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The presentation of Europe's immediate historical past has quite dramatically changed. Conventional depictions of occupation and collaboration in World War II, of wartime resistance and post-war renewal, provided the familiar backdrop against which the chronicle of post-war Europe has mostly been told. Within these often ritualistic presentations, it was possible to conceal the fact that not only were the majority of people in Hitler's Europe not resistance fighters but millions actively co-operated with and many...
The presentation of Europe's immediate historical past has quite dramatically changed. Conventional depictions of occupation and collaboration in World War II, of wartime resistance and post-war renewal, provided the familiar backdrop against which the chronicle of post-war Europe has mostly been told. Within these often ritualistic presentations, it was possible to conceal the fact that not only were the majority of people in Hitler's Europe not resistance fighters but millions actively co-operated with and many millions more rather easily accommodated to Nazi rule. Moreover, after the war, those who judged former collaborators were sometimes themselves former collaborators. Many people became innocent victims of retribution, while others--among them notorious war criminals--escaped punishment. Nonetheless, the process of retribution was not useless but rather a historically unique effort to purify the continent of the many sins Europeans had committed. This book sheds light on the collective amnesia that overtook European governments and peoples regarding their own responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity--an amnesia that has only recently begun to dissipate as a result of often painful searching across the continent.
In inspiring essays, a group of internationally renowned scholars unravels the moral and political choices facing European governments in the war's aftermath: how to punish the guilty, how to decide who was guilty of what, how to convert often unspeakable and conflicted war experiences and memories into serviceable, even uplifting accounts of national history. In short, these scholars explore how the drama of the immediate past was (and was not) successfully "overcome." Through their comparative and transnational emphasis, they also illuminate the division between eastern and western Europe, locating its origins both in the war and in post-war domestic and international affairs. Here, as in their discussion of collaborators' trials, the authors lay bare the roots of the many unresolved and painful memories clouding present-day Europe.
Contributors are Brad Abrams, Martin Conway, Sarah Farmer, Luc Huyse, László Karsai, Mark Mazower, and Peter Romijn, as well as the editors. Taken separately, their essays are significant contributions to the contemporary history of several European countries. Taken together, they represent an original and pathbreaking account of a formative moment in the shaping of Europe at the dawn of a new millennium.
"The first question that leaps to mind is why the story of a massacre so monstrous, and of such historic significance, should surface only now, half a century after the fact. The answer to this question is both startling and complex . . . A detailed account is provided by the sociologist and historian Jan T. Gross in his book. . . ."--Abraham Brumberg, Times Literary Supplement
"Not surprisingly, Mr. Gross's book has sparked wails of outrage from many in Jedwabne and across Poland, where many feel he has greatly damaged the country's reputation. In time, however, it should become apparent that Mr. Gross has really done Poland an inestimable favor. His book has effectively thrown down the gauntlet, challenging Poles to live in truth."--Bruce I. Konviser, Wall Street Journal
"A fine example of comparative history . . . introduced and concluded by some of the most thought-provoking meditations on the general sculpting of post-war identity, the continental shift from 'war' to 'peace,' and the implications of the nascent cold war that this reviewer has encountered"--Donald Bloxham, History
"This collective work is an essential source for anyone interested in the many complex and controversial questions associated with World War II and its aftermath."--Randolph L. Braham, Slavic Review
"An] important volume . . . [It is] successful because the editors themselves make important contributions to the analysis of retributive justice. . . The cases that are discussed . . . Add a great deal to our understanding of the political determinants of postwar justice."--Norman M. Naimark, American Historical Review
Conquering armies over the centuries have always found willing collaborators in the countries they occupy, and, if sufficiently oppressive and brutal, they have also met with civilian resistance. Following occupation, those who had given aid and comfort to the enemy were often hunted down and punished. In the annals of history, however, never have so many people been caught up in the process of collaboration, resistance, and retribution as in Europe during and after the Second World War. True, even then, active collaborators and active resisters were but a small minority among the many who just wanted to get by, but the impact of collaboration and resistance was so great as to affect nearly everyone's life.
