Refugee History in 20th Century Europe: A Brief Primer

A lot of smart people are discussing the current refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian Civil War.  Much of this commentary is critical of European states and asserts that Europe should look to a kinder gentler past when refugees were treated with dignity.  One of these commentators is Emily Bazelon of the New York Times. She is a extremely intelligent women, and I find her discussions on Slate’s Political Gabfest to be insightful, especially when clarifying legal issues in the United States Supreme Court.  There are few who can break down such complicated legal arguments and present them to the to the informed layperson.  Nevertheless, I find her recent attempt to delve into the refugee crisis in the New York Times Magazine an oversimplification of history.

Bazelon makes the case that during the 1920s  and after the Second World War the world was much more receptive to refugees.  In the 1920s, she emphasizes the care given to refugees of the Russian Civil War and other unstable regions who were issued Nansen Passports by the League of Nations.  She asserts that those who received these passports were quickly resettled in other countries belonging to the League of Nations (and therefore not the USA).  However, this is a major misinterpretation.  As Jay Milbrandt makes clear in his article Statelessthe Nansen Passports were not identical documents and issued haphazardly, leading some countries to rejected them.  Moreover, the passports had to be renewed every two years or they became invalidated.  As time went on, many states stopped validating the passports and started questioning the motives of those holding them.  In fact, Milbrandt suggests that those designated stateless faced a significant burden:

Although these documents [Nansen Passports] served to facilitate cross-border travel for many refugees, it provided no guarantees of protection from the state in which these individuals settled. In effect, although these individuals were granted increased freedom of movement through the Nansen Passport, they did not assure the protection enjoyed by citizens or nationals of the state in which they settled, such as personal welfare, access to employment, protection against expulsion, and other protections and liberties traditionally preserved through the state.

Therefore, simply because these refugees were permitted to flee their home countries did not mean that they were treated with dignity or accepted.

Next, Bazelon discusses the situation after the Second World War.  She seems to posit that was a period when refugees were gladly accepted by the nation’s of the world, especially the victims of the Holocaust.  However, this is flat out wrong.  In fact, in the case of the United States, the Congress only grudgingly passed legislation to aide postwar refugees.

In 1946, as camps in Germany began to swell, some European countries and the United States did began accepting refugees, but not enough to alleviate the problem. President Harry Truman’s special directive in December 1945 giving Displaced Persons (DPs) the first positions on the annual immigration quotas failed to alleviate the problem; moreover, the quota for Eastern Europe was only 13,000, leaving millions in camps. The situation was further aggravated in 1946 when thousands of Jews fled postwar Poland, following continued discrimination and pogroms.[1]  Unwilling to return home, the DPs presented a significant problem for the occupation forces that demanded a solution.  The result was the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (DPA) which allowed 200,000 DPs to enter the United States; however, the legislation that emerged from the Congress specified quotas for each nationality, including the Jews.[2]  The DPA’s inherent problems were evident in Truman’s statement that the “bill was flagrantly discriminatory,” “mocks the American tradition of fair play,” and “discriminates in a callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith.”[3]  But, the bill passed on the last day of the 80th session. Truman only signed it because refusal meant, in his words, “there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons.”[4]

Passed in 1948, the DPA lasted for two years and allowed 200,000 DPs into the USA, and was restricted to only 10,000 Jews.  Further, in crafting this bill, the Congress called for strict investigations into refugees backgrounds.  The first step involved certification by the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a United Nations agency created in 1946, which screened refugees.  However, a former IRO official before the Congress described the IRO process as fraudulent stating that employees refused to check documents and were more interested in filling quotas then inspecting an individual’s background.[5]  The second step in the screening process called for an investigation of each individual by the Displaced Persons Committee (DPC), but the DPC delegated its responsibility to the U.S. Army which conducted neighborhood spot checks and examined German military records, UN camp records, and records in the Berlin Document Center.[6]  Eventually the DPA was renewed in 1950 and expired in 1952; however, with thousands of DPs still in camps, the 83rd Congress approved the Refugee Relief Act in 1953 allowing 200,000 more European DPs into the country.  Together, these two pieces of legislation permitted nearly 600,000 immigrants to enter the United States.[7]

As the case of the USA after the Second World War indicates, there was hardly a welcoming of refugees and much debating over quotas, something that Bazelon identifies as a problem in Europe today. After the war, Britain, in fact, sought every means to prevent Jews from migrating to the Palatinate Protectorate.   Yet, these actions demonstrate that not much has changed.  All nations remain protective of their boarders and want to make sure they know who is crossing their borders.  This is particularly difficult in Europe where the Nazi genocide removed the most persecuted minority and the Cold War basically froze borders, making nation-states rather homogeneous.  Yes, countries had minority populations, like the Turk guest workers in Germany, but most states had a dominant majority.

