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Nation and Loyalty in a German-Polish Borderland
Upper Silesia, 1848–1960

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Part of Publications of the German Historical Institute

  • Date Published: March 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108463980

$ 33.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Recasts mid-twentieth-century national radicalism as partially motivated by local resistance to nationalization
    • This interdisciplinary study of nationalism will appeal to scholars of sociology and political science
    • Provides new insights into the relationship between Nazi Germany and international political organizations on the Jewish question
    Read more


    • Finalist, 2018 Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize

    Reviews & endorsements

    '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

    'This is a rich and conceptually rigorous study that exposes many of the shortcomings of the thinking of national activists and academics alike who have accepted the flattening, all-encompassing nature of the category of national identity.' Brendan Karch, EuropeNow

    'Karch’s work, rewardingly steeped in German and Polish archival material and secondary literature, is an important addition to this growing store of knowledge and entailed methodological insights, because - uniquely, in Anglophone literature - it focuses on interwar Germany’s section of Upper Silesia.' Tomasz Kamusella, European History Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108463980
    • length: 347 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The battle before: Catholicism and the making of upper Silesians, 1848-1890
    2. Nationalism's debut: imagining a Polish community, 1890–1914
    3. Breakdown: World War I and the upper Silesian plebiscite, 1914–1921
    4. The Weimar gap: democracy and nationalism, 1922–1933
    5. Reprieve: Jews between Germany, Poland, and the League of Nations
    6. The instrumental Volksgemeinschaft: making 'loyal' Germans, 1933–1944
    7. The postwar ultimatum: making 'loyal' Poles after 1945

  • Author

    Brendan Karch, Louisiana State University
    Brendan Karch is Assistant Professor of History at Louisiana State University.


    • Finalist, 2018 Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize

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