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Reverberations of War

Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945


Gaëlle Fisher


Locating Germanness: Bukovina and Bukovinians after the Second World War


This study examines the changing associations with the region of Bukovina in Germany since the end of World War II. A former province of the Habsburg Empire, Bukovina was independent from 1775 to 1918, part of Romania until 1940 and is now split in between Romania in the south and Ukraine in the north. Bukovina thus ceased to exist as a political unit after the Second World War and was isolated behind the Iron Curtain for the duration of the Cold War. Yet in the post-war world, it remained a point of reference for a range of individuals and groups who had lived there before 1945. Bukovina’s legacy survives in particular in the German-speaking realm where the region is known not only as formerly Austrian but also to have been the home to 120 000 German-speaking Jews and some 80 000 self-identifying ethnic Germans. The vast majority of these people were displaced during or as a result of the Second World War and large numbers perished in the conflict and the Holocaust. But exile organisations of Bukovinians such as the Homeland Society of Bukovina Germans (Landsmannschaft der Buchenlanddeutschen) and the World Organisation of Bukovinian Jews were founded after the war. Bukovinians after World War II can therefore be seen as representatives of wider interest groups such as German “Expellees” (Heimatvertriebene) and Jewish Holocaust survivors. By looking at the changing ways in which they conceptualised and enacted their relationship to the region, therefore, it is possible to compare how Germans and Jews came to terms with both the experience of violence during the war and the shared heritage of Germanness in Central Europe. Adopting a long-term, comparative and socio cultural perspective and drawing on macro, mezzo and micro level sources, this thesis shows that multiple discourses – Bukovina and Bukovinians as ‘lost’, ‘expelled’, ‘immersed’, ‘forgotten’, ‘destroyed’ and ‘scattered’ – coexisted throughout the post-war period. However there were significant variations in emphasis for different stances at different times. This is explained by the combined needs for belonging, compensation and coherence that determined people’s approaches to the recent past and were significant regardless of their affiliation or later context. By taking Bukovina as a point of interaction for a range of people, discourses and practices, therefore, this thesis challenges the reliance on conventional national frameworks of understanding and offers a combination of historical, anthropological and social psychological explanations. In so doing, it also challenges the direct link often posited between experience and identification.