- History of German settlement in Eastern Europe
The presence of German speaking populations in
Central and Eastern Europeis rooted in centuries of history, that of the independent German states(particularly Prussia), and later German Empirebut also Austria-Hungary, Poland, and other multi-ethnic countries. In the German language, the German populations in that part of Europe are commonly referred to as " Volksdeutsche". The number of ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe dropped dramatically as the result of the German exodus from Eastern Europe. However, there are still a substantial number of ethnic Germans in the countries that are now Germany and Austria's neighbors to the east— Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia. In addition, there are or have been significant populations in such areas as Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. It is not known specifically when Ashkenazi Jewsbecame participants within this phenomenon, but it stands to reason that similar societies spawned eastwards, would induce them alongside their Pagan or Christian compatriots for economic reasons, if not also others.
Early Middle Ages settlement area
early Middle Ages, Charlemagnehad subdued a variety of Germanic peoplesin Central Europedwelling in an area roughly bordered by the Alpsin the South, the Vosges mountainsin the West, the North Seaand ElbeRiver in the North and the SaaleRiver in the East. These inhomogeneous Germanic peoples comprised several tribes and groups who either formed, stayed or immigrated into this area during the migration period. After the Carolingian Empirewas divided, these people found themselves in the eastern part, known as East Franciaor "Regnum Teutonicum", and over time became known as Germans. The area was divided into the stem duchies of Swabia ( Alamannia), Franconia, Saxony and Bavaria(including Carinthia). Later, the Holy Roman Empirewould be constituted largely, but not exclusively of these regions.
Medieval settlements (Ostsiedlung)
The medieval German "
Ostsiedlung" (literally "Settlement in the East"), also known as "German eastward expansion" or "East colonization" refers to the expansion of German culture, language, states, and settlement to vast regions of East Central and Eastern Europe, previously inhabited since the Great Migrations by Balts, Romanians, Hungarians and, since about the 8th century, the Slavs. [Wallbank and Schrier, "Living World History", pp. 193] The affected territory stretched roughly from modern Estoniain the North to modern Sloveniain the South.
Population growth during the
High Middle Agesstimulated movement of peoples from the Rhenish, Flemish, and Saxon territories of the Holy Roman Empireeastwards into the less-populated Baltic region and Poland. These movements were supported by the German nobility, the Slavic kings and dukes, and the medieval Church. The majority of this settlement was peaceful, although it sometimes took place at the expense of Slavs and pagan Balts (see Northern Crusades). "Ostsiedlung" accelerated along the Baltic with the advent of the Teutonic Order. [Sebastian Haffner, "The Rise and Fall of Prussia", pp. 6–10.] Likewise, in Styriaand Carinthia, German communities took form in areas inhabited by Slovenes.
In the middle of the
14th century, the settling progress slowed as a result of the Black Death; in addition, the most arable and promising regions were largely occupied. Local Slavic leaders in late Medieval Pomeraniaand Silesiacontinued inviting German settlers to their territories.
In the outcome, all previously Wendish territory were settled by a German majority and the Wends were almost completely assimilated. In areas further east, substantial German minorities were established, which either kept their customs or were assimilated by the host population. The density of villages and towns increased dramatically.
German town lawwas introduced to most towns of the area, regardless of the percentage of German inhabitants.
Areas settled during Ostsiedlung
The following historical German settlement areas date back to Ostsiedlung:
Germany: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Holstein
former eastern territories of Germany: Pomerania, East Brandenburg, East Prussia, Silesia
Sudetenland( Sudeten Germans)
Transsylvania( Transylvanian Saxons)
Carpathian Mountains( Carpathian Germans
Memellandand areas adjacted to the Gulf of Riga( Baltic Germans)
Poland("see History of Poland (966–1385)")
Bulgaria("see Germans in Bulgaria")
German-run enterprises resulting in German settlements
Between the 13th and 17th centuries, trade in the Baltic Sea and Eastern Central Europe became dominated by Germans through the
Hanseatic League( _de. die Hanse). The league was a Low-German-speaking military allianceof trading guilds that established and maintained a trade monopolyover the Baltic and to a certain extent the North Sea. Hanseatic towns and trade stations usually hosted relatively large German populations, with merchant dynasties being the wealthiest and political dominant fractions.
