Forgotten Voices: The Expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II

 

As a result of the War, some 12 to 14 million Germans fled or were expelled from Eastern Europe and the German lands annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union. Of these, about two million died or were killed in the expulsions. It is this story that I have told, principally through the voices of the individuals caught up in the disaster. I  also covered the history of Germans in the former eastern provinces of Germany as well as in their historic settlements in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Lastly, this story would not be complete without a description of the subsequent successful integration of the refugees in the Federal Republic. as well as the reconciliation with Germany’s Eastern neighbors. 

 

Of course one must be careful in addressing this subject. This tragedy cannot be taken as a moral equivalent of the suffering caused by the Nazi Regime. As a leading German historian, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, said, Germany should avoid creating a cult of victimization, thus forgetting Auschwitz and the mass killing of Russians. It should also be remembered that the 1945 Potsdam Agreement between the three powers sanctioned some of these expulsions, although it was stipulated that it be done in an “orderly and humane” manner.

 

In summary, as stated in the book, “It is quite evident that the criminal policies of the German National Socialist regime were the basic cause for the tragedy that befell the German people of Central and Eastern Europe, who became victims of terror, flight, and expulsion.  That is not to say there was a moral equivalency between the crimes committed by the German Nazi regime and the crimes committed against the Germans. The former was genocide and the latter ethnic cleansing. The violations of human rights committed by the Nazi German regime far overshadowed those committed against the Germans. On the other hand, two wrongs do not make a right, and even horrendous Nazi crimes could not justify the expulsion of a people from their ancestral homes. Thus, the expellees were also victims of the Nazi regime, even though some of them, no doubt, had supported it. For the expellees and refugees, the expulsion was a deeply traumatic experience that certainly scarred many for life because of the brutalities that accompanied their flight and deportation. Many were victims of horrible atrocities. The enormity of their loss cannot be justified with any historical argument to the contrary. There is no moral justification for saying they were collectively guilty of the crimes of the Nazi regime and thus deserved to be punished collectively”.


Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s statement to Parliament on
August 16, 1945
 
I am particularly concerned at this moment, with the reports
reaching us of the conditions under which the expulsion and exodus
of Germans from the new Poland are being carried out. Between
eight and nine million persons dwelt in those regions before the war.
The Polish Government say that there are still 1,500,000 of these, not
yet expelled, within their new frontiers. Other millions must have
taken refuge behind the British and American lines, thus increasing
the food stringency in our sector. But enormous numbers are utterly
unaccounted for. Where are they gone, and what has been their fate?
The same conditions may reproduce themselves in a modified form in
the expulsion of great numbers of Sudeten and other Germans from
Czechoslovakia. Sparse and guarded accounts of what has happened
and is happening have filtered through, but it is not impossible that
tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the iron curtain
which at the moment divides Europe in twain. I should welcome any
statement which the Prime Minister can make which would relieve,
or at least inform us upon this very anxious and grievous matter.

Reconciliation with Eastern European Nations

As a people which suffered from the war, we experienced the tragedy
of forced resettlement as well as its associated violence and crimes.
We remember also that innumerable individuals from the German
population were victims of forced resettlement and that Poles were
often the offenders…
I want to state it openly. We lament the individual fate and suffering
of the innocent Germans, who lost their homeland as a result
of the war…
—From the speech of Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski,
Foreign Minister of Poland, to the German Parliament
on April 28, 1995, on the occasion of the fiftieth
anniversary of the end of World War II.


In March 1990, President Havel (of Czechoslovakia) welcomed German President Richard
von Weizsäcker to Prague on the fifty-first anniversary of the German
invasion of Czechoslovakia. He stated,
Six years of Nazi rule was enough, for example, for us to allow
ourselves to be infected with the germ of evil. We informed on one
another, both during and after the war; we accepted in just, as well as
exaggerated, indignation the principle of collective guilt. Instead of
giving all those who betrayed this state a proper trial, we drove them
out of the country and punished them with the kind of retribution
that went beyond the rule of law. This was not punishment. It was
revenge.
Moreover, we did not expel these people on the basis of demonstrable
individual guilt, but simply because they belonged to a certain nation.
And thus, on the assumption that we were clearing the way for
historical justice, we hurt many innocent people, most of all women
and children. And, as is usually the case in history, we hurt ourselves
even more: We settled accounts with totalitarianism in a way that
allowed totalitarianism into our own activities and thus into our own
souls. Shortly afterward, it returned to us cruelly in the form of our
inability to resist a new totalitarianism imported from elsewhere.
And what is more, many of us actively helped it into the world.…

German–Hungarian reconciliation reached a high point with the
inauguration on June 18, 2006, in Budaörs, of a memorial to the ethnic
Germans expelled from Hungary. On that occasion, Hungarian
President Laszlo Solyom said:
… I think, this memorial place is one where one can come to
remember, to think about fate, to mourn but also to draw strength
from. Many of my acquaintances and schoolmates’ children have
taken back their old German family names and it is very joyful.
Therefore, while I apologize as Hungary’s head of state to the expelled
Swabishes I bow my head in front of the memorial in the hope that
the Germans of Hungary are again at home.

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