This module focuses on the social and economic history of Europe in the immediate post-war years. These are usually presented as years of complexity, chaos and trauma. It is quite easy to generalise about this period, but life was not the same across the continent; people, places and circumstances varied. Engaging with some of the complexity of the period is vital if students are to understand the drive and determination behind the European project since 1945. The module enables students to engage with the challenges facing Europeans, and their hopes and fears for the future, as the continent emerged from a war-torn first half of the 20th century. There was much devastation, shortages of economic necessities, the need for reconstruction, millions of displaced people and refugees, joblessness, a lack of homes and income, exhaustion, a desire for political and economic change and new divisions. What was it like to be living in war-torn Europe? What made experiences diverse? How relatively untouched by the trauma were some people? What were the concerns of people emerging from the era of World War Two? What did people need in order to find stability, peace and a future in which they could flourish? By using a selection of life stories from across the continent, students will explore these issues in depth to develop a nuanced understanding of Europe in the immediate postwar years. They will then be better equipped to understand the motivations behind the setting up of the European project.
This unit has been made by the team working on the projects "Decisions and Dilemmas - Learning about the EU from a historical perspective” and “Decisions and Dilemmas: exploring EU history through the lens of contemporary issues”. These projects are funded by the European Union Erasmus+ Programme as a Jean Monnet Activity. The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
This module is published under the CC BY 4.0 licence.
In this section you will find a selection of life stories. All of these stories are written up from the lives of real people. They are, of course, not representative of all the millions of people who lived in Europe in the years 1945-49. Each individual life is different. The stories are presented to help your students to engage with the human side of the years 1945-49. It is possible to compare and contrast the stories in order to see similarities and differences. It is then possible to use the lives as evidence to understand the postwar period in greater depth. From the life stories, students can then learn about the challenges people in Europe faced, and discuss their likely hopes and fears. They can use them to think about what people in Europe needed in order to move on from the past and to build safe and fulfilling lives in the future.
In this section you will find evidence files under the themes: Changing borders, New governments, Life goes on, Infrastructure destruction, Hunger and hardship, Destroying the National Socialist world, Displaced people and refugees, Never again. There are various sources in these files, including maps, statistics, eye-witness accounts and textbook pages. Also included is a grid that summarises the contents of each. Students can use the material in these files to research what life was like in Europe the period 1945-49. They can also make judgements about how useful the different types of sources are for different purposes.