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The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War

The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War

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by Ben Shephard

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At the end of World War II, long before an Allied victory was assured and before the scope of the atrocities orchestrated by Hitler would come into focus or even assume the name of the Holocaust, Allied forces had begun to prepare for its aftermath. Taking cues from the end of the First World War, planners had begun the futile task of preparing themselves for a


At the end of World War II, long before an Allied victory was assured and before the scope of the atrocities orchestrated by Hitler would come into focus or even assume the name of the Holocaust, Allied forces had begun to prepare for its aftermath. Taking cues from the end of the First World War, planners had begun the futile task of preparing themselves for a civilian health crisis that, due in large part to advances in medical science, would never come. The problem that emerged was not widespread disease among Europe’s population, as anticipated, but massive displacement among those who had been uprooted from home and country during the war.

Displaced Persons, as the refugees would come to be known, were not comprised entirely of Jews. Millions of Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Yugoslavs, in addition to several hundred thousand Germans, were situated in a limbo long overlooked by historians. While many were speedily repatriated, millions of refugees refused to return to countries that were forever changed by the war—a crisis that would take years to resolve and would become the defining legacy of World War II. Indeed many of the postwar questions that haunted the Allied planners still confront us today: How can humanitarian aid be made to work? What levels of immigration can our societies absorb? How can an occupying power restore prosperity to a defeated enemy?

Including new documentation in the form of journals, oral histories, and essays by actual DPs unearthed during his research for this illuminating and radical reassessment of history, Ben Shephard brings to light the extraordinary stories and myriad versions of the war experienced by the refugees and the new United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration that would undertake the responsibility of binding the wounds of an entire continent. Groundbreaking and remarkably relevant to conflicts that continue to plague peacekeeping efforts, The Long Road Home tells the epic story of how millions redefined the notion of home amid painstaking recovery.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the vast literature on WWII, scholars have largely ignored the 10 million to 15 million displaced persons who confronted the Allies in 1945. British writer and documentarian Shephard (After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945) tells a fascinating story of their ordeal. Although concentration camp victims made headlines, their numbers were hugely augmented by millions of foreign workers and slave laborers later joined by millions of destitute Germans expelled from former conquered nations. Aid planners expected a typhus epidemic, but generous use of DDT prevented this. They expected to repatriate everyone only to discover that many objected to returning to Soviet rule; Shephard describes American soldiers dragging terrified Russians and Ukrainians to assembly points. Despite relief efforts, in 1947 a million refugees lingered in dreary camps; Germany remained devastated. Matters only improved after the Marshall Plan's massive infusion of money and supplies, sold to a reluctant Congress as an anticommunist program. Shephard reveals that however well planned, post-WWII relief also produced shambles. His masterful account mixes history, colorful personalities, and moving individual stories. 8 pages of photos; 1 map. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

"[A] highly readable and moving book of postwar relief efforts...Shephard raises an important point about the writing of history, which so often dwells on spectacular evil at the expense of pedestrian virtue...With this book, [he] has made a significant contribution to redressing the balance." --The New York Times Book Review

"This is an epic book, beautifully written and astonishingly well-researched." --The Wall Street Journal

"Thoughtful and sobering." --New York Journal of Books

"Masterful...With its thorough and compassionate depiction of the DP era as a whole, The Long Road Home establishes beyond question the period's pivotal importance...[It] should be required reading for anyone who seeks to obtain insight into the capacity of ordinary individuals to confront and, for the most part, overcome the consequences of persecution and dire devastation." --The Washington Post 

"A welcome and much-needed analysis of the refugee crisis in post-war Europe." --The Christian Science Monitor

"Shephard manages to integrate the experiences of major military and political figures with that of ordinary residents of the camps, deftly weaving quotations from his sources into his narrative...A highly readable, solid study." --Richard Breitman, Washington Independent Book Review

"A splendid account of the refugee crisis, moving seamlessly from compelling personal stories to the larger historical and political context, The Long Road Home is remarkably -- and refreshingly -- candid." --Tulsa World 

Library Journal
Most books on postwar Europe are about the political and military division of the continent, without accounts of the social, cultural, and human turmoil. Shephard helps fill the gap with this study of what happened to the war's millions of displaced persons (DPs) and refugees. This is also a history of the official relief administration efforts as the Allied bureaucracy tried to bring order out of mass chaos and rebuild a devastated continent. Shephard intersperses descriptions of particular personal experiences to illustrate some of the conditions the DPs faced. Hanging over so many were memories of the aftermath of World War I, the challenge of what to do with Jewish refugees, and the looming start of what would become the Cold War. Shephard's book is a fine choice for general and scholarly audiences.
Richard Toye
…highly readable and moving…
—The New York Times
Barbara Spindel

In 1946, a young Polish man who had been kidnapped at 16 and forced to work in Germany throughout World War II wrote movingly about his postwar experience in a camp for displaced persons. "Is there really much difference between 'now' and 'before'?" he asked. "I was a number. I am a number. I was called 'Polish Dog.' [Now] I am called 'Wretched Pole.' Despised by the Master Race Germans -- rejected by the Master Race English. I hated the Germans before -- I hate the English now."