From the second half of the 13th century to the 15th century, the crusading
Teutonic Knightsruled Prussia through their monastic state. As a consequence, German settlement accellerated along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea. These areas, centered around Danzigand Königsberg, remained one of the largest closed German settlement area outside the Holy Roman Empireand would only be included in the German Empireas East and West Prussiain 1871.
17th to 19th century settlements
Thirty Year's War aftermath
Thirty Year's Wardevastated Central Europe, many areas were completely deserted, others suffered severe population drops. These areas were in part resettled by Germans from areas hit less. Some of the deserted villages, however, were not repopulated - that is why the Middle Ages' density of settlements was higher than today's.
Danube Swabians of Hungary and the Balkans
With the decline of the
Ottoman Empire, German settlers were called into devastated areas of Hungary, by then comprising a larger area than today, in the late 1600s. The Danube Swabianssettled in Swabian Turkeyand other areas, more settlers were called in even throughout the 18th century, in part to secure Hungary's frontier with the Ottomans. The Banat Swabiansand Satu Mare Swabiansare examples of Danube Swabian settlers from the 18th century.
An influx of Danube Swabians also occurred toward the adriatic coast in what would later become
Salzkammergutwere called into Transsylvania to repopulate areas devastated by the wars with the Turks. They became known as Transylvanian Landler.
Since 1762, Russia called in German settlers. Some settled the
Volgaarea northwest of Kazakhstanand therefor became known as Volga Germans. Others settled toward the coast of the Black Sea( Black Sea Germans, including Bessarabia Germans, Dobrujan Germansand Crimea Germans) and the northern Caucasusarea ( Caucasus Germans). These settlements occured throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries.
Also, there were a lot of
Mennonitesoriginating from the Vistula Germanswho had lived in West Prussiasince the Ostsiedlung. Feed by Prussiawith heavy taxes due to their believes, they emigrated to Russia and became hence known as Russian Mennonites, speaking a Low Germandialect called Plautdietsch.
Since the 1840s, Germans moved to
Turkeywho by then had become an ally of the German Empire. Those settling in the Istanbularea became known as Bosporus Germans.
By the 1800s, every city of even modest size as far east as Russia had a German quarter and a Jewish quarter. Travellers along any road would pass through, for example, a German village, then a Czech village, then a Polish village, etc., depending on the region.
Certain parts of Eastern Europe, especially those close to the border of Germany contained areas in which ethnic Germans constituted a majority.
German Empire and European nationalism
The latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century saw the rise of
nationalismin Europe. Previously, a country consisted largely of whatever peoples lived on the land that was under the dominion of a particular ruler. Thus, as principalities and kingdoms grew through conquest and marriage, a ruler could wind up with peoples of many different ethnicities under his dominion.
The concept of nationalism was based on the idea of a "people" who shared a common bond through race, religion, language and culture. Furthermore, nationalism asserted that each "people" had a right to its own nation. Thus, much of European history in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century can be understood as efforts to realign national boundaries with this concept of "one people, one nation".
In 1871, the
German Empirewas founded, partly as a German nation-state. This is closely associated with chancellor Otto von Bismarck. While the empire included German settled Prussian regions formerly outside of its predecessors, it also included areas with Danish, Kashuband other minorities. In some areas, such as the Province of Posenor the southern part of Upper Silesia, the majority of the population were Poles. On the other hand, ethnic German Austriaremained outside the empire, and so did many German-settled or mixed regions of Eastern and Central Europe. Most German settled regions of South Central and Southeastern Europe were instead included in the multi-ethnic Habsburg monarchyof Austria-Hungary.
Starting in the late 19th century, an inner-Prussian migration took place from the rural eastern to the prospering urban western
provinces of Prussia, a phenomenon termed Ostflucht. As a consequence, these migrations highered the percentage of the Polish population in Posen and West Prussia. Driven by nationalist intentions, the Prussian state established a Settlement Commissionas countermeasure, that was to settle more Germans in these regions. The Commission, though accomplishing settlement of some 1500,000 Germans, failed to archieve ethnic German dominance in these provinces.
World War I
World War I, there were isolated groups of Germans or so-called Schwabenas far southeast as the Bosporus( Turkey), Georgia, and Azerbaijan. After the war, Germany's and Austria-Hungary's loss of territory meant that more Germans than ever were minorities in various countries, though on the whole they still enjoyed fairly good treatment.
