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The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie Hanna

    Impressive work of transnational history. Highly recommended. [The following summary/review borrowed from my graduate school writing] Mass migration from Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries counts as one of the great population movements in world history. However, scholars who study this specific migration usually do so from the “receiving end”—from the perspective of the nations and regions which received those Eastern European immigrants, particularly the United States. Zah Impressive work of transnational history. Highly recommended. [The following summary/review borrowed from my graduate school writing] Mass migration from Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries counts as one of the great population movements in world history. However, scholars who study this specific migration usually do so from the “receiving end”—from the perspective of the nations and regions which received those Eastern European immigrants, particularly the United States. Zahra chooses to study this population movement from the opposite end: through the perspective of the nations/governments which these migrants left behind. Zahra argues that migration—more specifically, control over migration—was a central, defining element of statehood in Eastern Europe from the late nineteenth century until the end of the twentieth century. This control over migration took many forms; encompassing everything between (and including) the two extremes of violent expulsion of “unwanted” national minorities to the forcible retention of “valuable” ethnic or racial groups. Furthermore, in the process of controlling and attempting to control population movement in and out of their countries, Zahra argues, these Eastern European states provided the conceptual foundation for the competing visions of the “free world” which ultimately came to characterize the twentieth century.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    In this book, The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World by Tara Zahra, she provides many facts and examples of immigrants leaving their old country for expectations of more opportunities in the new world. For many people this worked out and they became very successful. Some were not so lucky (or ambitious) and often migrants ended up returning to their home country to try to move on with their lives. The author breaks down these migrations by differ In this book, The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World by Tara Zahra, she provides many facts and examples of immigrants leaving their old country for expectations of more opportunities in the new world. For many people this worked out and they became very successful. Some were not so lucky (or ambitious) and often migrants ended up returning to their home country to try to move on with their lives. The author breaks down these migrations by different countries and ethnic groups and analyzes why some are more successful than others in adapting to their new homes. Much has to to with their ability to assimilate into the culture of their new home. The more they are able to fit in, the quicker they will feel a part of their new country and their chances of success increase as well. This was very well written and an interesting read. Anyone wishing to improve insight into immigration policies and the effects on those looking for a better life should read this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    From 1846 to 1940 there was massive legal immigration [they followed the rules that were in place] from European counties to the Americas [predominately to the United States]. The author attempts to look at the causes and procedures. She also examines returnees to Europe. Additionally covered is post-World War II mass immigration. The politics of both sending and receiving nations are examined.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kath ❅

    I read this for a class I was taking about Eastern European history but I think this is a book that is very easy to read. I wasn't my favorite book in the world because Eastern European History is not my favorite history topic but if you do like that topic and you're interested in immigration, this is a great book for you

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Klagge

    This book covers my own family history, since all 8 of my great-grandparents came from East Central Europe in the late 19th Century. One topic that I hadn't thought of was the effect of immigration on the villages that were left behind. After WWI when Czechoslovakia became its own country, the government tried to entice emigrants from the previous Austro-Hungarian Empire to come home. Apparently this was not very successful, until the US helped out by passing Prohibition. A Czech official was qu This book covers my own family history, since all 8 of my great-grandparents came from East Central Europe in the late 19th Century. One topic that I hadn't thought of was the effect of immigration on the villages that were left behind. After WWI when Czechoslovakia became its own country, the government tried to entice emigrants from the previous Austro-Hungarian Empire to come home. Apparently this was not very successful, until the US helped out by passing Prohibition. A Czech official was quoted as saying (p. 114): "The majority of re-emigrants proclaim that 'it's better to earn less and be able to drink again'." After WWII the Czechs again tried to entice emigrants back home, with the promise of housing and businesses taken from the Sudeten Germans who were expelled. But (p. 228) by the time that a group of miners returned from France, the Czech neighbors had already claimed what the miners were supposed to get. There is a fair bit of repetition in the book and not a very strong narrative flow. It felt like the editor wanted the book lengthened. But several points were clearly made: The ambiguity of what is voluntary and what is coerced emigration; the vagueness of the distinction between political and economic emigration; the loss experienced by the emigrant even when there are undoubted gains; the endless problems that Jews faced even after the devastation of WWII. Apparently some of the few Jews returning to Poland after the war were met with sentiments such as (p. 234): "What, you're still alive?" My own family story (the one I know) is that someone stole the family cow, and that was the last straw that led the family to leave the old country. So we were economic, not political, emigrants. But emigration was not an unmixed blessing. After my grandfather was born in Chicago, my great-grandmother returned to Chotusice (in Bohemia) for a year or so, and took her two sons with her. She eventually returned to Chicago with them, but obviously it was not an easy decision. The end of the last chapter the author is a bit more expansive, discussing some of the very current immigration issues, and the losses of emigration.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Darya

