war, the Nazis exploited new visual technologies of power, including photography, fine art, and urban planning. Because the occupation was visual, these material traces of war did not simply disappear from the European landscape after 1945. Instead, this panel contends that the victors and postwar occupiers encountered and used these remnants as tools of their own occupation. Denazification included not only the punishment of those guilty in the war, but also the attempt to eradicate the traces of Nazism left behind.

“Visualizing Victory, Visualizing Defeat” prioritizes the role of the visual – not just fine art, but also photography, spatial mapping, and architectural memorialization, during this period of transition, transformation, and suppression in Europe. This interdisciplinary session aims to examine how visual culture shaped experiences of occupation during the Nazi period and in the liminal stage of the postwar. How did the visual traces of Nazism on the European landscape impact the Allied approach to de-Nazification? How did memorialization depend on emotional visual memories of the war? How did the Nazis employ visual technologies of power? In what ways did images, produced under occupation, serve as legal and historical evidence against collaborators and Nazi officials?

Three of the papers look to the period of the postwar as a time when visual and material culture were key instruments through which to claim victory, instruct defeat, or galvanize survivors of the war; the final paper examines the role of urban planning and spatial mapping during the period of Nazi occupation. Abigail Lewis and Jennifer Gramer each explore the way that photography and fine art, specifically painting, produced during the postwar occupation period, were dealt with by French and American powers in order to prevent the rise of fascism again in Europe. Jonathan Brunstedt then takes the panel to the Soviet Union, where he looks at the tensions between “Russian” and “Soviet” ideas of patriotism, invasion, occupation, and victory as embodied by Moscow’s All-Soviet Victory Monument, examining how debates regarding the memory of the war impacted the representation of victory. Finally Paul Jaskot’s paper pushes our perspective back to Poland during the Nazi occupation and their use of architectural and urban planning in Krakow as central to their control. Jaskot’s research employs the innovation of iterative digital mapping to examine the ideological goals of the Nazis’ move east.

Our panel’s focus on the visual remnants of the Nazi and immediate postwar period sheds light on how the past not only haunts the present but is instrumentalized by it. Although denazification attempted to eradicate any traces of Nazism, its highly politicized and inconsistent implementation reveals a complex web of conflicting identities and loyalties to the past and the present: German versus Allied, old world versus new world, even Russian versus Soviet.

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