History of German settlement in Eastern Europe

History of German settlement in Eastern Europe

The presence of German speaking populations in Central and Eastern Europe is rooted in centuries of history, that of the independent German states (particularly Prussia), and later German Empire but also Austria-Hungary, Poland, and other multi-ethnic countries. In the German language, the German populations in that part of Europe are commonly referred to as "Volksdeutsche". The number of ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe dropped dramatically as the result of the German exodus from Eastern Europe. However, there are still a substantial number of ethnic Germans in the countries that are now Germany and Austria's neighbors to the east—Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia. In addition, there are or have been significant populations in such areas as Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. It is not known specifically when Ashkenazi Jews became participants within this phenomenon, but it stands to reason that similar societies spawned eastwards, would induce them alongside their Pagan or Christian compatriots for economic reasons, if not also others.

Early Middle Ages settlement area

In the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne had subdued a variety of Germanic peoples in Central Europe dwelling in an area roughly bordered by the Alps in the South, the Vosges mountains in the West, the North Sea and Elbe River in the North and the Saale River in the East. These inhomogeneous Germanic peoples comprised several tribes and groups who either formed, stayed or immigrated into this area during the migration period. After the Carolingian Empire was divided, these people found themselves in the eastern part, known as East Francia or "Regnum Teutonicum", and over time became known as Germans. The area was divided into the stem duchies of Swabia (Alamannia), Franconia, Saxony and Bavaria (including Carinthia). Later, the Holy Roman Empire would be constituted largely, but not exclusively of these regions.

Medieval settlements (Ostsiedlung)

The medieval German "Ostsiedlung" (literally "Settlement in the East"), also known as "German eastward expansion" or "East colonization" refers to the expansion of German culture, language, states, and settlement to vast regions of East Central and Eastern Europe, previously inhabited since the Great Migrations by Balts, Romanians, Hungarians and, since about the 8th century, the Slavs. [Wallbank and Schrier, "Living World History", pp. 193] The affected territory stretched roughly from modern Estonia in the North to modern Slovenia in the South.

Population growth during the High Middle Ages stimulated movement of peoples from the Rhenish, Flemish, and Saxon territories of the Holy Roman Empire eastwards into the less-populated Baltic region and Poland. These movements were supported by the German nobility, the Slavic kings and dukes, and the medieval Church. The majority of this settlement was peaceful, although it sometimes took place at the expense of Slavs and pagan Balts (see Northern Crusades). "Ostsiedlung" accelerated along the Baltic with the advent of the Teutonic Order. [Sebastian Haffner, "The Rise and Fall of Prussia", pp. 6–10.] Likewise, in Styria and Carinthia, German communities took form in areas inhabited by Slovenes.

In the middle of the 14th century, the settling progress slowed as a result of the Black Death; in addition, the most arable and promising regions were largely occupied. Local Slavic leaders in late Medieval Pomerania and Silesia continued inviting German settlers to their territories.

In the outcome, all previously Wendish territory were settled by a German majority and the Wends were almost completely assimilated. In areas further east, substantial German minorities were established, which either kept their customs or were assimilated by the host population. The density of villages and towns increased dramatically. German town law was introduced to most towns of the area, regardless of the percentage of German inhabitants.

Areas settled during Ostsiedlung

The following historical German settlement areas date back to Ostsiedlung:

*within current Germany: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Holstein
*the former eastern territories of Germany: Pomerania, East Brandenburg, East Prussia, Silesia
*Sudetenland (Sudeten Germans)
*Transsylvania (Transylvanian Saxons)
*Carpathian Mountains (Carpathian Germans
*Memelland and areas adjacted to the Gulf of Riga (Baltic Germans)
*Poland ("see History of Poland (966–1385)")
*Bulgaria ("see Germans in Bulgaria")
*and others

German-run enterprises resulting in German settlements

Hanseatic League

Between the 13th and 17th centuries, trade in the Baltic Sea and Eastern Central Europe became dominated by Germans through the Hanseatic League ( _de. die Hanse). The league was a Low-German-speaking military alliance of trading guilds that established and maintained a trade monopoly over the Baltic and to a certain extent the North Sea. Hanseatic towns and trade stations usually hosted relatively large German populations, with merchant dynasties being the wealthiest and political dominant fractions.

