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Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement in Europe in the Twentieth Century



This special issue of Contemporary European History is devoted to the impact of the two world wars on civilian population displacement in Europe. Each contributor has brought fresh material to bear on specific instances of involuntary migration that are either unfamiliar or poorly understood. The contributors seek to establish the origins of population displacement and the assistance provided by governments, non-government organisations and individuals and, where possible, also to reflect on the ways in which displacement was understood both at the time and subsequently.

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1 Terry, Martin, ‘The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing’, Journal of Modern History, 70, 4 (1998), 813–61; Brian, Glyn Williams, ‘Commemorating ‘the Deportation’ in Post-Soviet Chechnya’, History and Memory, 12, 1 (2000), 101–34; Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948 (Oxford: Rowman, 2001), Norman, Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001); Pamela, Ballinger, History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Greta, Lynn Uehling, Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return (London: Palgrave, 2004). Older studies retain their value, for example Nekrich, Aleksandr M., The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War (New York: Norton, 1978).

2 Mary, Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001), 98109; Fiona, Terry, Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 114–25, 175.

3 Michael, Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Zolberg, Aristide R., Astri Suhrke and Sergio Aguayo, Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

4 Peter, Loizos, The Heart Grown Bitter: A Chronicle of Cypriot War Refugees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Roger, Zetter, ‘Labelling Refugees: Forming and Transforming a Bureaucratic Identity’, Journal of Refugee Studies, 4, 1 (1991), 3962; Richard1, Black, ‘Fifty Years of Refugee Studies: From Theory to Policy’, International Migration Review, 35, 1 (2001), 5576; Elizabeth, Colson, ‘Forced Migration and the Anthropological Response’, Journal of Refugee Studies, 16, 1 (2003), 118.

5 John, Urry, Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century (London: Routledge, 2000).

6 Liisa, Malkki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural Anthropology, 7, 1 (1992), 2444; Daniel, E. Valentine, ‘The Refugee: A Discourse on Displacement’, in Jeremy, MacClancey, ed., Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Frontlines (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2002), 270–86.

7 Robin, Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (London: UCL Press, 1997); Dibyesh, Anand, ‘(Re)imagining Nationalism: Identity and Representation in the Tibetan Diaspora of South Asia’, Contemporary South Asia, 9, 3 (2000), 271–87; Östen, Wahlbeck, ‘The Concept of Diaspora as an Analytical Tool in the Study of Refugee Communities’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 28, 2 (2002), 221–38; André Levy and Alex, Weingrod, eds., Homelands and Diasporas: Holy Lands and Other Places (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005).

8 Sir, John Hope Simpson, The Refugee Problem: Report of a Survey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939).

9 For a recent outline of the circumstances in which partition may be justified see Kaufmann, Chaim D., ‘When All Else Fails: Ethnic Population Transfers and Partitions in the Twentieth Century’, International Security, 23, 2 (1998), 120–56.

10 ‘If population transfer is deemed unavoidable, there must be no trace of the collective minority existence left, no stuff for the resurgence of the minority problem. There is no third solution.’ Schechtman, Joseph B., European Population Transfers 1939–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), 468; other quotations taken from 476–8.

11 Eugene, Kulischer, Europe on the Move: War and Population Changes 1917–1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), 255, 290, 319–25. ‘TVA’ refers to the famous Tennessee Valley Authority created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

12 Karl Schlögel, ‘Verschiebebahnhof Europa: Joseph B. Schechtmans und Eugene M. Kulischers Pionierarbeiten’, Zeithistorische Forschungen, Online-Ausgabe, 2, 3 (2005), available at

13 Leszek, Kosinski, The Population of Europe: A Geographical Perspective (Harlow: Longman, 1970); Nick, Baron and Peter, Gatrell, ‘Population Displacement, State-building and Social Identity in the Lands of the Former Russian Empire, 1917–1923’, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 4, 1 (2003), 51100.

14 Madeleine, de Bryas, Les peuples en marche: les migrations politiques et économiques en Europe depuis la guerre mondiale (Paris: n. p., 1926), 56. Her estimate overlooked Armenian refugees.

15 Kulischer, Europe on the Move, 302–4; see also Mark, Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (London: Allen Lane, 1998), 217–28, for a stimulating modern perspective.