Postwar purges, part of a brutal and sweeping pattern of retribution, produced an enormous demographic upheaval-especially in Central and Eastern Europe-one whose long-range consequences we are still unable to fathom. Moreoever, an extraordinary number of individuals were prosecuted, after the war, for collaboration and war crimes. This is not to say that all the guilty were actually punished. Far from it-some of the most obnoxious traitors and war criminals escaped retribution altogether. 1 It is to say only that all across what once had been Hitler's Europe, an attempt at retribution frightened or, alternately, exhilarated vast sections of the population.
What motivated the postwar antifascist regimes was, primarily, rightful indignation over the many acts of cruelty and treason committed by the collaborators. There were other motives as well: the desire to place the blame on specific individuals for what had been, in reality, a large scale, popular accommodation with the enemy, and the perceived need to eliminate, or at least to reduce, the influence of social, political, and ethnic groups that might stand in the way of the creation of a new society and state.
Just as accommodation to the wishes of the occupier had been popular in most occupied countries, so now did the prosecution of collaborators meet with widespread public approval. It was as if the Europeans hoped to rid themselves of the memory of their compromises and crimes by decimating their own ranks.
It is nearly impossible to calculate the total number of persons targeted by postwar retribution, but, even by the most conservative estimates, they numbered several million, that is, 2 or 3 percent of the population formerly under German occupation. Because educated adult males constituted the majority of those purged, this segment of the population was even more seriously affected. In some countries, such as France, actors, actresses, cabaret singers, journalists, writers, poets, and philosophers were especially singled out by the prosecutors.
Punishment of the guilty ranged from lynchings during the last months of the war to postwar death sentencing, imprisonment, or hard labor. Added to those harsh punishments were condemnation to national dishonor, the loss of civic rights, and/or monetary fines as well as such administrative measures as expulsion, police supervision, loss of the right to travel or to live in certain desirable places, dismissal, and the loss of pension rights. It is one of the great paradoxes of the postwar era that in all of Europe, the smallest percentage of former Nazis was executed or imprisoned in Western Germany. On the other hand, Western Germany made a greater effort than any other country in Europe to atone collectively for its past.
To the bewildering array of persons who were charged by the national courts for what was alternately, or often simultaneously, termed collaboration with the enemy, treason, and war crimes should be added those who were not charged individually but belonged to one or another group held collectively responsible for what had taken place during the war. These groups included, among others, the thirteen to fifteen million Volksdeutsche, German-speaking inhabitants of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Russia, and the three Baltic countries, who were charged collectively with war crimes and treason by the governments of their own countries and by the leaders of the three great Allied powers meeting at Potsdam in June 1945. These Germans were either killed or expelled to what remained of Germany after the war.
Collective punishment targeted more than just the Volksdeutsche. Other ethnic groups, such as the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, the Poles in the Ukraine, the Ukrainians in Poland, and the Albanians in Greece, were also held collectively responsible for the horrors of the war. Persons belonging to these groups were killed, imprisoned, driven from their homelands, or officially degraded to second-class citizens as, for example, in the case of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia. Add to this the organizations whose membership were pronounced guilty either by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg or by the national courts after the war. These included the SS with all its branches, the Leadership Corps of the German National Socialist Party, the German Security Police, and the Gestapo. Outside Germany, diverse national courts indicted such organizations as the Hungarian gendarmes, the Serbian Chetnik guerrillas, all Soviet citizens in German service, all Soviet soldiers who had surrendered to the Germans, and many others. Members of these groups had to prove their innocence in court, rather than the court having to demonstrate their individual guilt, although it must be admitted that at least in the American, British, and French zones of occupied Germany the verdicts of the Nuremberg Court pertaining to such institutions were barely, if at all, enforced. On the other hand in Hungary, former members of the notoriously brutal gendarmes were automatically imprisoned, and in Yugoslavia mere membership in the Serbian Chetnik forces or in the Croatian Ustashas was frequently sufficient grounds for a death sentence. An analogous situation obtained in Greece, as Mark Mazower explains in this book, with the difference, however, that it was membership in the Communist anti-Nazi resistance that could easily lead to execution by the postwar anti-Communist authorities there.
