My research primarily addresses the social and cultural histories of Nazi Germany, with a particular focus on the period of the Second World War and its aftermaths. My first book, German Catholicism at War, 1939-1945, analyses how a significant section of the Third Reich’s population understood and responded to the conflict, including both the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and the devastation increasingly wrought upon German society itself. Focusing on the Rhineland and Westphalia as a case study, I combine an exploration of the Catholic Episcopate and clergy’s theological understandings of the war with a social and cultural history of religious belief, practice and mentality on the ground. Using a host of previously unused sources gathered in a range of church, state and private archives, my book makes a new contribution to our understandings of German society’s moral economy during the Second World War, and highlights how the politics of Catholic belief and community helped maintain the resilience of the Reich’s home front until 1945. The doctorate from which this book developed won the runner-up award for the Wiener Library’s Fraenkel Prize in 2014.
My new research project flows from the above, and concerns German society’s responses to bereavement during the Second World War and its aftermaths. It addresses the histories of grief and mourning in German (and Austrian) society during the Second World War itself and how they evolved afterwards, into the late 1950s, in order to pursue this question in all three of the Third Reich’s successor states. By exploring personal diaries and letters alongside artistic representations of wartime loss, the design of public spaces, war memorials and acts of commemoration, the project analyses how Nazi Germany and its successor states attempted to cope with the challenge of mass bereavement, and to address the sentiments of their populations. This project aims to go beyond top-down understandings of grief and memory as fashioned into ‘useable pasts’ by individual political regimes and seeks to uncover the wider social and cultural frameworks which shaped private and familial repertoires of mourning during the 1940s and 50s.