The Last Million: Book summary and reviews of The Last Million by David Nasaw

The Last Million

Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War

by David Nasaw

The Last Million by David Nasaw X
The Last Million by David Nasaw
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Book Summary

From bestselling author David Nasaw, a sweeping new history of the one million refugees left behind in Germany after WWII.

In May 1945, German forces surrendered to the Allied powers, putting an end to World War II in Europe. But the aftershocks of global military conflict did not cease with the German capitulation. Millions of lost and homeless concentration camp survivors, POWs, slave laborers, political prisoners, and Nazi collaborators in flight from the Red Army overwhelmed Germany, a nation in ruins. British and American soldiers gathered the malnourished and desperate refugees and attempted to repatriate them. But after exhaustive efforts, there remained more than a million displaced persons left behind in Germany: Jews, Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans who refused to go home or had no homes to return to. The Last Million would spend the next three to five years in displaced persons camps, temporary homelands in exile, divided by nationality, with their own police forces, churches and synagogues, schools, newspapers, theaters, and infirmaries.

The international community could not agree on the fate of the Last Million, and after a year of debate and inaction, the International Refugee Organization was created to resettle them in lands suffering from postwar labor shortages. But no nations were willing to accept the 200,000 to 250,000 Jewish men, women, and children who remained trapped in Germany. In 1948, the United States, among the last countries to accept refugees for resettlement, finally passed a displaced persons bill. With Cold War fears supplanting memories of World War II atrocities, the bill granted the vast majority of visas to those who were reliably anti-Communist, including thousands of former Nazi collaborators and war criminals, while severely limiting the entry of Jews, who were suspected of being Communist sympathizers or agents because they had been recent residents of Soviet-dominated Poland. Only after the controversial partition of Palestine and Israel's declaration of independence were the remaining Jewish survivors able to leave their displaced persons camps in Germany.

A masterwork from acclaimed historian David Nasaw, The Last Million tells the gripping yet until now largely hidden story of postwar displacement and statelessness. By 1952, the Last Million were scattered around the world. As they crossed from their broken past into an unknowable future, they carried with them their wounds, their fears, their hope, and their secrets. Here for the first time, Nasaw illuminates their incredible history and, with profound contemporary resonance, shows us that it is our history as well.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Historian Nasaw delivers a richly detailed account of what happened to the one million Holocaust survivors, former slave laborers, and POWs who found themselves in Germany at the end of WWII...Nasaw skillfully and movingly relates a multilayered story with implications for contemporary refugee crises. This meticulously researched history is a must-read." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A searching, vigorously written history of an unsettled time too little known to American readers." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Nasaw does a masterful job of bringing to light the lasting individual and global consequences of policies and attitudes surrounding the last million…A thought-provoking, highly recommended perspective on a complex and largely overlooked people and period of modern history." - Library Journal (starred review)

"[Nasaw] provides a characteristically thorough and impressively researched account of the roughly one million displaced persons who found themselves stranded in Germany after the end of the war…The Last Million showcases Nasaw's deft handling of complexity—not only the number of global controversies that the Displaced Persons issue fed into, but the morally complex issues of collaboration." - Shelf Awareness

This information about The Last Million was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

David Nasaw

David Nasaw is the author of The Patriarch, selected by the New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year and a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Biography; Andrew Carnegie, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the recipient of the New-York Historical Society's American History Book Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and The Chief, which was awarded the Bancroft Prize for History and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for Non-Fiction. He is a past president of the Society of American Historians, and up until 2019 he served as the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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