The wholesale expulsion of the Germans from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the massive transfer of other ethnic minorities came on the heels of gigantic purges in the region during the war. The primary victims of the wartime slaughter were, of course, the more than five million European Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their, mostly East European, helpers. Yet the Jews were not alone in falling victim to the principle and practice of collective responsibility. The Polish intelligentsia, for example, was charged in German-occupied Poland with conspiring against German-, and in Soviet-occupied Poland, against Soviet interests and, as a result, was nearly annihilated. Other groups, such as the Serbian Orthodox in wartime Croatia, the so-called kulaks and their offspring in the Soviet Union, as well as several ethnic groups in that country, were held collectively guilty of anti-state behavior and dealt with accordingly.
The primary purpose of this book is not to discuss the problems of collective responsibility and ethnic or racial cleansing. The goal is, rather, to analyze different facets of wartime resistance and collaboration as well as, to a much larger extent, to treat the diverse aspects of postwar judicial retribution. In other words, contributors to this book are primarily analyzing the actions of individuals who were able to make political choices during the war and could, therefore, be held personally accountable for their actions after the war. Still, it seems to me necessary to place the case of these individuals in the larger, and more terrible, context of wartime and postwar racial and ethnic purification. The captured and deported French resister Charlotte Delbos, a poet and a writer, found herself in a sea of tortured humanity at Auschwitz: Jews, Gypsies, German asocials, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet and other prisoners of war, only a fraction of whom were there for actions taken against Nazi rule. Similarly, in the Gulag archipelago, Soviet citizens who had given assistance to or had fought on the side of the Germans during the war shared their bunks with a much larger number of individuals who were not guilty of any anti-Soviet or criminal activity.
Admittedly, it is not always easy to separate those punished in the name of collective responsibility from those held accountable individually. Even in a model democracy such as Norway, all women who had worked as Red Cross nurses in German military hospitals were considered guilty. Similarly, all members of the Nasjonal Samling, the minuscule Norwegian fascist party, were automatically indicted, even those who had belonged to the party before the war, when its existence was undoubtedly legal. In fact, prewar party membership, presumably motivated by ideological convictions, was judged more harshly in the Norwegian courts than wartime membership, best explained by opportunism.
Scanning the essays in this or other books on wartime Europe, one is struck by the similarities between the behavior of the occupied peoples and their occupiers. Everywhere, the comportment of the occupied population was "occupier-driven," to use a term aptly coined by Jan Gross. This means that generally the population did not spontaneously formulate its own behavior toward the occupier but rather reacted to the behavior of the German, Soviet, and other occupying powers. Where the Germans behaved correctly, as was the case, at least initially, in Western Europe, the populace also tended to behave correctly toward the Germans, irrespective of the presence or absence of any racial affinity with the Germans. In occupied Denmark the German army felt so confident of popular and official compliance that within a few weeks of the country's invasion in April 1940, it reduced the number of occupation forces to half of an infantry division, less than ten thousand men. This was far less than the total number of Danish army and armed police forces in the country, both of which the German occupiers had allowed to continue to function. Similarly, in France, certainly not a fellow "Nordic country," German police forces in mid-1942 consisted only of three battalions, some 2,500 or 3,000 men, far too few to be able to maintain order or carry out the deportation of the Jews. These functions were performed by the French police on behalf of the Germans. On the other hand, in Yugoslavia, where the Germans' Croatian fascist Ustasha allies unleashed a reign of utter terror, there was almost immediate massive armed resistance. At the end of 1943, fourteen German divisions and five divisions of non-Germans under German command, well over 200,000 men, fought-in vain-against Tito's Communist Partisan army.
