The Holocaust

In interwar Europe ethnic Germans had been in an overwhelming majority in the populations of both Germany and Austria. In addition, the two largest minorities spread across the states of interwar Europe, and particularly the states of the centre and east, had been Germans and Jews. The war and the Holocaust produced ‘solutions’ to the questions of both minorities. The Jews of central and eastern Europe who survived were often unwilling to return to their former homes; indeed, many of those who did return home found their property destroyed or occupied by others who would not give it up. Thousands of them moved westwards; and thousands more moved westwards from Poland, from Hungary, and from elsewhere following a wave of anti-Semitic pogroms in 1946 which left many dead. But the states of western Europe were reluctant to absorb these Jewish refugees, and those who sought to travel to Palestine were prevented by the British, who held the territory under a League of Nations mandate. The creation of Israel in 1948 finally opened the door to them, but led, in turn, to the displacement of Palestinian Arabs. The Holocaust and its aftermath did not eliminate Jews from Europe, but it resulted in the continent being far less a central focus of the life of the Jewish people.

German minorities in eastern Europe also fled westwards in the aftermath of the war; 5 million went in 1944–45. Over the next three years the governments of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia expelled another 7 million. Rather than being Hitler’s dream of empty land for German settlers, central and eastern Europe, which had witnessed most of the Holocaust, now became empty of Germans as well as Jews.