Amongst all the news of the European refugee crisis, one snippet stood out to me:

Austrians as refugees? The full story is in “Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II“:

If the Second World War killed more Europeans than any other war in history, it was also the cause of some of the biggest population movements the world has ever seen. Germany was awash with foreign workers in the spring of 1945. The country contained almost 8 million forced labourers at the end of the war, who had been brought to German farms and factories to work from every corner of Europe. In western Germany alone, UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, looked after and repatriated more than 6.5 million displaced persons. Most of them came from the Soviet Union, Poland and France, although there were also significant numbers of Italians, Belgians, Dutch, Yugoslavs and Czechs. A large proportion of these displaced persons were women and children …

To make the situation in Germany even more complicated, millions of Germans were displaced within their own country. By the beginning of 1945 there were an estimated 4.8 million internal refugees, mostly in the south and east, who had been evacuated from bombed cities and a further 4 million displaced Germans who had fled the eastern reaches of the Reich in fear of the Red Army. When we add the nearly 275,000 British and American prisoners of war, this makes a grand total of at least 17 million displaced persons in Germany alone. This is a fairly conservative estimate, and other historians have placed the figure far higher. In Europe as a whole, according to one study, over 40 million people were forcibly displaced for varying periods during the war.

40 million refugees. 40 million European refugees in 1945.

In 2015, the number of refugees entering Europe is 350,000.

There’s another, similar book called, “Year Zero“. The title fits the author’s argument: he says that Europe in 1945 was effectively a blank slate. Those 40 million refugees had to rebuild their countries from scratch.

As Europeans, we owe everything to refugees. Europe was founded and built by refugees.


3 thoughts on “40 Million European Refugees

  1. My takeaway from Savage Continent was that continental Europeans savaged each other right after the war in more cruel and barbaric ways than they did during it. Refugees of every kind were victimized horribly. The Europe that rose from the ruins was composed of the victims and the victimizers. The lesson everyone learned is “it’s better to be the hammer than the nail.” Nobody ever wants refugees.

    I recently learned many of my ancestors who came to the US were refugees from the wars of religion in central Europe, including the first major modern refugee crisis. They got passed around and ended up in the American colonies due to the Penn family’s mixture of economic self-interest and belief in a slightly more liberal view of religious tolerance than was common. Ben Franklin actually wrote against letting these folks in and suggested that southern Germans were not entirely white. He got voted out of office for that later though — there were already too many Germans in Pennsylvania to get away with playing Donald Trump.

  2. Me and you need to have a beer sometime, Dan 🙂

    Yes, you’re exactly the right about the book. It does a very good job of showing that Europe was a disaster zone for years. Some countries haven’t recovered now.

    Great points about the US. I guess the obvious Part 2 to my post is that it’s not just Europe that was built by refugees. If any nation should understand and have sympathy for refugees, it’s the US.

  3. That would be nice, but I don’t get to the southeast too much, and the allure of expatriation is growing stronger. 🙁

    The western world has certainly had ample experience with creating and then mistreating refugees and other unwanted minorities — it seems like there is progress and at least more of a sense of public shame, but yes the US is the perpetual idealist hypocrite.

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