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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 109-111

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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.

As befits the inauguration of the Harvard Cold War Studies book series, this volume is an object lesson in the value of access to newly declassified archival resources in the former Soviet bloc. The scope of the study of postwar deportations and expulsions in Poland and the Czech lands is quite comprehensive, encompassing the forced relocation of two million Poles from the Soviet Union, millions of Germans from western Poland, 700,000 Ukrainians from southeastern Poland (and the reciprocal expulsions of Ukrainians from Poland to Soviet Ukraine), and the forced resettlement of Hungarians from Slovakia, as well as the expulsion of some three million Germans from the Czech lands. A third section deals with the resettlement of Germans in East and West Germany. These massive population transfers—involving in some regions "the most far-reaching demographic changes since medieval times" (p.16)—are truly one of the sensitive blank spots in the region's history. Serious scholarship has long been frustrated by the sensitivity of the issue and the previous inaccessibility of records.

The provocative subtitle, "Ethnic Cleansing," is a reflection of one of the volume's central arguments: that the estimated death toll of 1.5 million or [End Page 109] more, coupled with the forfeiture of property, malnutrition, and stunted life chances, was not an unfortunate misstep. Instead, it was the inevitable concomitant of the massive deportations and expulsions, including those carried out in the postwar period "with the full approbation of the international community" (p.4). For scholars contemplating partition and population exchange as a solution to protracted ethnic conflict, these postwar cases demonstrate "how extraordinarily hard—not how easy" (p.22) forced separation really is. Examinations of individual localities across the region repeatedly show that, even after the brutal "wild expulsions" in the final months of the war and immediately afterward were halted, formal directives to humanize the transfers—mandating adequate notice, protection from theft and abuse, provision of basic medical and support services, and the like—were seldom enforced or enforceable. The general hardships of postwar shortages, severe weather, disruption, and inadequate transportation faced by the general population redounded even more decisively to the detriment of the targeted minorities. Thus a core message is the innately coercive character of supposedly "voluntary evacuations."

The volume is framed by Philipp Ther's introductory historical review of the precedents set earlier in the twentieth century and in World War II itself, a review that places ethnic cleansing within the context of the rise of the modern state and modern nationalism that created the preconditions for efforts to achieve an ethnically homogeneous state. The subsequent case studies vary in the balance between analysis and empirical findings; the result, however, is an illuminating mix of broader surveys and textured discussions of the workings of the expulsion mechanisms in localities and regions. The studies are replete with extensive and frequently vivid quotations from the written reports of political officials and soldiers that document conditions at assembly and control points, disagreements between central and local officials, and variations in local sentiments (hostility and ambivalence), all in the context of different regional strategic settings.

As a group however, these studies do more than document the fate of the transferred populations. They also shed light on the entrenchment of the new Communist regimes—the precedent of state coercion, the incentives Communists could offer by doling out the confiscated property of the expellees, and the greater malleability of newly transferred populations whose social networks and property rights had been fractured by the relocation. All these conditions provided fertile ground for industrialization and collectivization campaigns. Also highlighted are the tensions between sometimes contradictory goals. Some of the Germans who eventually became forced migrants were briefly spared from expulsion so that they could be used as scarce...