Bottom-up history

By Christian BlockLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

The Warlux project aims to reconstruct life stories during the Second World War, both at the front and among the relatives of forced recruits in Luxembourg. The research project will come to an end this summer. Yet science is actually only scratching the surface.

Dr Nina Janz carries a small box with her. Inside this box are letters from the front, a few photos and other documents. Only a few weeks ago, the letters found their way into the hands of historians at the University of Luxembourg. A resident of Schifflange had responded to the call of the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) and the National Museum of Resistance and Human Rights to make contemporary historical documents from the Second World War period available to researchers. As part of a conference, university staff even set up a small workspace where documents brought along could be scanned directly on site.

The focus of scholarly interest is the so-called first-person documents: Letters or diaries that give an insight into the personal perception of a person, their view of their surroundings and events at a certain time. This is a perspective that has hardly been studied scientifically in Luxembourg so far, and for which historians depend on the cooperation of the population.

The conference, entitled Local History Up Close: Personal War Experiences in Schifflange, took place in February as part of the ForumZ series (Z stands for the german word "Zeitgeschichte", contemporary history in English). The format was created to "deliberately seek contact with Luxembourg society" and to discuss research results or topics "with local people", said Prof Dr Andreas Fickers at the occasion. The head of the C²DH summed up the goal of the Warlux research project by saying to "get closer to the lived everyday life" of people during the Second World War by researching a "micro-historical perspective".

More concretely, it means recording and analysing the personal war experiences not only of forced recruits but also of their families. "More than 10,000 Luxembourgish women and men wore German uniforms in armed forces and civil organisations during the Second World War, " the project description notes. Who were these people? How did they deal with this situation? "This perspective has not yet been studied scientifically, " explains Nina Janz, coordinator of the Warlux project headed by Prof Dr Denis Scuto.

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