The issue of millions of refugees

Peter Gatrell is a professor of economic history at the University of Manchester. In his work Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement In Europe in the Twentieth Century, he speaks about the World Wars as well as the Russian Revolution. He spends much of the work talking about how there millions of refugees after the Russian Revolution, World War I, and World War II. While the number of people who were displaced after the wars is not agreed upon, all of the potential numbers were in the millions. [1] Gatrell mentions that after some time, sociologist Edward Shils wrote about “a widespread psychological regression, i.e. a collapse of adult norms and standards in speech, behavior and attitude, and a reversion to less mature patterns.”[2] He says that this was due to a loss of “original community and family connections.”[3] Gatrell talks about how in postwar Europe, relief workers thought that showing compassion towards the refugees was critical in restoring “moral order” for the displaced people.

We see a large number of refugees today due to events like the war in Syria, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are still millions of refugees and displaced people all over the world. While the problem was more obvious after the World Wars and the Russian Revolution, it is still a major problem in the world today. Do you agree that a loss of community and family connections could cause the phenomenon that Edward Shils wrote about? Do you believe that the relief workers had the right idea when thinking that compassion is the key to restoring “moral order” for refugees? Or do you think that they were wrong in thinking this?

[1] “Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement in Europe in the Twentieth Century,” Peter Gatrell, 419.

[2] Ibid, 421.

[3] Ibid.

Comparing Armenian and Polish Refugees

Peter Gatrell is a Professor of Economic History at the University of Manchester. He has demonstrated a great interest European cultural history. His publications focus on population displacement and state-building following World War I and World War II. When considering his extensive experience studying European history, it is evident that his projects correlate with his interests.

While reading Gatrell’s work, “Displacing and Re-placing Populations in the Two World Wars: Armenia and Poland Compared,” I was captivated by his comparison between these two ethnic groups’ histories. Although I have been exposed to the histories of World War I and II, I have not had the chance to learn about the many ethnic groups that were left stranded after these wars. Many Armenians chose to live in “Soviet Armenia” following World War I because it was seen as one of the best options for resettlement.[1] Although this was one of their better options, the Soviets worked to “’keep [them] for the Armenian nation’ to develop ‘loyal citizens of Red Armenia.’”[2] Rather than supporting their cultural differences, Armenians were expected to adopt Soviet values following World War I. Although these sentiments were stressed, Armenians established repatriation following World War II during the 1940s. They were focused on maintaining their cultural differences from the Soviet Union while establishing this state. The Armenians’ desires for separation from the Soviets were quite strong due to the homogeneity among the population.nw_polish_refugees_01          (Image of Polish refugees:

Although the Poles were also refugees following these wars, they went through a different experience than the Armenians. After World War I, Poles were very focused on returning back to Poland. However, after returning home, they discovered that “’home’ looked very different.”[3] This negative viewpoint showcased that their desire to reestablish a strong Poland was less desirable compared to the nationalistic Armenians. Additionally, establishing a stable Poland during the interwar period proved more difficult for Poland because of the tumultuous relations compared between Poles, Ukrainians and Jews.[4] The Armenians and Poles certainly shared the desire to find a country for establishment; however, it appears that the Armenians’ desire was more unified than the Poles.

What are your thoughts on these displacements? What other differences and similarities between these two ethnic groups’ reestablishments do you find interesting?

[1] “Displacing and Re-placing Population in the Two World Wars: Armenia and Poland Compared,” Peter Gatrell, 514.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 520.

[4] Ibid, 521.

How does one survive in Auschwitz?

In Survival in Auschwitz, the author Primo Levi captures the reader into the harsh reality of life in the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Primo Levi is a young Jewish-Italian man who, in 1943 at the age of 24, was captured by the Nazi fascists while hiding in the woods and stripped of everything that belonged to him including his name.