For many, the end of the war meant the beginning of a different kind of hell. In The Long Road Home, historian Ben Shephard tells the neglected story of the refugee crisis the Allies faced when, at war's end, millions of displaced persons -- among them prisoners of war, slave laborers, and survivors of concentration camps -- had to be repatriated to their homelands or resettled somewhere else. Much of the work was done by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which, despite poor management, numbing bureaucracy, and rampant corruption, managed to work with the military and achieve a measure of success.

Shephard's primary focus is the million-plus people with "diverse and complicated wartime histories" who spent years in German Displaced Persons (DP) camps, refusing to return to their home countries. The author is particularly adept at describing the brutal political calculations of the period. Russian POWs who'd been forced to fight for Germany didn't want to be handed back to their own government -- "Stalin himself had declared, 'We have no prisoners, only traitors'" -- but early on the Allies forcibly repatriated them in order to ensure that the Soviets would return the 50,000 British and American POWs that the Red Army had liberated from German camps. Russia also demanded the repatriation of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ukrainians who had not been Soviets before the war but who now were, according to the redrawn borders. With the Cold War escalating, the Allies began to "quietly ignore" Soviet demands that they repatriate those who were, in the words of one general, "violently opposed to returning to Russia."

While the concept of the Holocaust did not yet exist, it was immediately clear that the Jews constituted a special case. Surviving Jews refused repatriation to the countries whose populations had participated in their extermination, demanding to be placed in their own camps. Most Jewish DPs declared that they wanted to go to Palestine, and militant Zionists used the remaining Jews of Europe as symbolic support for their cause, even going so far as to try to prevent their resettlement elsewhere so as not to dilute pressure to establish a Jewish state.

In addition to addressing the politics of the period, Shephard, a scrupulous researcher, creates a feel for everyday life in the camps. Camp economies were run by the black market, with the cigarette the "dominant unit of economic exchange." DPs had to learn to work the underground system in order to get by; as Shephard observes, "anyone who adhered to the old prewar moral code would not survive long in a DP camp." Many escaped the monotony of camp life through drinking and sex. An UNRRA worker stationed at the Wildflecken DP Camp in Bavaria noted ruefully that even the girl who played the Virgin Mary in the camp's "Holy Manger" Christmas show had tested positive for gonorrhea.

By the early 1950s, most remaining DPs were resettled in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and South America as other nations began to see them as a ready labor pool. Countries jockeyed to get the "best" immigrant types, with the Baltic DPs being particularly sought after. Shephard argues that the story of this refugee crisis has been largely untold because it's seen as an interlude, overshadowed by such massive historical events as World War II, the Cold War, and the Holocaust. This fascinating book elevates it to its proper significance, making a convincing case that by touching on immigration policy, nationalism, and humanitarian aid, the "postwar refugee crisis rehearsed many issues which still confront us today."

--Barbara Spindel

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

Ben Shephard was born in 1948, studied history at Oxford University, and is the author of the critically acclaimed A War of Nerves and After Daybreak. He was producer of the U.K. television series The World at War and The Nuclear Age, and has made numerous historical and scientific documentaries for the BBC and Channel Four. He lives in Bristol, England.

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The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
mary_kvn More than 1 year ago
Three reviewers gave this book a low rating because of its e-book price (now $17.99) rather than because of the quality of its content. This is definitely worth reading! Few historians have explored the history of the millions of refugees who spent years (into the 1950s) in refugee camps before being granted asylum in various countries around the globe. Mr. Shephard has made a valuable contribution to the history of WWII, combining both historical and personal data in a highly readable narrative form.
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Gamma46 More than 1 year ago
I was spellbound - it reads like a novel. Lots of information regarding the aftermath of WWII that probably many people are not aware. A very even-handed history - tells both the good and the bad. There are many heartwrenching individual stories but the ugly side of human nature is also revealed. Without taking sides, the book also shows how our government is capable of doing so many very good things and at the same time - in military slang - be 'snafu'. I stopped reading so often to relate to my husband something from the book that he decided to read it also. The book is well researched. Highly recommended.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why is this ebook so expensive?. Sounds like a good book but I will wait for the price to come down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although the book looks fascinating, I would never pay that much. Sorry, you guys really flubbed up on pricing this one.
D_Hunter More than 1 year ago
The E-Book is $10.00 more then the hardcover ! That would be a NO !