Two conferences on European projects in the resistance movements to National Socialism, 1939-1945


“I pulled the thread of lies and everything came[1]“: the deliberately provocative title of the book by the French politician Philippe de Villiers provoked many reactions from European historians. De Villiers had indeed denounced European integration as the work of the Nazis and the CIA, accusing Robert Schuman in particular of having worked under the orders of Pétain during German occupation. On 28 March 2019, the French newspaper Le Monde published the response of historians reacting to the “falsification of the history of the Union”, denouncing a biased interpretation of history[2]. The controversy continued with interposed responses. This event testifies to the way in which the study of the Europe of war and its reconstruction still concentrates many political and ideological issues today, of which we must of course be fully aware. It is therefore no coincidence that the colloquium on European resistance referred to this recent controversy.

The German Historical Institute (IHA) in Paris hosted from 8 to 10 April 2019 the conference “We are fighting for a Europe of peace”-European projects in the German and European resistances 1939-1945[3]. The aim was to provide new insights into European resistance movements, built in opposition to National Socialism. Indeed, it is at the heart of these movements that multiple plans and projects for Europe have emerged: common European solutions were considered an essential condition for ensuring peace and economic development, and thus for avoiding future conflicts.

Despite this, the importance of the Resistance movements in the initiation of European integration has been overlooked, considering 1945 as the “zero” year of this process. This view is based, among other things, on the expression “zero hour” (Stunde Null) attributed to the period of German reconstruction after Nazism. A historiographical rethinking is therefore necessary. To underline this renewal of thinking, Stefan Martens insisted at the opening on the various organizations set up by historians such as the Musée de la Libération de Paris (an initiative of historian Christine Levisse-Touzé) and the Memorial of the German Resistance in Berlin. Mr Martens also insisted at length on the renewal of the history of the German resistance (Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand), through the figure of the German historian Peter Steinbach, author of Die Gesichter des Widerstands (The Faces of the Resistance, 2004).

It was this rediscovery of the history of German resistance and exile during the Second World War that, in my opinion, generated the most interest.  Indeed, this complex history is still little known, compared to studies on European resistance in the occupied countries. The historian Michael Kissener was thus able to present a typology of German resistances.  It has also been shown that the evolution of historiography has been greatly enriched by Franco-German cooperation in this field.

However, the conference did not focus solely on this Franco-German historiographical dynamic, and left much room for case studies from Eastern Europe. The presentation that impressed me the most was Lubor Jilek’s on diplomats and soldiers (Polish and Czech) exiled in London. This presentation highlighted spaces of « secrets » between exiled people and especially different aims between them: Poles wishing to set up a grouping of small European countries, while Czechs preferred to ally themselves with the great Soviet power. This study by Lubor Jilek shows the importance of crossing national histories, of questioning dialogues between resistance actors. The overcoming of strictly national experiences has thus been strongly recommended by Corine Defrance, who advocates a transnational approach to history. The transnational approach is also at the heart of our historical research about the European Postal and Telecommunications Union.

Wilfried Loth concluded that it is a mistake to focus the study of resistance only with the prism of diplomatic history. Similarly, this idea of a “united Europe” must be qualified as an objective of resistance, but not essential, contrary to what Hubert Halin had put forward in his book in 1967[4].

What we can learn from this conference is that whatever the way we look at Europe through experiences of resistance, we are led to reconsider our methods and practices as historians. We should be used to cross the scales of analysis. These questions about resistance and Europe are still subject to debate and controversy; as we saw in the case of Philippe De Villiers’ book. Europe is therefore still at the heart of the debates, and therefore a hitoriographical renewal. We should also note the recent efforts to promote a new reading of the European projects that existed during the Second World War. It is the case with the Moscow Congress of December 2018 on asymmetric Europe and ideologies during the Second World War. This congress was organised by the International Association for Contemporary History in Europe (AICHE, Association Internationale d’Histoire de l’Europe Contemporaine). The European history of the 20th century has been marked by an alternation between common European projects and a questioning of these projects by different visions. A significant difference appears between “old Europe” and the one born after the First World War, known according to custom as “Central Europe” for some, “Eastern” for others, or even “Central-Eastern” or “Danube”. The divergences between these “two Europe”, as Francis Delaisi already pointed out in the inter-war period, are glaring and are expressed throughout the 20th century. They are at work in the Versailles system, as through the Hitlerian project for Europe. They are still present during the Cold War.

The purpose of the Moscow conference was therefore to explore this asymmetry. Like the both conferences on resistance movements, it challenges realities that have been taken for granted. It also questions the existence of one or more Europe(s) during the Second World War, while seeking not to focus the study solely on “Western Europe” to the detriment of “Eastern Europe”. This is further evidence of the renewed interest for the period 1939-1945.

(V.A.)


[1] De Villiers, Philippe, J’ai tiré sur le fil du mensonge et tout est venu, Paris, Fayard, 2019.

[2] URL : http://sirice.eu/l-umr-sirice/vie-de-l-umr/tribune-du-monde-d-historiens-en-reponse-au-livre-de-philippe-de-villiers

[3] URL ; https://www.dhi-paris.fr/fileadmin/user_upload/DHI_Paris/05_Veranstaltungen/02_Tagung/2019/2019_Programm_Tagung_Europaplaene_final.pdf

[4] Halin, Hubert, L’Europe unie, objectif majeur de la Résistance, Paris,  Union des Résistants pour une Europe Unie (U.R.P.E.), 1967


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