Professional Geographer
Vol. 55, No. 4, November 2003, pp. 532-533.


Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948

Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001. xi and 343 pp., map, notes, and index. $34.95 paper (ISBN 0-7425-1094-8).

Reviewed by Douglas Reardon, Departnment of History, geography, and Global Studies, Coppin State College, Baltimore, MD

Geographers will cringe at the title. Nevertheless, Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948 should find a place on the bookshelves of those who are concerned with the geography of Europe, migration, ethnic conflict, and military affairs. This compendium taps archival records that heretofore were closed to academics, and fills a void in existing literature in English about the spasm of forced migrations that drove nearly thirty million people from their homes, most of them after the war had ended. These massive expulsions forged a significant part of the ethnopolitical geography of contemporary Europe. More than half a century later, the specter of this ethnic cleansing still bedevils the region.

The text under review is the first publication in a series planned by the Harvard Project on ColdWar Studies, which aims for extensive use of formerly inaccessible material in East- Bloc archives. The access to Polish, former East German, and Czech archives enabled the contributors to Redrawing Nations to add both weight and another dimension to the slender but growing body of work written about these forced migrations. Early investigations by scholars in the West could not reveal much about the decision-making processes in the secretive, communist-controlled territories in the East (see, e.g., Schechtman 1946, 1962). The ‘‘ethnic cleansing’’ in Bosnia during the 1990s sparked interest in the postwar expulsions, but produced some superficial analyses of these earlier forced migrations. Some of these studies concluded that such inhumane and possibly criminal acts would resolve ethnic conflicts (Bell-Fialkoff 1993). Redrawing Nations appears now in the context of mounting interest in the contemporary relevance of those forced migrations (Smelser 1996; Rieber 2000; Naimark 2001) and work that refutes the allegedly pacific benefits of such measures (de Zayas 1994).

The text begins with a fluid introduction to the historiography and a chapter surveying forced migrations in the twentieth century. Fourteen chapters, grouped into three parts, follow before Ana Siljak concludes with a sober warning on such harsh measures.

The seven chapters in part 1 deal with forced migrations to and from the territory of presentday Poland. Stalin insisted on redrawing prewar Poland’s borders by shifting them westward at Germany’s expense after the war. K. Kersten opens this part of the text with a chapter that argues that such expulsions not only largely homogenized the ethnonational population of the redrawn territory of the Polish state but also helped solidify communist control. Three chapters then detail the expulsions of Germans from Pomerania, southern East Prussia, and Upper Silesia.

Germans were not the only group removed. Poles from the state’s former eastern territories were driven out of Soviet Ukraine and into redrawn Poland, while in the opposite direction roughly half a million Ukrainians and Belorussians were forced to migrate eastward. Three chapters are devoted to these movements, perhaps the most illuminating in the book: Englishlanguage texts have paid little attention to these forced migrations across what is now the frontier of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Part 2 focuses on former Czechoslovakia. A chapter identifies the conditions that prompted the expulsion of roughly three million ‘‘ethnic Germans’’ from Bohemia and Moravia. An interesting chapter by B. Frommer explores the apparent contradiction in punishing the collective by expulsion while Czech war crimes trials were holding individuals responsible for the acts used to justify the mass forced migration. Another chapter analyzes the settlement by Czechs on property vacated by expellees and supports the argument that communists curried favor by doling out the confiscated loot.

Part 3 addresses resettlement in Germany. Here, two chapters plough some fresh soil by turning over questions about the assimilation of these migrants in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, but there is not much ‘‘news’’ in a chapter that deals with their influence in West Germany.

Geographers should be excused if this text makes them feel cranky. After all, the subject matter—territory and the movement of peoples —is inherently geographical. Yet geography appears as an afterthought in the analyses, if at all. The sins are large and small. While this book cries out for maps, there is only one, and it is so large in scale that it misses the rich detail in the text. The title is another irritant. It asserts that nations were being redrawn, but any undergraduate in a political geography course should know that the boundaries of states were being redrawn and nations—peoples—were being relocated. This distinction is not a trivial one. The title suggests, for instance, that forced migration ‘‘redrew’’ the national identity of the German expellees from Pomerania—a German region for 700 years. But these expellees did not become German when they were forced to move west of the Oder River. Far too often, places are merely names in this book; they have no physical or human characteristics or meanings. The geographical reasoning of decisionmakers is seldom probed. Nor does this text provide a complete picture. Expulsions from Hungary, for example, are not covered adequately, and the substantial American role in these events does not appear to be appreciated.

Shortcomings aside, however, Redrawing Nations merits a read. As a historical and political chronicle, it could be a worthwhile supplementary text in graduate courses or undergraduate seminars that focus on Europe, migration, or conflict. Key words: ethnic conflict, Europe, forced migration, military geography.

Literature Cited
Bell-Fialkoff, A. 1993. A brief history of ethnic cleansing. Foreign Affairs 72 (3): 110–21.
de Zayas, A. M. 1994.Aterrible revenge: The ethnic cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944–1950, Translated by John A. Koehler. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Naimark, N. M. 2001. Fires of hatred: Ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rieber, A. J., ed. 2000. Forced migration in Central and Eastern Europe, 1939–1950. Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers.
Schechtman, J. 1946. European population transfers. New York: Oxford University Press.
———. 1962. Postwar population transfers in Europe: 1945–1955. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Smelser, R. M. 1996. The expulsion of the Sudeten Germans, 1945–52. Nationalities Papers 24 (1): 79–92.