What I’m Reading: A History Of Forced Population Transfers

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When I’m trying to get my head around a topic, I often like to approach it somewhat diagonally: reading not just about the thing in question, but also about similar problems that have come up around the world.

So after briefly writing about the issue of forced population transfer in Gaza a few weeks ago, I picked up “Making Minorities History” by Matthew Frank, a historian at Leeds University in England.

In the early 20th century, Frank writes, governments in Europe became convinced that “population transfers” — a euphemistic term for forcibly expelling minority groups to the countries they supposedly “belonged” to because of their backgrounds — were a way to prevent and resolve wars.

Many of the people who were enamored of population transfer in Europe later came to support the establishment of Israel as a Jewish homeland, because they either wanted to remove them as a minority within Europe or thought that doing so was the best way to ensure their safety.

That immediately reminded me of chilling passages in “A Life of Contrasts,” the autobiography of Diana Mosley, a leading member of Britain’s early-20th-century fascist movement as well as a friend of Adolf Hitler’s. Although she wrote the book in 1977, long after the horrors of the Holocaust had become known, Mosley still insisted that the real problem was that not enough of Europe’s minorities had been transferred to other countries.

That included Jewish people: She lamented that wealthy “world Jewry” had failed to “accommodate” them, by which she seemed to mean paying to move them from Europe to some unspecified territory.

After all that darkness, I needed something lighter. Reading “The Tummy Trilogy,” Calvin Trillin’s three books about food and family, felt like a series of tiny mental vacations. Next up: “The Upstairs Delicatessen,” by my Times colleague Dwight Garner, a memoir about “eating, reading, reading about eating, and reading while eating,” which I hope will be a similar experience.


Yousuf, a reader in Princeton, N.J., recommends “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine” by Noura Erakat:

“Justice for Some” brilliantly deals with the question of international law in the Palestinian context, including its role, limits and the power asymmetries involved.


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