Teutonic Knights

From the second half of the 13th century to the 15th century, the crusading Teutonic Knights ruled Prussia through their monastic state. As a consequence, German settlement accellerated along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea. These areas, centered around Danzig and Königsberg, remained one of the largest closed German settlement area outside the Holy Roman Empire and would only be included in the German Empire as East and West Prussia in 1871.

17th to 19th century settlements

Thirty Year's War aftermath

When the Thirty Year's War devastated Central Europe, many areas were completely deserted, others suffered severe population drops. These areas were in part resettled by Germans from areas hit less. Some of the deserted villages, however, were not repopulated - that is why the Middle Ages' density of settlements was higher than today's.

Danube Swabians of Hungary and the Balkans

With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, German settlers were called into devastated areas of Hungary, by then comprising a larger area than today, in the late 1600s. The Danube Swabians settled in Swabian Turkey and other areas, more settlers were called in even throughout the 18th century, in part to secure Hungary's frontier with the Ottomans. The Banat Swabians and Satu Mare Swabians are examples of Danube Swabian settlers from the 18th century.

An influx of Danube Swabians also occurred toward the adriatic coast in what would later become Yugoslavia.

Settlers from Salzkammergut were called into Transsylvania to repopulate areas devastated by the wars with the Turks. They became known as Transylvanian Landler.

Russian Empire

Since 1762, Russia called in German settlers. Some settled the Volga area northwest of Kazakhstan and therefor became known as Volga Germans. Others settled toward the coast of the Black Sea (Black Sea Germans, including Bessarabia Germans, Dobrujan Germans and Crimea Germans) and the northern Caucasus area (Caucasus Germans). These settlements occured throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries.

Also, there were a lot of Mennonites originating from the Vistula Germans who had lived in West Prussia since the Ostsiedlung. Feed by Prussia with heavy taxes due to their believes, they emigrated to Russia and became hence known as Russian Mennonites, speaking a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch.


Since the 1840s, Germans moved to Turkey who by then had become an ally of the German Empire. Those settling in the Istanbul area became known as Bosporus Germans.


By the 1800s, every city of even modest size as far east as Russia had a German quarter and a Jewish quarter. Travellers along any road would pass through, for example, a German village, then a Czech village, then a Polish village, etc., depending on the region.

Certain parts of Eastern Europe, especially those close to the border of Germany contained areas in which ethnic Germans constituted a majority.

German Empire and European nationalism

The latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century saw the rise of nationalism in Europe. Previously, a country consisted largely of whatever peoples lived on the land that was under the dominion of a particular ruler. Thus, as principalities and kingdoms grew through conquest and marriage, a ruler could wind up with peoples of many different ethnicities under his dominion.

The concept of nationalism was based on the idea of a "people" who shared a common bond through race, religion, language and culture. Furthermore, nationalism asserted that each "people" had a right to its own nation. Thus, much of European history in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century can be understood as efforts to realign national boundaries with this concept of "one people, one nation".

In 1871, the German Empire was founded, partly as a German nation-state. This is closely associated with chancellor Otto von Bismarck. While the empire included German settled Prussian regions formerly outside of its predecessors, it also included areas with Danish, Kashub and other minorities. In some areas, such as the Province of Posen or the southern part of Upper Silesia, the majority of the population were Poles. On the other hand, ethnic German Austria remained outside the empire, and so did many German-settled or mixed regions of Eastern and Central Europe. Most German settled regions of South Central and Southeastern Europe were instead included in the multi-ethnic Habsburg monarchy of Austria-Hungary.


Starting in the late 19th century, an inner-Prussian migration took place from the rural eastern to the prospering urban western provinces of Prussia, a phenomenon termed Ostflucht. As a consequence, these migrations highered the percentage of the Polish population in Posen and West Prussia. Driven by nationalist intentions, the Prussian state established a Settlement Commission as countermeasure, that was to settle more Germans in these regions. The Commission, though accomplishing settlement of some 1500,000 Germans, failed to archieve ethnic German dominance in these provinces.


World War I

By World War I, there were isolated groups of Germans or so-called Schwaben as far southeast as the Bosporus (Turkey), Georgia, and Azerbaijan. After the war, Germany's and Austria-Hungary's loss of territory meant that more Germans than ever were minorities in various countries, though on the whole they still enjoyed fairly good treatment.