Deportation, flight, evacuation and resettlements of Germans from the Russian Empire during World War I
The advance of allied
German Empireand Habsburg monarchyforces into the Russian Empire's territory triggered actions of flight, evacuation and deportation of the population living in or near the combat zone. Russian Germans became subject to severe measures because of their ethnicity, including forced resettlement and deportation to Russia's East, ban of German languagefrom public life (including books and newspapers), and deprivement of economical means (jobs and land property) based on "liquidation laws" issued since 1915; also Germans (as well as the rest of the population) were hit by "burned soil" tactics of the retreating Russians. [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, pp.151,152, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] . About 300,000 Russian Germans became subject to deportations to Siberiaand the Baskir steppe, of those 70,000-200,000 were Germans from Volhynia, 20,000 were Germans from Podolia, 10,000 were Germans from the Kievarea, and another 11,000 were Germans from the Cernigovarea [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.153, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] .
From Russian areas controlled by the German, Austrian and Hungarian forces, large scale resettlements of Germans to Germany were organized by "
Fürsorgeverein" ("Welfare Union"), resetteling 60,000 Russian Germans, and " Deutsche Arbeiterzentrale" ("German Workers' Bureau"), resetteling 25,000-40,000 Russian Germans [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.154, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] . Two thirds of these persons were resettled to East Prussia, most of the remaining in the northeastern provinces of Prussiaand Mecklenburg[Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.154, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] .
Danzig and the Polish corridor
When Poland regained its independence after
World War I, the Poles hoped to regain the city of Danzig to provide the free access to the sea which they had been promised by the Allies on the basis of Woodrow Wilson's " Fourteen Points". However, since the population of the city was predominantly German, it was not placed under Polish sovereignty, but became the Free City of Danzig, an independent quasi-state under the auspices of the League of Nations, governed by its German residents but with its external affairs largely under Polish control. The Free City had its own constitution, national anthem, parliament ("Volkstag"), and government ("Senat"). It issued its own stamps and currency, bearing the legend "Freie Stadt Danzig" and symbols of the city's maritime orientation and history.
Polish Corridor, many ethnic Germans were forced to leave, while Poles settled in the region building the port city Gdynia(Gdingen) next to Danzig.
The vast majority of Danzig's population favoured eventual return to Germany. In the early 1930s the Nazi Party capitalized on these pro-German sentiments, and in 1933 garnered 38 percent of vote for the Danzig "Volkstag". Thereafter, the Nazis under the
Bavarian Gauleiter Albert Försterachieved dominance in the city government - which, nominally, was still overseen by the League of Nations' High Commissioner.
Nazi demands, at their minimum, would have seen the return of Danzig to Germany and a one kilometer, state-controlled route for easier access across the Polish Corridor, from
Pomeraniato Danzig (and from there to East Prussia). [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939." See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.] Originally, the Poles had rejected this proposal, but later appeared willing to negotiate (as did the British) by August. [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939" See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.] By this time, however, Hitler had Soviet backing and had decided to attack Poland. Germany feigned an interest in diplomacy (delaying the "Case White" deadline twice), to try to drive a wedge between Britain and Poland. [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939". Hitler's change of position is well reflected in Goebbel's personal diary. See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.]
Nazi claims to "Lebensraum" and resettlements of Germans before the war
In the 19th century, the rise of
romantic nationalismin Germany had led to the concepts of Pan-Germanismand Drang nach Osten, which in part gave rise to the concept of Lebensraum.
German nationalists used the existence of large German minorities in other countries as a basis for territorial claims. Many of the
propagandathemes of the Nazi regime against Czechoslovakiaand Polandclaimed that the ethnic Germans (" Volksdeutsche") in those territories were persecuted. The status of ethnic Germans, and the lack of contiguity of German majority lands resulted in numerous repatriation pacts whereby the German authorities would organize population transfers (especially the Nazi-Soviet population transfersarranged between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and others with Benito Mussolini's Italy) so that both Germany and the other country would increase their homogeneity.
However, these population transfers were considered but a drop in the pond, and the "Heim ins Reich" rhetoric over the continued disjoint status of enclaves such as Danzig and Königsberg was an agitating factor in the politics leading up to World War II, and is considered by many to be among the major causes of Nazi aggressiveness and thus the war.
