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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 102-105

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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.

The Cold War involved sovereign states and their simulacra, many of them created, shifted, or enlarged in the closing months and immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Although these political units have been understood in terms of the high politics of ideology and diplomacy, their creation involved massive ethnic cleansing. Redrawing Nations, which collects studies of the forced migrations of Germans, Poles and Ukrainians, is thus a logical beginning to the Harvard Cold War Book Series.

The use of the term ethnic cleansing opens our eyes to national atrocities that fall short of absolute physical extermination and allows us to see such events as part of a class. Introductory chapters by Mark Kramer and Philipp Ther provide coherent reconsiderations of twentieth-century history along these lines. Although Ther is unsure of foot in discussing events before 1939, his proposal of three "waves" of twentieth-century cleansing is convincing. Kramer's chapter is one of the best introductions to the subject we have and offers an excellent bibliography (although some of the footnotes seem not [End Page 102] quite complete). The contributors to the volume do not operate according to an agreed definition of ethnic cleansing. A general definition will no doubt emerge; this book's comparative approach invites attempts.

As the conclusion by Ana Siljak makes clear, the episodes discussed here took place within a permissive context of wartime devastation and great-power participation or complicity. This conclusion unites the entire book. The period from 1944 to 1948 is a particular historical moment, one in which the permissive conditions for ethnic cleansing had been created by war. Of course, this forces us to consider what came before 1944. As Kramer notes, Adolf Hitler's policies provided a model. The Final Solution has naturally attracted more scholarly attention than Hitler's preceding and concurrent policies of ethnic cleansing. Yet ethnic cleansing seems to have been the more pertinent template in 1944-1948. The Holocaust was special in its aspiration to murder an entire group and in its waste of wartime resources. For these reasons it was a less practical model than ethnic cleansing.

By 1943, for example, Polish and Czech politicians across the political spectrum were convinced of the desirability of the postwar expulsion of Germans. After 1945 a democratic Czechoslovak government and a Communist Polish government pursued broadly similar policies toward their German minorities. The chapters on Czechoslovakia, by Eagle Glassheim and Benjamin Frommer, are exemplary treatments of political decision making. More than any other chapter, Glassheim's provides a political explanation of an episode of ethnic cleansing. Frommer judiciously selects evidence to support his thesis that the expulsion of the Germans was logically and practically antecedent to prosecution for collaboration. Taken together, and in comparison to the chapters on the Polish expulsion of the Germans, these essays remind us of the importance of politics in the decision to engage in ethnic cleansing.

It will not do, for example, to explain the similar Polish and Czechoslovak policies by similar experiences of occupation. The occupation of Poland was incomparably harsher, yet the Czechoslovak policy was (if anything) more vengeful. The chapters by Frommer and Glassheim allow us to see the ethnic cleansing of Germans from postwar Czechoslovakia in light of a certain political opportunity: the example of Hitler, the support offered by Josif Stalin, and the possibility of national support. As Glassheim has the courage to suggest, the Czechs' "embarrassment" at six years of German occupation perhaps helped create the basis of such support. Revenge is a broad and complex set of motivations and is subject to manipulation and appropriation. The personal forms of revenge taken against people identified as Germans or collaborators were justified by broad legal definitions of these groups, a connection made here and in other work by...