Deportation, flight, evacuation and resettlements of Germans from the Russian Empire during World War I

The advance of allied German Empire and Habsburg monarchy forces into the Russian Empire's territory triggered actions of flight, evacuation and deportation of the population living in or near the combat zone. Russian Germans became subject to severe measures because of their ethnicity, including forced resettlement and deportation to Russia's East, ban of German language from public life (including books and newspapers), and deprivement of economical means (jobs and land property) based on "liquidation laws" issued since 1915; also Germans (as well as the rest of the population) were hit by "burned soil" tactics of the retreating Russians. [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, pp.151,152, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] . About 300,000 Russian Germans became subject to deportations to Siberia and the Baskir steppe, of those 70,000-200,000 were Germans from Volhynia, 20,000 were Germans from Podolia, 10,000 were Germans from the Kiev area, and another 11,000 were Germans from the Cernigov area [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.153, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] .

From Russian areas controlled by the German, Austrian and Hungarian forces, large scale resettlements of Germans to Germany were organized by "Fürsorgeverein" ("Welfare Union"), resetteling 60,000 Russian Germans, and "Deutsche Arbeiterzentrale" ("German Workers' Bureau"), resetteling 25,000-40,000 Russian Germans [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.154, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] . Two thirds of these persons were resettled to East Prussia, most of the remaining in the northeastern provinces of Prussia and Mecklenburg [Jochen Oltmer, "Migration und Politik in der Weimarer Republik", 2005, p.154, ISBN 352536282X, 9783525362822] .

Danzig and the Polish corridor

When Poland regained its independence after World War I, the Poles hoped to regain the city of Danzig to provide the free access to the sea which they had been promised by the Allies on the basis of Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points". However, since the population of the city was predominantly German, it was not placed under Polish sovereignty, but became the Free City of Danzig, an independent quasi-state under the auspices of the League of Nations, governed by its German residents but with its external affairs largely under Polish control. The Free City had its own constitution, national anthem, parliament ("Volkstag"), and government ("Senat"). It issued its own stamps and currency, bearing the legend "Freie Stadt Danzig" and symbols of the city's maritime orientation and history.

From the Polish Corridor, many ethnic Germans were forced to leave, while Poles settled in the region building the port city Gdynia (Gdingen) next to Danzig.

The vast majority of Danzig's population favoured eventual return to Germany. In the early 1930s the Nazi Party capitalized on these pro-German sentiments, and in 1933 garnered 38 percent of vote for the Danzig "Volkstag". Thereafter, the Nazis under the Bavarian Gauleiter Albert Förster achieved dominance in the city government - which, nominally, was still overseen by the League of Nations' High Commissioner.

Nazi demands, at their minimum, would have seen the return of Danzig to Germany and a one kilometer, state-controlled route for easier access across the Polish Corridor, from Pomerania to Danzig (and from there to East Prussia). [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939." See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.] Originally, the Poles had rejected this proposal, but later appeared willing to negotiate (as did the British) by August. [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939" See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.] By this time, however, Hitler had Soviet backing and had decided to attack Poland. Germany feigned an interest in diplomacy (delaying the "Case White" deadline twice), to try to drive a wedge between Britain and Poland. [See "Documents Concerning the German Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939". Hitler's change of position is well reflected in Goebbel's personal diary. See also the Soviet archived, "Documents Relating to the Eve of the Second World War" Volume II: 1938-1939 (New York: International Publishers), 1948.]

Nazi claims to "Lebensraum" and resettlements of Germans before the war

In the 19th century, the rise of romantic nationalism in Germany had led to the concepts of Pan-Germanism and Drang nach Osten, which in part gave rise to the concept of Lebensraum.

German nationalists used the existence of large German minorities in other countries as a basis for territorial claims. Many of the propaganda themes of the Nazi regime against Czechoslovakia and Poland claimed that the ethnic Germans ("Volksdeutsche") in those territories were persecuted. The status of ethnic Germans, and the lack of contiguity of German majority lands resulted in numerous repatriation pacts whereby the German authorities would organize population transfers (especially the Nazi-Soviet population transfers arranged between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and others with Benito Mussolini's Italy) so that both Germany and the other country would increase their homogeneity.

However, these population transfers were considered but a drop in the pond, and the "Heim ins Reich" rhetoric over the continued disjoint status of enclaves such as Danzig and Königsberg was an agitating factor in the politics leading up to World War II, and is considered by many to be among the major causes of Nazi aggressiveness and thus the war. Adolf Hitler used these issues as a pretext for waging wars of aggression against Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Nazi settlement concepts during World War II (1939-1945)

The status of ethnic Germans, and the lack of contiguity resulted in numerous repatriation pacts whereby the German authorities would organize population transfers (especially the Nazi-Soviet population transfers arranged between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and others with Benito Mussolini's Italy) so that both Germany and the other country would increase their "ethnic ". However, this was but a drop in the pond, and the "Heim ins Reich" rhetoric over the continued disjoint status of enclaves such as Danzig and Königsberg was an agitating factor in the politics leading up to World War II, and is considered by many to be among the major causes of Nazi aggressiveness and thus the war.

Resettlement of Germans from the Soviet Union

German populations affected by the population exchanges were primarily the Baltic Germans and Bessarabia Germans and others who were forced to resettle west of the Curzon line. The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact had defined "spheres of interest", assigning the states between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to either one of those.

Except for Memelland, the Baltic states were assigned to the Soviet Union, and Germany started pulling out the Volksdeutsche population after reaching respective agreements with Estonia and Latvia in October 1939. The Baltic Germans were to be resettled in occupied Poland and compensated for their losses with confiscated property at their new settlements. Though resettlement was volunteerly, most Germans followed the call because they feared repression once the Soviets would move in. Eventually, this actually happened to the ones who stayed. The Baltic Germans were moved to Germany's northeastern port cities by ship. Poles were expelled from West Prussia to make space available for resettlement, but due to quarrels with the Gauleiter Foster, resettlement stalled and further "repatriants" were moved to Posen. [Valdis O. Lumans, "Himmler's Auxiliaries, pp 158ff] Of the 127,000 resettled Baltic Germans (of which 59,000 were from Latvia, 51,000 from Lithuania and 17,000 from Estonia), 87,000 were settled in the eastern annexed territories and 40,000 within the Altreich [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.572 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] .

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, the Volga German ASSR was dissolved and the population scattered or used for forced labour. Most Volga Germans (about 400,000 [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] )were forced to resettle in Kazakhstan and Siberia.

During the war, a total of 700,000 Germans from the Soviet Union (including the 400,000 Volga Germans) was forcefully resettled by the Soviet regime, another 370,000 Germans from the Soviet Union were resettled by the Nazi regime (of the latter, 300,000 were settled within the annexed eastern territories and 70,000 within the "Altreich") [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573, ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457]

Resettlement of Germans from Italy

On October 6, 1939, Hitler announced a resettlement program for the German-speaking population of the Italian province of Bolzano-Bozen (Alto Adige/South Tyrol). With an initial thought to resettle the population in occupied Poland or the Crimea, they were actually moved to places in nearby Austria and Bavaria. Also affected were German-speakers from other areas in northern Italy, like the Kanaltal and Grödnertal valleys. Resettlement stopped with the collapse of Mussolini's regime and the subsequent occupation of Italy by Nazi Germany. [Valdis O. Lumans, "Himmler's Auxiliaries", pp 154-157]

German "Volksdeutsche" in Nazi-occupied Europe

The actions of Germany ultimately had extremely negative consequences for most ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe (termed Volksdeutsche to distinguish them from Germans from within the Third Reich, the Reichsdeutsche), who often fought on the side of the Nazi regime - some were drafted, others volunteered or worked through the paramilitary organisations such as Selbstschutz, which supported the German invasion of Poland and murdered tens of thousands of Poles. In places such as Yugoslavia, Germans were drafted by their country of residence, served loyally, and were even held as POWs by the Nazis, and yet later found themselves drafted again, this time by the Nazis after their takeover. Because it was technically not permissible to draft non-citizens, many ethnic Germans ended up being (oxymoronically) forcibly volunteered for the Waffen-SS. In general, those closest to Nazi Germany were the most involved in fighting for her, but the Germans in remote places like the Caucasus were likewise accused of collaboration.

Nazi occupation of Poland and "Generalplan Ost"

German minority organisations assisted the German Reich in its invasion in Czechoslovakia and took part in the September 1939 Campaign in Poland. Selbstschutz and German nationalist organisations created in Poland and Czechoslovakia by Germans took part in various actions (sabotage, etc.) against the Polish population.

On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, triggering the outbreak of World War II. Upon the defeat of Poland, the territories were occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany. These annexations were never recognised by the Allied governments, that after the 1942 Declaration by the United Nations were also known as the United Nations.

In Generalplan Ost, the Nazis envisioned settlement of Germans and resettlement, extinction and enslavement of all other ethnicities living in the annexed territories. The breakdown of the eastern front and the retreat of the Wehrmacht troops hindered the plan to be executed, yet some resettlements and a lot of killings and enslavements took place during the occupation.

During the war, 166,000 Germans were resettled from areas of pre-war Poland by the Nazi authorities, 113,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.572 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . From Yugoslavia, 35,000 Germans were resettled, 10,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . From Romania (including Bessarabia), 212,000 Germans were resettled, 140,000 of which to the annexed territories [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] . Of a total of 910,000 resettled "Volksdeutsche", 650,000 were settled within the annexed areas of Poland and the General Gouvernement, the others within the "Altreich" [Pit Pietersen, "Kriegsverbrechen der alliierten Siegermächte: Terroristische Bombenangriffe auf Deutschland und Europa 1939-1945", 2006, p.573 ISBN 3833450452, 9783833450457] .

German exodus after Nazi Germany's defeat

The 20th century wars annihilated most Eastern an East Central European German settlements, and the remaining sparse pockets of settlement were subject to emigration to Germany in the late 20th century for economical reasons.

Evacuation, and flight of Germans during the end of World War II

By late 1944, after the Soviet success of the Belorussian Offensive in August 1944, the Eastern Front became relatively stable. Romania and Bulgaria had been forced to surrender and declare war on Germany. The Germans had lost Budapest and most of the rest of Hungary. The plains of Poland were now open to the Soviet Red Army. Starting on January 12, 1945, the Red Army began the Vistula-Oder Offensive which was followed a day later by the start of the Red Army's East Prussian Offensive.

German populations in Eastern Europe took flight from the advancing Red Army, resulting in a great population shift. After the final Soviet offensives began in January, 1945, hundreds of thousands of German refugees, many of whom had fled to Danzig by foot from East Prussia (see evacuation of East Prussia), tried to escape through the city's port in a large-scale evacuation that employed hundreds of German cargo and passenger ships. Some of the ships were sunk by the Soviets, including the "Wilhelm Gustloff", after an evacuation was attempted at neighboring Gdynia. In the process, tens of thousands of refugees were killed.

Cities such as Danzig also endured heavy Western Allied and Soviet bombardment. Those who survived and could not escape encountered the Red Army. On 30 March 1945, the Soviets captured the city and left it in ruins. [http://www.gdansk.pl/en/article.php?category=453&article=926&history=453:]

The Yalta Conference

As it became evident that the Allies were going to defeat Nazi Germany decisively, the question arose as to how to redraw the borders of Eastern European countries after the war. In the context of those decisions, the problem arose of what to do about ethnic minorities within the redrawn borders.

The final decision to move Poland's boundary westward was made by the US, Britain and the Soviets at the Yalta Conference, shortly before the end of the war. The precise location of the border was left open; the western Allies also accepted in general the principle of the Oder River as the future western border of Poland and of population transfer as the way to prevent future border disputes. The open question was whether the border should follow the eastern or western Neisse rivers, and whether Stettin, the traditional seaport of Berlin, should remain German or be included in Poland. The western Allies sought to place the border on the eastern Neisse, but Stalin insisted that the border should be on the western Neisse.

The Potsdam Conference

At the Potsdam Conference the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union placed the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line (Poland referred to by the Polish communist government as the "Western Territories" or "Regained Territories") as formally under Polish administrative control. It was anticipated that a final peace treaty would follow shortly and either confirm this border or determine whatever alterations might be agreed upon.

The final agreements in effect compensated Poland for 187,000 km² located east of the Curzon line with 112,000 km² of former German territories. The northerneastern third of East Prussia was directly annexed by the Soviet Union and remains part of Russia to this day.

It was also decided that all Germans remaining in the new and old Polish territory should be expelled, to prevent any claims of minority rights. Among the provisions of the Potsdam Conference was a section that provided for the "orderly transfer of German populations". The specific wording of this section was as follows::"The Three Governments, having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner."

Expulsion of Germans after World War II

The expulsion of Germans after World War II refers to the forced migration and ethnic cleansing of German nationals ("Reichsdeutsche") and ethnic Germans ("Volksdeutsche)" from the former eastern territories of Germany, former Sudetenland and other areas across Europe in the first five years after World War II.