Auschwitz is probably the most well known out of all the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Primo Levi spends almost an entire year, what to him seemed like an eternity, being starved, badly beaten and worked until he could no longer breathe. The camp presented extremely unsanitary conditions and prisoners were fed little to nothing, as they were given soup with scraps of potato and cabbage. During this time, Primo struggled to maintain a sense of humanity and never saw an end to his suffering. After spending almost an entire year in these devastating conditions the Nazi’s abandoned these camps with the threat of the invading Soviet Union and after surviving on their own they were eventually rescued.

To answer the topic question, “How does one survive Auschwitz?”, Primo presents severals cases and points. For one to survive Auschwitz you must be extremely lucky, know German, never give up hope, maintain good health as best you can and most importantly have compassion. Compassion is something Primo learns when he meets the ever so kind Lorenzo, who isn’t a prisoner but yet a civilian worker, who constantly provides food secretly to Primo and talks with him. Primo says, “I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me of his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, not extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.” (121) Compassion in Auschwitz means having a community of people who look out for each other and share their resources to maximize the entire groups chances of survival. This sense of community helped maintain sanity for Primo and through his inspiration that he found from Lorenzo that he was able to survive Auschwitz.


Survival in Auschwitz

In Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, Levi argued that one survived in Auschwitz by maintaining his humanity. In Auschwitz, everything possible was done to strip people of their humanity: upon arriving, people were robbed of their clothes, belongings, and money. They were then shaved and tattooed with numbers that replaced their names. People in Auschwitz lived without food or proper medical treatment; most were separated from their families. Everyone was forced to do back-breaking labor day after day with little to look forward to or hope for.

At the end of Chapter 9, Levi described how four particular people survived Auschwitz. In each of the stories, these people survived by maintaining elements of their personality within the de-humanizing walls. They found little things to cling to:  keeping clean, singing songs, or stealing to remember who they were. Levi explained that those “not initially favoured by fate” could survive if they had the will power “to battle everyday and every hour” (Levi 92).

There was also an emphasis on the methodical daily existence within Auschwitz. Everyday there were numerous pointless rules, rituals, and ceremonies designed to wear down the human psych. Simply finding a way to break the monotony of such a harsh structure was very important to surviving Auschwitz. Prisoners did this by partaking in the Exchange Market, or helping each other out in exchange for food.

Essentially, surviving in Auschwitz consisted of clinging to the little things. People had to find the small  things that helped them forge meaning into a system that attempted to make their lives meaningless.

Levi, Primo, and Stuart Woolf. Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

Stalin’s Speech

In his 1946 speech, Joseph Stalin reflected on the events that occurred in Europe the last few years by ripping into the Capitalist system, praising the strength of the Soviet People, and discussing the positives of the war on the Soviet Union.  Of the items that Stalin covered in his speech, his praising of the Soviet people stood out to me the most.

During his discussion of the second World War, he noted that the war “was the fiercest and most arduous ever fought in the history of our Motherland.” (Stalin Speech:  Highlighting the fact that the Soviet state had endured so much death and destruction from the invasion of the Nazis, Stalin recognized the fact that the Soviet Union had survived because of the determination of its people.  If we place his praising of the Soviet people into context of the late 1930s and early 1940s, one could theorize that the people either had no choice to Serve in the Red Army as a result of the fear of being purged or secondly to protect their families from Nazi occupation.  It strikes me as interesting that Stalin would praise his own people considering the policies he had launched during the 1930s.

Another significant part of his praising was of the Red Army.  He stated that “our victory signifies that the Soviet Armed Forces, our Red Army, was victorious, that the Red Army heroically withstood all the hardships of the war, utterly routed the armies of our enemies, and emerged from the war the victor.” ((Stalin Speech:  Stalin used this statement within his speech to not only compliment the bravery of the Red Army, but he also used his speech to hide the blunders that he had made with the purging of his military leaders and the lack of militarization during the 1930s.   When the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Red Army had lacked any leadership as a result of these purges and had lacked military preparation.   As a result, Stalin had to rely on help from western powers to defeat the Nazis.