However, the opening of borders, the wealth of the European Union, and opportunities for immigrants has created new problems, leading to the increasing racism and right wing political parties like UKIP in Great Britain and the NPD in Germany.   The problem facing Europe, as many have pointed out, is that for centuries the continent was a net exporter of individuals, but now it’s wealth is making it a net importer.  Furthermore, the Syrian crisis partially stems from Europe and the USA’s decision to remain hands off, even after the use of chemical weapons.  Perhaps the best way to solve the refugee crisis is to solve the crisis, but geopolitical situation grows ever more complicated.

What we are witnessing is Europe coming  to grips with the challenge of being a net importer of individuals, and it will not be easy or simple.  One can criticize Europe and say that refugees were treated better in the past, but this is ahistorical.  One can say that Europe should open its borders and aid refugees, but a commentator must also consider history and domestic politics.  One can point to the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, but one must consider the Vietnam War and American’s moral responsibility.  History, especially the history of refugees, is complicated.  Anyone providing a simple narrative has overlooked the extreme complexity and grayness of the past.  Does the crisis need solved? Yes.  Should refugees be treated with dignify? Yes.  But, looking for some romantic past doesn’t solve the current problem.

[1] Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, (New York: Random House, 2007).

[2] Leonard Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 163-182.

[3] Harry S. Truman, “Statement by the President Upon Signing the Displaced Persons Act,” June 25, 1948. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. ws/?pid=12942.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Edward M. Glazek, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Amendments to the Displaced Persons Act, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 81st Congress, 1st and  2nd Session, February 3, 1950, 490-495.

[6] Allan A. Ryan Jr. Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1984), 20-22.

[7] Ibid., 26.


Fiscal Military States in Early Modern Europe

According to Nicholas Henshall, historians have long misinterpreted the term “absolutism.”  The term “absolutism” emerged after the fall of the ancien regime and came to describe “a highly centralized and despotic government ruled by an all-powerful monarch authority extended to all parts of the realm and was not subjected to any constitutional, aristocratic, or legal constraints.” (Dunning and Smith, “Moving Beyond Absolutism,” 2006.) For Henshall, this approach is no longer tenable, and he argues that “absolutism” in fact never existed – it was a myth.  Rather than expanding their powers and destroying corporate bodies like the Parlements, Henshall asserts that absolute monarchs were simply enhancing the powers they already controlled in the realm of foreign policy, military forces, government minsters, and the collection of revenues.  In rejecting the concept of “absolutism,” Henshall instead adopts the term fiscal military state, as used by John Brewer, to describe the expansion of the English state; moreover, Henshall argues that this concept can be applied to other European states.

The idea of the fiscal military state developed from the debate over the early modern military revolution.  First articulated by Michael Roberts in 1955, the military revolution paradigm argues that a dramatic change in military technology, tactics, strategy, training, the size of armies, and the cost of war significantly affected early modern states (see Clifford Rogers, ed. The Military Revolution Debate).  By exploring Sweden and the Dutch Republic, Roberts suggested that this military revolution resulted in the expansion of the state and administration to supply money, men, and materiel.  Scholars quickly adopted the idea of the military revolution and built upon this concept, for example, Geoffrey Parker asserts that the growing cost of war forced bureaucrats and kings to seek out additional sources of revenue, a process that generally increased both the size and power of the central state authorities.  Nevertheless, these scholars simply plugged the military revolution into the theory of “absolutism” without investigating whether “absolutism” proved an adequate descriptor of early modern states.  Proponents of the military revolution argue that the revolution acted as a catalyst for the formation of “absolutism,” describing the power shift from the nobles to the monarch and his ministers who extrapolated money and resources from the state.  (Dunning and Smith, “Moving Beyond Absolutism,” 2006.)

