Surprisingly early in the Second World War – long before an Allied victory was assured – people began to plan for its aftermath. They were haunted by memories of what happened a generation before – when the millions of soldiers killed on the battlefields of the Great War had been eclipsed by the millions more civilians carried off by disease and starvation when the conflict was over. They were determined that this time around the ceasefire would not be followed by a civilian disaster.
Confronted by an entire continent starving and uprooted, and with the help of a new UN body to aid the populations of Europe and Asia, Allied planners did not single out victims of the Nazi death camps for particular attention, but devised strategies to help all ‘displaced persons’ – as they had become known by 1943.
Most of the fifteen million foreign labourers in Germany were speedily repatriated. But a million-and-a-half people – Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and Yugoslavs – refused to go home.
It took the Allies seven years to resolve this problem. They had to create the state of Israel, alter the whole basis of their immigration policy and let thousands of war criminals go free.
This book offers a radical reassessment of the aftermath of World War II. Unlike most recent writing about the 1940s, it assesses the events and personalities of that decade in terms of contemporary standards and values. In particular, it shows that the tragic consequences of war were understood not in terms of genocide, but of displacement – of millions of people deprived of their homes and often forced to work for the Germans.