The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War
The poor, so the saying goes, are always with us. So, it seems, are refugees. As early as 1942, Ben Shephard tells us in this utterly fascinating book, plans were being made for the aftermath of war. Haunted by the civilian disaster which had followed the First War, in which disease and starvation killed more people than even that most bloody of wars, the participants were determined not to let this happen again. This led to the setting up of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the forerunner of today’s UNHCR. The key is in the terminology. The expectation was that the same conditions would prevail at the end of World War Two as they had in 1918, that the pressing need would be to feed a weakened European population and keep it safe from disease. Thanks to advances in medicine, mainly the arrival of antibiotics, and to differences in the technology of both war and agriculture, these were not the threats UNRRA had to contend with. Instead, the organisation found itself dealing with more than 15 million displaced persons, not just those who had been in the camps but Poles, Yugoslavs and others unable or unwilling to return to homelands which were now rapidly disappearing behind the Iron Curtain and Germans expelled from the east by the new Russian occupying power. How this unprecedented crisis was handled, how it made modern Europe and the Middle East, and still speaks to us vividly today about immigration policy and planning for peace, is the subject of this book. A thoroughly readable mix of eyewitness accounts and clear-sighted scholarship. Highly recommended.