Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Neither orderly nor humane - NBIH

Population transfers are of all ages and although they are considered a crime against humanity these days, or at least bordering on it, there is a rich history of transfers and they were mostly regarded as legitimate at the time. I was aware of big transfers between Turkey and Greece in the 1920s and between India and Pakistan in 1947. I knew of the transfers in Europe after the Second World War, but had no idea that the transfer of Germans that took place was the largest in history. This is what we are told in a recent issue of New Books in History, when Marshal Poe interviewed Ray Douglas about his 10 year research project into this transfer, resulting in the book Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (Yale University Press, 2012). (feed)

Vae Victis, woe to the vanquished, could have been another title for the book. Nazi Germany lost the war, and after all its own demographic scheming to benefit the ethnic Germans, the ethnic Germans got to taste the reverse. What Ray Douglas adds to what we'd already know about this history is the sheer size of the transfer: up to 14 million Germans were transferred from Poland, Czechoslovakia and other places in Eastern Europe. The transfer was premeditated and sanctioned way in advance by the Allies. The swiftness of the transfer necessarily implied that the transfer was carried out neither orderly nor humanely as was originally the goal. And the Germans underwent it without resistance.

The operation added such a huge number of Germans to the other displaced multitude that was roaming about Europe at the time, that relief aid became a political hot potato - aiding the displaced persons, would imply aiding, mainly, the Germans, the vanquished. It would be a follow-up question whether this finding of Douglas's implied that for example this is another reason why the displaced Jews, were not helped at all?

I also assumed that these displaced Germans were integrated pretty well, but as Poe brings this issue up, Douglas suggest otherwise, however without much detail. More than the measure to which integration was successful, I was more surprised again by the numbers: Douglas claimed that about 20% of Germans today are transferred Germans or their offspring.

Many more surprising issues arise during this riveting interview.

More New Books in History:
Big History, Big Lands and Big Men
Hans Kundnani about Germany's left after the war,
Ottoman Age of Exploration,
The mysteries of whites and of mass,
A Soviet Memoir.