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The Post-War Expulsion of Germans From Eastern Europe
June 7, 2011 8:13 PM   Subscribe


 
After Hitler's war had been lost, millions of ethnic Germans in regions that are today part of Eastern Europe were expelled -- often under horrendous circumstances. It has been proven that at least 473,000 people died as they fled or were expelled. The Nazis' crimes had been far worse, but the suffering of ethnic Germans was immense.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on June 7, 2011


You can read some absolutely chilling accounts of civilian rape, torture and death at the hands of the Red Army once the eastern front collapsed. I mean, really heavy-duty shit. Kids, old people, raped, literally crucified etc. The eastern front was such a bitter war, the Red Army suffered from both the Germans and their own leadership, and they exacted an absolutely horrific price on the Germans left behind.
posted by smoke at 8:53 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always have a fun time explaining how after World War II, Stalin loaded Poland on a flatbed truck and moved it west. I mean, he moved a country: what was Polish became Soviet, and what was German became Polish. This was allowed to happen, damn those pesky people who lived there. To this day, I'm always amazed that something like that happened in the twentieth century like it did.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:54 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Von der Maas bis an die Memel, Von der Etsch bis an den Belt"...
posted by orthogonality at 9:01 PM on June 7, 2011


I dated a woman whose German mother had walked from Prussia to France in the aftermath of the war. Somehow, along the way, she met her husband, a British airman who had been recently released from almost five years in a German POW camp. It was hard to reconcile these experiences with the quiet couple in the tidy house in Slough. I wish I had had the directness to ask questions or been otherwise privileged to hear more of their story.
posted by Rumple at 9:05 PM on June 7, 2011


I was listening to a BBC broadcast recently, in which a now-80-something Berliner rather matter of factly discussed her rape by a Red army soldier.
posted by orthogonality at 9:07 PM on June 7, 2011


[In February 2011], Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag -- led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her business-friendly coalition partners, the Free Democrats -- voted in favor of a proposal which could lead to the addition of another commemoration day to the German year.

But the event up for commemoration is anything but free of controversy. The day, should Merkel's cabinet choose to pursue the idea, would be in memory of the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II. Past efforts to commemorate their suffering have reliably elicited outcries from both within Germany and abroad. Portraying Germans as victims of World War II, after all, is always a dicey proposition.

The Berlin opposition took the lead last week in blasting Merkel's conservatives. On Monday, they were joined by 68 leading historians from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, who published an open letter criticizing the idea. ...

An expellee commemoration day is seen all the more critically given that it would receive the same status as Jan. 27: Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Why, then, did Merkel's conservatives and the FDP put forward the proposal in the first place? There are some who see campaign tactics at work. Voters are heading to the polls this year for several key regional elections and Merkel's government faces an uphill battle in many of them. Courting the expellees has long been a tried and true method in Germany of shoring up the conservative vote, not unlike Republicans in the US pandering to religious conservatives.
posted by Trurl at 9:20 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


See also Other Losses.
posted by fredludd at 9:32 PM on June 7, 2011


To this day, I'm always amazed that something like that happened in the twentieth century like it did.

I remember getting drunk in former East Berlin, May 1995, almost exactly 50 years since WW2 had ended in Europe. It was all guys, all of us artists and/or intellectuals by some description, a Pole, two local Berliners, a Yugoslav on the run from the meltdown that was going on his homeland, a Northern Irish doing much the same, and myself (a Canadian whose dad had seen serious front line action in the war). We talked all night in English for the most, the only language we all had in common, though the Irish guy kept slipping into German the drunker he got (go figure). We played a lot of scratchy vinyl which was sort of the purpose of evening. Various guys from all over comparing and contrasting recent used stuff that they'd grabbed from the local flea markets.

Anyway, long night cut short, I seem to recall that in spite of various differences (the Pole and the Yugoslav did NOT get Neil Young's country stuff at all -- they thought he was crying) the Europeans in the room actually did find unanimity on two points:

1. the reason Europeans were generally not all wound up about the weirdo apocalyptic end time prophecies that so afflicted North Americans was that the Apocalypse had already happened in Europe, from 1914-1945. The two World Wars and the 21 pressure-cooker years between. Extreme times -- beyond comprehension.

