Annemarie H. Sammartino. The Impossible Border: Germany and the East, 1914-1922. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. 272 S. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4863-8.
Reviewed by Gary Roth (Rutgers University at Newark)
Published on H-German (August, 2012)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
With and Without Boundaries
This sharply argued, highly informative book by Annemarie Sammartino explores the shifting, but also overlapping and contradictory, definitions given to "Germanness" during and immediately following World War I. Citizens were defined by law, itself a contested terrain between the Left and Right, especially between socialist-led Prussia and Catholic-dominated Bavaria. In addition, ethnic Germans were scattered in neighboring parts of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. Finally, the actual population of Germany included many non-Germans and immigrants, none of whom were citizens. These separate categories expanded and contracted dramatically, depending on the various phases of conquest and defeat through which Germany progressed. Sammartino carefully plots the ever-changing relationship between territory, nation, and state as it played out in the political and cultural arenas. "Across the region," she explains, "borders became the symbols and spaces of crisis as states fought over their location and sought to control the people who traversed them" (p. 3).
Sammartino sets these dynamics within the context of the mass migrations occasioned by the break-up of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. Suddenly, national identity became a category both fluid and profound, with an urgent need by the newly constituted nations to define the populations for whom they would take responsibility. By specifying in detail the major clusters among the 1.5 million refugees who came to Germany between 1918 and 1922, Sammartino traces the ways in which poverty, ethnic prejudice, and right-wing politics determined how each group was perceived and received. Ctd....
Attrition, the strategy that dares not speak its name.