Adolf Hitlerused these issues as a pretext for waging wars of aggression against Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Nazi settlement concepts during World War II (1939-1945)
The status of ethnic Germans, and the lack of contiguity resulted in numerous repatriation pacts whereby the German authorities would organize population transfers (especially the
Nazi-Soviet population transfersarranged between Adolf Hitlerand Joseph Stalin, and others with Benito Mussolini's Italy) so that both Germany and the other country would increase their "ethnic ". However, this was but a drop in the pond, and the " Heim ins Reich" rhetoric over the continued disjoint status of enclaves such as Danzigand Königsbergwas an agitating factor in the politics leading up to World War II, and is considered by many to be among the major causes of Nazi aggressiveness and thus the war.
Resettlement of Germans from the Soviet Union
German populations affected by the population exchanges were primarily the
Baltic Germansand Bessarabia Germansand others who were forced to resettle west of the Curzon line. The Molotov Ribbentrop Pacthad defined "spheres of interest", assigning the states between Nazi Germanyand the Soviet Unionto either one of those.
Memelland, the Baltic stateswere assigned to the Soviet Union, and Germany started pulling out the Volksdeutsche population after reaching respective agreements with Estoniaand Latviain October 1939. The Baltic Germans were to be resettled in occupied Poland and compensated for their losses with confiscated property at their new settlements. Though resettlement was volunteerly, most Germans followed the call because they feared repression once the Soviets would move in. Eventually, this actually happened to the ones who stayed. The Baltic Germans were moved to Germany's northeastern port cities by ship. Poles were expelled from West Prussiato make space available for resettlement, but due to quarrels with the Gauleiter Foster, resettlement stalled and further "repatriants" were moved to Posen. [Valdis O. Lumans, "Himmler's Auxiliaries, pp 158ff] Of the 127,000 resettled Baltic Germans (of which 59,000 were from Latvia, 51,000 from Lithuaniaand 17,000 from Estonia), 87,000 were settled in the eastern annexed territories and 40,000 within the Altreich[Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.572 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] .
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, the
Volga German ASSRwas dissolved and the population scattered or used for forced labour. Most Volga Germans(about 400,000 [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] )were forced to resettle in Kazakhstanand Siberia.
During the war, a total of 700,000 Germans from the Soviet Union (including the 400,000 Volga Germans) was forcefully resettled by the Soviet regime, another 370,000 Germans from the Soviet Union were resettled by the Nazi regime (of the latter, 300,000 were settled within the annexed eastern territories and 70,000 within the "Altreich") [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573, ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457]
Resettlement of Germans from Italy
On October 6, 1939,
Hitlerannounced a resettlement program for the German-speaking population of the Italian province of Bolzano-Bozen (Alto Adige/South Tyrol). With an initial thought to resettle the population in occupied Poland or the Crimea, they were actually moved to places in nearby Austriaand Bavaria. Also affected were German-speakers from other areas in northern Italy, like the Kanaltaland Grödnertalvalleys. Resettlement stopped with the collapse of Mussolini's regime and the subsequent occupation of Italy by Nazi Germany. [Valdis O. Lumans, "Himmler's Auxiliaries", pp 154-157]
German "Volksdeutsche" in Nazi-occupied Europe
The actions of Germany ultimately had extremely negative consequences for most ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe (termed
Volksdeutscheto distinguish them from Germans from within the Third Reich, the Reichsdeutsche), who often fought on the side of the Nazi regime - some were drafted, others volunteered or worked through the paramilitary organisations such as Selbstschutz, which supported the German invasion of Poland and murdered tens of thousands of Poles. In places such as Yugoslavia, Germans were drafted by their country of residence, served loyally, and were even held as POWs by the Nazis, and yet later found themselves drafted again, this time by the Nazis after their takeover. Because it was technically not permissible to draft non-citizens, many ethnic Germans ended up being (oxymoronically) forcibly volunteered for the Waffen-SS. In general, those closest to Nazi Germanywere the most involved in fighting for her, but the Germans in remote places like the Caucasus were likewise accused of collaboration.
Nazi occupation of Poland and "Generalplan Ost"
German minority organisations assisted the German Reich in its invasion in Czechoslovakia and took part in the September 1939 Campaign in Poland.
Selbstschutzand German nationalist organisations created in Poland and Czechoslovakia by Germans took part in various actions (sabotage, etc.) against the Polish population.
