The Great War of 1914 to 1918 was not only the largest episode of mass killing in world history to that date but also the greatest humanitarian disaster. The war was responsible for the deaths of 10 million soldiers as well as the incapacitation, physical and mental, of a similar number. Its immediate sequelae—including the ethnic re-engineering of central and southeastern Europe, the reciprocal ethnic cleansing of Greece and Turkey, and the Russian civil war—generated an unprecedented flow of refugees and stateless persons. Our view of the Russian famine of 1921 is occluded by the greater tragedy of the Holodomor during the 1930s, but—with a death toll of at least 1.5 million—it was the worst episode of mass starvation in mainland Europe for a century.

Cabanes sets out to fill a gap in this postwar story, in which humane impulses were channeled into ambitious, creative, and ad hoc forms of...

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