Alumna shortlisted for Wolfson History Prize 2023

Friday 15 September 2023

Halik Kochanski (Balliol 1985) has been shortlisted for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize 2023 with her book Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 19391945 (Allen Lane, 2022). She joins another Balliol author, Professor James Belich, on the shortlist.

Left book cover for Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-45 and right photo of Halik Kochanski

Across the whole of Nazi-ruled Europe the experience of occupation was sharply varied. Some countries – such as Denmark – were allowed to run themselves within tight limits. Others – such as France – were constrained not only by military occupation but by open collaboration. Resistance is an account of how and why all across Nazi-occupied Europe some people decided to resist the Third Reich, from open partisan warfare in the occupied Soviet Union to dangerous acts of insurrection in the Netherlands or Norway.

In an interview, Dr Kochanski, A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society whose previous book The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (Penguin, 2023) showed her that resistance was widespread in Poland and took many forms, said, ‘I was interested in how the extent of and the very nature of resistance changed across the continent over the war years. Common themes emerged which one-country historians had inevitably missed. I was able to go behind the “resistance myth” which so many countries had constructed to heal themselves after the helplessness of wartime. Above all, I was fascinated by … what ordinary men and women could and could not achieve in the face of oppression.’

The Wolfson judges describe the book as ‘a remarkable history of pan-European resistance to the Nazis’ that unveils lesser-known acts of defiance. ‘Through diverse sources and captivating storytelling, it presents a compelling exploration of this critical era.’

Dr Kochanski said she is ‘thrilled and hugely honoured to be shortlisted. Not being attached to any university, I work in isolation for years, researching and writing books, without knowing whether anyone will appreciate my efforts. My inclusion on the shortlist is important to me because it shows that all this hard work has paid off, and it is a reason to hope that many more people will discover my book and learn what it has to say.’

The winner will be announced on 13 November 2023.