Blog Post #1 Ethan Claybrook: Seizing Nationality

American MP admits a family into a refugee center.

WW2 had reduced Europe to a melting pot. The war torn landscape of Germany and France held refugees of many nationalities and identities, all being coveted by the victorious Allied powers. Under the guise of international relief and working in the interest of human rights, the refugee question became the first battleground between the East and West powers. Like predators, the surviving nation-states of Europe went after the vulnerable displaced peoples, mainly women and children, as a means to re-establish national power. In France, a large influx of non-French peoples during WW2 let to the question of how to preserve their identity. The need for raw manpower was challenging a desire to maintain an ethnic French population. The author’s of both articles present evidence that pushes forward the idea of refugees as political and logistical tools. In a memo addressing economic planning, it was stated that introducing such a large, foreign, adult, labor force will cause all national character to disappear (L’Intelligence de´mographique, 2003). How France and other countries were described in the post-war did not differ greatly from that of the Nazis.

The post-war repatriation, although labelled silver words, mirrored the Nazi’s goals of national unification in many ways. The French, especially, sought to be both restituted for their occupation and to meet out revenge on the Germans. For Zahra, the most important commodity to obtain was the children. The victimized children narrative is one that instantly provokes sympathy, which is the intent of Zahra’s article. The viewpoint that the Allies and the Axis were not so different in their methods or their goals challenges the traditional “good vs. evil” ideology that is presented in the main stream. Zahra presents the vilification of women who had consorted with the enemy in France as a means of avenging French national honor and as a way that authorities could seize children (p. 339). In the interest of regaining nationalism, in a time where an internationalist agenda is being pushed, all powers are shown as pursuing their own goals instead of collectively reconstructing Europe.

“In War’s Wake” backs up the assertions made by Zahra. Cohen, the author, claims that DP’s (displaced persons) were central to the “relief and rehabilitation” of Europe (p.4).The difference, however; is that instead of victims, Cohen see the refugees as leverage that the “Big Powers” of the time used to battle each other in the pre-Cold War arena. Repeating a point made by Zahra, the “liberal ambiguity of internationalism”, as symbolized by the creation of the UN and UNRRA, was so in-defined that many powers continued to build up their own nation-state’s power through appropriation and the mass movement of peoples (Cohen, p.9). One specific example was the relocation of Eastern European Jews to the mandate state of Palestine, which was heavily influenced by Allied powers who wished to stratify ethnic groups together (Cohen, p.15).

Ultimately, both articles attempt to tackle the issue of relocation, a practice used by the Nazis and later the Allied powers, which is in essence a war crime. Zahra and Cohen distance themselves from both the Allies and Axis in favor of the refugees and DP’s who were the most subject to post-war change. This stance enhances their credibility and gives sympathy to their subject. Zahra’s use of women and children, and their alleged manipulation by the French and Eastern Europeans, gives her a seemingly ethical stance. The articles force us to abandon our preconceptions of right and wrong and to look at the actions which have created the world as we know it today. We are still living in the age of displaced peoples and political refugees, so it is important to learn from consequences of the post-war period.


Gerard Daniel Cohen, In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (2011), intro. & ch. 1Preview the documentView in a new window

T Zahra, ‘A Human Treasure’ – Europe’s Displaced Children Between Nationalism and Internationalism, Past and Present 210, supp. 6, (2011).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window


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