This chapter explores how internment and POW camps, which were designed to segregate internees by national or political categories and to crush political sentiment, often ended up producing transnational encounters. Camps in France and the French Sahara threw together unlikely groups such as former International Brigaders, Spanish republican refugees and leaders of European communist parties. Camps on Italian islands and on the mainland gathered anti-fascist political prisoners, former International Brigaders, captured Yugoslav resisters and Jews. German POW camps near Bremen and Munich allowed cooperation between Soviet, French and Serbian prisoners and links to forced labourers outside the prisons. Camps became centres for political education, often masked as cultural or sporting activity, and developed communist and anti-fascist resistance thinking and activity. They also provoked disputes between communists and anarchists, or between national groups, not least for access to posts of organisation in the camps. Links might be established with resistance networks outside the camps; active resistance within the camps was provoked by attempts to draft, deport or transfer internees to other camps. Lastly, internees who escaped from camps came with both military and political capital to lead resistance movements in France, Italy, Poland or Romania, reproducing transnational connections and activities.
This work demonstrates that resistance to occupation by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War has to be seen through a transnational, not a national, lens. It explores how people often resisted outside their country of origin because they were migrants, refugees or exiles who were already on the move. It traces their trajectories and encounters with other resisters and explores their experiences, including changes of beliefs, practices and identities. The book is a powerful, subtle and thought-provoking alternative to works on the Second World War that focus on single countries or on grand strategy. It is a ‘bottom up’ story of extraordinary individuals and groups who resisted oppression from Spain to the Soviet Union and the Balkans. It challenges the standard chronology of the war, beginning with the formation of the International Brigades in Spain and following through to the onset of the Cold War and the foundation of the state of Israel. This is a collective project by a team of international historians led by Robert Gildea, author of Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (Faber & Faber, 2015). These have explored archives across Europe, the USA, Russia and Israel in order to unearth scores of fascinating individual stories which are woven together into themed chapters and a powerful new interpretation. The book is aimed at undergraduates and graduates working on twentieth-century Europe and the Second World War or interested in the possibilities of transnational history.
The final chapter explores the transnational trajectories of resisters after 1945 and the evolution of memories of transnational resistance. The fortunes of both individuals with backgrounds in transnational resistance and memories of these adventures were marginalised by national liberation, the Cold War, wars of decolonisation and a growing tendency to see the Second World War through the lens of the Holocaust. Memories of transnational memories broke through with Cold War détente after 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, which highlighted Jewish resistance, and the events of 1968, which allowed activists to portray themselves as heirs of transnational resisters. The death of Franco, the fall of the Greek Colonels and the rise of François Mitterrand allowed the return of transnational memories, while the surge in Holocaust memory triggered interest in the work of transnational rescuers. The end of the Cold War had a double effect: on the one hand globalisation placed transnational connections once more under the spotlight, but on the other the rise of populist nationalism in countries like the former Yugoslavia put these memories on the defensive. In the end it is historians who are challenged to explore and publicise the phenomenon of translational resistance between 1936 and 1948.
This chapter focuses on the specific ‘war within the war’ fought by Jews in the Second World War, in both rescue and resistance organisations. The Jewish case is a powerful lens through which to study transnational resistance. As a diasporic population, in intensified flight from Nazism in the 1930s, Jews were already on the move. Many came from multi-ethnic, multilingual pockets of the ‘shatter zone’ such as Galicia, Bukovina and Bessarabia, and suffered persecution at the hands of revived nation-states such as Poland and Romania. Others were organised internationally, members of the international communist movement and Comintern or of Zionist bodies. In Nazi- and fascist-occupied Europe they lost their rights, becoming second-class citizens or stateless, and were despoiled, interned and deported. They were not only caught up in the war but fought their own war for survival within it. This chapter concentrates on the two cases of France and Yugoslavia, to where many Jews had fled before the German and Italian invasions of 1940–41 and where – if they were not rounded up – they played a key role in transnational rescue and resistance, in exile, underground or both. This included working with international rescue organisations such as the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), working with the British secret services and the Free French, and involvement in communist-led units such as Travail Allemand which aimed to persuade German soldiers to desert, or in armed resistance or partisan groups in both France and Yugoslavia.