In occupied Europe a sharp distinction existed between those regions that the German leadership envisaged as future venues of direct German settlement and colonization, and all other regions, with the inhabitants of the former being subjected to considerably worse treatment. The areas of new German settlement, and hence, most onerous occupation, were concentrated in Eastern Europe. It is worth noting that the Soviet occupation in those same areas was similarly brutal. In occupied and divided Poland, for instance, the implicit effect of the occupation policies of Germany and the Soviet Union, taken together, was to crowd those Poles not killed or deported elsewhere into the center of the country.
In regions not envisaged as lands of future German settlement, German brutality was usually the consequence of resistance activity, which in turn was likely due to certain coercive measures introduced by the occupier. Faced by a growing labor shortage, the Germans instructed the local authorities in Western Europe to draft young men for labor service in the Reich. The conscripts deserted in droves, especially in France, and this, in turn, led to combined action by the German and Vichy French authorities to hunt down the deserters. The massive hunts caused popular resentment and drove many an apolitical young man to the hitherto minuscule maquis resistance movement. The ensuing armed clashes, accompanied by the burning of villages, the taking and execution of hostages and, in general, terror exercised by both the authorities and the resisters, led to a gradual breakdown of law and order in some regions of France, developing ultimately into civil war and a struggle for national liberation.
Lawlessness reigned from the very start in occupied Poland, which the Germans considered very much a part of their Lebensraum. There, German terror was immediate, as was the violent response of the resistance movement. In fact, Poland was the only place in Hitler's Europe where the defending army never surrendered to the invader, and where the resistance movement began to organize even without waiting for a provocation.
The situation was somewhat similar in Yugoslavia, which was not projected as an area for German living space, but where antagonisms between Serbs and Croats, Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims led to an immediate civil war. In that conflict, the German and Italian occupation forces became hopelessly entangled.
It ought to be noted here that whereas German political leaders often referred to the Slavs as Untermenschen (subhumans), their behavior toward the Slavic peoples was anything but consistent. Slovakia, Croatia, and Bulgaria, all of them Slavic-speaking countries, were treated as honorable allies. Russians, Ukrainians, Bosnian Muslims, and other Slavic speakers were readily admitted into the Waffen SS. On the other hand, most Russians were treated abominably, and the Germans unhesitatingly arrested, tortured, and shot many members of the allied Slavic nations. But then such things could happen to anyone in Hitler's Europe, including Aryan Germans, who were the particular targets of Nazi fury in the last weeks of the war.
Collaboration was of no help to only two ethnic groups, the Poles and the Jews. Poles were allowed to cooperate with the Germans only in the so-called Generalgouvernement around Warsaw and Cracow and there only on the lowest level of administration. Overall, the Germans treated the Poles as despised slaves. Jewish collaboration was invited only insofar as it could facilitate the Final Solution. The Nazis had sentenced all European Jews to death; the question was only when and how smoothly the Nazis and their allies could execute that sentence.
A very peculiar problem was presented by countries allied to Germany, such as Italy, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria, whose governments carefully maneuvered between drawing the maximum benefit from the German alliance and preserving at least a modicum of independence as an assurance for the future, especially in case the Third Reich would lose the war. Thus it happened that even though all the German allies participated in the war on the side of Germany, none fully committed its armed forces; that all cooperated with Germany economically, yet all also attempted to preserve some measure of economic sovereignty; and that all, except for Finland (which had hardly any Jews), assisted the Germans in the Final Solution; yet all also tried, and largely succeeded, in preserving the lives of those groups of Jews their government deemed worth saving.