September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, triggering the outbreak of World War II. Upon the defeat of Poland, the territories were occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany. These annexations were never recognised by the Allied governments, that after the 1942 Declaration by the United Nationswere also known as the United Nations.
Generalplan Ost, the Nazis envisioned settlement of Germans and resettlement, extinction and enslavement of all other ethnicities living in the annexed territories. The breakdown of the eastern front and the retreat of the Wehrmachttroops hindered the plan to be executed, yet some resettlements and a lot of killings and enslavements took place during the occupation.
During the war, 166,000 Germans were resettled from areas of pre-war Poland by the Nazi authorities, 113,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.572 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . From Yugoslavia, 35,000 Germans were resettled, 10,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . From Romania (including
Bessarabia), 212,000 Germans were resettled, 140,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . Of a total of 910,000 resettled "Volksdeutsche", 650,000 were settled within the annexed areas of Poland and the General Gouvernement, the others within the "Altreich" [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] .
German exodus after Nazi Germany's defeat
The 20th century wars annihilated most Eastern an East Central European German settlements, and the remaining sparse pockets of settlement were subject to emigration to Germany in the late 20th century for economical reasons.
Evacuation, and flight of Germans during the end of World War II
By late 1944, after the Soviet success of the
Belorussian Offensivein August 1944, the Eastern Front became relatively stable. Romania and Bulgaria had been forced to surrender and declare war on Germany. The Germans had lost Budapest and most of the rest of Hungary. The plains of Poland were now open to the Soviet Red Army. Starting on January 12, 1945, the Red Army began the Vistula-Oder Offensivewhich was followed a day later by the start of the Red Army's East Prussian Offensive.
German populations in Eastern Europe took flight from the advancing
Red Army, resulting in a great population shift. After the final Soviet offensives began in January, 1945, hundreds of thousands of German refugees, many of whom had fled to Danzig by foot from East Prussia(see evacuation of East Prussia), tried to escape through the city's port in a large-scale evacuation that employed hundreds of German cargo and passenger ships. Some of the ships were sunk by the Soviets, including the "Wilhelm Gustloff", after an evacuation was attempted at neighboring Gdynia. In the process, tens of thousands of refugees were killed.
Cities such as Danzig also endured heavy Western Allied and Soviet bombardment. Those who survived and could not escape encountered the
Red Army. On 30 March 1945, the Soviets captured the city and left it in ruins. [http://www.gdansk.pl/en/article.php?category=453&article=926&history=453:]
The Yalta Conference
As it became evident that the Allies were going to defeat Nazi Germany decisively, the question arose as to how to redraw the borders of Eastern European countries after the war. In the context of those decisions, the problem arose of what to do about ethnic minorities within the redrawn borders.
The final decision to move Poland's boundary westward was made by the US, Britain and the Soviets at the
Yalta Conference, shortly before the end of the war. The precise location of the border was left open; the western Allies also accepted in general the principle of the Oder River as the future western border of Poland and of population transfer as the way to prevent future border disputes. The open question was whether the border should follow the eastern or western Neisse rivers, and whether Stettin, the traditional seaport of Berlin, should remain German or be included in Poland. The western Allies sought to place the border on the eastern Neisse, but Stalin insisted that the border should be on the western Neisse.
The Potsdam Conference
Potsdam Conferencethe United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union placed the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line (Poland referred to by the Polish communist government as the "Western Territories" or " Regained Territories") as formally under Polish administrative control. It was anticipated that a final peace treatywould follow shortly and either confirm this border or determine whatever alterations might be agreed upon.
The final agreements in effect compensated Poland for 187,000 km² located east of the
Curzon linewith 112,000 km² of former German territories. The northerneastern third of East Prussia was directly annexed by the Soviet Unionand remains part of Russia to this day.
It was also decided that all Germans remaining in the new and old Polish territory should be expelled, to prevent any claims of minority rights. Among the provisions of the Potsdam Conference was a section that provided for the "orderly transfer of German populations". The specific wording of this section was as follows::"The Three Governments, having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner."
Expulsion of Germans after World War II
The expulsion of Germans after World War II refers to the
forced migrationand ethnic cleansingof German nationals (" Reichsdeutsche") and ethnic Germans(" Volksdeutsche)" from the former eastern territories of Germany, former Sudetenlandand other areas across Europe in the first five years after World War II.
