“But what if the street turns loose”: Civilian Violence in Flemish Novels on the Second World War

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Department of Dutch and South African Studies, Faculty of English

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This essay focuses on the Flemish literary image construction of the violence that took place during the so-called ‘repression period’ at the end of the Second World War in Belgium, when people accused of collaboration with the Germans were victim to fierce public outrage. This essay examines by way of historical contextualization and close reading of some select passages in what ways post-war Flemish literature has attempted to come to terms with this traumatic event and the ways it has inscribed it into the collective cultural memory. I argue that, while the phenomenon of collaboration has received nuanced discussion, trying to understand and explain the psychological motivation and socio-economic circumstances that prompted people to collaborate with the occupier, the street violence of the repression has not yet warranted a similar degree of attention. Rather, it is unanimously represented as a wholly negative event, inexcusable on both the political and the moral level. This approach to our history also shows that while Flemish literature has, in many regards, worked through the trauma of the occupation, it has not yet come to terms with the trauma of the unprecedented civilian violence that erupted at the end of the war.




war, violence, trauma, Flemish literature, collaboration, class tension


Werkwinkel vol. 6(1), 2011, pp. 93-112.



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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego