The 'Savage Continent'? Everyday Violence in 1940s Europe (HIH2018A)

StaffDr Ana Antic - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will offer students an opportunity to explore in depth a new field of historical study, and analyse and employ a variety of relevant historiographical approaches. It, moreover, employs a plethora of materials (academic, literary, archival), interpretive issues and methodological approaches to the topic. In doing so, it will broaden and improve your analytical and research skills and experience.

The module begins by addressing the Third Reich's euphoria of the summer of 1940 and its plans for the New European Order of the Community of Peoples, and moves on to discuss the following themes: collaboration and policing, wars within wars in the borderlands, civil wars in Eastern and Southern Europe, resistance and opposition, violence against women and children, experiences of surveillance, the Holocaust and genocide. The module looks at the 1940s as a whole, and questions the significance of 1945 as a watershed moment, focusing instead on important continuities across the 'year zero.' It compares Eastern and Western European experiences, and explores how mass violence against civilians fundamentally reshaped societies on both sides of the emerging Iron Curtain. The early Cold War years continued to be marked by the extreme forms of violence known from the wartime years, and the class will explore the concept of postwar Europe as a 'savage continent', and analyse the significance of various theories of brutalization. It examines postwar conflicts over the meaning of justice, retribution and victimhood, and traces different forms of violence that emerged from these disagreements in both Western and Eastern Europe.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Have a detailed knowledge of the main themes in the subject, together with a very close knowledge of the areas selected for essay and presentation work.
  • 2. Trace the changing nature of, and approaches to, mass violence and everyday violence in mid-twentieth-century Europe, and an in-depth understanding of how the 1940s shaped European history in crucial ways

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments in the social and cultural history of the 1940s
  • 4. Handle profoundly different approaches to the microhistory of violence and reflect on the complexity of interpretation in regard to highly politicised contemporary periods
  • 5. Understand and deploy complex historical concepts which frame the history of WWII in Europe and its legacy

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Independently study and also work within a group, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present arguments orally, and to work in a group

Syllabus plan

Topics may include:


- War, society and everyday life: historiographical approaches

- The summer of 1940: Volkergemeinschaft and limitations of racial utopias

- Germany's allies: Living in the age of Axis internationalism

-  Anatomy of collaboration and collaborationism

-  War of annihilation: Soviet experiences of invasion and occupation

-  Wars within wars in the borderlands: 'Bloodlands' in a European perspective

- The economics of destruction: the peculiar case of forced labourers

- Resistance: France, Italy and the Balkans

- Ivan's and Tommy's war: Soldiers and partisans  

- Everyday life under occupation: opposition, surveillance and participation

- The Final Solution: Orchestration, administration, execution

- The Final Solution: Experiencing genocide

- Civil wars: Yugoslavia as the microcosm of Europe

- War as a social revolution

- The savage continent: vengeance, justice and retribution of 1945

- Violent peace: ethnic cleansing and re-settlement

- Political violence and social reform: survivors, policemen, Communists

- Heroes in disgrace: Resistance veterans and the reconstruction of Europe

- Revolutionary justice: Experiences of Sovietization in the East

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Lectures (22 x1hr)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Seminars (11 x2hr)
Guided Independent Study22Web-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study234Reading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Plan500 words1-7Verbal and Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay303,000 word essay1-6Verbal and Written
Group Presentation2025 minutes1-7Peer-assessed and moderated by tutor
Exam502 hours1-6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay3,000 word essay1-6Referral/Deferral period
Group PresentationScript as for individual presentation, equivalent to 10 minutes1-7Referral/Deferral period
Exam2 hours1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 3,000 word essay and 2-hour exam, as in the original assessment, but replaces participation in the group presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 10 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis ruled Europe

Holly Case, Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European idea during World War II

Catherine Merridale, Ivan's War: Life and death in the Red Army, 1939-1945

Tomislav Dulic, Utopias of Nation: Local mass killing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1941-1942

Karel Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: Life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule

Stathis Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil wars

Michael David-Fox, Peter Holquist and Alexander Martin, eds, The Holocaust in the East: Local perpetrators and Soviet responses

Christopher Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi slave-labor camp

Zygmunt Klukowski, Diary from the Years of Occupation, 1939-1943

Jochen Hellbeck, Stalingrad: The city that defeated the Third Reich (and website

Michael Ebner, Ordinary violence in Mussolini's Italy

Jan Gross, Neighbors: The destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland

Robert Gildea, Anette Warring and Olivier Wieviorka (eds.), Surviving Hitler and Mussolini: Daily Life in Occupied Europe

Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-1945: The German Troops and the Barbarization of Warfare

Davide Rodogno, Fascism's European Empire: Italian occupation during the Second World War

Istvan Deak, Jan Gross and Tony Judt, eds, The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

Ben Shephard, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War

Megan Koreman, The Expectation of Justice: France, 1944-46

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Origin date


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Key words search

Fascism; Nazi occupation; violence; resistance; soldiers; civil war