It was the largest of a number of expulsions in various Central and Eastern European countries affecting a number of nationalities. The
Big Threehad agreed on a policy of expulsions, and the Soviet Unionimplemented the policy with American and British acquiescence.cite journal |title=Text of Churchill Speech in Commons on Soviet=Polish Frontier |publisher=The United Press |date=December 15, 1944] The policy had been agreed on by the Allies as part of the reconfiguration of postwar Europe. [cite journal |journal=Foreign Affairs |title=Us and Them - The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism |url=http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080301faessay87203-p30/jerry-z-muller/us-and-them.html]
Red Armyadvanced towards Germany at the end of World War II, a considerable exodus of German refugees began from the areas near the front lines. Many Germansfled their areas of residence under vague and haphazardly implemented evacuation orders of the Nazi German government in 1943, 1944, and in early 1945, or based on their own decisions to leave in 1945–1948. Others remained and were later forced to leave by local authorities. Census figures in 1950 place the total number of ethnic Germans still living in Eastern Europe at approximately 2.6 million, about 12 percent of the pre-war total.cite book |author=Overy |title=The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich |year=1996 |pages=p. 111]
The majority of the flights and expulsions occurred in
Czechoslovakia, Polandand the European Soviet Union. Others occurred in territories of northern Yugoslavia (predominantly in the Vojvodina region), and other regions of Central and Eastern Europe.
The total number of the Germans expelled after the war will remain unknown, but was estimated by various scientifical approaches. Most of the past research provided a combined estimate of 13.5-16.5 million people, including those that were evacuated by German authorities, fled or were killed during the war. However, recent research places the number at above 12 million, including all those who fled during the war or migrated later, forcibly or otherwise, to both the Western and Eastern zones of Germany and to Austria.
Recent analyses have led some historians to conclude that the actual number of deaths attributable to the flight and expulsions was in the range of 500,000 to 1.1 million. The earlier higher figures, up to 3.2 million, typically include all war-related deaths of ethnic Germans between 1939-45, including those who served in the German armed forces.
Expelled Germans in postwar Germany
After World War II many expellees (German: "
Heimatvertriebene") from the land east of the Oder-Neisse found refuge in both West Germany and East Germany. Refugees who had fled voluntarily but were later refused to return are often not distinguished from those who were forcibly deported, just as people born to German parents that moved into areas under German occupation either on their own or as Nazi colonists.
In a document signed 50 years ago the "Heimatvertriebene" organisations have also recognized the plight of the different groups of people living in today's Poland who were by force resettled there. The Heimatvertriebene are just one of the groups of millions of other people, from many different countries, who all found refuge in today's Germany.
Some of the expellees are active in politics and belong to the political right-wing. Many others do not belong to any organizations, but they continue to maintain what they call a lawful right to their homeland. The vast majority pledged to work peacefully towards that goal while rebuilding post-war Germany and Europe.
The expellees are still highly active in German politics, and are one of the major political factions of the nation, with still around 2 million members. The president of their organization is as of 2004 still a member of the national parliament.
Although expellees (in German
Heimatvertriebene) and their descendants were active in West German politics, the prevailing political climate within West Germany was that of atonement for Nazi actions. However, the CDUgovernments have shown considerable support for the expellees and German civilian victims.
Although relations between Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany have generally been cordial since 1991, there remain disputes about the War, the post-War expulsion, the treatment of the current German minority in Poland and the treatment of German heritage in modern day Western Poland.
tatus of the German minority in Poland
The remaining German minority in Poland (152,897 people according to the 2002 census) has minority rights on the basis of the Polish - German treaty and minority law. German parties are not subject to the 5% threshold during the
Sejmelections so Germans are able to obtain two seats. There are German speakers throughout Poland, but only the voivodeship of Opole/Oppeln has a larger concentration.
Finalization of the Polish-German border
For decades, the
CDUcontrolled German government considered the Oder-Neisse lineto be completely unacceptable. Even the Social Democrats of the SPDinitially refused to accept the Oder-Neisse line. The 1991 Polish-German border agreement finalized the Oder-Neisse line as the Polish-German border. The agreement gave to minority groups in both countries several rights, such as the right to use national surnames, speak their native languages, and attend schools and churches of their choice. These rights had been denied previously on the basis that the individual had already chosen the country in which they wanted to live.
