Friday, January 25, 2013

A Terrible Revenge: A Book Review

Ethnic cleansing has happened many, many times on this tired old planet, and it will, unfortunately, continue to happen as long as people speak a different language, worship their god differently, or have—Oh my god, different customs.
Many movies and books have appeared about World War II and The Holocaust. Yes, the Jews were systematically being exterminated: Millions and millions kicked out of their homes, hauled away in railroad cars to work camps and death camps. Throughout history the Jews have had to struggle against those who hated them for the simple reason of their being a Jew.
But this post is not about Jews.
I remember seeing old footage of refugees somewhere in Europe walking aimlessly and carrying suitcases and holding onto young children. I was young too. I didn’t know who these people were, except as the adults said: Refugees. More importantly, I didn’t care. I was young, I didn’t know those people—and I just didn’t care. I had other things to do.
Unfortunately, my attitude was the same as most others. Nobody knew those people walking, carrying belongings, hanging onto young children, and few people cared.
Until I read the book “A Terrible Revenge” by Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, loaned to me by a friend whose wife was there and witnessed the carnage. I had no idea those people, those refugees walking, were very likely ethnic Germans who had been kicked out of their homes, sometimes with as little as fifteen minutes notice. Well, didn’t Germany start the war? Didn’t they deserve receiving a little hardship after all the devastation they caused?
Well, yes, Germany started it, but it wasn’t the German people, and it certainly wasn’t the ethnic “eastern” Germans living “then” in what is now western Poland, parts of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Russia.
Here’s what happened. Hundreds—yes, hundreds—of years ago, these nations, these “lands” just mentioned, evidently put out the word for people to come for free land if they would but conquer the wilderness, and the industrious Germans came, by the hundreds, probably thousands. They conquered the wilderness, built homes, started businesses, and became citizens of the new lands, but they didn’t deny their language or their culture as Germans.
What happened was very similar to what happened in America mainly in the Nineteenth Century. Homesteaders were offered free land in the west: Just go and claim it. In that case it was the Native American who had to leave. On both sides many people were slaughtered.
But this post is also not about the Native American.
This photo has little to do with the post, except that it shows the quiet and peace before a storm.

When World War II came, or “ended” (the cleansing went on from near the end of the war, 1944, to long after the war, 1950.) One “could” say it happened quietly and far behind the scenes. After all, they were Germans: They started it. They were just getting what they gave.
The peaceful Germans from the east didn’t start it, but they definitely paid for all the transgressions by the Nazis. The book was hard to read in the sense of the violence perpetrated on these people, ‘hard to read,’ yet also hard to put down.
I have to believe it was because of the Russian army likely being right over the hill that drove the Poles, Czechs, etc., to turn into such unfeeling monsters. (The Russian soldiers were unfeeling monsters too, but remember who was pushing them.) The soldiers (whoever; I’m not going to specify who did what) would come in the night, order the family to pack maybe one bag (and it could weigh just so much, or else) and get out of their house and off their land. Then the families would be separated. The husbands and fathers went to certain work camps. The women and girls after being raped would go to different work camps. The smallest children would stay with grandparents, who then were sent somewhere else or just sent onto the road.
Sound inhumane? What I just described were the lucky ones. Sometimes the family would be massacred, tortured first, then bayoneted, shot, beat to death, eyes gouged out, crucified, the women raped by any number of men one after the other and “then” murdered. I guess the worst I read was two girls tied together, then their arms and legs tied to two vehicles which then pulled the two girls apart.
But, hey! They were all Germans! They had just put all of Europe through hell! They deserved to get what they gave!
Sometimes, the so-called lucky ones would be separated for years in distant Russian work camps, mines, so-called reparations for war damage. Then again, the so-called lucky ones were often just told to leave, to go somewhere else, to carry their one piece of baggage and go, to give birth along the road, to starve there, to freeze there, to give up and lie down and die there.
The next time you think your life is awful, Americans, women especially, think of this: When these people were sometimes herded onto railroad cars, for days, weeks at a time, with very little to eat, packed so closely they couldn’t even sit down, men, women, children, old and sick people all together, if they were lucky the train would sometimes stop for a potty break. If the train more likely did not stop, their “potty” was a hole in the floor of the corner of the railroad car.
I said that to the American women, mainly, because when these things happened everybody was treated the same: Didn’t matter if you were a woman, a child, a pregnant woman, or sick. If you were ethnic eastern German you were going to pay! Either by instant death, or brutality that made one probably pray for death.
Number of ethnic Germans in the eastern territories: 9,575,000
Number that died through flight and expulsion: 2,111,000
Yes, millions died, and more millions actually eventually made it to a bit of safety in West Germany, but, to them, Germany itself was a foreign land.
That was a main plan by old man Stalin of Russia. His plan was for the defeated Germany to be overwhelmed by an influx of eastern ethnic Germans. His plan didn’t work. Instead West Germany soon became an industrial powerhouse.
In the end, it needs to be told that these ethnic eastern Germans lived sometimes for hundreds of years, generation after generation, right next to the native inhabitants of Poland, etc. They all were friendly and neighborly; they were citizens…but I guess war changes all of that.
A strange thing, in “my” mind anyway: After the brutality shown these Germans for years and years many were finally just released to find their family and maybe a new life. But did the inhuman monsters who released them think that nobody would ever “tell” on them? They must have thought that. And for a good many years nobody “did” tell. But this book is full of testimonials by people who were there and have finally “told.”
In the very end I will copy almost word for word the last paragraph in the book, before credits, etc. (Anything in parentheses will be my addition.)
The expulsions and deportations for slave labour were carried out systematically, as official Allied policy (in other words “OKed” by the Americans and British) …as part of the peace settlement (mainly to appease the Russians.) Even if Americans and Britons did not directly perpetrate these crimes, we become responsible by virtue of joint decisions at Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam (the peace talk locations.) The “ethnic cleansing” constituted a crime against humanity, but the victims have remained unpitied and unknown. Seldom is there compassion for the vanquished. Seldom any justice in retribution.

Thanks for reading

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