Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, 2011

The 2011 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes were awarded to Brendan Karch (Harvard University) and Eric Steinhart (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The award ceremony took place at the 20th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute on November 11, 2011. The selection committee was composed of: Ian F. McNeely, chair (University of Oregon); Maria Mitchell (Franklin & Marshall College); Benjamin Marschke (Humboldt State University).

  • Brendan Karch (Harvard University), Nationalism on the Margins: Silesians between Germany and Poland, 1848-1945 (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2010).

    Prize citation: This elegantly conceptualized and meticulously researched dissertation explores how Upper Silesians resisted being assimilated into either the German or Polish "nations," sometimes overtly, often more subtly. Focusing on the local and regional history of Oppeln/Opole, it rests on thorough and detailed use of archival and printed sources in both German and Polish. Moreover, it engages the entire period from 1848 through the late 1940s, seamlessly integrating several widely divergent historiographies covering an eventful century that saw the creation of German and Polish nation-states and two world wars. Finally, it mounts a comprehensive microhistory, treating associational life, the media, and the public sphere; social class and the economy; education and language policy; elections, political parties, and plebiscites; government administration; and religion. Karch's fine-grained and nuanced approach enables him to reconstruct the tensions between nationalistic elites and the wider Upper Silesian populace who resisted becoming either Germanized or Polonized. Far from merely documenting Upper Silesians' apathy and indifference toward projects of nation-building, this work shows how their political culture hinged on the toleration and embrace of ethnic ambiguity and a refusal to adopt nationhood as the primary axis of identity. Karch's finding that Upper Silesians partly avoided the violence and ethnic cleansing of the 1940s highlights the long-term resiliency of the region's political culture even and especially for the period of Nazi totalitarianism.
  • Eric Steinhart (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), Creating Killers: The Nazification of the Black Sea Germans and the Holocaust in Southern Ukraine, 1941-1944 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010)

    Prize citation: This tremendously accomplished dissertation is an example of Holocaust research at its best, showing how "ordinary" people were pressured and enticed to murder their neighbors in Transnistria, a multiethnic region on the border between Romania and the Ukraine. This work advances our knowledge in numerous ways, offering a painstaking reconstruction of a complex story of horror resting at the intersection of Romanian, Nazi, and Soviet policy; Jewish suffering and death; and Black Sea German victimization and crime. Steinhart's focus on Black Sea Germans, the largest group of Soviet ethnic Germans under Nazi occupation, sheds light not only on Nazi policy vis-à-vis the Volksdeutsche, but, more broadly, on Nazi plans for the Soviet lands Germany occupied. Furthermore, by focusing on the role of Black Sea Germans in executing Jews, the author contributes to our understanding of Holocaust perpetrators, in particular perpetrators from outside the Reich. Unfailingly attentive to class, religion, and gender, this dissertation thoughtfully engages methodological issues and historiographical debates throughout the text, all in the course of treating a vast expanse of sources from Germany, Romania, and the Soviet Union. Given contemporaries' failure to keep complete records, and the intentional destruction of other materials, Steinhart's careful and creative use of problematic and politicized sources, many of them produced decades after the events described, is especially innovative.