THE LONG ROAD HOME-The Aftermath of the Second World War
The Long Road Home by Ben Shephard describes how for eight million displaced persons the end of the Second World War didn't mean an end to their suffering, says Ian Thomson
When the Second World War ended, there were roughly 15 million displaced persons (DPs) in Europe who either did not want to or could not return to their country of origin. This well-researched, well-written and often moving book is their story. Largely based on the archives of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), but also incorporating the papers and memoirs of hundreds of DPs and the officials who looked after them, Ben Shephard's tale begins where most histories of the war end (The Long Road Home by Ben Shephard)
The Long Road Home by Ben Shephard
The Long Road Home by Ben Shephard Book Review : Military victory - to adapt Oscar Wilde - is hardly ever pure and by no means easy. The Allied triumph in Europe at the end of World War II was a situation in point. The war and the Holocaust pushed an incredible number of civilians across national frontiers. Later, multitudes of ethnic Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe and numerous of the Jews in Poland fled through a brand new wave of persecution there. Those lucky enough to survive these migrations faced many months and many years in limbo as the authorities wrestled with the logistical, political and moral difficulties involved in coming back them home - or in discovering them a new one.
These, within the terminology of the time, had been the “displaced persons,” or D.P.’s. However, as Ben Shephard shows in “The Long Road Home,” his highly understandable and readable moving book of postwar relief efforts, not all those who succeeded in getting this desired official status (which brought an entitlement to food and shelter) were basic victims. Along with concentration camp survivors and previous slave employees were numerous from Ukraine and the Baltic States who had collaborated with the Nazis and fled with them as the Russians advanced. Paradoxically, when Western governments started to take in D.P.’s to help with their own domestic labor shortages, it was such groups that tended to become favored, on racial grounds, in the expense with the Jews. Even Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society emphasized the significance of recruiting “sound stock,” adding that “the eugenics of immigration can't be overstressed.”
However, it would be wrong to dwell too much on the hypocrisies, injustices and follies that surrounded the relief work. Mass starvation was avoided, and this in itself was no mean feat. Shephard, a historian of modern warfare, describes that much of the credit should be given towards the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (U.N.R.R.A.). Known to its critics as “You by no means really rehabilitate anybody,” the agency was beset from the very first with bureaucratic issues, but also attracted numerous devoted workers who had been determined to do their best in appalling conditions. If they occasionally showed eagerness with those in their care, and occasionally resorted to racial or national stereotyping, it was hardly surprising. They had been working with a mass of seriously traumatized regular people; it wasn't easy to come to grips with all the suffering, hurting let alone to know how best to assist. Some of the quandaries had been insoluble.
One heart-rending chapter offers with all the efforts to reunite children with their mothers and fathers. On the face of it, this sounds like an incontrovertibly good thing, in particular for those infants who was simply taken from their people by the Nazis on account of their “Aryan” looks and reassigned to German foster parents. However was it correct to wrench children away from their own new families against their own will, principally in cases when it was not clear that the true parents might be discovered or that they wanted their children back? U.N.R.R.A. staffers divided on the problem, some feeling that the effort had to be made by way of atonement for the original wrong, and other people skeptical that returning back kids to their birth countries was necessarily in their greatest interests.
Shephard is commendably nonjudgmental on such concerns, and he also raises an essential point concerning the writing of history, which so often dwells on magnificent evil in the expense of pedestrian virtue. He notes that whereas Hitler had Josef Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl as publicists, U.N.R.R.A. had to create do with a dull official history and also the “feeble efforts” with the National Film Board of Canada. With this book, Shephard has made a significant contribution to redressing the balance.
The Long Road Home by Ben Shephard