Although some could argue that the Soviet Union and its system could not have won the war without help from western powers, it can also be argued that if Stalin had not purged his military leaders, had he prepared for the Nazis much sooner than he did, the Soviet Union would have held its own against the Nazis, perhaps winning the war on its own.

Stalin, Fascists and Freedom

The texts assigned for Friday’s class portray the changing views, which the Soviet Union held towards Germany and other Western nations. While the Hitler-Stalin Pact suggests a mutual understanding between the two leaders (and, by extension, their nations), the later documents paint a far different view of a ‘fascist’ Germany.

In Stalin’s speech in February 1946, he seems to align the Soviet Union with the Western world in a coalition against fascism, and describes the USSR (and other countries involved in the coalition) as freedom-loving. To most Westerners, this would appear contradictory: freedom is only seen in a capitalistic, democratic context, indicating that socialism and communism are inherently freedom-less.

Stalin’s response to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech shows a shift in Stalin’s thinking, as Stalin compares Churchill to Hitler and accuses Churchill of creating an English racial theory, somewhat similar to Hitler’s racial theory. This was a drastic shift, occurring in only a little over a month (Stalin’s response was published in Pravda in March 1946).

In general, these shifts in allies and the definition of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t seem uncommon for the Soviet Union. The massive arrests during the time period, in addition to the Great Purges within the Communist Party, seem indicative of this trend.

Mussolini’s Failed Foreign Policy

Mussolini the Duce was over-confident in his abilities as the Fascist leader of Italy. By aligning with Germany, Mussolini greatly over-estimated both the role of Italy in the European power play and in his foreign policy negotiating ability. In his article “Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War”, Clark asserts that Mussolini was “no diplomat, and seemed incapable of taking a long-term view.” (( Clark, Martin. “Chapter 14 – Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War.” In Modern Italy 1871-1995, 280-300. 2nd ed. London and New York: Longman, 1996. (p. 280) )) Especially in comparison with Hitler and Stalin, who both were willing to sacrifice short-term public opinion for calculated long-term state-building, Mussolini and his sought after Roman revival come across as the weakest of the European powers in both the diplomatic and militaristic aspect of foreign policy.

Clark explains how Mussolini lost both the British and French as allies after competing with them over East African colonial territories. (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 282 )) However, attempting to create a Rome-Berlin axis and seeking an ally out of Hitler proved to be his ultimate downfall. The Duce naively believed he could control Hitler and negotiate with him. When he successfully prevented Hitler’s initial invasion of Czechslovakia 1938, he blindly believed he had “single-handily avoided a world war”. (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 283)) However, Hitler invaded Czechslovakia in 1939 despite Mussolini’s wishes. Hitler was no ally to Mussolini in the war at all.  Hitler’s interests were German interests and German interests alone. Mussolini did not realize the extent of Hitler’s nationalist and expansionist self-concerned goals until he invaded Poland and after that Denmark and Norway. ((Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 284))  When world war finally did break out, Mussolini believed it would be a short-lived. The other dominating European powers were much more advanced than Italy in politics and military might, but Mussolini’s Fascist aims would not allow him to remain neutral. “His whole past, his whole propaganda, his whole regime had glorified war. Now there was one, and he had to join in.” (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 285)) Therefore, in a further attempt to revive Roman greatness and power, Mussolini refused to sit idly by. He wanted to be remembered as a competitor and sought after power in anyway possible.

It was all in vain because the Italy army lacked morale, equipment, rations, transportation, and most other necessary supplies. This left Italy in a position of desperate dependence, forced to rely on ally Germany, who did not have much to spare because the German war effort was clearly the priority on the Eastern Front. The unsuccessful Italian war effort created an extremely unfavorable view of the Fascist party and Mussolini in his native Italy. Clark summarizes, “The party not only failed to boost morale, but positively lowered it. … Thus the party disintegrated from within.” ((Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 292)) War for wars sake was not the answer for Mussolini. Do you believe the Fascist party would have retained a more favorable view domestically if Mussolini had not taken a side-line position in WWII and did not attempt to join alliances with Germany in the war?

