Tag Archives: Alltagsgeschichte

Everyday Life Under German Occupation


Luxembourgian propaganda poster, probably edited by the government in exile
Luxembourgian propaganda poster, probably edited by the government in exile

Tatjana Tönsmeyer from the Bergische Universität Wuppertal and Peter Haslinger, director of the Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung, plan a document edition on every day life under German occupation during World War Two1. They took the stimulating decision not to organise the archives around countries’ reports but to present the sources around four topics in four volumes: “Supply and Shortage”, “Rule and its Institutions”, “Labour and Exploitation” and finally “Exclusion, Forced Migration and Persecution”2. Last week they assembled historians representing 17 countries – I was invited as the Luxembourgian representative – at the Topographie des Terrors in Berlin to have a first discussion on theoretical and practical challenges. At the end of this meeting, three major elements struck me:

  • The difficulty to conceive a common European definition of occupation. As Olivier Wieviorka pointed it out: in France (and in Western Europe in general) war was the exception during the four years of occupation.3 In Eastern Europe, occupation and war were almost synonyms. Tatjana Tönsmeyer, a specialist of Central European History, characterised the history of occupation in her keynote as intrinsically marked by every day violence. Peter Romijn and myself were not so sure that this was true for large parts of the (rural) population in the Netherlands and in Luxembourg and pleaded to pay more attention to normality during occupation.
  • The different national war narratives are still considered as exceptional by the respective historiographical fields. Most of us started our brief country presentation in the morning by underlining how “unique”, “specific”, “exceptional” the situation was in Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece, France, Poland or in the Ukraine…
  • Finally, Luxembourg lags behind the rest of (Western and Eastern) Europe despite a university that will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year, a Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Résistance, created in 2002, and a Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur l’enrôlement forcé, created in 2008: no published guide to archives related to World War Two, no editions of documents, only a limited digitisation program…


  1. The whole project is financed by the Leibniz Gemeinschaft []
  2. They also plan an online edition but for the moment, the editors want to focus on the paper version []
  3. Richard Vinen wrote in his fascinating history of Europe: “In the late summer of 1940, Europe was at peace (…) the idea that Europe was at peace in 1940 is no more bizarre than the notion that it had been at peace during what historians call the ‘interwar’ period. Vinen Richard, A history in fragments: Europe in the twentieth century, Cambridge  MA, Da Capo Press, 2001, p. 63-64 []

Benoit Majerus

Since January 2011, I am working as an historian at the University of Luxembourg. I have written my PhD on the occupation of Belgium during World War One and World Two. In 2013 I published a social history of psychiatry in the 20th century from below. I am also co-editor of h-madness.

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