By simply plugging the military revolution into the theory of “absolutism,” scholars failed to investigate the structures or process of the early modern state.  One of the first scholars to challenge the paradigm of “absolutism” was John Brewer who coined the term fiscal military state in his 1989 study The Sinews of Power.  Prior to Brewer’s study, the historical literature credited the rise of the liberal British state as a result “English exceptionalism,” particularly emphasizing Britain’s political culture, geographic isolationism, and representative assembly.  This view described early modern England as a “weak” state that became a great power; however, Brewer overturns this assumption by examining public finances in England.  In exploring this development, he discovered that far from being weak, early modern England developed fiscal military structures similar to European continental powers.  This expansion of state power occurred rapidly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as England increasingly involved itself in European and world affairs.  Moreover, the desires of the English government and private investors supported the rapid growth of the world’s most powerful navy.  Though costly, the financial revolution that occurred with the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 and the development of a modern credit system provided the institutions and instruments needed for this large scale project, but it still required the increase of taxes and a large bureaucracy to collect them.  This development ensured that by the 18th century, England was the most heavily taxed and militarized state in Europe, with a bureaucracy larger than Prussia.

The theory of the fiscal military state is applicable beyond England and Jan Glete has provided a comparative study of the fiscal military state by examining early modern Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands.  Yet, in considering a comparative approach to the fiscal military state, it is important to consider the timing.  As Thomas Ertman emphasizes in Birth of Leviathan, the onset of international pressure, access to technology, and the stage of economic development can explain the variations among fiscal military states.  The earliest fiscal military states tended to use coercive methods to extract resources and revenue from domestic economies without concern for their actions, yet these predatory actions slowed the development of capitalism.  Later fiscal military states would be wiser and extracted resources without causing significant damage to the economy, particularly through the use of well-trained bureaucrats.  Thus, collecting resources and revenue in a state based on cooperation rather than coercion proved to be a defining characteristic of successful fiscal military states.

According Glete and other historians, Spain (Kingdom of Castile) was the first fiscal military state.  As a product of the Reconquista of the Iberia Peninsula, Spain develop a highly militarized culture, and the king of Castile wielded enormous power over his subjects and the economy.  Using a centralized bureaucracy, Castile formed a strong administrative structure to increase tax collection and to manage a growing military force.  Nevertheless, the king and his administrators did not coerce traditional elites, but rather reached a cooperative agreement.  Glete characterizes this relationship as “protection selling” whereby the local elites willingly entered into the growing kingdom in return for the protection of the king.  This cooperation reduced violence between elites and enabled the state to grow.  Yet, Glete suggests that the kingdom’s continued desire to expand its territorial possessions rather than its colonial empire caused its downfall.  To continue funding wars on the European landmass, Castile’s resource extraction harmed the economy, slowed the development of capitalism, and caused short-term fiscal crisis that resulted in even more extreme forms of extractions.  Ultimately, the growth of the Spanish empire created a sense of hubris and prevented the empire of implementing the reforms needed to maintain its imperial ambitions.

Like the Spanish with the Reconquista, the Dutch fiscal military state also developed with the onset of geopolitical conflict – the Dutch Revolt of 1566.  By the time of the revolt, the Netherlands was already economically dominate with the wealthiest ports in the world; a product of the shift of the European economy from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic following the collapse of Constantinople and Venice.   As a possession of Philip II, the king saw the Dutch as wasteful and attempted to force obedience on the Dutch in 1566.  The Dutch nobles and merchants joined forces against Philip and were especially outraged at the king’s attempt to impose Catholicism on the Calvinist region.  The formation of a state by nobles and merchants subordinated the state to elite interest, and Glete in fact argues that the Dutch were the first middle class army.  The wealthy Dutch merchants and their dominance over the Baltic and Mediterranean trade (along with defeat of the Spanish Armada by England) enabled the Dutch to provision and feed their armies; moreover, as their access to capital was not denied, they were able to pay their army on regular basis.  This regularly paid army was much less likely to rebel and underwent new and rigorous reforms introduced by Maurice of Nassau to discipline the army.  Thus, broad interest groups in the northern Netherlands willingly provided the fiscal resources needed for the military as it was good business – the military protected the Dutch ports ensuring the continuation of trade and the accumulation of wealth.

