- Sacrifice and Rebirth. The Legacy of the Last Habsburg War ed. by Mark Cornwall and John Paul Newman
This edited volume focuses on the legacy of World War I in states that inherited the broken up Habsburg Empire. It is ambitious in its goal to provide insights into many different states with complex political and socio-cultural realities. The aim of the editors, as expressed in the introduction, is to enrich the sparse historiography and encourage a more comparative approach. While the book [End Page 437] largely succeeds on the first account, it does little to model substantive comparative analysis.
The volume is divided into three parts that relate to "vanquished," "victorious," and "silenced" populations, each featuring four case studies. The first part focuses on the Austrian discourses of sacrifice and remobilization after the war, the mobilization of radical nationalism among Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, and the remembrance of the Great War among Hungarians in Romanian-ruled Transylvania. The second part focuses on how actors in victorious states—Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania—used discourses about sacrifices in the war to develop nationalist sentiments for various political purposes. In the third part, we learn about the silenced or sacrificed memory of the war. The four contributions in this part examine how various groups—Croatian veterans, Slovenians in Yugoslavia, Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish war veterans in Poland, and Tyroleans who ended up in two states (Italy and Austria) — sought to integrate their memories into larger commemorative practices with little success.
The approaches of the individual authors vary a great deal in both the extent and mode of their engagement with the main concepts that anchor the volume as a project—legacy, memory, sacrifice, and rebirth. With a few exceptions, religion is absent from serious analytical consideration in the book. For a region that was not particularly secularized and where the majority of the population lived in small rural communities with long and well-established religious commemorative traditions, this absence is puzzling. The chapters vary in terms of degree of originality and engagement with the relevant (and not so sparse) historiography. The bibliography at the end seems like an afterthought, since most authors do not discuss those books in their own analyses. A few of the contributions, which I discuss below, are excellent in terms of conceptualization, engagement with the relevant scholarship, research, and analysis. Overall, the volume will be of some interest to historians of East-Central Europe or scholars interested in the memory of the Great War. Most authors assume a level of familiarity with the history of the area that will make it difficult for a wider audience to follow the arguments.
The contributions by Catherine Edgecombe and Maureen Healy, John Paul Newman, and Laurence Cole are excellent studies that can provide great points of departure for further research. Edgecombe and Healy offer an analysis of the "Competing Interpretations of Sacrifice in the Postwar Austrian Republic," focusing on memorials and commemorations that sought to both unify and also sideline specific memories of the war. Their discussion of physical monuments, images, words, and rituals provides a sophisticated and insightful depiction of the complex processes at play. Many different actors vied for a central role in the rituals that developed, and the authors identify five focal points for these efforts: fatherland, God and religion, the monarchy, the republic, and comradeship. More than any other essay in the first part, this chapter points out the significance of religious rituals for dealing with the huge losses in the war, as a means to mourn and move beyond the despair of loss. This chapter demonstrates effectively the inability of the state to use the war as a means to shape its political goals and Austrian nationalism. The reality on the ground was too painful and divided among soldiers and civilians, socialists and nationalists, monarchists and republicans, to coalesce into a unitary whole. [End Page 438]
In his chapter on the Croatian veterans in interwar Yugoslavia, John Paul Newman offers a nuanced discussion of...