- Flight and evacuation of German civilians during the end of World War II
Plans to evacuate German population from the occupied territories in
Central and Eastern Europeand from Eastern Germany were prepared by German authorities at the end of World War II. However, the evacuation in most of the areas was delayed until the last moment, when it was too late to conduct it in an orderly fashion. Most of the evacuation efforts commenced in January 1945, when Soviet forces were already advancing westward in fast pace. In total about six million Germans were evacuated from the areas east of the Oder-Neisse linebefore Red Armyand Polish Army took control of the region.
German evacuation policies
The plans to evacuate some German populations westwards from Eastern Europe and from some cities in the Eastern Gaue of
Greater Germanywere prepared by various Nazi authorities towards the end of the war. Some of the guards and inmates of the Majdanekcamp were evacuated starting on April 1, 1944(see also Death marches (Holocaust)). In most cases, however, the implementation of the plans was either delayed until Soviet and allied forces had already advanced into the areas to be evacuated, or it was prohibited entirely by the Nazi apparatus. Despite the rapid advances of the Red Army, the German authorities in many areas forbade leaving one's place of residence without a permit and an officially valid reason. The responsibility for leaving millions of Germans in these areas until combat conditions overwhelmed them can be attributed directly to both the draconian measures taken by the Nazis towards the end of the war against anyone even suspected of 'defeatist' attitudes [such as evacuation was considered] and the fanaticism of many Nazi functionaries in their witless support of useless 'no retreat' orders. When the German authorities finally gave people the order to leave their homes, the available means of transport (such as trains and ships) proved already inadequate, and forced many to leave most of their belongings behind. The first mass movement of German civilians in the eastern territories was composed of both spontaneous flight and organized evacuation starting in the summer of 1944 and continuing through spring of 1945. However most of the evacuation efforts commenced in January 1945, when Soviet forces were already at the Eastern border of Greater Germany.
Red army atrocities and Nazi propaganda
While advancing toward the West, soldiers of the
Red Armycommitted a variety of atrocities, most notably rape, mutilation, murder and looting [Beevor, Antony. "Berlin: The Downfall 1945", Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5] [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457: Lists examples of Red Army atrocities on pp.560-564, mostly rape, mutilation, murder] . The Soviet propaganda machine (e.g. Ilya Ehrenburg) encouraged a harsh and vengeful attitude toward the Germany military and these encouragements may have led to atrocities on German civilians in Germany. Nazi propagandawidely published the details of the Soviet atrocities, such as the Nemmersdorf massacrein order to strengthen German morale to defend themselves. However the reverse result was achieved as thousands of ethnic Germans panicked and fled in 1945, particularly from East Prussiato the West, attempting to seek safety within not yet occupied parts of Germany. [Beevor, Antony. "Berlin: The Downfall 1945", Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5]
Not only was the flight inspired by rumors and actual Red Army atrocities, those who were fleeing likely became subject to these atrocities themselves in cases where speedily advancing Red army units caught up with slower refugee treks [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457: Gives examples of Red Army atrocities on refugees on pp.560-564, eg gunning of refugee treks and Soviet tanks rolling over refugees] .
The first to evacuate were the
Black Sea Germans. They were evacuated already in 1943, partly to Greater Polandand partly to Germany proper.Sobczak, "Hitlerowskie ...", p. 333]
The city of Berdychiv was evacuated of Reich Germans, German [Volksdeutschen] , agencies of the civil government, government of the country, able-bodied population [ [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/document/nca_vol4/1702-ps.htm] ] in December 1943.
70 000 - 120 000 Germans were evacuated at the end of 1944 and on the beginning of 1945 [ [http://www.saske.sk/cas/4-2001/gabzdilova.html] ] .
The evacuation plans for
East Prussiawere ready in second half of 1944. They consisted of both general plans and specific instructions for each individual town. The plans encompassed not only people but also industry and livestock. Nitschke, "Wysiedlenie ...", p. 43]
The evacuation was planned to be conducted in three waves. The first two of them in July and October 1944, when about 25% of the 2.6 million population, mostly elderly, women and children, was supposed to be evacuated to
Pomeraniaand SaxonyNitschke, "Wysiedlenie ...", p. 46] .