Glete also considers early modern Sweden a fiscal military state, emphasizing the years 1520-1660 as coherent period of state formation process.  This emerged with the Vasa rulers who sold protection to the church, aristocracy, and peasant communities in exchange for taxes, furthermore, the Vasas also administered their own military apparatus, unlike other states that relied on military contractors.  With the geography of the Baltic region and Sweden’s lack of natural resources, Sweden waged war offensively, rarely ever actually fighting on Swedish territory.  To extract resources, the Vasas employed local bailiffs who collected taxes and reported directly to a central administration controlled by the king.  The bailiffs maintained detailed knowledge of the local communities, enabling them to collect resources more effectively.  While Glete emphasizes the use of bailiffs, Robert Frost, in his study The Great Northern Wars, suggests that Sweden attracted officers and nobles because they were able to offer large tracts of land confiscated during the Reformation, moreover, as they were paid in land contracts, they had desire to see the state expand.  These concepts are not mutually exclusive and both demonstrate the cooperation between the state and the elites in the formation and functioning of the Swedish fiscal military state.

When considering the development of fiscal military states in the early modern era, Brandenburg-Prussia often receives much attention due to its legacy of militarism.  However, its position in the center of Northern Europe made Brandenburg vulnerable to invading armies, particularly evident during the Thirty Years’ War.  The Great Elector recognized both the vulnerabilities and the need for a standing army and he was able to start the foundations of an army; however, most historians identify his grandson, Frederick Wilhelm I, as the creator of the organizer of the Prussian fiscal military state.  This is particularly evident in Reinhold Dorwart’s Administrative Reforms of Frederick William I of Prussia which describes the legal, administrative, and military reforms of Frederick Wilhelm.  These historians emphasize the implementation of the canton conscription system that incorporated the peasantry into the conscription system; the close cooperation between nobles and the monarch through the use of positions and salaries; and the formation of the General Directory which centralized state power into one body.  Furthermore, historians such as Hans Rosenberg in Bureaucracy, Aristocracy and Autocracy argue that Frederick Wilhelm’s reforms demonstrate the authoritarian nature of Prussia and provided the foundation for Germany’s Sonderweg

Nevertheless, recent research by Peter Wilson suggests that the Prussian fiscal military state was weaker than previously considered.  Frederick Wilhelm’s “reliance on the nobility, especially for local government, forced the Crown to respect their regional interests.” (Wilson “Prussia as a Fiscal-Military State, 1640-1806,” 2009) This prevented Frederick Wilhelm from developing a truly uniform system of government throughout the Brandenburg-Prussia, rather, Prussia remained, in Karin Friedrich’s words, a composite monarchy whereby each region maintained its own institutions and traditions.  This interpretation is further supported by William Hagan’s Ordinary Prussians.  In this work, Hagan demonstrates the ability of peasants to appeal to higher courts if they were dissatisfied with the estate courts; moreover, continued peasant insubordination leads the author to doubt the thesis stressing the militarization and discipline of villagers by Junker lords.  This revisionism, however, should not ignore the fact that peasants carried an unfair burden.  Thus, Wilson and Hagan’s research indicates a lack of cooperation between the monarch and the nobles, a central pillar of the fiscal military state argument and, looking into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, suggest that Prussia did not want to undermine the tax and conscription system it developed.  Instead, research emphasizes the regional differences within Prussia, concluding that historians need to be wary of considering Prussia a fiscal military state.

By exploring the relationship between monarchs and nobles, many historian have abandoned the term “absolutism” to describe early modern states.  The term implies that monarchs commanded the power to force nobles and regions into the growing state apparatus and most proponents of “absolutism” point to French King Louis XIV.  However, the term fails investigate how monarchs extended their power; it simply assumes they already had the fiscal and military instruments to expand, but recent research has called this into question.  In adopting the term fiscal military states, historians are now examining the relationship between monarchs and nobles and how these cooperative relations enabled for the expansion of centralized power as nobles accepted political and military positions in exchange for cooperating and working with the monarch.  This provided the monarch with loyal officials, a growing bureaucracy, and an increasing tax base to support a centralized state.  Although this process is hardly uniform across early modern Europe, it demonstrate more effectively the shrinking of powerful nobles and the expansion of state power.

Night Will Fall

Night Will Fall is a 2014 documentary that examines World War II film crews from the three Allied powers who captured the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and killing centers.  The chilling footage captured by these film crews was meant to be part of documentary film overseen by Sidney Berstein, but the contingencies of the Cold War prevented the documentary’s completion, though some of the footage was used by the U.S. Military in a short film titled Death Mills.  Until recently, this footage remained buried in the British archives, but scholars working at the Imperial War Museum pieced together the film using the original script and instructions left by the original staff.

