Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Decade of Ethnic Cleansing

I've just completed Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire, How the Nazis Ruled Europe. Mostly, it's a good piece of historical analysis, although near the end he goes well beyond what his scholarship justifies, and rambles into meta-historical ramblings that move from interesting speculation to frustrating silliness. But lot's of people don't read books all the way to their ends anyway, so perhaps there's no real damage.

I'm not going to review the book here, as I've been requested to review it elsewhere; should it ever get posted there, I'll link to it.

A comment, however, demonstrated by an interesting anecdote. The 1940's were the modern heyday of what we now call ethnic cleansing, a term invented in the 1990s for the events in the disintegrating Yugoslavia, perhaps by journalists who weren't aware of how common the phenomenon had been and thought they were seeing something new. Between the 1930s and the 1950s the practice was implemented on many millions of people, perhaps even tens of millions, in various parts of the world. Mazower, however, tells of a case I admit I hadn't been aware of in more than a general way:
By April 1943, UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) had 10-20,000 members, and, prompted by news of Stalingrad, they embarked on a campaign of ethnic cleansing to make room for a future Ukrainian state before the Russians arrived. First they attacked Himmler's ethnic German settlements and burned many of them down. Next they turned on the Poles, killing an estimated 50,000; many more fled westwards. Thanks to well-planned massacres and expulsions they had virtually succeeded by December in bringing Vohlynia under Ukrainian control, helped by thousands of peasants who coveted land controlled by Poles. "Liquidate all Polish traces", ran an OUN order from early 1944. "Destroy all walls in the Catholic church and other Polish prayer houses. Destroy orchards and trees in the courtyards so that there will be no trace that someone lived there... Pay attention to the fact that when something remains that is Polish, then the Poles will have pretensions to our land". (p.507)
The astonishing part of this story is that it happened while the Germans still controlled the area. The numbers of the murdered Polish civilians are also high, though the numbers of them forced to leave, eventually reaching hundreds of thousands in that area alone, were not particularly unusual for those times. Of course, the Ukrainians succeeded: there are essentially no Poles left in what is now Western Ukraine, nor anyone except the descendants and a handful of scholars who still remember that the area had been settled by Poles and sometimes controlled by them for centuries - and hadn't been controlled by the Ukrainians, ever.

Thus, when the Palestinians set out to ethnically cleanse the Jews in 1947, it was in a context where such actions were so common, that the murder of 50,000 Poles and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of them wasn't even noticed.


Anonymous said...


Does the Holocaust Museum DIVORCE JEWS from the other deaths that occurred during WW2? There was quite a civilian toll. And, quite a bit of "retaliation," too.

As to the Ukraine, isn't that what was called "Beyond the Pale?" For a very long period of time, actually, the Polish governments allowed Jews to thrive within their borders. It may be why the Ultra Orthodox gentlemen, from Polish stock, took to dressing as 14th Century Polish noblemen.

History does tell its tales, though. And, if you really want to go back, you could read FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS even today. Talk about a masterwork that was saved. And, not trashed. That tells the story of the destruction of the Temple. And, how an extremist group of Jews in Judea thought they'd take on Rome.

Basically (and this is before rabbis come on the scene), the religious nutters believed that God was prepared to battle the Romans.

Now, in a sense, this is true. Rome bites the dust. But not in Jerusalem. When the Second Temple is destroyed.

If you read Josephus you'd learn that the Jews, pretty sure God was their general, took the fighting inside the temple grounds! Set up fires, to trap Romans. Only to find, when the winds shifted, that it all burnt down to the ground.

Of course, Josephus' writings, which were in Greek. And, were for a Jewish audience that was thriving in Eygpt at the time ... GOT SAVED. By the young church. Which wasn't at first, Christian.

At the time of Jesus' birth, it seemed there were 14 other "magicians" claiming they "were the One." And, everyone of them could do magic tricks of miracles. All 15 were slaughtered. It's a tough profession.

But the writings of Josephus were saved. And, if you need to ask, by Jews. Because for two full generations they were the only ones venerating this Son of God. Who wrote nothing down.

What if, instead of the focus on the horrors of WW2, we taught about the destruction of the Second Temple. And, how radicals brought this about. Jews in the Gallili were not beset with the same woes.

But of course, to "set a course of action," sometimes you need "Just One." For Germany, it was hitler. And, for Russia it was stalin.

Throw into this mix that Stalin found power, as a thug, by embracing Marx. And, you're more than halway to understanding how bad ideas take hold.

Can't erase them!

Peace. And, accommodation. Are by far better than extremists who only seem to know one path, at best. And, that one leads to destruction.

Of course, when the smoke cleared, Rome's candle was gonna get extinquished. We know that now.

History repeats if you don't understand its capacity to teach lessons.

As to what the Palestinians were doing "around 1947" ... They were shrinking their hopes.

This is probably still true.

Doesn't mean you're gonna get to a Third Temple, either.

David Gleicher said...

Two comments: 1) Poland was ethnically cleansed too. Not many people realize that in 1939 Poland was only 60% Polish, the remainder being Jews, Ukrainians, and Germans. Today, Poland is over 90% Polish.
2) My father was a partisan during the War. His unit entered a village in Galicia where all the Polish inhabitants had been slaughtered like animals, with their throats and other body parts cut open. He saw then how the Ukrainian hatred was not directed at just us.