on 19 March 2012
I really enjoyed this book. It is very thorough and well researched. I confess to being one of those people who often stops thinking about WW2 when the shooting stops, but Ben Shephard's book will pull people like me up short. The tangle of issues left behind by Nazi policies, shifting borders and the nascent Cold War were terrific and solving them a colossal task. Mr Shephard goes about explaining this very well and is not knocked off course by modern preconceptions and sensibilities. For example he explains that many people did not even consider the treatment of the Jews as something different from that of the greater mass of 'displaced persons' in the immeadiate aftermath of the war. In fact, it seems Europe's Jews were sometimes criticised at the time for seeking out 'special case' status. Also, certain nationalities of Europeans were much more favoured than others when it came to resettlement opportunities in the 'west'.
I found the final chapter on 'Legacies' very moving, especially so for having what had gone before so well explained.
Very thorough; very honest; very enjoyable. Great history writing.
on 10 July 2010
For anyone with an interest,in the Second World War and what resulted from it, this is a compelling read. The euphemism chosen to describe those who lost country, home, family was "Displaced Person". These unfortunates met with more trials and tribulations, before they regained a place in the real world. The book tells many of their stories, and the effects they had on the post war world.
on 14 June 2011
For a brief moment at the end of WWII and shortly after, the US was a beacon of world decency and also a dynamo of efficiency. This book is about the untold story of the mainly US led and paid for newly created United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association that looked after the tens of millions of Displaced Persons at the close of the war.
What is forgotten is that as the armies headed west into Germany they were closely followed by a well organised and equipped relief organisation geared up to deal with all the refugees, imported labourers and camp survivors. This had been planned two years earlier and the priority was to set up accommodation, hospitals and food centres for up to 40 million people. And they achieved this with extraordinary success.
There were three main groups: the French, Dutch and Belgians who were quickly repatriated although just organising trains for millions of them over destroyed rail lines was a major task. Then there were Germans returning from the invaded countries to the east who also needed care. And lastly the Eastern Europeans who had fled before the Red Army and would not and could not be sent back and for whom long term solutions had to be found.
This basic task took many years and the US funded most of it. It's a wonderful record of people doing the right thing.
A lot of of the organisers, although one of top people was an Australian Robert Jackson, were FDR's old New Deal warriors and their determination to save lives at any cost has to be compared with the recent refusal of the US Navy hospital ship to treat Katrina survivors because that would be socialised medicine.
I was born in one of these camps in the US zone and my parents were Displaced Persons from Estonia (the favourite nationality of a lot of UNRRA staff it turns out) and my early memories were of feeling happy and secure.
A beautifully researched and written book, and an important record of what we can sometimes achieve.
British author Ben Shephard has written a masterful look at the post-WW2 people migrations in his book, "The Long Road Home". It's a story not often covered in the history books, which often go from Allied victory in May, 1945 right into the Cold War.
Millions of people survived WW2 in different locations than they had begun the war. Not only Jews, but hundreds of thousands of European Christians were either forcibly taken from the captive countries to work in Germany or volunteered to do so. After the war, these people were on the move across Europe. Also, of course, Jews who survived the Nazi concentration camps were freed. Prisoners of war - both Allied and Axis - were finding their way home, as well.
But what was "home" and did it exist anymore? Boundaries had been redrawn, countries that had existed before the war noceased to exist, and countries, like Poland, that had been split in half during the war - half-German, half-Soviet - once again appeared on the European map as a single nation. But if borders were redrawn, the advent of the Cold War also turned people against each other. Those Christian Poles, for instance, now, in many cases, chose not to return to Soviet-run Poland. Where were they going to go? Added to this mass of humanity on the loose in post-war Germany were the ethnic Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia for years (and were the pretext, of course, for the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans in 1938). They were abruptly expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war without, in many cases, any property. Homeless and propertyless, they joined the mass of humanity called "Displaced Persons".
The victorious Allied powers, recognising the mistakes they made after WW1 which led, in some part, to the rise of Nazism and WW2, decided to handle the post-WW2 period differently. The new organisation, UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) moved into the mess of post-war Germany - amid the ruins of most German cities - and tried to provide leadership. Released survivors of concentration camps were often put into DP camps, sometimes, as with the case of the DP camp Belson, in the same area as the concentration camps the survivors had just left. Schools and hospitals and small cities were established in the DP camps. Relief workers helped the DP camp inmates (a strange word to use in this case, I think) with every day living and plans for "what next". In the period right after the war, starvation was staved off due to the efforts of UNRRA workers and the occupying forces - the US, France, and Great Britain. Britain had its own troubles with post-war food and energy supplies.
Shephard writes beautifully of both those caught in the post-war morass and those who set about to help. He examines both the greater politics of relief as well as the lives of those who were the recipients. Those millions of people, milling around, trying to make new lives for themselves in the aftermath of a terrible war.