    An overview of migration from Eastern Europe since the late 19th century. + Many separate facts of interest, and interesting parallels between policies and attitudes in different epochs, which are usually treated or perceived separately. - You can't guess from the introduction what will be the scope of analysis. A catchy phrase in the introduction and repeated in on the dust jacket mentioned the number of people who left Eastern Europe for the New World between 1860s and 1940. So I guessed this wi An overview of migration from Eastern Europe since the late 19th century. + Many separate facts of interest, and interesting parallels between policies and attitudes in different epochs, which are usually treated or perceived separately. - You can't guess from the introduction what will be the scope of analysis. A catchy phrase in the introduction and repeated in on the dust jacket mentioned the number of people who left Eastern Europe for the New World between 1860s and 1940. So I guessed this will be the scope: this time period and the emigration to the Americas. Then, every new chapter brings surprises. - What is conceived to be Eastern Europe is also never defined. Apparently, Austro-Hungarian empire, its successor states in the interwar period with most focus on Poland and Czechoslovakia, then the communist block countries outside the USSR, including East Germany. Quite a non-intuitive definition of Eastern Europe from my vantage point :)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Josef

    I was born in Czechoslovakia, and my parents fled communism in 1979. We ended up in Switzerland, but since then I have lived in England, for a little while in Canada and now permanently in the United States. I have experienced migration and I am interested in people's stories of migration. Zahra's book is not just well written but also well researched. It takes you back to the late 1800's and gradually more into the modern times describing what motivated people from the former Eastern Bloc to pi I was born in Czechoslovakia, and my parents fled communism in 1979. We ended up in Switzerland, but since then I have lived in England, for a little while in Canada and now permanently in the United States. I have experienced migration and I am interested in people's stories of migration. Zahra's book is not just well written but also well researched. It takes you back to the late 1800's and gradually more into the modern times describing what motivated people from the former Eastern Bloc to pick up and leave. It's also the incredibly sad story of people of jewish faith and their struggles to find a secure home. It's an important book in the sense that migrations streams these days are from different parts of the world but the stories those people share will have similarity to those of the people in this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jill Meyer

    When Americans think about migration from eastern Europe, I think we concentrate on the immigration of people from there to here. Millions of people left eastern European lands and moved to the United States in waves basically beginning in the 1840's. We know what they were looking for when they came here, but what were they leaving behind in the places they emigrated from? And what were those places like after great swathes of people left? In her new book, "The Great Departure: Mass Migration f When Americans think about migration from eastern Europe, I think we concentrate on the immigration of people from there to here. Millions of people left eastern European lands and moved to the United States in waves basically beginning in the 1840's. We know what they were looking for when they came here, but what were they leaving behind in the places they emigrated from? And what were those places like after great swathes of people left? In her new book, "The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World", University of Chicago professor Tara Zahra has produced an elegant piece of historical writing explaining what the effects were on the places and the people "left behind". Please remember that Tara Zahra is only writing about the emigrants from eastern European countries. Those from the UK, Scandinavia, France, etc, are not referred to here in her book. Their experiences - both in the places they were leaving and the places they were going - were largely different from those from the eastern European countries and Russia .In the 1800's and up to the early 1900's, Christian emigrants were looking for economic prosperity in the United States; the same reason for Jewish emigrants, who were also fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms. What they found here was not always the "Golden Medina"; rather it was a land where the immigrant had to work hard to get ahead. In the countries they had left, often villages and city areas were left empty by those who had left seeking a better life. After the First World War, the reasons to leave became more political as the world-wide Depression and the repressive regimes gave rise to wide anti-Semitism. And after WW2, the migrations were all over Europe as Displaced People found a way to return "home" after being forcibly moved by war and post-war politics. she ends her book alluding to the most recent migrations in eastern Europe. Tara Zahra's book is a fascinating look at both the politics and economics of migration. Her writing is fluid and the book is a pleasure to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    I think I was looking for something different from this book, perhaps a story of hope? If that is what you hope to find here, don't read this account of the mass migration of people, primarily from Eastern Europe, to the United States and other countries. You will be thoroughly depressed. The subtitle is "Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World". It really should be "Oppressed People Who Wanted to Immigrate and Were Either Denied the Chance, or Disappointed Once They Did." I think I was looking for something different from this book, perhaps a story of hope? If that is what you hope to find here, don't read this account of the mass migration of people, primarily from Eastern Europe, to the United States and other countries. You will be thoroughly depressed. The subtitle is "Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World". It really should be "Oppressed People Who Wanted to Immigrate and Were Either Denied the Chance, or Disappointed Once They Did." My family on both sides left various places in Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania between the 1880s and 1890s and made their way to America, some via London, some not. They settled in Philadelphia and New Jersey. My paternal relatives worked in Philadelphia in various trades and small businesses. My maternal grandmother's family were part of the agricultural settlements of Jews in southern New Jersey, partly funded by the Baron de Hirsch. I don't know all of the details, but no one ever spoke of any family member who wanted to return to any of the places from which they had come. Obviously there were people who were unhappy with what they found in America, and nearly all worked very hard to improve their lives, but the idea of going back to the pogroms, or 25 years of service in the Tsar's army, wasn't a viable or appealing option. I can't speak for other groups, but for Jews, America and Canada were certainly safer and more welcoming than what they faced in their native countries. I read through the book with increasing dismay. Of course I knew that immigration quotas were greatly reduced in the 1920s and many people died in the camps and ghettos because they were denied visas. No one could deny this, and it makes me terribly sad (and often angry). But this book is so bleak, and so without hope that I could hardly bear to read it. The choice to read its grim chapters is yours.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frank Nemecek

