Neueste Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte



Laufende Forschung - Dr. Kim Wünschmann


Enemy Aliens: The Treatment of Foreign Civilians between Reciprocity, Customary International Law and Political Ideology

During the Second World War, tens of thousands of civilians who found themselves in countries on the opposing side of the military conflict were labelled ‘enemy aliens’. As potential collaborators, spies and saboteurs of an alleged ‘fifth column’ they were declared a threat to the national war effort and to the stability of the home front. Like other belligerent powers, Germany subjected foreign nationals to restrictive measures that ranged from registration and surveillance to deportation and internment. As well as men, women, and children residing in the Reich, civilians in territories conquered by the German army were targeted.

This research project investigates the treatment of foreign civilians in modern war by focussing on Germany and its hitherto unexplored policies and practices towards aliens during the Second World War. As the treatment of foreign civilians binds warring parties together in a kind of mutual dependency, the history of enemy aliens, however, cannot be written in isolation. The principle of reciprocity is of central importance to analyse the question of how far domestic policies were influenced by the concern for the well-being of German nationals in enemy captivity. Did this reciprocity moderate or de-escalate Reich policy? Specifically, could this reciprocal dependency prompt a dictatorial regime to make concessions to its racial policies driven by political ideology? And what role do notions of citizenship play when one side replaces them by a nationalist concept of belonging to the German people based on racism and antisemitism?

This study approaches the treatment of enemy aliens as both a political history of national minorities in times of war and as a transnational history of diplomacy and international law aiming at their humanitarian protection. The principle of reciprocity serves as an analytical tool to relate German policies to those of Great Britain and the United States of America. It also encompasses the role of neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden, which acted as protecting powers, as well as of international organization such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In doing so, the study addresses broader issues of national security, of societies at war and of the treatment of foreign nationals and refugees that also speak to pressing contemporary concerns.