Contemporary history of Luxembourg

The violent turn in soldier’s letters

The ego documents, especially war letters from the front of the soldiers, have been studied from many points of view. The letters contain much information about the use of 'violence', whether in terms of the striking power of the weapons and the encounters and dealings with locals, prisoners of war or the 'enemy'.
As the main task of the soldiers was to use violence to win or avoid being killed, the understanding and use of violence (towards enemy soldiers and locals) is a constant factor in the letters. As authors such as Latzel (Latzel 2004) and Buchbender (Buchbender and Sterz 1983) have studied the expression and use of war letters by soldiers, I, too, have come across many references and hints of the concept of violence in the sources in my current project.
In the WARLUX project, we have collected the ego-documents of Wehrmacht soldiers' (letters, diaries and photographs). In my contribution to this conference, I will discuss the use and reference of ‘violence’ in soldiers' letters during the Second World War in the context of an in-depth study of the reading and analysis of the letters. Even if the sources are biased from the interpretative side, these doubts are nevertheless urgent to consider when studying violence and the effects of violence in wars.
After a historiographical overview, I will present my current project and the extensive results of the war letters and diaries of Wehrmacht soldiers. With the help of digital tools (e.g. topic modelling and text analysis), I will present the results of the representation and justification and understanding of ‘violence’. Following the conference's theme, I will analyse different sources in which the ‘violent turn’ can be depicted. I will grasp soldiers' perceptions (and beliefs) about using force and the meaning and motivation to hold arms and pull the trigger. Even though the role of soldiers is clearly defined, the use and application of the concept of force are still worth further discussion. Soldiers' letters are one of the most widely circulated sources on the Second World War - over two billion letters were sent between the front and home. These letters are a rich yet controversial source, but they offer multiple opportunities to analyse the use and understanding of violence by millions of individuals.

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