In fact the populace of the
Memellandeast of the Neman Riverwas evacuated to the western parts of East Prussia in late summer 1944. On October, 7 1944 that area was the only part of East Prussia completely evacuated [Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p 143, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5] . On October 16, 1944 the Red Armyreached German territory for the first time in World War II in the southern part of East Prussia near Gumbinnen, encountering German civilians and committing the Nemmersdorf massacre. After the Wehrmacht managed to reconquer large parts of the territory the East Prussian Gauleiter Erich Kochpartially conceded the requests of the Wehrmachtand gave permission to evacuate a small stripe of 30 km directly behind the frontline. Civilians from that area were sent to the Northern parts of East Prussia [Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p 145, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5, Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Namen die keiner mehr nennt ISBN-13: 978-3423300797] .
The third wave of evacuation happened in January 1945, already during the Soviet
East Prussian Offensive. While Nazi authorities propagated the faith in the Endsieg, any selfcontained flight-preparation was accused as defeatism[Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Namen die keiner mehr nennt ISBN-13: 978-3423300797] . Most civilians left their homes just hours before the Soviets conquered that area and were often directly involved in the combats [Christian Graf von Krockow, Die Stunde der Frauen, ISBN-13: 978-3423300148, Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p 143, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5,Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Namen die keiner mehr nennt ISBN-13: 978-3423300797] . At the same time Nazi representatives, like Gauleiter Koch who had prepared two steamboats in the harbour of Pillaufor his personal use, were the first to escape to the west. After the Red Armyreached the coast of the Vistula Lagoonnear Elbingon January 23, 1945, cutting off the overland route between East Prussia and the western territories [Jürgen Manthey, Königsberg, dtv Verlag München 2006, p. 669] , the only way to leave, was to cross the frozen Vistula Lagoon, trying to reach the harbours of Danzig or Gdingen, to be evacuated by ships within the Operation Hannibal.This phase of the evacuation followed two major routes: westwards, towards Danzigand Pomerania, and northwards, towards Königsbergand Pillauport. Podlasek, "Wypędzenie ...", p. 74 ]
About 450,000 Germans fled
East Prussiaover the frozen Vistula Lagoonand were then evacuated by ship from Baltic port cities.
In total out of a pre-war population of 2,490,000 about 500,000 died throughout the war, including 311,000 civilians dying throughout the Flight and Expulsion of Germans, 1,200,000 managed to escape to the western parts of Germany, while about 800,000 pre-war inhabitants remained in East Prussia in summer 1945 [Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p 168, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5] .
The evacuation of
Pomeraniawas also delayed. It was further complicated by the influx of the Germans evacuated from East Prussia. In the end of February 1945, NSDAPordered the evacuation to be suspended Nitschke, "Wysiedlenie ...", p. 48] . This delay resulted in the land evacuation routes being soon blocked by the advancing Soviet and Polish forces. Kolberg, being the main seaport within the German-held pocket, was declared a "fortress" and became the center for sea-based evacuation of both civilians and military from Farther Pomerania. Germans who were evacuated with ships either deployed in German seaport cities west of the Oder River, or in Denmark, where internment camps were set up by the Danes after the war [http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,355772,00.html "A Legacy of Dead German Children"] , Manfred Ertel, Spiegel Online, May 16, 2005] . In total almost 2.2 million people were evacuated this wayNitschke, "Wysiedlenie ...", p. 50] , and about 14 thousand drowned when the ship were sunk by the Allies.
About 85% of the
Lower Silesianpopulation was evacuated in 1945, first across Oder Riverand then to Saxonyor to Bohemia. However, many of the Silesiansignored the evacuation orders believing that their knowledge of Polish and their Polish provenance will spare them the horrors feared by Germans. Podlasek, "Wypędzenie ...", p. 90]
Aachenwere evacuated in Summer 1944 [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/2002/MOUTGabel.htm] .
Expulsion of Germans after World War II
German exodus from Eastern Europe
Nazi-Soviet population transfers
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