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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 111-114

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Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948. Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. 343 pp. $79.00 hardcover, $34.95 softcover.

Every society has some dark periods in its history, some tragic events that go largely unmentioned for many years afterward. But unless the society eventually comes to terms with these sore points, they lurk in the shadows, haunting future generations. A few countries have designed reconciliatory mechanisms for dealing with traumatic episodes in their past, as South Africa did with itsTruth and Reconciliation Committee, but more often they attempt to glossover those episodes and to delete them from textbooks and popular [End Page 111] memory. Not until the past has been candidly addressed and a national "soul- searching" has taken place is it likely that scholars will be able to explore earlier misdeeds with the thoroughness they deserve.

One such traumatic historical event in the history of Central and Eastern Europe is surely the ethnic cleansing that followed the Second World War. The massive transfers of populations happened with the blessing of the Western allied powers and with vigorous Soviet backing. With remarkable speed, Poland and Czechoslovakia transferred over ten million ethnic Germans from the "formerly German territories" in Poland and from the Sudetenland in Bohemia to the German occupation zones, and the Czechoslovak government shipped more than eighty thousand Hungarians from southern Slovakia into Hungary in exchange for tens of thousands of Slovaks who supposedly were "returning" to replace the ousted Hungarians. The small number of Germans and somewhat larger number of Hungarians who were left in Czechoslovakia were denied their citizenship rights for three years, a period that was dubbed by the survivors as the "homeless years." In Central and Eastern Europe the topic of forced migration was taboo in academic research throughout the Communist period. Only a handful of relevant publications appeared in theregion, and these were mostly written without access to archival materials locked away in East-bloc archives.

After the downfall of East European Communism in 1989 one might have expected that the population transfers would be a widely discussed topic in the region, but that has not been the case. Most people were reluctant even to bring up the subject, and new scholarship on the forced migration was produced mostly by researchers from abroad. Within the region the population transfers were still an open wound, too sensitive to touch. Besides, there was the more immediate past that needed to be dealt with. The publications that appeared in the region were mostly case studies or partial summaries of events that took place in a particular country, patched together from declassified archival materials and from oral accounts that helped illuminate the effects of the forced migration on local communities. What was lacking, though, was a comprehensive comparative study that would put the population transfers into a historical and political perspective.

Such a study has now finally appeared with the book Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948, published as the first volume in the Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series. It is a valuable compilation of essays on the forceful policies of ethnic homogenization in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and western Ukraine. The authors draw extensively on documents that have emerged from the former East-bloc archives as well as from Western archives. The book begins with a superb introduction by Mark Kramer explaining the international situation that led to the transfers, the [End Page 112] logistics of forced migration, and the uneasy legacy of these events for current international relations. Kramer also provides a valuable summary of the book's scope and achievements, including the special attention given to the way the Soviet Union and indigenous Communist parties in the region used the ethnic cleansing to consolidate Communist rule. In the next chapter Philipp Ther discusses the theory behind the ethnic cleansing and offers athorough historical background of the circumstances that were conducive tosuch harsh...