Is it at all possible to speak of collaboration versus resistance in countries officially allied to Germany? Yes, if one considers that postwar retribution branded thousands of citizens in these countries as German collaborators while praising thousands of others as brave resisters. Yet those who, during the war, opposed their own pro-German government were not necesarily hostile to Germany, and those who readily obeyed their government did not necessarily sympathize with the Nazis. National Socialist groups in Hungary and Romania, for instance, were violently hostile to their own conservative regimes, even though the governments of Marshal Ion Antonescu and Admiral Miklós Horthy were closely allied to Nazi Germany. In fact, the main opponents of the collaborationist governments in those two countries were not the handful of Communists but the National Socialist Iron Guard in Romania and the National Socialist Arrow Cross in Hungary. Leaders of these parties were assassinated, imprisoned, or driven into exile by the same Romanian and Hungarian authorities who, until 1944, enjoyed the full support of Hitler.
It is worth noting here that several states that had been defeated and occupied by the German army early in the war later became virtual allies of the Third Reich. Norway had its Vidkun Quisling, and the volunteer members of the various Norwegian SS units were at least as numerous as the active members of the resistance. The government of Denmark joined the German-led anti-Comintern Pact in November 1941, and its economy was more completely at the service of Nazi Germany than the economy of, for instance, Hungary, which was an official ally of Germany. If the Vichy regime did not declare war on Great Britain, this was due mainly to Hitler's refusal to allow such a thing. In any case, during the war, French forces fought a respectable number of naval and land engagements against the Western allies-in West Africa, Syria, and elsewhere.
Excerpted from THE POLITICS OF RETRIBUTION IN EUROPE Copyright © 2000 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 15, 2002
It¿s an old and acknowledged saw that ¿to the victors go the spoils¿. What should be added to this splendidly commonplace bit of street lore is the similarly well-acknowledged fact that it is indeed the victors who get to write and thereby promulgate the official version of history, interpreting it to their advantage, giving it such spin, direction, and body language as needed to serve the perceived needs and political purposes of the present. In this sense the historical treatment of the past, especially the recent past, tells us volumes about what forces exist to warp into particular forms and modes today. This is especially true in this absorbing and well-edited series of essays by a number of noted historians and critics relating to the subject of the relative merits of the retribution process in Europe following the conclusion of the Second World War. As is likely true for all conflicts, the punishment delivered in the aftermath of the war was by no means fair, equitable, or necessarily deserved by those it was haphazardly visited upon, and some who deserved to be punished walked away unblemished, while others who did nothing wrong were falsely accused and punished. Indeed, one of the consistent themes in these essays is the degree to which the captive people of Europe engaged in what has to be recognized as being a widespread accommodation and cooperation with the Nazi authorities and their lackeys. Yet although their were obvious many who escaped getting their just desserts, and many more who were unfairly castigated and punished, by and large the effort at social retribution after the war appears to have served a wider and more useful role in expiating the collective guilt and anxiety that literally permeated the continent in the wake of the war¿s end. This is a fine collection of essays that seek to address the complex welter of needs, drives, and issues that had to be settled in the postwar period, and among the competing strands of thoughts and arguments one finds that the historical interpretation of the past was indeed manipulated and twisted beyond recognition, often at the expense of specific groups and individuals, who had to suffer the continuing social indifference to the injuries they had suffered, or worse, the accusation and punishment for deeds they either did not commit, or that they had committed in such a strange and sordid set of constraining circumstances that to make an issue our of it was existentially absurd. It is in this sense that a kind of selective amnesia overtook many of the survivors, such that they repressed the ugly truth in favor of more palatable and pleasing fictions. Of course, many of the issues discussed here are neither fully resolved nor completely played out. Just as many of the events of the war itself found their genesis in attitudes and cultural predispositions formed long before the war, so too, do many of the issues and dilemmas of the present find their antecedents in facts and circumstances located in postwar activities, and these may never be resolved. Whether talking about ethnic differences within a specific country or cultural predispositions existing between reviving cultures, many of the complex issues and concerns threading through these essays may never be resolved. This is a fascinating and quite worthwhile book, and one I am sure you would benefit from. Enjoy!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.