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Bielefeld Graduate School
in History and Sociology
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Kerstin Schulte

"Volksgemeinschaft" behind barbed wire. The internment camps of the British and American Occupation Zone and their significance for the German postwar society, 1945-1950

Previous historical research has already discussed the general topology of internment camps and the allied occupation policy while the internees have received little attention so far. Especially their experiences and self-perception has been neglected. I argue that the experience of internment extended into the postwar period and remained powerful. The community forming experiences in the internment camps also led to a renewal of the idea of the "Volksgemeinschaft". Life in internment camps required qualities that also had been central values of the "Volksgemeinschaft", like companionship, sincerity and fulfillment of duties. Narratives of community (like "Volksgemeinschaft", community of fate or community of sacrifice), construction of identity and dissociation from the Allied occupation are shaped in internment camps of the immediate postwar period. In the center of my project are the narratives that were shaped in the camps and their influence on the West German postwar society.

My dissertation project is based on the research hypothesis that the experience of "Volksgemeinschaft" was not only derived from the experiences of 1933 to 1945, but has essentially been shaped in internment camps of the postwar period. The camp experience of former Nazis was not detrimental for their integration in the postwar society, but in fact created a common space of experiences and community which was helpful in creating networks. The Nazi past was therefore not divisive for this group but, even seemed to connect people through a commonly shared camp experience. This phenomenon had a long-lasting significance even after the war and into the early years of the Federal Republic.

Vita (Selection)

April 2016 - present: Doctoral Researcher (Ph.D. Candidate) at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS); Supervisor: Dr. Daniel Siemens

2012-2015: M.A. in History, Bielefeld University

Thesis: Social Darwinism in a transnational perspective. Transfer of a biopolitical concept between Great Britain, the USA and Germany (written in German)

2008-2012: B.A. in History and Computational linguistics, Bielefeld University

Thesis: The concept of the nation state and the interpretation of the Franco-German War in Marx, Engels and the First International (written in German)

Research Fellowships:

  • January 2017 - present: PhD scholarship by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung
  • April-June 2017: Doctoral Fellowship at the German Historical Institute London (GHIL)
  • October-December 2016: PhD scholarship by the FAZIT-Stiftung
  • February-July 2016: Bielefeld Young Researchers' Fund scholarship: Career Bridge Master-Doctorate
  • October 2015-January 2016: Shortcuts scholarship at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS)


November 2016: "Civilian Internment Camps of the British and American Occupation Zone and their Significance for the West German Postwar Society, 1945-1950", Seminar at the Department of History, University of Malmö (Sweden)

November 2016: "Die Internierungslager in Westdeutschland im Kontext der alliierten Besatzungspraxis. Die Fallbeispiele Staumühle und Moosburg", Seminar on German History after 1945, Lund University (Sweden)

August 2016: "'Volksgemeinschaft' hinter Stacheldraht. Die Internierungslager in der britischen und US-amerikanischen Besatzungszone und ihre Bedeutung für die deutsche Nachkriegsgesellschaft, 1945-1950", 11th European Summer School Ravensbrück - Camps in the Twentieth Century. Labor, Repression and Forced Migration from the Perspective of Gender History (Research Forum for Early career academics), Fürstenberg an der Havel, Germany

May 2016: "The 'Volksgemeinschaft? Behind Barbed Wire? The Internment Camps of the British and American Occupation Zone in Germany, 1945-1950", 7th International PhD Student Workshop Exchange University of Notre Dame - BGHS (Bielefeld University)

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