World War II didn’t end when World War II ended, Keith Lowe shows in his numbing Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. Instead of concentrating on the European miracle of recovery, he focuses on “the period before such attempts at rehabilitation were even a possibility, when most of Europe was still extremely volatile, and violence could flare up once again at the slightest provocation.” (xvii).
It was chaotic indeed: “in some parts of Europe, ethnic tensions actually became worse. Jews continued to be victimized, just as they had been during the war itself. Minorities everywhere became political targets once again, and in some areas this led to atrocities that were just as repugnant as those committed by the Nazis. The aftermath of the war also saw the logical conclusion of all the Nazis’ efforts to categorize and segregate different races. Between 1945 and 1947 tens of millions of men, women and children were expelled from their countries in some of the biggest acts of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen” (xvi).
Europeans struggled for food and shelter. In many German cities, more than half the living space had been destroyed – 70% in Cologne. Reprisals occurred everywhere – Ukrainians attacking Poles and vice versa, Soviet troops raping their way through Eastern Europe, famine ravaging much of the continent.
Lowe’s book is an effort “to describe chaos.”