Thoughts on the Nazi-Soviet War as a System of Violence

In the chapter “States of Exception” from Beyond Totalitarianism, by Mark Edele and Michael Geyer, the question of the Eastern Front of World War II is tackled. The most particularly fascinating thing about this study is the unprecedented ruthlessness of the respective campaigns and how they escalated drastically in their unrestrained violence. The separation drawn between the projected measures to be used in accordance with the military planning of the German invasion into the Soviet Union and the actualities of the war (excessive violence with no regard for the humanity of the opposing side) is notable throughout the chapter as a major theme, as it reveals quite a bit about the methods of warfare each country resorted to in the conflict.

One major point of interest here is Hitler’s interest in wiping out the Jews and Bolsheviks as a primary influencing factor in the strategic planning of German forces. This contributed to what amounted to nothing short of “targeted murder” of a vast population of Soviet citizens. ((Edele, Mark and Geyer, Michael. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 357. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.)) Such an assault inspired resolve within the Soviets to fight until the last, which sparked a brutal conflict that took an incredible number of lives. The Nazi policy of all-out warfare in pursuit of a swift and total victory was applied towards this end, and though it had proven effective in France the circumstances which surrounded the Eastern Front were not conducive to the success of such a strategy.

Furthermore, the atrocities committed by the Soviets in warfare were responded to by similar acts of cruelty from the German side. The chapter rationalizes the German response by posing such circumstances as Soviet scorched-earth tactics and the mutilation of prisoners of war. It seems from the reading that failing to recognize the humanity of the other side directly inflates the level and intensity of violence in warfare.

Truman’s Ulterior Motives

3 Observations

1. In his address to Congress to request aid for the reconstruction of Greece and Turkey due to the damages done during the Second World War, President Truman justified his request by saying that if the United States didn’t provide assistance to these countries, another power could potentially impose upon their respective sovereignty. He omitted what seemed to be his true intention: the inhibition of communist ideas. He seemed to believe that if the United States did not act promptly, the Soviet Union would instead try to impose communism upon these nations, even though he did not once mention the Soviet Union by name. His true intention was to instill democracy before the USSR could instill communism.

2. It is not uncommon for the President of the United States to request that Congress work with the Executive rather than against it. While most of the time this plea falls upon deaf ears, Truman managed to win the approval of the Legislature with his appeals to preserving the sovereignty of the two countries. He managed to do so with a variety of tactics, the most prominent of which was appealing to Congress’s sympathies with the Greek people, of whom he says “Greece is not a rich country. Lack of sufficient natural resources has always forced the Greek people to work hard to make both ends meet. Since 1940, this industrious and peace loving country has suffered invasion, four years of cruel enemy occupation, and bitter internal strife.”

3. I must provide credit for the following point to its source: ( This page brought up an interesting point which I felt compelled to include in this post: the Truman Doctrine changed the United States’ policy on foreign involvement. While normally the US tended to keep out of international affairs prior to World War II, Truman’s call for aiding Greece and Turkey caused the US to become more active in shaping the global economy and network.

2 Questions

1. In what way(s) might the Truman Doctrine be considered a factor of the initiation of hostilities between the Soviet Union and the United States?

2. Upon reading the Brezhnev Doctrine, do you think it is a response/reaction to the Truman Doctrine?

Interesting Idea

The Truman Doctrine was seemingly the United States’ first attempt to impose democracy in the Middle East. Not only does the United States provide aid to Turkey in order for the nation to rebuild, but one year after he issued this request to Congress, the United States became the first country to officially recognize the sovereignty of Israel. In quick succession, President Truman established relations with two sovereign nations in this region of the world, perhaps to further prevent the spread of communism.