    My grandparents were a part of this departure. My grandfather was one of those who returned to Europe after coming to America. In fact, he had gone back and forth at least twice according to family lore before meeting my grandmother on the ship during his third and final trip. I had always wondered what it was that made them leave everything behind to voyage halfway around the world. I had a general idea that they were seeking a better life but the details were missing. I thought those details wo My grandparents were a part of this departure. My grandfather was one of those who returned to Europe after coming to America. In fact, he had gone back and forth at least twice according to family lore before meeting my grandmother on the ship during his third and final trip. I had always wondered what it was that made them leave everything behind to voyage halfway around the world. I had a general idea that they were seeking a better life but the details were missing. I thought those details would always be missing since my grandpa died before I was born and my grandma died when I was very young. Anyway, this book helped me understand all of those things. It gave a broader historical context to my family history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Maybe a little ponderous as an audio book, but a very interesting vein of history that I never though much about: the result of emigration on the countries from which people originated and the politics and sociology of the effect of emigration on those countries.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nator

    Be cautious if attempting to use this book as a historical source, as Zahra seems to have valued telling a good story over any rigor or fidelity to events. She doesn't seem to have looked very closely at the things she cites; to pick an egregious example, she claims on page 280 that over 100,000 Poles were immigrating to the United States each year in the years before the 2008 financial crisis. This is startlingly high on its face: only a bit over a million people were immigrating total, by the Be cautious if attempting to use this book as a historical source, as Zahra seems to have valued telling a good story over any rigor or fidelity to events. She doesn't seem to have looked very closely at the things she cites; to pick an egregious example, she claims on page 280 that over 100,000 Poles were immigrating to the United States each year in the years before the 2008 financial crisis. This is startlingly high on its face: only a bit over a million people were immigrating total, by the official U.S. government counts that she cites, and it's hard to believe that anything close to 10% of new U.S. migrants were Polish. To her credit, Zahra does provide a citation here that backs up her numbers -- except that she cites a table explicitly about non-immigrant Polish entrants to the United States, such as tourists or people on business trips. The only other source I explicitly spot-checked, a New York Times quotation about Martina Navratilova from p. 255, was also doubtful. Although it is presented as a direct quote, she gets the wording slightly wrong. Perhaps worse, she also implies more about the context than is supported by the original source and even repeats a a bit about Navratilova having stated the quotation "simply" that skirts close to what I would have been rebuked for as plagiarism in freshman composition. Even on quotations that I didn't check and have no direct reason to doubt, Zahra's choice of sourcing seems dubious. I'm thinking of things like her extended recounting of the dramatic testimony of Karel Ruml about his role on the "Freedom Train" that was hijacked across the Iron Curtain from Czechoslovakia in 1951. Ruml's memories, expressed in memoirs and interviews decades later, are dramatic, almost melodramatic, with him boldly using a gun to face down sniveling Communists who "stink of beer and onions," etc. It's more than reasonable for people to remember and recount their life stories as they see fit, but historians normally take this sort of thing with many grains of salt. And with good reason: Ruml, somewhat famously, doesn't show up as prominent in the Czechoslovak security services' accounts of the incident, even though they had a lot more reason to deeply investigate how the train's diversion went down than did most other people and interviewed dozens of eyewitnesses. Relying on unverified stories has a real place in oral histories and the like, but Zahra aims to write something more definitive. In short, despite Zahra's sterling, MacArthur-certified pedigree, this book seems at least from a cursory investigation to be much longer on color than on trustworthiness.