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Herbert Eiteneier on Ausgrenzung. Vertreibung. Völkermord. Genozid im 20. Jahrhundert (Exclusion. Expulsion. Genocide. Genocide in the Twentieth Century), by Wolfgang Benz

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, International Law, World Jewry
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 20:1-2 (Spring 2008)


An Overview of Atrocity


Ausgrenzung. Vertreibung. Völkermord. Genozid im 20. Jahrhundert
(Exclusion. Expulsion. Genocide. Genocide in the Twentieth Century), by Wolfgang Benz, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2006, 190 pp. [German]

Reviewed by Herbert Eiteneier


Wolfgang Benz, born in 1941, is professor of history at the Technische Universität Berlin and head of its Center for Research on Anti-Semitism. He has published prolifically on twentieth-century history, migration, and genocide.

In this book’s introduction, Benz explains that genocide research is a new discipline with a comparative focus. Although traditionally genocidal and ethnic-cleansing events have tended to be marginalized in the public discourse, population transfer of a nongenocidal character is also sometimes called genocide out of political motives. To counter this error, Benz devotes two chapters to the post-World War II expulsions of ethnic Germans and their reintegration into the two German states, events that clearly did not constitute genocide. He further underlines this point by contrasting the situation of German refugees with that of Jewish refugees in the wartime era.

The book’s nine essays deal with mainly genocidal events of the past century. Most of these cases, Benz suggests, fit the category of the persecution and extermination of minorities on ideological grounds. The essays explore the “causes, manifestations, development and implications of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ race wars, expulsion and genocide.” They contribute to comparative research on genocide while emphasizing the individuality of each case.

Benz also refers to this volume as one containing “empirical studies” that does not presume to be complete. Instead, the book is a “contribution to the theoretical and systematic explanation of genocidal ideology, population policy called ‘social engineering’ and other forms of exclusion, expulsion and annihilation through massacres and pogroms.” Benz’s main purposes are factual and descriptive.

The cases covered include: the October pogroms of 1905 in Czarist Russia; the Herero War in Geman Southwest Africa; the genocide against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire; anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism as an ideology of genocide from the third century CE to the Holocaust; the genocide against Sinti and Roma during and after the Nazi period, and their treatment in postwar West Germany; the forced migration of ethnic Germans during World War II; the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II; the illegal Jewish immigration into Mandate Palestine; and the return of genocide in the Balkans in the 1990s.

In the introduction Benz asserts: “The field is described in terms of deportation, expulsion, ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and genocide and far more emotion is expended on it than plain reason.” As an example, Benz cites the emotions among Turks regarding the Armenian genocide. Such tendencies make it difficult to overcome the traumata of exclusion, persecution, and annihilation for the descendants of both perpetrators and victims.

The Bloody Twentieth Century

The book’s title suggests a causal sequence of exclusion, expulsion, and genocide. This impression is not, however, supported by the nine essays. Each of these describes the events leading to the particular pogroms or genocidal acts, and those events themselves. These descriptions are brief where the perpetrators are not German, especially compared to the chapters on the Herero War and on anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Exceptions are the chapters on the postwar expulsion of the Germans and on illegal Jewish immigration into Mandate Palestine, both of which receive about the same space as the large chapters dealing with German perpetrators.

Also quite brief is the chapter on forced German migration during World War II. It describes the resettlement of ethnic Germans from territories in eastern and southeastern Europe into the Reich and into occupied territories. In this case discrimination and exclusion often followed expulsion. In the case of the postwar German refugees, exclusion was followed by expulsion and, again, by exclusion until their eventual full integration into the two Germanys long after they arrived there.

Benz’s claim only to describe events does not hold true regarding German behavior in German Southwest Africa or during the Nazi period. He discusses root causes and motivations for perpetrating discrimination and genocidal acts. Benz also deviates from his principle of description in the case of the Armenian genocide, criticizing the Turks’ emotionality in dealing with their past. This chapter deals almost exclusively with the current issues regarding this genocide and does not describe the genocide itself or what led to it.

The chapter on anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism concentrates on the German angle. There is a need, however, for a broader approach that includes the anti-Semitic behavior of other Western countries. Benz maintains that Germany’s anti-Semitism differed from that of other countries because of its race theories, which culminated in the Holocaust, whereas such theories did not take hold in other countries.

The chapter on the genocide against Sinti and Roma notes German antipathy toward the “Gypsies” and discrimination against them in refusing to regard them as Nazi victims and as worthy of compensation. This, too, excludes other people’s opinions on this group, but again is probably due to the intended audience and considerations of space.

A Case of Relocation

The chapter on the expulsion of ethnic Germans from East European countries first notes a difference from other cases: unlike instances of exclusion and expulsion, let alone genocide, the Allies decided to relocate these people. The problem of exclusion arose when the refugees arrived to their new places of residence. Benz describes but in no way judges how the Eastern European countries dealt with these expellees. Regarding, however, the occupation zones and later the two German states, he notes the expellees’ exploitation by some actors and considers at length the problems of their integration.

“Admission Denied,” the essay on the immigration to Mandate Palestine, focuses on the fate of Jews trying to emigrate-legally as well as illegally-from Nazi persecution via the Danube River just before and during World War II. This part of history has not received the attention of the wider public. Benz describes these Jews’ plight at the hands of the Reich bureaucracy as well as the states along the Danube, and subsequent efforts to sail the Black Sea and the Turkish coast. Many of the Jews perished by being turned back into the hands of the Germans and their collaborators, being sunk by the warring parties, or just because of the state of their vessels. Only the chapter’s concluding pages describe their problems of being denied entry into the Mandate. This small, lesser-known aspect of the Jews’ fate in Europe was marked by collaboration with Nazi Germany, bureaucratic sluggishness, and greedy exploitation of the refugees’ plight.

The last essay surveys genocidal events of the late twentieth century in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and the Balkans. The description of practices of ethnic cleansing turns into a kind of settling of scores with the Western approach to the murderous Serb actions, instead of just describing what occurred in disintegrating Yugoslavia.

In this chapter Benz also categorizes the different forms of mass murder in general and their motives, as well as the Western attempts to explain the reasons for what happened in the Balkans. He concludes by decrying the fact that genocide has continually recurred since World War II, up to the Darfur atrocities in the new century, with international responses continuing to be inadequate.

While lacking in-depth information on the reasons for exclusion, expulsion, and genocide, this book is worth reading for its descriptive value. It also includes some respectable attempts to analyze the motives of perpetrators and onlookers. It does not, however, deal very conclusively with the various subjects of its chapters, instead giving an overview of the field. More research into underlying reasons is needed, for which Benz has perhaps laid the ground.

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HERBERT EITENEIER is a primary school teacher in Leverkusen, Germany.