Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

BOOK: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II
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Table of Contents

Title Page
PART I - The Legacy of War
Physical Destruction
Death Toll
The Vanishing of the Jews
Other Holocausts
Widows and Orphans
Moral Destruction
Looting and Theft
The Black Market
Morality and Children
The Cult of Heroism
Brotherhood and Unity
A Brave New World
Landscape of Chaos
PART II - Vengeance
The Thirst for Blood
The Camps Liberated
The Revenge of Jewish Prisoners
Vengeance Restrained: Slave Labourers
Revenge of Slave Labourers
The Military Control of DPs
The ‘Liberation Complex’
Relief and Rehabilitation
The Issue of Personal Power
German Prisoners of War
American-held Prisoners of War
Soviet-held Prisoners of War
The Cost of Bad History
Vengeance Unrestrained: Eastern Europe
Germans in Czechoslovakia
The New ‘Extermination Camps’
The Politics of Numbers
The Enemy Within
The Italian
The Failure of the Purge Across Europe
The Construction of Convenient Myths
Revenge on Women and Children
The Shearing of Women
The Ostracism of Children
The Purpose of Vengeance
PART III - Ethnic Cleansing
Wartime Choices
The Jewish Flight
The Choice to Return Home
The Return: Holland
The Fight over Jewish Property
Jews as Capitalists, Jews as Communists
The Kielce Pogrom
The Flight
The Ethnic Cleansing of Ukraine and Poland
The Origins of Polish/Ukrainian Ethnic Violence
The Soviet Solution
Forced ‘Repatriation’
Forced Assimilation
The Expulsion of the Germans
The Human Reality of the Expulsions
‘Home’ to the Reich
Total Expulsion
A Cleansed Landscape
Europe in Microcosm: Yugoslavia
Historical Background
The ‘Bleiburg Tragedy’
Yugoslavia as a Symbol of Pan-European Violence
Western Tolerance, Eastern Intolerance
PART IV - Civil War
Wars within Wars
Political Violence in France and Italy
The Targets of Political Violence
The Reaction
The Myth of the Communist ‘Lost Victory’
The Greek Civil War
The Character of Communist Resistance
The Defeat of Communism in Greece
The Curtain Descends
Cuckoo in the Nest: Communism in Romania
The August Coup
The Communist Fight for Power
The Dismantling of Democracy
Stalinism Unbound
The Subjugation of Eastern Europe
The Resistance of the ‘Forest Brothers’
The Battle of Kalniškes
The Soviet Terror
Partisans or ‘Bandits’?
The End of the Resistance
Nations of Martyrs
The Cold War Mirror
Note on Place Names
Also by
Copyright Page


Imagine a world without institutions. It is a world where borders between countries seem to have dissolved, leaving a single, endless landscape over which people travel in search of communities that no longer exist. There are no governments any more, on either a national scale or even a local one. There are no schools or universities, no libraries or archives, no access to any information whatsoever. There is no cinema or theatre, and certainly no television. The radio occasionally works, but the signal is distant, and almost always in a foreign language. No one has seen a newspaper for weeks. There are no railways or motor vehicles, no telephones or telegrams, no post office, no communication at all except what is passed through word of mouth.

There are no banks, but that is no great hardship because money no longer has any worth. There are no shops, because no one has anything to sell. Nothing is made here: the great factories and businesses that used to exist have all been destroyed or dismantled, as have most of the other buildings. There are no tools, save what can be dug out of the rubble. There is no food.

Law and order are virtually non-existent, because there is no police force and no judiciary. In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership – indeed, the sense of ownership itself has largely disappeared. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold on to them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking what they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection. There is no shame. There is no morality. There is only survival.

For modern generations it is difficult to picture such a world existing outside the imaginations of Hollywood script-writers. However, there are still hundreds of thousands of people alive today who experienced exactly these conditions – not in far-flung corners of the globe, but at the heart of what has for decades been considered one of the most stable and developed regions on earth. In 1944 and 1945 large parts of Europe were left in chaos for months at a time. The Second World War – easily the most destructive war in history – had devastated not only the physical infrastructure, but also the institutions that held countries together. The political system had broken down to such a degree that American observers were warning of the possibility of Europe-wide civil war.
The deliberate fragmentation of communities had sown an irreversible mistrust between neighbours; and universal famine had made personal morality an irrelevance. ‘Europe’, claimed the
New York Times
in March 1945, ‘is in a condition which no American can hope to understand.’ It was ‘The New Dark Continent’.

That Europe managed to pull itself out of this mire, and then go on to become a prosperous, tolerant continent seems nothing short of a miracle. Looking back on the feats of reconstruction that took place – the rebuilding of roads, railways, factories, even whole cities – it is tempting to see nothing but progress. The political rebirth that occurred in the west is likewise impressive, especially the rehabilitation of Germany, which transformed itself from a pariah nation to a responsible member of the European family in just a few short years. A new desire for international cooperation was also born during the postwar years, which would bring not only prosperity but peace. The decades since 1945 have been hailed as the single longest period of international peace in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire.

It is little wonder that those who write about the postwar era – historians, statesmen and economists alike – often portray it as a time when Europe rose like a phoenix from the ashes of destruction. According to this point of view, the conclusion of the war marked not only the end of repression and violence, but also the spiritual, moral and economic rebirth of the whole continent. The Germans call the months after the war
Stunde nul
(‘Zero Hour’) – the implication being that it was a time when the slate was wiped clean, and history allowed to start again.

But it does not take much imagination to see that this is a decidedly rosy view of postwar history. To begin with, the war did not simply stop with Hitler’s defeat. A conflict on the scale of the Second World War, with all the smaller civil disputes that it encompassed, took months, if not years, to come to a halt, and the end came at different times in different parts of Europe. In Sicily and the south of Italy, for example, it was as good as over in the autumn of 1943. In France, for most civilians, it ended a year later, in the autumn of 1944. In parts of eastern Europe, by contrast, the violence continued long after VE Day. Tito’s troops were still fighting German units in Yugoslavia until at least 15 May 1945. Civil wars, which were first ignited by Nazi involvement, continued to rage in Greece, Yugoslavia and Poland for several years after the main war was over; and in Ukraine and the Baltic States nationalist partisans continued fighting Soviet troops until well into the 1950s.

Some Poles contend that the Second World War did not really end until even more recently: since the conflict officially began with the invasion of their country by both the Nazis and the Soviets, it was not over until the last Soviet tank left the country in 1989. Many in the Baltic countries feel the same way: in 2005 the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania refused to visit Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VE Day, on the grounds that, for their countries at least, liberation had not arrived until the early 1990s. When one factors in the Cold War, which was effectively a state of perpetual conflict between eastern and western Europe, and several national uprisings against Soviet dominance, then the claim that the postwar years were an era of unbroken peace seems hopelessly overstated.

Equally dubious is the idea of
Stunde nul
. There was certainly no wiping of the slate, no matter how hard German statesmen might have wished for one. In the aftermath of the war waves of vengeance and retribution washed over every sphere of European life. Nations were stripped of territory and assets, governments and institutions underwent purges, and whole communities were terrorized because of what they were perceived to have done during the war. Some of the worst vengeance was meted out on individuals. German civilians all over Europe were beaten, arrested, used as slave labour or simply murdered. Soldiers and policemen who had collaborated with the Nazis were arrested and tortured. Women who had slept with German soldiers were stripped, shaved and paraded through the streets covered in tar. German, Hungarian and Austrian women were raped in their millions. Far from wiping the slate clean, the aftermath of the war merely propagated grievances between communities and between nations, many of which are still alive today.

BOOK: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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