For many, the draw is the fact that legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock was involved in the project, however, as the documentary makes clear, Hitchcock was involved and offered important advice to the staff, but he spent a very limited amount of time working on the project.  The advice Hitchcock provided though seems crucial –   to display long shots rather than short shots in order counter any criticism that might suggest the film was the product of Hollywood film making (Hollywood “magic”).

In presentation, Night Will Fall is documentary about a documentary.  It tells the story of the WWII cameramen, soldiers involved in liberating camps, survivors who can be seen in the original footage, and those at the Imperial War museum who reconstructed the original documentary.  While this story is important and demonstrates the overwhelming inertia of the Cold War, the crucial feature is the original footage. The images are grim.  Footage of former Nazi prison guards dragging the bodies of those they murdered to mass graves is particularity disconcerting.  This documentary is not afraid to show the barbaric results of the Nazi racial state.

Another important feature of the original film footage is the effort made by the British and Americans soldiers to walk German civilians through the camps – to show them the what the Nazi state did and prevent them from ever denying that they did not know what the Nazis were doing.  Yet, even though thousands of German civilians passed through these camps witnessing the criminal actions of the state they supported, it was not until the 1960s, when the youth of German challenged their elders, that Germans finally confronted their Nazi past.  The efforts needed to rebuild a state destroyed by war and the oncoming of the Cold War enabled German civilians to focus on reconstruction rather than Nazi crimes.

The Night Will Fall tells a fascinating story and shows how geopolitics led the American and British governments to quickly sweep the Holocaust under the rug during the Cold War.  In fact, the Holocaust would remain dormant until the 1970s miniseries Holocaust reminded the public of the German crimes.  However, while this story is informative, the horror of the original footage is why this documentary is important.  It once again reminds us of the brutality of not just Nazi Germany but also of humankind.  What people can do to one another based on rigid ideologies that exclude other humans for being different, whether that be religiously, ethnically,  racially, sexually, etc.  The images show us how harsh rhetoric can lead to devastating actions and cautions us to take the language employed by world leaders, politicians, and businessmen seriously as they can have unimaginable outcomes.

What Matt Yglesias Gets Right and Wrong About Germany and the First World War

On Friday, Slate policy wonk Matthew Yglesias decided to dive into World War I history, a topic far removed his commentary on politics and business.  When reading Yglesias’s blog, I generally find myself in disagreement with his arguments but I find his analysis and commentary refreshing.  His work forces me to rethink my own understandings and positions on policy.  However, when it comes to the never-ending debate of responsibility for the First World War, Yglesias should probably have remained just endorsed the book he was citing or perhaps looked more deeply into the historiography. 

In the review like essay he posted on Friday, the 99th anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death, Yglesias summarizes and supports the argument put forth by Christopher Clark in his recent book Sleepwalkers, which I admit I have not read.  According to Yglesias, Clark criticizes the historiography of mid 20th that anachronistically reads the Nazi war for a European empire back into the First World War. Clark’s argument here is hardly unique and since the 1990s numerous historians, such as David Herrmann, David Stevenson, Richard Hamilton, Holger Herwig, and David Fromkin, have debunked the idea of WWI being fought for a German land empire. These historians present diverse and strongly research arguments that show the multitude of factors that led to the European conflagration in 1914. 

I agree with Yglesias’s conclusion that the cause of war was much more complex than Germany’s desire for European empire, as stated above, this argument is well debunked.  Although Yglesias avoids the crises, arms buildup, and military thinking, he does correctly point out the emergence of ethnic nationalism and the Russo-French alliance that helped spur Germany to war (and thankfully avoids Sean McMeekin’s recent book on Russia).

Yet, no matter the ever growing evidence that numerous crises combined with arms buildup slowly congealed and burst into war, Germany still made the ultimate decision to start the war.  Yes, the burden of war guilt should not be solely placed on Germany, but Germany, particularly the General Staff, concluded that war between the European powers was inevitable and 1914 looked much better than 1915.  This decision emerged from political, geographic, and military situation.

Germany’s failure to renew its alliance with Russia allowed the Tsarist Empire to make an end around and align with France, encircling Germany.  According to German estimates, the Entente powers would soon overtake Germany in terms of armaments and manpower.  And, I think one of the most important factors, the German belief in the military offensive.  Prussian military history and particularly the last European war, the Franco-Prussia War, convinced military generals throughout Europe that striking first created a strong advantage.  Furthermore, the speed with which Germany defeated France in 1870 convinced Europeans that any future war would also be short.  These factors would ultimately lead the German General Staff to act first and employ a modified version of the Schlieffen Plan to strike France quickly and then turn east towards Russia.  Thus while a multitude of factors in the early 20th century created an atmosphere that fostered the martial spirit, Germany struck first. 