It was the largest of a number of expulsions in various Central and Eastern European countries affecting a number of nationalities. The Big Three had agreed on a policy of expulsions, and the Soviet Union implemented the policy with American and British acquiescence.cite journal |title=Text of Churchill Speech in Commons on Soviet=Polish Frontier |publisher=The United Press |date=December 15, 1944] The policy had been agreed on by the Allies as part of the reconfiguration of postwar Europe. [cite journal |journal=Foreign Affairs |title=Us and Them - The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism |url=http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080301faessay87203-p30/jerry-z-muller/us-and-them.html]

As the Red Army advanced towards Germany at the end of World War II, a considerable exodus of German refugees began from the areas near the front lines. Many Germans fled their areas of residence under vague and haphazardly implemented evacuation orders of the Nazi German government in 1943, 1944, and in early 1945, or based on their own decisions to leave in 1945–1948. Others remained and were later forced to leave by local authorities. Census figures in 1950 place the total number of ethnic Germans still living in Eastern Europe at approximately 2.6 million, about 12 percent of the pre-war total.cite book |author=Overy |title=The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich |year=1996 |pages=p. 111]

The majority of the flights and expulsions occurred in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the European Soviet Union. Others occurred in territories of northern Yugoslavia (predominantly in the Vojvodina region), and other regions of Central and Eastern Europe.

The total number of the Germans expelled after the war will remain unknown, but was estimated by various scientifical approaches. Most of the past research provided a combined estimate of 13.5-16.5 million people, including those that were evacuated by German authorities, fled or were killed during the war. However, recent research places the number at above 12 million, including all those who fled during the war or migrated later, forcibly or otherwise, to both the Western and Eastern zones of Germany and to Austria.

Recent analyses have led some historians to conclude that the actual number of deaths attributable to the flight and expulsions was in the range of 500,000 to 1.1 million. The earlier higher figures, up to 3.2 million, typically include all war-related deaths of ethnic Germans between 1939-45, including those who served in the German armed forces.

Recent history

Expelled Germans in postwar Germany

After World War II many expellees (German: "Heimatvertriebene") from the land east of the Oder-Neisse found refuge in both West Germany and East Germany. Refugees who had fled voluntarily but were later refused to return are often not distinguished from those who were forcibly deported, just as people born to German parents that moved into areas under German occupation either on their own or as Nazi colonists.

In a document signed 50 years ago the "Heimatvertriebene" organisations have also recognized the plight of the different groups of people living in today's Poland who were by force resettled there. The Heimatvertriebene are just one of the groups of millions of other people, from many different countries, who all found refuge in today's Germany.

Some of the expellees are active in politics and belong to the political right-wing. Many others do not belong to any organizations, but they continue to maintain what they call a lawful right to their homeland. The vast majority pledged to work peacefully towards that goal while rebuilding post-war Germany and Europe.

The expellees are still highly active in German politics, and are one of the major political factions of the nation, with still around 2 million members. The president of their organization is as of 2004 still a member of the national parliament.

Although expellees (in German Heimatvertriebene) and their descendants were active in West German politics, the prevailing political climate within West Germany was that of atonement for Nazi actions. However, the CDU governments have shown considerable support for the expellees and German civilian victims.

Polish-German relations

Although relations between Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany have generally been cordial since 1991, there remain disputes about the War, the post-War expulsion, the treatment of the current German minority in Poland and the treatment of German heritage in modern day Western Poland.

tatus of the German minority in Poland

The remaining German minority in Poland (152,897 people according to the 2002 census) has minority rights on the basis of the Polish - German treaty and minority law. German parties are not subject to the 5% threshold during the Sejm elections so Germans are able to obtain two seats. There are German speakers throughout Poland, but only the voivodeship of Opole/Oppeln has a larger concentration.

Finalization of the Polish-German border

For decades, the CDU controlled German government considered the Oder-Neisse line to be completely unacceptable. Even the Social Democrats of the SPD initially refused to accept the Oder-Neisse line. The 1991 Polish-German border agreement finalized the Oder-Neisse line as the Polish-German border. The agreement gave to minority groups in both countries several rights, such as the right to use national surnames, speak their native languages, and attend schools and churches of their choice. These rights had been denied previously on the basis that the individual had already chosen the country in which they wanted to live.