2. they all hated Russians.
posted by philip-random at 9:34 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had to teach about the second world war, and it struck me profoundly that the war in the West was nothing like the abattoir of human cruelty that was the Eastern Front. The German Army raped and murdered its way east, the Red Army raped and murdered its way west -- they were equally horrific to each other and every other human being that was on the "wrong side".

But what makes me so angry is that in all of this it was women on both sides who were raped over and over and over. I'm not usually someone who divides by gender, but you can say that - given the time - it was a war that was dreamt of by men, fought by men, the crimes were (primarily) by men - but it was women who were raped, and women and other civilians who suffered the most.

And I'm not forgetting about the train loads of Jews and Roma who were sent east to mass graves. It's an added layer of horror that I can't seem to get much sympathy for 11 villagers killed in one place when I can still picture the mass graves and know that entire villages, sections of cities were murdered.
posted by jb at 9:57 PM on June 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


.
posted by buzzman at 11:13 PM on June 7, 2011


My mom remembers the bitter cold from when she fled East Prussia. She has a vague memory of her feet being so frozen that a pinprick didn't draw any blood. She was 5.
posted by Slothrup at 11:25 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Covered somewhat in Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

About 14 million people, all told.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:59 PM on June 7, 2011


they were equally horrific to each other and every other human being that was on the "wrong side"

Sometimes even to those on the "right side". Reading Anthony Beevor's "Berlin", one of the things that struck me is that Russian women escaping from German forced labour camps were not safe from being gang-raped by Red Army soldiers. In fact, even the female soldiers had better become "war brides" of officers if they wanted to avoid the attentions of other soldiers.

In turn, Red Army soldiers were regarded as consummables by their military leadership, and kept marching pushed by a brutal NKVD rearguard.

Not that the German military leadership was any less brutal, pressing 14-year-olds into service against armoured columns, and executing anybody, soldier or civilian, who openly cast doubt on the wisdom of Hitler's "no step back" policy.

When things get as bloody and merciless as they got on the Eastern Front, the "wrong side" is whoever is in range of your weapon.
posted by Skeptic at 1:46 AM on June 8, 2011


sometimes a simple sentence sums up what takes others pages to express. I wanted to somehow highlight Slothrup's comment, but clicking on that "+" sign and making it a "favorite" seemed like the wrong way to note it's importance. Sending peace to your mother, Slothrup.
posted by tomswift at 3:07 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The truth is, the German people were also subject to and victims of the horrors of the Nazi regime, and then the war itself, followed by the results of having lost yet another war.

Yea, that's the truth, whether we like it or not. And we certainly do not like it. We vastly prefer the Germans spend eternity with the burden of guilt weighing them down, forever. BAD GERMANS! And yet, in thinking this way, is it not true that we become like those same Nazis? The generations that made those wars are almost entirely gone! Is it not the same racist bullshit to blame their descendants for the crimes of their fathers?
posted by Goofyy at 4:42 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a hard time feeling sorry for German refugees since paybacks are supposed to be a bitch.

Should we build a museum for them too? We could put it right next to the Holocaust museum in DC.
posted by Renoroc at 4:48 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it not the same racist bullshit to blame their descendants for the crimes of their fathers?

Lol, I was just about to ask you where anybody was doing that. Then someone - disappointingly - did.
posted by smoke at 4:50 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whether the Germans will feel any guilt after the war generation passes entirely, is mostly up to them. But mourning the victims on both sides is neither "rubbing it in" nor "excusing the crimes". We have to remember what fruit the hate bears.
posted by hat_eater at 5:00 AM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I always have a fun time explaining how after World War II, Stalin loaded Poland on a flatbed truck and moved it west.

It's ironic that the war in Europe that ostensibly started to preserve Poland's territorial integrity and independence ended in it being pushed westward and becoming a Soviet puppet state.

I mean, he moved a country: what was Polish became Soviet, and what was German became Polish.

Well, he conquered eastern Poland twice (1939 and 1944), so he really wanted to keep it.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:42 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember how flabbergasted I was when an acquaintance of mine in high school casually told me that her mother had been raped as a teenager in Berlin in 1945; it wasn't until years later that I found out that just about every German woman in Berlin had been raped.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:53 AM on June 8, 2011


A fascinating article. This just serves to outline what I've thought for a while: we've taught to be gracious in defeat, but we should also try to be gracious in victory, even though that is often the harder task.
posted by ob at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2011


You can read some absolutely chilling accounts of civilian rape, torture and death at the hands of the Red Army once the eastern front collapsed. I mean, really heavy-duty shit. Kids, old people, raped, literally crucified etc.

The whole period, even prior to WWII, was a story of life being remarkably and inconceivably cheap. A lot of the horrific nonesense motives like Liebensraum make a lot more sense if you look into things like the pre-WWII mass starvations going on in Europe. No wonder so many people could tolerate genocide and a meatgrinder of a war, when millions would die from simple lack of food.
posted by Phalene at 9:49 AM on June 8, 2011


I have a hard time feeling sorry for German refugees since paybacks are supposed to be a bitch.

Should we build a museum for them too? We could put it right next to the Holocaust museum in DC.


Classy.

I know a few older folks here who were refugees from East Prussia and other ethic-German areas. At the time they were just children, between 5-10. The stories they have told me are absolutely horrific. Having to leave dead babies in a snowy ditch because there was no time to bury them. The Russians and even their former non-ethnic German neighbors were chasing them and killing and raping anyone at the rear of the pack. Their families were mostly farmers or laborers, where most of the men were given little training, sent off to fight and then never came back.

Both sides paid heavily. War is absolute hell and the lines between right and wrong, righteousness and retribution, are often blurry and hard to define.

After the war, enough of them settled in this area that they did, in fact, build a museum. It's not a dedicated memorial, but just a museum about places, people and culture that long had traditional Germanic roots hundreds of years before the wars. It is not without its own controversy. Some people get uneasy with some of the events or speakers at the museum, because they feel it praises the time of the Third Reich. On the other hand, the people who are alive today to give first hand accounts about growing up in the East were born into a time when the Nazis were already in full gear.

There is a small stone with a plaque on it dedicated to the refugees that didn't make it. At least they are allowed that.
posted by chillmost at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Chillmost wrote: Both sides paid heavily. War is absolute hell and the lines between right and wrong, righteousness and retribution, are often blurry and hard to define.

Not at all. All of what happened - all of it - was a direct consequence of German covetousness and aggression. The alliance against Hitler was absolutely, totally in the right. These atrocities were a reaction to German greed and the Nazi plan to set up ethnic Germans as the lords of Europe. I wish the ethnic Poles and Latvians and so forth had been better than they were - but given human nature their behavior was inevitable. If you're looking for people to blame as a group the ones you should be wagging your finger at the ones who started a racist and nationalistic war and thereby set up the conditions for these crimes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:12 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with Joe. Another reason for expulsions was how effective German fifth column was before and at start of war, and could be again if Germans were not expelled
posted by 70150 at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2011


Not at all. All of what happened - all of it - was a direct consequence of German covetousness and aggression.

"all of it" is very inclusive, but for the sake of the argument, I will agree. Nowhere did I state the contrary.

If you're looking for people to blame as a group the ones you should be wagging your finger at the ones who started a racist and nationalistic war and thereby set up the conditions for these crimes.

That's the thing. I understand that the German nation and its people reaped a whole lot of what they sowed.

But when an old women tells me about watching her mother getting raped and killed in front of her and then getting raped herself, I have a hard time telling her that she deserved it.
posted by chillmost at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


30 January 1945
Russians 60 miles from Berlin. It does look as if something decisive might happen soon. The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly: destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. Yet people gloat to hear of the endless lines, 40 miles long, of miserable refugees, women and children pouring West, dying on the way. There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark diabolic hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation, mainly (not solely) created by Germany, be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well – you and I can do nothing about it. And that should be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter – leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereached or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What’s their next move?

—J.R.R Tolkien

posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:05 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


we're all orcs
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


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