German Expellees in the Anglo-American Press, 1944-1950

On February 9, 1945 Margarete Marquardt was loaded onto a cattle car and expelled from her home in East Prussia:

“[W]e . . . were set on the march eastward.  Then we were loaded into cattle cars.  The cars remained closed for five days, nailed shut and totally black inside.  During the whole trip, which lasted 29 days we were let out at just one stop, where we were allowed to drink our fill of water at a lake.  At that time 32 people out of 100 were already dead.  When we arrived we were blinded by the sudden light from the opened door.  It was difficult to walk because our legs were stiff and numb from squatting for so long.”[1]

Marquardt and 13 million other Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) were expelled from the German territories of Silesia, Prussia, Posen, Pomerania, and East Brandenburg which were ceded to Poland at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.  The agreement at Potsdam also permitted the new Czechoslovakian government to expel the ethnic Germans of Bohemia and the Sudetenland – areas inhabited by ethnic Germans since the 13th century when Otakar II of Bohemia promoted the settlement of skilled German laborers.[2]  The Allies legitimized the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from these territories to appease the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations’ antipathy towards Germans after the Second World War.  This hostility directed at the ethnic German minorities resulted from Adolf Hitler’s expansionist policies and the brutal fighting on the Eastern Front.  Through Hitler’s expansionist policies, the Nazi regime expanded the Reich to incorporate all ethnic Germans and their territories believing that all Germans belonged to Germany, ignoring the fact that these Germans were socially and culturally different from those in the Altreich, while Slavic lands would provide the Reich with labor and food.  The Nazi regime’s expansion eastward enhanced the ethnic Germans position, power, and status over ethnically “inferior” races leading many to capitalize on Hitler’s racial policies by confiscating possessions and land belonging to Poles, Czechs, Russians, and Jews.  However, with the retreat of the Wehrmacht and the western advance of the Red Army in 1945, this privileged position evaporated and initiated the flight the Volksdeutsche westward to escape the vengeance of the Soviets.  While many fled, others remained only to be ravished by the Red Army and later expelled from their homes by Allied agreements.

The legalization of the ethnic German expulsions by the three major Allies, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, greatly affected the European landscape and significantly contributed to the population shifts after the Second World War.  While Europeans and occupying soldiers faced the consequences of the expulsions every day, the awareness of American and British citizens of the ethnic German expulsion and remains unknown.  In order to clarify the awareness and the depiction of the expulsions to an Anglo-American audience, this essay will examine the Anglo-American press’ portrayal the German expellees from 1944 – 1950.  It will describe how Nazi policies, Allied agreements, and ethnic racism contributed to the brutal and often inhumane treatment in relocating expellees.  Furthermore, the expellee experience helps to explain how and why ethnic cleansing became a legitimized and desired precedent and emphasizes the broader historical trend of ethnic homogenization in postwar Europe.  My research on the Anglo-American press reveals that the German expellees were viewed as a social, political, and economic problem.  In fact, while the expellees, like the German population in general, saw themselves as victims, the Anglo-American press framed the expellees as a hindrance to recovery and not as a civilian population recently removed from their homes.  In this essay, I argue that the Anglo-American press did not characterize the expellees as victims but as a logistical, political, and economic problem in need of a quick solution for German and European recovery.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

The ultimate decision for the expulsion of the ethnic Germans can be traced to the three Allied conferences at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam where the Allies debated the postwar world.  The first meeting in Tehran occurred from November 28 – December 1, 1943 following vicious fighting on the Eastern Front and the Anglo-American invasion of Italy.  Meeting in Tehran for the first time, the Allied leaders, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, were already prepared to defend spheres of influence in war torn Europe.  The Anglo-American delegation refused Soviet involvement in occupied Italy angering Stalin, and in turn, he sought to keep Anglo-Americans from Eastern Europe.  These developing tensions played an important role in the discussions that arose on postwar plans for Poland.  During Tehran two Polish governments in exile existed, the first in London worked with the British, and the other, in Lublin, Poland, remained under Stalin’s influence.  While Churchill encouraged the Soviets to work with both groups, Stalin broke off communication with the London Poles in 1943 after they accused the Soviets for the KatynForest massacre.  This formulated excuse allowed Stalin to disavow the London Poles and develop his own postwar plans including the shift of Poland’s borders west to the Oder and Neisse Rivers at the expense of Germany.  In a private conversation between Churchill and Stalin, Churchill indicated that the British were open towards a revision of Poland’s borders and, using matchsticks, demonstrated his idea for moving Poland westward pleasing Stalin.[3]  Overall, the Tehran Conference played a significant role in furthering the Allied war effort.  The discussions there yielded plans to open a second front and an agreement for the creation of a United Nations organization; however, it also revealed Churchill’s desire to maintain British influence in the Mediterranean at the expense of Eastern Europe. [4]  A motive that later manifested itself in the infamous percentages agreement between Churchill and Stalin.

