by R. M. Douglas
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 492.
Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. $38.00. ISBN: 0300166605
Orderly and Humane
is the best single treatment this reviewer has seen on the ethnic cleansing of the Germans from eastern Europe following World War II, including those in provinces that had been German for centuries such a Silesia and East Prussia.
Prof. Douglas (Colgate), has several prior works to his credit on various aspects of Twentieth Century history, most recently
Architects of the Resurrection
an account of wartime Irish fascism, has done a good job with a difficult, obscure, touchy subject. Far too much of what little there is in English on the German expulsions is tainted by either post-war Germanophobia or Cold War diatribes against the Red hordes, yet purely nationalist Czechs and Poles were no different in their treatment of Germans than Soviets, and at times they were worse. In fact clearly anti-Nazi Germans, and even German speaking Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, were in the main treated no differently than local pro-Nazi Germans, and in any case the line between 'German' and 'Slav' was in reality far fuzzier than nationalists on both sides would retroactively make it. The book generally describes what happened throughout the region but the main focus is on what is now the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovakia, but Douglas gives little attention to the Slovak region) and Poland.
Douglas does an excellent job of setting the feel of successive regime changes from 1919-1950. He does an equally good job of focusing on the vast gap between what was ordered or agreed to at the top and the violent chaos of what happened on the individual and neighborhood level. Douglas makes a good case that the expulsions were a disaster for everyone, even the expelling regimes, who economically devastated the regions in question in an orgy of chaotic looting as the central governments repeatedly lost control of their on-the-spot minions and new ethnically approved settlers.
Douglas, however, clearly misses how much of this disaster was inevitable, seeming to have a poor grasp of just how chaotic post-war central Europe was. Six years of war had left tens of millions of people displaced, not just the expelled Germans. Add in demobilizing armies and the beginnings of the Cold War and the words 'orderly and humane' can be seen for the cant they were. Nevertheless, Douglas takes them as a reasonable standard of judgment. He also takes the Nuremberg charges against the senior Germans as a reasonable standard to judge behavior instead of the mix of victor's justice and pious sentiment that they were. A very Twenty-first Century point of view, this presentism (judging the past by standards no one at the time would understand or accepted) taints the entire work from top to bottom. European thought and sensibilities have evolved in the near seventy years since the end of World War II and these memes have gained a good measure of international acceptance or at least formal acknowledge as nominal standards. This new perspective is a major advance in the laws of international and internal human rights, but as the wars of Yugoslav devolution should have shown in the 1990's, even Europeans have a problem living up to these standards. To expect the chaotic Czechoslovak and Polish states of 1945-1950 to be held to these standards is absurd, particularly after their experiences during the recent war.
: Scott Palter graduated from Stanford Law and Dartmouth. A veteran war gamer, one of the old SPI playtesters, he is also a game developer and was founder and publisher of West End Games. His previous reviews for StrategyPage include Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia.