Federation of Expellees


Federation of Expellees

The Federation of Expellees or Bund der Vertriebenen (BdV) is a non-profit organization formed to represent the interests of Germans who either fled their homes in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, or were expelled following World War II.

Historical background

It is estimated that in the aftermath of World War II between 13 and 16 million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from the territories of present-day Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia (mostly from the Vojvodina region), the Kaliningrad Oblast (formerly Königsberg) area of Russia, Lithuania, Romania and other East European countries. Many refugee camps had been set up in Germany after 1945 and this legal status is paralleled only by the situation of Palestinian refugees in UNRWA camps. The first president of the federation was a Nazi judge and activist Hans Krüger. Today, the position is held by a CDU politician Erika Steinbach. The federation claims to represent the diaspora of ethnic Germans and their families (today numbering approximately 15 million Fact|date=May 2007).

German laws concerning the expellees

Between 1953 and 1991 the West German government passed several laws dealing with German expellees. The most notable of these laws is the "Law of Return" which granted West German citizenship to any ethnic German. Several additions were later made to these laws.

A central issue addressed by the Law of Return is the inheritability of refugee status. According to "Bundesvertriebenengesetz" [http://bundesrecht.juris.de/bundesrecht/bvfg/index.html] Par. 7/2, "the spouse and the descendants" of an expellee are to be treated as if they were expellees themselves, regardless whether they have been personally displaced. The Federation of Expellees has steadily lobbied to preserve the inheritability clause, as a change might deeply affect its ability to recruit new members from the post-WWII generations.

Recent developments

Under previous governments, especially those led by the CDU, the West German government had shown more rhetorical support for German refugees and expellees. Social Democratic governments have traditionally been less supportive — and it was under Willy Brandt that West Germany recognized the Oder-Neisse line as part of his Ostpolitik.

In 1989-1990 the German government realized they had an opportunity to remove the division between the Federal Republic of Germany and Soviet created German Democratic Republic. However, it was believed that if this was to be realized it had to be done quickly. One of the potential complications were the claims to historical eastern Germany, since unless these were renounced, some foreign governments might not agree to German reunification. The Federal German government thus agreed to the 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany (Two Plus Four Agreement), which officially reestablished both German states' sovereignty. A condition of this agreement was that Germany accept the post-World War II frontiers created by the victors. Upon reunification in 1990, the "basic law", was amended to state that Germany's territory had reached its full extent. Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. Once the five "reestablished federal states" in the east had been united with the west, the Basic Law was amended again to show that "there were no other parts of Germany, which existed outside of the unified territory", that had not acceded.

The federation today

Support for the aims of the Federation of Expellees within the German electorate remains low, and when in charge of government, both CDU and SPD have tended to favor improved relations with Central and Eastern Europe, even when this conflicts with the interests of the displaced people. The issue of the eastern border and the return of the "Heimatvertriebene" to their ancestral homes are matters which the current German government, German constitutional arrangements and German treaty obligations have virtually closed.

However, with the expansion of the European Union, the organizations of expellees have gained new hope of recognition of private German property rights in former German territories in what are now Poland and the Czech Republic. They have insisted that Poland and the Czech Republic must respect human rights and also compensate German victims before being allowed to become members of the European Union. Also, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in 2002 in the European Parliament that the Czech Republic and Slovakia should repeal the Beneš decrees before being allowed into the European Union. The claim was supported by the Bavarian government and Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, as well as the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. In 2003, Liechtenstein refused to sign the enlargement of the Common European Economic Space because the Czech Republic would not withdraw the Beneš decrees and compensate the royal family of Liechtenstein for their property in Bohemia, which was confiscated after the war. None of these efforts led to any significant result. In 2004 the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia became members of the European Union without these issues having been settled.

The refugees' claims were unanimously rejected by the affected countries and became a source of mistrust between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. These nations argue that the expulsion of ethnic Germans and related border changes were not enacted by the Polish government, but rather were ordered by the Potsdam Conference. Furthermore, the nationalization of private property by Poland's former communist government did not apply only to Germans but was enforced on all people, regardless of ethnic background. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the majority of the current Polish population in historical eastern Germany are themselves expellees (or descendants of expellees) who were expelled from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union and were forced to leave their homes and property behind as well.

The fact that some Germans settled in Poland after 1939 and the treatment under German law of these ex-colonists as expellees are issues which add to the controversy. (Germans who settled in Western Europe after 1940 aren't considered expellees.) However, the majority of expelled Germans had lived in Eastern Europe for many centuries.

In 2000 the Federation of Expellees also initiated the formation of the Center Against Expulsions ( _de. Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen). Chairwoman of this Center is Erika Steinbach, who headed it together with former SPD politician Prof. Dr. Peter Glotz (†2005).

In February 2004, the federation sued the German journalist Gabriele Lesser for alleged defamations. The article in question was published September 19, 2003, in the daily "Kieler Nachrichten". The district court of Hamburg ruled against the repetition of a certain wording by Lesser but in favour of another, which resulted in Lesser welcoming the verdict.

Recently a number of articles in German press discusses the Nazi background of many former BdV activists. However, much of World War II German society had a Nazi background; therefore, it seems a somewhat calculated effort.