The Big Three next met at the Crimean city of Yalta in February of 1945 where Allied discussions focused on the occupation of Germany, the dismemberment of German lands, deindustrialization of Germany, and the Soviets entering the Asian Theater.[5]   The Soviets, holding a strong military position in Eastern Europe, presented a peace proposal that included plans for the westward shift of Poland.  This proposal resulted in disagreements between the Allies. While Churchill agreed to Soviet influence in Poland, he wanted Stalin to include the London Poles in the discussion which Stalin blatantly refused and Roosevelt worried over the reaction millions of Polish voters in the United States; furthermore, both desired free elections in postwar Poland.  These excuses infuriated Stalin whose sole focus remained Soviet expansion and security.   After four invasions since 1914, Stalin demanded influence and Soviet friendly governments in neighboring nations in order to safely rebuild the war torn Soviet Union and he would only recognize the communist Polish government.[6]  With tensions high, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin eventually agreed to shaky terms that included free elections and a broadly based government in Poland, but the Anglo-Americans delayed a final peace settlement in the hopes of increasing military capacity and improving strategic locations in Europe and Asia before signing a final settlement.[7]  However, with the failure of the Warsaw Uprising and the Soviet occupation of Poland at the war’s conclusion, Stalin still held the strategic advantage when the Allies met to negotiate the final peace settlement at Potsdam.[8]

The last Big Three conference met in Potsdam from July to August 1945 and included two new leaders – Harry Truman who succeeded Roosevelt after his death in April and Clemet Attlee whose Labour Party defeated Winston Churchill in the 1945 elections.  Potsdam exclusively focused on the problem of postwar Germany and revolved around the clashing ideas of Truman and Stalin.  In fact, several historians view the Potsdam conference and the tensions that arose there as marking the start of the Cold War.[9]  During the negotiations, Truman opposed the distribution of German territory to compensate Poland but the superior Soviet military position left Truman only two options: a united Germany under the control of occupying powers or a divided Germany with Soviet influence in a limited area.  Truman chose the latter option.[10]  The Potsdam Agreement, ratified by all three nations, concurred on three decisions for Germany: the principals to govern the defeated Germany; the extension of Soviet and Polish borders at Germany’s expense; and the expulsion of the German populations from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.  The ethnic Germans, without legal or physical protection, under the guard of vengeful nations gathered the remnants of their lives and migrated to an unfamiliar country struggling to rebuild itself from the desolations of war.

The expulsion of the ethnic Germans has three phases which G.C. Paikert labels: the Soviet phase, the phase of national retribution, and the phase of legalization.[11]  The first phase took place in 1945 when the Red Army forced the Wehrmacht out of Poland and the eastern German territories.  The Red Army inspired fear in the ethnic Germans and millions fled in front of the advancing troops hoping to avoid retaliation, yet others stayed behind facing the vicious ravages of the Red Army.[12]  The majority of those fleeing consisted of women, children, and elderly men who had little time to gather their belongings and faced countless troubles securing passage west.  Those who stayed were degraded by the Red Army.  When the Soviet soldiers arrived at Maria Neumann’s farm in Pomerania, she and her family were brutalized.  She and her sister were raped several times before the Soviets hung her husband and sister and strangled her nieces.  Neumann became a prisoner with many other German women who were systematically raped and abused by the Red Army.  Fortunately, Neumann later secured a position as a Russian General’s seamstress and he eventually helped her escape to Berlin.[13]  The rape of German women by the Red Army on the Eastern front, estimated between tens of thousands and two million, falls into expellee and German experience and identification as victims as rape later became a metaphor for German victimization.[14] The Germans that fled during the war were fully exposed to the horrors of war.  They crossed battlefields, observed the bombing of cities in which they tried to take refuge, and suffered from hunger, cold, and disease.[15]

