In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order

In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order

In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order

In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order

Synopsis

The end of the Second World War in Europe gave way to a gigantic refugee crisis. Thoroughly prepared by Allied military planners, the swift repatriation of millions of former forced laborers, concentration camp inmates and prisoners of war nearly brought this dramatic episode top a close. Yet in September 1945, the number of displaced persons placed under the guardianship of Allied armies and relief agencies in occupied Germany amounted to 1.5 million. A costly burden for the occupying powers, the Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Yugoslav and Baltic DPs unwilling to return to their countries of origin presented a complex international problem. Massed in refugee camps stretched from Northern Germany to Sicily, the DPs had become long-term asylum seekers.

Based on the records of the International Refugee Organization, this book describes how the European DP crisis impinged on the shape of the postwar order. The DP question directly affected the outbreak of the Cold War; the transformation of the "West" into a new geopolitical entity; the conduct of political purges and retribution; the ideology and methods of modern humanitarian interventions; the appearance of international agencies and non-governmental organizations; the emergence of an international human rights system; the organization of migration movements and the redistribution of "surplus populations"; the advent of Jewish nationhood; and postwar categorizations of political and humanitarian refugees.

Excerpt

“When this ghastly war ends,” Franklin D. Roosevelt gloomily predicted in October 1939, “there may be not one million but ten million or twenty million men, women and children belonging to many races… who will enter into the wide picture—the problem of the human refugee.” Six and a half years later, Eleanor Roosevelt refined her recently deceased husband’s forecast. “A new type of political refugee is appearing,” she observed from Europe in January 1946, “people who have been against the present governments and if they stay at home or go home will probably be killed.” These statements could also have adequately described earlier instances of forced displacement, not least the refugee exodus from the Third Reich in the late 1930s. Yet although Continental Europe had been awash with stateless people from the end of World War I to the advent of Nazism, the president and his wife envisioned “the problem of the human refugee” as an impending postwar crisis. Two decades of isolationism and restrictive immigration quotas may have blinded Americans to the magnitude of European displacement prior to 1939. The prospect of renewed American engagement with the world, however, revived strong interest in “Europe on the move.” Observing this phenomenon at both ends of the conflict, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were undoubtedly right: the scale of the European refugee problem created by World War II exceeded any experienced before.

The Roosevelts were not lone visionaries. As the war progressed, a wide array of British and American politicians, military planners, and social scientists spoke of an incipient disaster. Sir Herbert Emerson, appointed high commissioner for refugees of the moribund League of Nations in January 1939, expected that “when the war ends millions of persons will be scattered over the face of the globe … many of them with no homes to return to and . . .

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