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on emigration from Europe in the nineteenth century. So I had some background knowledge coming into this book. But that wasn’t enough to fuel me through this long haul through unpleasant episodes of history This book starts late in the 19th century with Eastern European countries feeling left out of the power game. They resent that their population is leaving an overcrowded underdeveloped land in favor of opportunity, because they worry about losing military conscrip I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on emigration from Europe in the nineteenth century. So I had some background knowledge coming into this book. But that wasn’t enough to fuel me through this long haul through unpleasant episodes of history This book starts late in the 19th century with Eastern European countries feeling left out of the power game. They resent that their population is leaving an overcrowded underdeveloped land in favor of opportunity, because they worry about losing military conscripts. They also think of population numbers as a measure of power. They want purity of population, not caring that these pure people are poor, miserable, uneducated. However, they were ready to lose any and all their Jews. From this book I learned more about the depths of resentment and hatred and mistreatment of the Jews of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. Seized property, proto-concentration camps, fines and fees There was an especially tragic section about how countries restricted Jewish movement even as Nazi intentions became clearer and clearer. It follows restrictions and occasional easing all the way past the fall of the Berlin Wall and even through current resentment of Muslims / Syrians and Africans. The book was very repetitive, ridiculously detailed, and way too long. Know that the book’s goal was to teach you about how these countries were and still are obsessed with “creating homogenous populations and reinforcing national sovereignty” (Kindle loc 4136). Then you don’t need to bother reading it .

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thomas DeLair

    An interesting topic I didn't know a whole lot about. The book focuses on the push factors of immigrants out of East Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Globally, as cheap labor during the period, these immigrants didn't just show up at the door of Ellis Island, but around the globe, like Argentina and Brazil. Much of the book is devoted to the policies of Eastern European states as they attempted to manage labor. When over population was too great, immigration was strong, especially in Austri An interesting topic I didn't know a whole lot about. The book focuses on the push factors of immigrants out of East Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Globally, as cheap labor during the period, these immigrants didn't just show up at the door of Ellis Island, but around the globe, like Argentina and Brazil. Much of the book is devoted to the policies of Eastern European states as they attempted to manage labor. When over population was too great, immigration was strong, especially in Austria-Hungry before World War I. Other times, states feared human capital sifting out of their hands due to immigration. The group most encouraged to leave Eastern Europe were the Jews, there's a lengthy portion of the book devoted to the proposed colonization of Jews to Madagascar. The muddled differences between status of political or economic refugee were interesting in terms of how a state attempts define between the two. As the book's narrative leads up to the early 21st century, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe to the modern situation of immigration in the EU. It's very revealing to understand that these are age old debates, held in both the exiting and entering nations. The final conclusion was simple: be nice to immigrants. It is worth understanding the long history of global migration and more about cultures and nations immigrants come from. Optimistically, a clearer understanding of immigration and its' history could lead to more meaningful immigration policy with a more stable and free world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book, covering immigration from the 1850s to the present, puts a great deal into perspective about what we are seeing today. You also realize how much governments throughout this 175 years have manipulated people. There is so much politics involved and our own countries policies have always been less than generous. There is a lot of eye-opening information about Europe as well and some insights into just what was behind the two world wars. Hitler did not come up with some of his own policie This book, covering immigration from the 1850s to the present, puts a great deal into perspective about what we are seeing today. You also realize how much governments throughout this 175 years have manipulated people. There is so much politics involved and our own countries policies have always been less than generous. There is a lot of eye-opening information about Europe as well and some insights into just what was behind the two world wars. Hitler did not come up with some of his own policies on his own. They truly evolved from what was going on and eastern Europe for many years. No doubt, he took it to the max, but the groundwork has been laid for him.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alethia