Restricting sale of property to foreigners
In November 2005 "
Der Spiegel" published a poll from the Allensbach Institutewhich estimated that 61% of Poles believed Germans would try to get back territories that were formerly under German control or demand compensation [http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/vorab/0,1518,383359,00.html] , [http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/swiat/1,34180,3002683.html] .
There are also some worries among Poles that rich descendants of the expelled Germans would buy the land the Polish state confiscated in 1945. It is believed that this may result in large price increases, since the current Polish land price is low compared to Western Europe. This led to Polish restrictions on the sale of property to foreigners, including Germans: special permission is needed. This policy is comparable to similar restrictions on the Baltic
Åland Islands. These restrictions will be lifted 12 years after the 2004 accession of Poland to the European Union, i.e. on May 1 2016. The restrictions are weak, they aren't valid for companies and certain types of properties.
The attempts by German organisations to build a
Centre Against Expulsionsdedicated to German people's alleged suffering during World War II has led Polish politicians and activists to propose a Center for Martyrology of Polish Nation (called also Center for the Memory of Suffering of the Polish Nation) that would document the systematical oppression conducted on Polish people by German state during World War II and which would serve to educate German people about atrocities their state and regime conducted on their neighbours. However, this proposal was attacked and rejected by German politicians [http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/swiat/1,34239,3124740.html] .
German minority in the Czech Republic
There are about 40,000 Germans remaining in the Czech Republic. Their number has been consistently decreasing since World War II. According to the 2001 census there remain 13 municipalities and settlements in the Czech Republic with more than 10% Germans.
The situation in
Slovakiawas different from that in the Czech lands, in that the number of Germans was considerably lower and that the Germans from Slovakia were almost completely evacuated to German states as the Soviet army was moving west through Slovakia, and only the fraction of them that returned to Slovakia after the end of the war was deported together with the Germans from the Czech lands.
The Czech Republic has introduced a law in 2002 that guarantees the use of native minority languages (incl.German)as official languages in municipalities where autochthonous linguistic groups make up at least 10% of the population. Besides the use in dealings with officials and in courts the law also allows for bilingual signage and guarantees education in the native language. The law so far only exists on paper and has not been implemented anywhere, neither in the Polish speaking Tesin/Cieszyn area nor in Western and Northern Bohemia where a hand full of towns still have in excess of 10% German speakers.
The remaining tiny German minority in the Czech Republic has been granted some rights on paper, however the actual use of the language in dealings with officials is usually not possible. There is no bilingual education system in Western and Northern Bohemia, where the German minority is most concentrated. The Czech authorities have enacted a unique hurdle in their minority act.
Many representatives of expelees organizations support the erection of bilingual signs in all formerly German speaking territory as a visible sign of the bilingual linguistic and cultural heritage of the region. While the erection of bilingual signs is technically permitted if a minority constitutes 10% of the population, the minority is also forced to sign a petition in favour of the signs in which 40% of the adult minority population must participate.
28 December 1989, Václav Havel, at that time a candidate for president of Czechoslovakia (he was elected one day later), suggested that Czechoslovakia should apologise for the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II. Most of other politicians of the country didn't agree, and there was also no reply from leaders of Sudeten German organizations. Later, the German President Richard von Weizsackeranswered this by apologizing to Czechoslovakia during his visit to Pragueon March 1990 after Václav Havel repeated his apology characterizing the expulsion as "the mistakes and sins of our fathers". However, the Beneš decreescontinue to remain in force in Czechoslovakia.
In Czech-German relations, the topic has been effectively closed by the [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/germ/czecheng.html Czech-German declaration] of 1997. One principle of the declaration was that parties will not burden their relations with political and legal issues which stem from the past.
However, some expelled Sudeten Germans or their descendants are demanding return of their former property, which was confiscated after the war. Several such cases have been taken to Czech courts. As confiscated estates usually have new inhabitants, some of whom have lived there for more than 50 years, attempts to return to a pre-war state may cause fear. The topic comes to life occasionally in Czech politics. Like in Poland, worries and restrictions concerning land purchases exist in the
Czech Republic. According to a survey by the Allensbach Institut in November 2005, 38% of Czechs believe Germans want to regain territory they lost or will demand compensation.
German minority in Hungary
Today the German minority in Hungary have minority rights, organisations, schools and local councils but spontaneous assimilation is well under way. Many of the deportees visited their old homes after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990.
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