85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Title: Wartime Violence and Physical Landscapes
Raymond Sun, Washington State University
Alexandra Lohse, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Participant's Paper Title: Landscapes of Suffering: The Nazi Camp System in World War II
Participant's Paper Abstract: Camps were among the defining hallmarks of the European landscape during WWII when the Nazi regime and its allies built and operated the largest and most pervasive camp system of the modern era. Researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimate that no fewer than 42,000 such sites existed in Nazi-occupied and Nazi-allied Europe, including more than 30,000 forced labor camps, as well as concentration camps, ghettos, POW camps, resettlement and transit camps, 'euthanasia' centers, extermination camps, prisons, and others. Millions of victims were funneled through this vast network before the end of the war and even after, when many sites housed displaced persons and refugees. Thus, camps continued to speckle the European landscape even in peacetime, physical reminders of the destruction and displacement wrought between 1939 and 1945. This paper treats the Nazi camp system as a basic infrastructure of the regime's twin war aims of geopolitical supremacy and racial homogenization. After illuminating the broad outline and functions of the system, I will focus on several case studies of little-known labor camps for Jews, who occupied a special place within this landscape of suffering. Singled out for extermination, Jews were segregated and concentrated in camps and ghettos. Millions were consigned to gas chambers while others performed slave or forced labor, before succumbing to disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, and abuse. Their labor and plundered assets supported the very war that aimed at their destruction. By placing my analysis of the Nazi camp system in the context of warfare, I show that WWII was marked not only by the global movement of armies but by the forced mass movement of civilians that spanned the entire European continent and beyond and that consumed and released tremendous energies.
Benjamin Nestor, Marquette University
Participant's Paper Title: Scales of Environment and Geography in Holocaust 'Täterforschung'
Participant's Paper Abstract: My essay considers the myriad ways that considerations of the environment and geography have shaped Holocaust historiography. Especially in recent decades, Holocaust scholarship has paid greater attention to the role of environmental factors as a motivating factor for genocide, and have asserted environmental agency in determining perpetrator behavior in the field of battle. Scholars have also shifted the geographic focus of Holocaust research from German-centric to Eastern European-centric, and have complicated our understanding of geography existing within the network of camps. I suggest that current research has addressed environment and geography on varying micro and macro scales, with little attention to broader theoretical frameworks for considering the role of either in the destruction of the European Jews. In sum, the scales of analysis exist independently with few attempts to synthesize the current findings. Using the Einsatzgruppen as a case study, I consider the role of environment and geography in varying scales of analysis - from ground-level acts of mass murder in forests to a broader discussion on the geography of the 'Holocaust by Bullets.' I conclude by asserting the centrality of geography and environment in debates over the motivational factors of mid-level functionaries, and by extension their role in the onset and expansion of the Nazi genocidal project.
Thomas Tormey, Trinity College, Dublin
Participant's Paper Title: Rural insurgent warfare: The IRA in Roscommon 1920-21
Participant's Paper Abstract: Often referred to as 'the first insurgency' the Irish War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War varied greatly in intensity across the island of Ireland. Erhard Rumpf's seminal statistical work on the conflict lists County Roscommon, along with Longford and Sligo, as part of a 'second centre' of violence outside the south-west. Rumpf's statistics are based on his own tabulation of violent incidents by county but do not take account of variations in population. Later, Peter Hart's work on the geography of the Irish revolution attempted to rectify this. Hart found that, when adjusted for population, Roscommon was the second most violent county in Ireland outside of the southern province of Munster. While not unproblematic, this body of work suggests that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign in Roscommon between 1919 and 1921 deserves more scholarly attention than has been afforded it heretofore. Particularly so, since counties Longford and Sligo have been subjected to academic scrutiny by Marie Coleman and Michael Farry respectively. Correspondence between IRA GHQ in Dublin and the local brigades shows that the national leadership was extremely frustrated by what it saw as Roscommon's poor contribution to the fight. Rather than reject this charge, local IRA leaders on the ground often pleaded the unsuitability of the county's terrain for guerilla operations. Both of these positions are difficult to endorse in the light of Peter Hart's work. Using sources such as veteran accounts, internal IRA reports, and British War Office files; this study will examine Roscommon's two IRA brigades in the light of the wider scholarship of the conflict. In doing so it will investigate how the physical landscape of the county and, perhaps more importantly, its patterns of human settlement affected the dynamics of the conflict between the Irish insurgents and the British counterinsurgent forces.