Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nationalism on the margins: Silesians between Germany and Poland, 1848–1945
by Karch, Brendan Jeffrey, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010, 434; 3415417
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the inability of modern nationalist movements to divide Upper Silesians into stable and discrete groups of Germans and Poles. Through a century of ethnic nationalism, warfare, and political violence in this German-Polish borderland, committed nationalist activists struggled to convince ethnically ambiguous, largely bilingual, and nationally apathetic local citizens to forge enduring national loyalties. Upper Silesians' tolerance for local ethno-linguistic diversity prompted frustrated activists to adopt increasingly illiberal and violent measures to achieve utopian visions of homogeneous nation-states. At the same time, by intentionally crafting their own national ambiguity, many Upper Silesians avoided the violence and ethnic cleansing of the 1940s, remaining in their homes even as millions of German citizens were expelled from lands ceded to Poland after World War II.

Focusing on one city, Oppeln/Opole, and its surrounding county, this study investigates the texture of national relations at the basic level of communities. Nationalism emerged as but one option for local citizens to define their political and social loyalties, and competed against alternative regional, confessional, and class-based movements. Before 1890, repressive Prussian measures against the majority Catholic population unified the region in religious dissent by appealing to multi-ethnic unity, not difference. Polish efforts to unwind this Catholic solidarity after 1890 succeeded in nationalizing elections, but failed to divide local societies along national lines.

World War I and the subsequent plebiscite radicalized many activists while simultaneously convincing the nationally indifferent of the dangers of singular national loyalty. After the partition of Upper Silesia, a widening gap developed between interwar activists in German Upper Silesia and locals seeking socio-economic integration while avoiding national declarations. Nationalist anger at continued indifference to their projects resulted in increasingly racialist and illiberal policies, first by the Nazi regime and then the postwar Polish government, to stamp out widespread bilingualism and ethnic ambiguity. These policies were unable to enact the long-term national division of local communities. Upper Silesians endured through violent, radical nationalism by intentionally crafting their ethnic mutability and remaining indifferent to Polish and German nationalization efforts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Blackbourn, David
Commitee:
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: European history
Keywords: Autonomy, Borderland, Germany, Nationalism, Poland, Regionalism, Silesians, Upper Silesia
Publication Number: 3415417
ISBN: 9781124090979
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