RecentlyFact|date=May 2007 Erika Steinbach, the chair of the Federation of Expellees has rejected any compensation claims. This rejection of compensation claims is part of the organization's Charter. The vice president of the Federation Rudi Pawelka is however a chairman of the supervisory board of the Prussian Trust.

Criticism

The large Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that during BdV meetings in 2003, publications using hate-language to describe Poles butchering Germans were available for sale, as were recordings of Waffen SS marches on compact disks, including those glorifying the Invasion of Poland. Also, far right groups openly distributed their materials at BdV meetings. While the BdV officially denied responsibility for this, they seem to tolerate the situation. [cite web |url=http://rzeczpospolita.pl/dodatki/plus_minus_030920/plus_minus_a_6.html |title=Odwetowcy czy ofiary historii? |accessdate=2007-06-29]

According to Hans Michael Kloth and Klaus Wiegrefe's article in "Der Spiegel", there were more former Nazis in high-ranking positions in the federation's first three decades than previously thought. Still in 2004, the historian Stickler estimated that the percentage of those persons had not at all been disproportionately high. After months of research in the archives, the journalists of "Der Spiegel" came to a different conclusion in an article published in August 2006. Of almost 200 high-ranking office holders of the BdV and its predecessor organisations in the years before 1982, more than one third of them had been former members of the Nazi Party, SS or other Nazi organizations. Among them were three former general secretaries and several vice-presidents.

In the interview with Der Spiegel, Steinbach rejected a reappraisal of the federation's past saying they lacked financial resources. One week later, however, she agreed to the reappraisal.

Organization

The expellees are organized in 21 regional associations "(Landsmannschaften)" according to the areas of origin of its members, 16 state organizations "(Landesverbände)" according to their current residence, and 5 associate member organizations. It is the single representative federation for the approximately 15 million Germans who after fleeing, being expelled, evacuated or emigrating, found refuge in the Federal Republic of Germany. The organizations have approximately 2 million members, and are a political force of some influence in Germany.

The current president of the federation is the German politician Erika Steinbach (CDU), who also is a member of the German Parliament.

The federation helps members to integrate into German society. Many of the members assist the societies of their place of birth.

Charter of the Ethnic German Expellees

The Charter of the Ethnic German Expellees ( _de. Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen) of August 5, 1950 announced their belief in requiring that "the right to the homeland is recognized and carried out as one of the fundamental rights of mankind given by God", while renouncing revenge and retaliation in the face of the "unending suffering" ("unendliche Leid") of the previous decade, and supporting the unified effort to rebuild Germany and Europe.

Presidents

*Hans Krüger (1959–1963) [http://www.bund-der-vertriebenen.de/derbdv/historie-2.php3?druck=1]
*Wenzel Jaksch (1964–1966)
*Reinhold Rehs (1967–1970)
*Herbert Czaja (1970–1994)
*Fritz Wittmann (1994–1998)
*Erika Steinbach (1998—)
**Vice president (since 1992): Wilhelm von Gottberg

Member organizations

Regional

* Landsmannschaft Ostpreußen
* Landsmannschaft Schlesien
* Deutsch-Baltische Gesellschaft
* Landsmannschaft der Banater Schwaben e.V.
* Landsmannschaft Berlin-Mark Brandenburg
* Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Buchenlanddeutschen (Bukowina) e.V.
* Bund der Danziger e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Dobrudscha- und Bulgariendeutschen
* Landsmannschaft der Donauschwaben, Bundesverband e.V.
* Karpatendeutsche Landsmannschaft Slowakei e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Litauen e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Oberschlesier e.V. - Bundesverband -
* Pommersche Landsmannschaft - Zentralverband - e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Sathmarer Schwaben in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Siebenbürger Sachsen in Deutschland e.V.
* Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft Bundesverband e.V.
* Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Ungarn
* Landsmannschaft Weichsel-Warthe Bundesverband e.V.
* Landsmannschaft Westpreußen e.V.

State

* Landesverband Baden-Württemberg
* Landesverband Bayern
* Landesverband Berlin
* Landesverband Brandenburg
* Landesverband Bremen
* Landesverband Hamburg
* Landesverband Hessen
* Landesverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
* Landesverband Niedersachsen
* Landesverband Nordrhein-Westfalen
* Landesverband Rheinland-Pfalz
* Landesverband Saar
* Landesverband Sachsen / Schlesische Lausitz
* Landesverband Sachsen-Anhalt
* Landesverband Schleswig-Holstein
* Landesverband Thüringen

ee also

*All-German Bloc/League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights
*Organised persecution of ethnic Germans
*Pursuit of Nazi collaborators
*Lebensraum
*Drang nach Osten

Further reading

* "Casualty of War: A Childhood Remembered (Eastern European Studies, 18)" Luisa Lang Owen and Charles M. Barber, [http://www.tamu.edu/upress/ Texas A&M University Press] , January, 2003, hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 1-58544-212-7

References

External links

* [http://www.bund-der-vertriebenen.de/ Bund der Vertriebenen] - Official homepage
* For latest developments: http://cdu.de/politik-a-z/vertriebenen/inhalt.htm
* Jose Ayala Lasso " [http://www.alfreddezayas.com/Law_history/Ayalaenglish.shtml Speech to the German expellees, Day of the Homeland, Berlin] " 6 August 2005 Lasso was the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1994-1997)


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