In his latest book, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War (Yale University Press), Colgate professor R.M. (Ray) Douglas examines “one of the most significant examples of the mass violation of human rights in recent history.” His related essay appears in the Review section of today’s Chronicle of Higher Education.
In The European Atrocity You Never Heard About, Douglas, a historian, recounts the “manmade disaster” of forced migration — by order of the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union — of millions of German-speaking civilians from their birthplaces of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania, where they were living as ethnic minorities, to West and East Germany during the five-year period from 1945 to 1950.
“Although [the deportations] occurred within living memory, in time of peace, and in the middle of the world’s most densely populated continent, they remain all but unknown outside Germany itself,” Douglas wrote.
Douglas portrays the expulsion of ethnic Germans as an issue of historical as well as contemporary relevance. While he races to piece together facts from surviving expellees who are nearing the end of their lives, population transfers are making a comeback on the scholarly and policy agenda.
“Few wars today, whether within or between states, do not feature an attempt by one or both sides to create facts on the ground by forcibly displacing minority populations perceived as alien to the national community,” Douglas wrote. “[Yet] there is no single code of international law that explicitly outlaws population transfers either in terms of group or individual rights protections.”
Douglas is the author of four other books. At Colgate, he studies and teaches modern Britain and Ireland, and 20th century European history and leads the history study group to London. He was listed in Princeton Review’s Best 300 Professors 2012.