2/16/12 - the forced deportation of germans

In today's encore excerpt - at the end of World War II, millions of people of German heritage were forcibly deported to Germany from other European countries where they and their forbearers had long lived. This was part of an even larger series of heartbreaking, forced migrations of Europeans of many different heritages which left European nations ethnically homogeneous to an unprecedented degree:

"What was taking place in 1945, and had been underway for at least a year, was an unprecedented exercise in ethnic cleansing and population transfer. ... The largest affected group was the Germans.

"The Germans of eastern Europe would probably have fled west in any case: by 1945 they were not wanted in the countries where their families had been settled for many hundreds of years. Between a genuine popular desire to punish local Germans for the ravages of war and occupation, and the exploitation of this mood by post-war governments, the German-speaking communities of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic region and the western Soviet Union were doomed and they knew it.

"In the event, they were given no choice. As early as 1942 the British had privately acceded to Czech requests for a post-war removal of the Sudeten German population, and the Russians and Americans fell into line the following year. On May 19th 1945, President Edouard Benes of Czechoslovakia decreed that 'we have decided to eliminate the German problem in our republic once and for all.' Germans (as well as Hungarians and other 'traitors') were to have their property placed under state control. In June 1945 their land was expropriated and on August 2nd of that year they lost their Czechoslovak citizenship. Nearly three million Germans, most of them from the Czech Sudetenland, were then expelled into Germany in the course of the following eighteen months. Approximately 267,000 died in the course of the expulsions. Whereas Germans had comprised 29 percent of the population of Bohemia and Moravia in 1930, by the census Of 1950 they were just 1.8 percent.

"From Hungary a further 623,000 Germans were expelled, from Romania 786,000, from Yugoslavia about half a million and from Poland 1.3 million, But by far the greatest number of German refugees came from the former eastern lands of Germany itself: Silesia, East Prussia, eastern Pomerania and eastern Brandenburg. At the Potsdam meeting of the US, Britain and the USSR (July 17th-August 2nd 1945) it was agreed, in the words of Article XIII of the subsequent agreement, that the three governments 'recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken.' In part this merely recognized what had already taken place, but it also represented a formal acknowledgement of the implications of shifting Poland's frontiers westwards. Some seven million Germans would now find themselves in Poland, and the Polish authorities (and the occupying Soviet forces) wanted them removed—in part so that Poles and others who lost land in the eastern regions now absorbed into the USSR could in their turn be resettled in the new lands to the West.

"The upshot was de jure recognition of a new reality. Eastern Europe had been forcibly cleared of its German populations: as Stalin had promised in September 1941, he had returned 'East Prussia back to Slavdom, where it belongs.' In the Potsdam Declaration it was agreed 'that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner', but under the circumstances this was hardly likely. Some Western observers were shocked at the treatment of the German communities. Anne O'Hare McCormick, a New York Times correspondent, recorded her impressions on October 23rd 1946: 'The scale of this resettlement, and the conditions in which it takes place, are without precedent in history."


Tony Judt


Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945


Penguin Publishing


Copywright 2005 by Tony Judt


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