Sunday, June 17, 2012

The atrocity readers have heard about

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by R. M. Douglas on the forced German relocations after World War II: "The European Atrocity You Never Heard About". Except readers have heard about them. Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin contains a section on the many relocations of Germans. Not to mention George Orwell's condemnation of the relocations in his essay "Politics and the English Language". Douglas does highlight contemporary condemnations, such as Orwell's, of this practice.

Douglas' point that these atrocities have largely been forgotten outside the affected areas, though, is well taken. And, as he highlights, the involvement of the Allies' governments outside of the Soviets, has not been fully revealed. The article proves to be an introduction to Douglas' upcoming book Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. (A search on his book title should turn up other books that address this topic, too.) From the book description:
Immediately after the Second World War, the victorious Allies authorized and helped to carry out the forced relocation of German speakers from their homes across central and southern Europe to Germany. The numbers were almost unimaginable—between 12,000,000 and 14,000,000 civilians, most of them women and children—and the losses horrifying—at least 500,000 people, and perhaps many more, died while detained in former concentration camps, while locked in trains en route, or after arriving in Germany exhausted, malnourished, and homeless. This book is the first in any language to tell the full story of this immense man-made catastrophe.

Based mainly on archival records of the countries that carried out the forced migrations and of the international humanitarian organizations that tried but failed to prevent the disastrous results, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War is an authoritative and objective account. It examines an aspect of European history that few have wished to confront, exploring how the expulsions were conceived, planned, and executed and how their legacy reverberates throughout central Europe today. The book is an important study of the largest recorded episode of what we now call "ethnic cleansing," and it may also be the most significant untold story of the Second World War.

As Snyder aptly put it in his book, there is an ongoing "competition for memory" and Douglas' book looks to be another history looking to point out the shared aspects of separate narratives.

Update (11 Aug 2012): Andrew Stuttaford's review in The Wall Street Journal


George said...

George Kennan discussed the case of East Prussia at some length in his Memoirs, 1925-1950. More recently, the NY Times has had articles about the case of Silesia, which has attracted more attention since German reunification.

Dwight said...

Thanks for the note on Kennan's memoirs--I haven't read them yet and I've wanted to get to Gaddis' bio on him.

And thanks for the mention of the NY Times--I had read some of the articles and should have mentioned them, too. It's good to see the release of the additional information that has been made available in the past 20+ years...

George said...

If you can conveniently get them, I'd suggest starting with the memoirs before you go on to Gaddis. They are wonderfully written. Sketches from a Life is also worth reading if you can get it. Some of the sketches are excerpted from the memoirs.

Dwight said...

Thanks--appreciate tips on order to read or how things overlap!