16 Ewa, Morawska, ‘Intended and Unintended Consequences of Forced Migrations: A Neglected Aspect of East Europe's Twentieth Century History’, International Migration Review, 34, 4 (2000), 1049–87. See also Malcolm, Proudfoot, European Refugees, 1939–1952: A Study in Forced Population Movement (London: Faber, 1957), 34; Elfan, Rees, ‘The Refugee Problem: Joint Responsibility’, Annals of the American Association for Political and Social Science, 329 (1960), 20–1.

17 Modris, Eksteins, Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of our Century (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Other groups had a different understanding of how time ‘stood still’ and when the clock restarted; the key moment for German POWs and their families was the date of their return from Soviet captivity.

18 United Nations Archives, Geneva, ARR 55/0088 File Box 063; Robert Kee, Refugee World (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).

19 Peter, Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during World War One (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Naimark, Fires of Hatred, 85–107.

20 Eric, Lohr, Nationalizing the Russian Empire: The Campaign against Enemy Aliens during World War I (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003). States did not bear sole responsibility for displacing civilians; ‘local interests’ also need to be taken into account. See Mark, Mazower, ‘Violence and the State in the Twentieth Century’, American Historical Review 107, 4 (2004), 1158–78.

21 See the contributions in Nick, Baron and Peter, Gatrell, eds., Homelands: War, Population and Statehood in the Former Russian Empire, 1918–1924 (London: Anthem Books, 2004).

22 Rebecca Manley, ‘The Evacuation and Return of Soviet Civilians, 1941–46’, Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 2004. For interwar Soviet preoccupation with spontaneous settlement see David Shearer, ‘Elements Near and Alien: Passportisation, Policing and Identity in the Stalinist State, 1932–52’, Journal of Modern History, 76, 4 (2004), 863.

23 Holborn, Louise W., The International Refugee Organization: A Specialized Agency of the United Nations, its History and Work, 1946–1952 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 226, 369, 482; Linda, McDowell, Hard Labour: The Hidden Voices of Latvian Migrant ‘Volunteer’ Workers (London: UCL Press, 2005).

24 This is an oversimplified summary of a story that has yet to be told in full. Shils, Edward A., ‘Social and Psychological Aspects of Displacement and Repatriation’, Journal of Social Issues, 2, 3 (1946), 318; Eduard, Bakis, ‘DP Apathy’, in Murphy, H. B. M., ed., Flight and Resettlement (Paris: UNESCO, 1955), 7688; Judith, Shuval, ‘Refugees: Adjustment and Assimilation’, in Sills, D., ed., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 13 (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 373–7; Charles, Zwingmann and Maria, Pfister-Ammende, eds., Uprooting and After (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1973). For a range of more recent views see Papadopoulos, Renos K., ed., Therapeutic Care for Refugees: No Place Like Home (London: Karnac, 2002).

25 Eftihia Voutira and Barbara Harrell-Bond, ‘In Search of the Locus of Trust: The Social World of the Refugee Camp’, in Daniel, E. Valentine and Knudsen, J. C., eds., Mistrusting Refugees (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 207–24.

26 Liisa, Malkki, ‘Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization’, Cultural Anthropology, 11, 3 (1996), 377404. Compare Marc, Sommers, Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001).

27 Terence, Ranger, ‘Studying Repatriation as Part of African Social History’, in Tim, Allen and Hubert, Morsink, eds., When Refugees Go Home: African Experiences (London: James Currey, 1994), 279–94.

28 Gadi, Ben-Ezer, The Ethiopian Jewish Exodus: Narratives of the Migration Journey to Israel, 1977–1985 (London: Routledge, 2002).

29 Ballinger, History in Exile, 201.

30 Quoted in Keith, Sword., The Formation of the Polish Community in Great Britain, 1939–1950 (London: SSEES, 1989), 280.

31 Diane, Plotkin, ‘Emergency Care Administered by the Liberators’, in Johannes-Dieter, Steinert and Weber-Newth, Inge, eds., Current International Research on Survivors of Nazi Persecution (Osnabrück: Secolo Verlag, 2005), 53.

32 Clark, David H., 1945: My Crisis Year (privately printed, 1994), courtesy of the late Dr E. Shoenberg, Cambridge (emphasis added).

33 The phrase ‘migration of misery’ appears in Chandler, Edgar H. S., High Tower of Refuge: The Inspiring Story of Refugee Relief Throughout the World (London: Odhams Press, 1959), 25.

34 Holborn, International Refugee Organization, 242.

I should like to thank the two anonymous referees for their comments on this article and the other articles in this themed issue.

Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement in Europe in the Twentieth Century



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