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  • Cited by 19
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
September 2018
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Book description

In the bloody twentieth-century battles over Central Europe's borderlands, Upper Silesians stand out for resisting pressure to become loyal Germans or Poles. This work traces nationalist activists' efforts to divide Upper Silesian communities, which were bound by their Catholic faith and bilingualism, into two 'imagined' nations. These efforts, which ranged from the 1848 Revolution to the aftermath of the Second World War, are charted by Brendan Karch through the local newspapers, youth and leisure groups, neighborhood parades, priestly sermons, and electoral outcomes. As locals weathered increasing political turmoil and violence in the German-Polish contest over their homeland, many crafted a national ambiguity that allowed them to pass as members of either nation. In prioritizing family, homeland, village, class, or other social ties above national belonging, a majority of Upper Silesians adopted an instrumental stance towards nationalism. The result was a feedback loop between national radicalism and national skepticism.


'Nations have powers to tax, make war, and demand ultimate loyalty, but for much of history, Upper Silesians' local identity - their particular language, religiosity, and patterns of daily life - was not only more important than nationhood: it was more real. By appropriating aspects of German and Polish nationality for their own purposes, Upper Silesian villagers and town folk made the German and Polish nations serve them and their needs, rather than the other way around. In his humane, absorbing, and restlessly curious narrative, Karch brings this people's complex and fascinating story to life, making an indelible and vital contribution to our understanding of nationalism.'

John Connelly - University of California, Berkeley

'Brendan Karch's masterful and provocative study reveals how ordinary Upper Silesians and local leaders hijacked competing nationalisms for their own ends. Rather than sharpening divisions, a century of German-Polish conflict in the region led to individual choices that ‘de-privileged’ loyalty to any one nation. Meticulously documented and elegantly structured, the book comes to surprising and challenging conclusions on ethnic mobilization and 'national indifference.'

Winson Chu - University of Wisconsin,Milwaukee and author of The German Minority in Interwar Poland

'This is an important contribution … Karch’s study is a story of prolonged and largely successful local resistance to national projects … it suggests a full alternative account of nationalism-as-failure rather than nationalism-as-end-stage-of-human-development, in which nationalism generates the contradictions that lead to its own demise … a wonderful addition to scholarship on Upper Silesia as well as on nationalism and nationalization more broadly.'

James Bjork - King's College London

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