At the end of and immediately after WWII, millions of ethnic Germans were cleansed from the eastern parts of Europe and sent to the areas which would become post-war Germany and post-war Austria, partly in retaliation for wartime cleansing by Nazi Germany. The areas of expulsion included pre-war German provinces as well as areas which Nazi Germany had annexed or occupied.
At least 12 million people - the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16 - were expelled from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. Those who survived the journey – about 500.000 did not – found themselves among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could.
This was the largest movement or transfer of any population in modern European history. A part of those fleeing did so “voluntarily”, in fear of the advancing Red Army. Others were forcefully expelled in an effort by the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union to redraw the European post-war map and to create ethnically uniform nations and territories. By 1950, the ordeal had ended.
Retaliation and “reparation” were the most commonly cited justifications for the expulsion; ethnic peace was another one: “defusing ethnic antagonisms through the mass transfer of populations”.
To make the horror complete,
tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies’ cynical formulation, “reparations in kind”) in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war. (source)
A gruesome anecdote:
The screams that rang throughout the darkened cattle car crammed with deportees, as it jolted across the icy Polish countryside five nights before Christmas, were Dr. Loch’s only means of locating his patient. The doctor, formerly chief medical officer of a large urban hospital, now found himself clambering over piles of baggage, fellow passengers, and buckets used as toilets, only to find his path blocked by an old woman who ignored his request to move aside. On closer examination, he discovered that she had frozen to death.
Finally he located the source of the screams, a pregnant woman who had gone into premature labor and was hemorrhaging profusely. When he attempted to move her from where she lay into a more comfortable position, he found that “she was frozen to the floor with her own blood.” Other than temporarily stopping the bleeding, Loch was unable to do anything to help her, and he never learned whether she had lived or died. (source)
Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. Of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.
In Hiroshima, the radius of total destruction was about one mile (1.6 km), with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles (11 square km). The residents of Hiroshima were given no notice of the atomic bomb.
Let’s focus on the area near ground zero, the hypocenter of the explosion, which is this part of the map above (the green lines are the rivers):
Below are a few 3D maps/maquettes of this area – which obviously suffered the most destruction – taken from an exhibition in the Hiroshima museum. They show the area before and after the explosion. In each one, you can see the famous dome structure which has become iconic for the event (I marked it on the images).
From another viewpoint:
You’ve probably already seen numerous examples of the new Google tool Ngram around the internet lately. It’s a tool that allows you to calculate the frequency of keywords in the millions of books available in Google’s collection. Such frequencies can be thought of as approximations of the general use of a word at a certain time, at least if we accept the following conditions:
- what is written in books reflects general usage
- Google Books is reasonable representative of the whole written universe, and
- the stuff written in English is representative of all the stuff written.
Those are big “ifs”, but still the tool is quite useful in my view. Let’s look at a few things that we care about in this small part of the internet. The graph below shows us that the words “human rights” (blue line), somewhat surprisingly, only started to be used frequently in the 1970s and 1980s, and not immediately after the end of WWII and the promulgation of the Universal Declaration (the traditional view of the watershed). Still, we didn’t look back since then and the importance of human rights shows a steep slope. A common alternative concept, “civil rights” (usually meaning human rights enshrined in the law of a nation, red line), is by now less common, although in the sixties it was more common given the prevalence then of the “civil rights movement”. (Obviously, these conclusions about the frequency of the use of keywords can be skewed if the number of books increases over time, as it probably does. Most of this possible effect is neutralized because the graphs give percentages).
(click image to enlarge)
This other graph also struck me. While poverty (blue line) seems to be a more important and older concern than racism (red line), the recent levels of concern evolve in almost exactly the same way. Perhaps not surprisingly given the close link between these two evils:
(click image to enlarge)
- Search how phrases have been used via Google Ngram Viewer (flowingdata.com)
- The Google Word Books Ngram Viewer (webandrank.com)
(source, from “Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948″, Edited by Philipp Ther and Ana Siljak; click on the image to enlarge)
Here’s another version of the map:
(source, click image to enlarge)
- Eric Hobsbawm on multiculturalism | Andrew Brown (guardian.co.uk)
- 40,000 Irish people to be Ethnically Cleansed (politics.ie)
- Nick Clegg rejects social ‘cleansing’ claims (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Ben Daniel: Why Do We Ignore the Plight of the Roma in Europe? (huffingtonpost.com)