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JUDT, Tony

Post War: A History of Europe since 1945

The overall death toll is staggering (the figures given here do not include Japanese, US or other non-European dead.)  It dwarfs the mortality figures for the Great War of 1914-18, obscene as those were.  No other conflict in recorded history killed so many people in so short a time.  But what is most striking of all is the number of non-combatant civilians among the dead; at least 19 million, or more than half.  The number of civilian dead exceeded military losses in the USSR, Hungary, Poland, Yogosalavia, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway.  Only in the UK and Germany did military losses significantly outnumber civilian ones.

Estimates of civilian losses on the territory of the Soviet Union vary greatly, though the likeliest figure is in excess of 16 million people (roughly double the number of Soviet military losses, of whom 78,000 fell in the Battle for Berlin alone.) Civilian deaths on the territory of pre-war Poland approached  5 million; in Yugoslavia 1.4 million; in Greece 430,000; in France 350,000; in Hungary 270,000; in the Netherlands 204,000; in Romania 200,000.  Among these, and especially prominent in the Polish, Dutch and Hungarian figures, were some 5.7 million Jews, to whom should be added 221,000 gypsies (Roma.)

In the event, they were given no choice.  As early as 1942 the British had privately acceded to Czech requests for a removal of the Sudeten German population, and the Russians and Americans fell in line the following yera.  On May 19th, 1945, President Edouard Benes of Czechoslovakia decreed that ‘we have decided to eliminate the German problem in our republic once and for all.’   German (as well as Hungarians and other ‘traitors’) were to have their property placed under state control.  In June 1945 their land was expropriated and on August 2nd of that year they lost their Czechoslovak citizenship. Nearly three million Germans, most of them from the Czech Sudetenland, were expelled into Germany in the course of the following 18 months.  Approximately 267,000 died in the course of the expulsions.  Whereas Germans had comprised 29 percent of the population of Bohemia and Moravia in 1930, by the census of 1950 they were just 1.8 percent.

From Hungary a further 623,000 Germans were expelled, from Romania 786,000, from Yugoslavia about half a million and from Poland 1.3 million.  But by far the greatest number of German refugees came from the former eastern lands of Germany itself: Silesia, East Prussia, eastern Pomerania and eastern Brandenburg [as borders were re-drawn.]  …Some seven million Germans would now find themselves in Poland, and the Polish authorities (and the occupying Soviet forces) wanted them removed — in part so that Poles and others who lost land in the eastern regions now absorbed into the USSR could in their turn be resettled in the new lands to the west.