A Book by Peter C Brown
For whatever reason, people seem to think that the moment the Allies won World War II, it was all rainbows and unicorns and happiness ensued. Sadly that could not be further from the case, as many used the post-war years for reprisals on just about every side of the conflict – some Germans still targeted Jews, others former Nazis, Neo-Nazis attempted to emerge multiple times, and totalitarian Communist regimes started popping up everywhere. Everything was in chaos and if there ever was one “good” thing that came out the Cold War, it was likely the fact that the threat of “mutually-assured destruction” and common enemies kept most tensions slightly below the surface until everything calmed. The Forgotten German Genocide – Revenge Cleansing in Eastern Europe, 1945–50 by Peter C Brown is a new book published by Pen and Sword that seeks to shed some light on one of the more unfortunate chapters in these post-war years – the mass expulsion of Germans that had been living in occupied areas, sometimes for decades, that is basically an unrecognized genocide in its own right.
“The Potsdam Conference (officially known as the “Berlin Conference”), was held from 17 July to 2 August 1945 at Cecilienhof Palace, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm, in Brandenburg, and saw the leaders of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States, gathered together to decide how to demilitarise, denazify, decentralise, and administer Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender on 8 May (VE Day). They determined that the remaining German populations in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary – both the ethnic (Sudeten) and the more recent arrivals (as part of the long-term plan for the domination of Eastern Europe) – should to be transferred to Germany, but despite an undertaking that these would be effected in an orderly and humane manner, the expulsions were carried out in a ruthless and often brutal manner. “
These people were referred to as “Volksdeutsche” (literally “The German Folk”) and were “people whose language and culture had German origins but who did not hold German citizenship”, according to Wikipedia. As many as twelve million of these people were forced to flee areas that had been taken over by Soviet Influence after the war, and as a result it is estimated that as many as three million men, women, and children died. These deaths were a result of revenge attacks, disease, starvation and many other issues that could have been avoided had cooler heads prevailed. The main spearhead for this was the influence of Joseph Stalin, who worked in concert with other communist leaders to purge the land of their adversarial nemeses. The hardest hit areas were Czechoslovakia, the former German provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, and East Prussia, and Poland.
You can tell the author is very passionate about this topic, and feels possible embarrassment for the former allied nations for their complacency in this whole ordeal. It’s not hard to join his side at times, such as when world leaders have some pretty shocking opinions on the matter. At one of many conferences detailing what would happen to former Nazi-aligned Germans if such a plan were to be put in place and territorial concessions happened, Stalin almost joyously remarked that upwards of 40,000 people could die, with Roosevelt coming back with “maybe we’ll be lucky and it’s just 39,000!” I’m somewhat against the idea that Winston Churchill was the lone “good guy” in the conference, considering he directly caused millions to die in many places such as India, but it does seem like he may have been the voice of reason against the revenge mindset. Keep in mind I am not British, and don’t hold the man on such a pedestal as others.
While this is a very solid well-argued book, I do have some issues and most are with the structure of the book itself. Firstly, the beginning of this book somewhat unnecessarily summarizes the entirety of The Holocaust in order to set the stage for the reprisals that are the main topic. These chapters, however good they are, felt like a smaller book in the middle of the book about the topic at hand. This is especially jarring because the introduction basically summarizes what would come later on. Perhaps removal of the introduction would have been better? The book also repeats information at times, especially when the author goes through a series of chapters that document the upheavals on a country-by-country basis. Neither of these problems are a deal-killer for me, but they make the book not flow as well as it could have.
Despite its flaws, this is a good book that shed light on a topic that is almost never talked about in historical discussions about World War II. As “the winners”, anything short of glowing patriotic praise and bravado is met with concern or condemnation, so pointing out that “we” may not have been the absolute good guys is always brushed under the rug. It’s easy to blame something like this solely on Joseph Stalin and his numerous puppet presidents of neighboring areas, but we let it happen in the end. sometimes silence speaks more than actions do. I feel like reading stuff like this is important for anyone to truly understand the phases of conflict and avoid a one-dimensional viewpoint on ones in the future.
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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.