The Second World War as refugee crisis


Germans leaving Silesia for Allied-occupied Germany in 1945.

From OUP Blog by Megan Koreman author of The Expectation of Justice: France 1944-1946 and The Escape Line: How the Ordinary Heroes of Dutch-Paris Resisted the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe:

On this, the 74th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, when refugee camps across the globe are overflowing, it’s worth considering that the war itself was the violent climax of a massive refugee crisis. Even before the refugee problems caused by the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution could be solved, Hitler’s seizure of power in early 1933 convinced Jews and left-leaning political opponents of Nazism to leave their homes. Not long after, refugees from the Spanish Civil War trekked into southern France, followed by millions of families fleeing from the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg through western Europe.

The response of the Vichy French and German occupation authorities to this pile-up of refugees was to allow most of them to return to their homes and to put the rest under police control, either under house arrest or in woefully inadequate internment camps. Some chose not to stay where they were told, thereby turning themselves into fugitives. Over the course of the occupation, other categories of refugee-fugitives slipped into the increasingly complex clandestine world. They included Allied soldiers who had evaded capture in 1940 or escaped from POW camps; resisters who could no longer stay in their legal lives; Jews who refused to report for deportation; young men and, in a few cases, women, who declined compulsory labor in the Third Reich or who left their war jobs; and downed Allied aviators. On the surface, a Jewish grandmother and an American pilot didn’t have much in common, but they were both being hunted by the authorities.

Read the rest of the article at OUP Blog

Categories: World War II

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