"Zahra handles this immensely complicated and multidimensional history with remarkable clarity and feeling." —Robert Levgold, Foreign Affairs
Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas in one of the largest migrations of human history, emptying out villages and irrevocably changing both their new homes and the ones they left behind. With a keen historical perspective on the most consequential social phenomenon of the twentieth century, Tara Zahra shows how the policies that gave shape to this migration provided the precedent for future events such as the Holocaust, the closing of the Iron Curtain, and the tragedies of ethnic cleansing. In the epilogue, she places the current refugee crisis within the longer history of migration.
Zahra (Kidnapped Souls), a MacArthur fellow and professor of modern European history at the University of Chicago, examines the political and demographic developments and policies that influenced and were influenced by mass population movements from Eastern Europe to the Americas between the 1880s and the early 21st century. She shows how migration sapped the demographic strength of some pre-WWI empires for example, 3.5 million people emigrated from Austria-Hungary between 1876 and 1910 though remittances from such families to relatives back home also "expanded peasant landholdings, renovated churches, and provided relief in cases of natural disaster." Zahra relates that during the interwar period, some newly established countries encouraged the emigration of ethnic minorities, while some Polish leaders planned what was euphemistically called an "evacuation" of their country's sizable Jewish population to Madagascar. After WWII, she shows the ways migration policies articulated Cold War propaganda, as when one Polish publication told Polish workers who had sought work elsewhere that "whoever does not return ... sentences himself to a life of hopeless exile." Zahra, an assiduous, multilingual researcher who mined sources in Czech, English, French, German, and Polish, is a graceful writer who has produced a very fine study.