Restricting sale of property to foreigners

In November 2005 "Der Spiegel" published a poll from the Allensbach Institute which estimated that 61% of Poles believed Germans would try to get back territories that were formerly under German control or demand compensation [http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/vorab/0,1518,383359,00.html] , [http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/swiat/1,34180,3002683.html] .

There are also some worries among Poles that rich descendants of the expelled Germans would buy the land the Polish state confiscated in 1945. It is believed that this may result in large price increases, since the current Polish land price is low compared to Western Europe. This led to Polish restrictions on the sale of property to foreigners, including Germans: special permission is needed. This policy is comparable to similar restrictions on the Baltic Åland Islands. These restrictions will be lifted 12 years after the 2004 accession of Poland to the European Union, i.e. on May 1 2016. The restrictions are weak, they aren't valid for companies and certain types of properties.

The attempts by German organisations to build a Centre Against Expulsions dedicated to German people's alleged suffering during World War II has led Polish politicians and activists to propose a Center for Martyrology of Polish Nation (called also Center for the Memory of Suffering of the Polish Nation) that would document the systematical oppression conducted on Polish people by German state during World War II and which would serve to educate German people about atrocities their state and regime conducted on their neighbours. However, this proposal was attacked and rejected by German politicians [http://serwisy.gazeta.pl/swiat/1,34239,3124740.html] .

German minority in the Czech Republic

There are about 40,000 Germans remaining in the Czech Republic. Their number has been consistently decreasing since World War II. According to the 2001 census there remain 13 municipalities and settlements in the Czech Republic with more than 10% Germans.

The situation in Slovakia was different from that in the Czech lands, in that the number of Germans was considerably lower and that the Germans from Slovakia were almost completely evacuated to German states as the Soviet army was moving west through Slovakia, and only the fraction of them that returned to Slovakia after the end of the war was deported together with the Germans from the Czech lands.

The Czech Republic has introduced a law in 2002 that guarantees the use of native minority languages (incl.German)as official languages in municipalities where autochthonous linguistic groups make up at least 10% of the population. Besides the use in dealings with officials and in courts the law also allows for bilingual signage and guarantees education in the native language. The law so far only exists on paper and has not been implemented anywhere, neither in the Polish speaking Tesin/Cieszyn area nor in Western and Northern Bohemia where a hand full of towns still have in excess of 10% German speakers.

The remaining tiny German minority in the Czech Republic has been granted some rights on paper, however the actual use of the language in dealings with officials is usually not possible. There is no bilingual education system in Western and Northern Bohemia, where the German minority is most concentrated. The Czech authorities have enacted a unique hurdle in their minority act.

Many representatives of expelees organizations support the erection of bilingual signs in all formerly German speaking territory as a visible sign of the bilingual linguistic and cultural heritage of the region. While the erection of bilingual signs is technically permitted if a minority constitutes 10% of the population, the minority is also forced to sign a petition in favour of the signs in which 40% of the adult minority population must participate.

Czech-German relations

On 28 December 1989, Václav Havel, at that time a candidate for president of Czechoslovakia (he was elected one day later), suggested that Czechoslovakia should apologise for the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II. Most of other politicians of the country didn't agree, and there was also no reply from leaders of Sudeten German organizations. Later, the German President Richard von Weizsacker answered this by apologizing to Czechoslovakia during his visit to Prague on March 1990 after Václav Havel repeated his apology characterizing the expulsion as "the mistakes and sins of our fathers". However, the Beneš decrees continue to remain in force in Czechoslovakia.

In Czech-German relations, the topic has been effectively closed by the [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/germ/czecheng.html Czech-German declaration] of 1997. One principle of the declaration was that parties will not burden their relations with political and legal issues which stem from the past.

However, some expelled Sudeten Germans or their descendants are demanding return of their former property, which was confiscated after the war. Several such cases have been taken to Czech courts. As confiscated estates usually have new inhabitants, some of whom have lived there for more than 50 years, attempts to return to a pre-war state may cause fear. The topic comes to life occasionally in Czech politics. Like in Poland, worries and restrictions concerning land purchases exist in the Czech Republic. According to a survey by the Allensbach Institut in November 2005, 38% of Czechs believe Germans want to regain territory they lost or will demand compensation.

German minority in Hungary

Today the German minority in Hungary have minority rights, organisations, schools and local councils but spontaneous assimilation is well under way. Many of the deportees visited their old homes after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990.



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