    It started out slow, but by the end I was really enjoying it. It's a book jam-packed with details--incredible, unbelievable details. With novels, sometimes I feel like I'm listening to a song, and I don't have to try very hard to guess what the second half of the rhyme will be. On the other hand, with history books like this, you just start to get into a groove, and then the rhythm changes on you. I'm glad that I stuck it through to finish this, and I learned a lot because of it. The hard part no It started out slow, but by the end I was really enjoying it. It's a book jam-packed with details--incredible, unbelievable details. With novels, sometimes I feel like I'm listening to a song, and I don't have to try very hard to guess what the second half of the rhyme will be. On the other hand, with history books like this, you just start to get into a groove, and then the rhythm changes on you. I'm glad that I stuck it through to finish this, and I learned a lot because of it. The hard part now is making sense of it all. How do the countries told in this book translate to the images we have of them today? Has the underlying culture of xenophobia in any way changed? What comes next?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mysteryfan

    Extremely interesting book. Most of what I knew about emigrants and migration came from learning about people wanting to enter the US. This book examines migration in a European context particularly Eastern Europe. Forced migration and forced limits on mobility were frequently-used tools to control "desirable" and "undesirable" residents. Of course, Jewish people were usually considered undesirable. The policies of the first quarter of the 20th century shaped the Holocaust and the years after. I Extremely interesting book. Most of what I knew about emigrants and migration came from learning about people wanting to enter the US. This book examines migration in a European context particularly Eastern Europe. Forced migration and forced limits on mobility were frequently-used tools to control "desirable" and "undesirable" residents. Of course, Jewish people were usually considered undesirable. The policies of the first quarter of the 20th century shaped the Holocaust and the years after. I can see reverberations in the news today. A fascinating look from a different angle.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Niebrzydowski

    I think that I was looking for something just a little bit different than what this ended up being. However it was still a good overview or insight into eastern European immigration history. A little bit more focus on the Jewish population than I expected, but I suppose that is a large part of it. So, still an interesting read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Corrine

    Lots of history on ethnonationalism and the causes of its rising throughout history. That we look to blame others for their station in life instead of being curious and asking why. And it is happening again as the wealth gap widens we blame those we think we are better than instead of those who hoard the wealth accumulated off those who work for them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Gamm

    This was an unflinching look at migration and immigration from Europe to the United States during the late 1800's and mid 1900's. VERY unflinching... At times, it made me think about how little has changed regarding immigrants and people's perceptions of other nationalities. Worth the read and well-researched.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    I read this book via audiobook and don't typically rate audiobook experiences, but, if you're interested in migration history or the history of Eastern Europe, this is an excellent addition to your shelf. Zahra integrates personal experiences and stories of emigrants and the broader history and her own takeaways with easy dexterity. This book was a really fast read yet quite nuanced.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    I chose to read this book because of my interest in genealogy. All four of my grandparents emigrated from Slovakia. It's scope was much greater, addressing the causes of migration through WW II and the opening of the communist East to today's resurgent nationalism and accompanying xenophobia.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jim Swike

    Very well-done and well-researched. Provides the full story of Migration, I learned a lot about the topic. Makes a great reference book, enjoy!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paulo Adalberto Reimann

    Definitely I didn't like it. I guess the 3 stars was a good day. For me, there is nothing new. The book doesn't bring any novelty or break through.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura N

    Started off slow and kind of all over the place . It got much better half way through.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    This book was interesting but was so detailed it kind of got bogged down.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    A broad look of migration/immigration/emigration

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shayl

    Tara Zahra's writing is probably my favorite thing about this book. It reads almost like a story or narrative and really grabs your attention and interest.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Duque

    Very interesting and a bit disheartening in how far we haven’t come. I learned a lot.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott Lord

    This book provides a lot of insight into the immigration trends over the last 150 years focusing on Eastern Europe emigration to the west. Who is allowed into your country has been a debate for decades. I was unaware that Reagan wouldn't deport Poles who were in the U.S. illegally or that FDR severely limited immigration of German Jews before the U.S. entered WWII. The book is not an easy read, more of a reference guide. It has been a help in my genealogy hobby.

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