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Level 5

5AAH1068 Europe in the Second World War

Credit value: 15

Module convenor/tutor: Dr Olesya Khromeychuk & Dr Jim Bjork
Teaching pattern: 10 x 1-hour lecture; 10 x 1-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500 word formative essay, 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essay

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The Second World War plays a central but paradoxical role in visions of modern European history. Europe is often imagined as the birthplace and homeland of modern civilization, a continent that spearheaded two centuries of unprecedented human progress. And yet this narrative was disrupted not only by a military conflict of unprecedented destructive force (the First World War already provided this) but by a fundamental ‘break in civilization’, in which the political, social and cultural life of the continent came to be subordinated to an agenda of mass murder. How do we make sense of such a rupture? Did the Second World War arise from atavistic residues in European societies, forces that had not yet been mastered by the civilizing process? Or was the war a product of the ‘dark side’ of that civilizing process?

This module will provide an overview of the military conflicts that began with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in May 1945. But it will not be a military history course in the narrow sense. It will instead focus on the European population’s experience of the war and its legacies for post-war European societies. We will look closely at the Nazi policies that played a decisive role in shaping both the unfolding of the military conflict and the fate of civilian populations that came under extended periods of German rule, as well as the visions of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union that jointly shaped the post-war order. The module will be concentrating heavily on the eastern half of the continent since this is where the vast majority of the fighting, killing and dying took place. 

Preliminary teaching plan


  1. The 'New Europe' and Its Opponents
  2. Appeasement
  3. Conquest: From the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to the Battle of Britain
  4. The German-Soviet-War
  5. The Long Road to German Defeat
  6. Rule by Race: The Experience of Occupation
  7. Patterns of Collaboration and Resistance
  8. Holocaust: The Nazi War Against the Jews
  9. Patterns of Local Violence
  10. Revenge, Flight, and Expulsion

Suggested introductory reading 

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

The following book is strongly recommended for purchase since it will feature heavily in core readings:

Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire:  How the Nazis Ruled Europe OR Hitler's Empire:  Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe, 2009 [there are slightly different sug-titles for very slightly different editions:  it is essentially the same book, so any edition is fine.]

The following books are helpful additional general reference readings:

John Keegan, The Second World War, London: Random House, 2011 (most recent addition).

Martin Gilbert, The Second World War, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2009 (most recent addition).

Antony Beevor, The Second World War, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2014 (most recent addition).

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