The second phase involved the malicious policies enforced by the reestablished Polish and Czechoslovakian governments.  These two nations suffered heavily at the hands of the Nazi war machine and, after the war’s conclusion, took retribution by removing all the German minorities from their countries.  The ethnic Germans expelled during this phase faced abuse at the hands of the Red Army and the anger of vengeful nationals.  The Czechoslovakian government in exile under Eduard Beneš proclaimed the Decrees of the President of the Republic, known as the Beneš Decrees, which allowed the Czech citizens to seize any German assets for themselves. In Poland and Czechoslovakia, locals gathered up the ethnic Germans with little notice and forced them into Germany, most leaving their belongings behind.  This calamity happened to E. Wollmann of Bohemia.  He and his wife were awoken at 11:00 p.m. and told to vacate their home and be at the train station at 2:00 a.m. for deportation.  Due to a miscommunication between the Czechs and Russians, he and his wife were permitted a few more hours but they eventually left their entire lives behind.  At the train station valuable items, documents, and clothes were all confiscated by Czech soldiers.  They were finally transported to Görlitz in cattle cars plastered with the slogans “Home to the Reich” and “Heil Hitler.”[16]

The third phase of the expulsion involved the United States and Britain who, after signing the Potsdam agreement, took on the responsibility of transferring the ethnic German population, “in an orderly and humane manner.”[17]  This last phase created numerous problems for the Anglo-Americans and the German people.  The Allies constantly berated the Czechs and Poles for their ill treatment of the expellees and for sending only women, children, and the elderly after stripping them of their goods.  Franz Kubin, an expellee from Czechoslovakia, was interned at the Pilsen-Karlov camp and while there witnessed the Czech commandant and guards repeatedly beat expellees until the Americas arrived to oversee the expulsion.  Kubin observed an American soldier punch the Czech commandant for mistreating an expellee woman and ultimately removing the commandant and the Czech guards from the camp.  The Americans then helped the expellee women and elderly onto transports supplying them with bread and meat even giving the children chocolate.[18]

Upon the arrival of expellee transports in worn torn Germany, the expellees were forced to share homes, food, and jobs with native Germans who viewed expellees as foreigners and a source of economic burden.  Scholars have previously examined the social, economic, and political integration of the expellees into the western zones of occupation, and the significant problems this population influx created.[19]  The fundamental problem with Allied integration policy was the location food and shelter.  The famine of 1946 forced the Allies to ration food permitting the Germans population only 900-1400 calories a day, furthermore, research reveals that the wartime devastation reduced the harvest of 1946 fifteen percent from 1945 which was needed to feed a German population inflated with millions of refugees.[20]  Not only were the Germans and the expellees starving but the location of shelter also proved immensely difficult as the Allied bombing campaigns had destroyed numerous cities.  Forced to subsist in rural locations, the expellees lived in the overcrowded homes of Germans and worked agricultural jobs that many believed were beneath them.  This tension resulted in caustic relations between the local Germans and the expellees.

Economically, the expellees faced the same problems as the German population particularly the failure of original Allied reconstruction plans.  The initial Allied economic plan for Germany entitled the Morgenthau Plan called for the pastoralization of Germany in order prevent future wars, however, escalation of Cold War tensions proved to the United States and Great Britain that the western zones needed a robust economy not only to prevent Soviet expansion and communist agitation but also to rebuild Europe’s economic engine.  With this decision made, the United States, against the protest of both France and the Soviet Union, extended Marshall Plan aid to West Germany in 1947 and a year later the West German government implemented the currency reform (Währungsreform) which some scholars view as the beginning of the Economic Miracle (Wirtschaftswunder).[21]   Yet, neither the Marshall Plan nor the currency reform immediately improved the expellees’ situation, and research shows that initially the currency reform negatively affected the German refugees and expellees.[22]  The currency reform resulted in inflation that increased the prices of apartment leases and food which further deteriorated the already weak economic position of the expellees.[23]

These social and economic dilemmas caused the expellees to create organizations to support one another, and as Pertti Ahonen shows, these original support organizations evolved into political groups which the Allies promptly prohibited fearing political radicalization.[24]  Though banned politically, the expellees organizations produced a large demographic and became an important vote that demanded political recognition.  Their sheer size and highly organized networks made it impossible for politicians to avoid them and they used these networks to lobby the West German Parliament on many subjects including refusal to recognize Poland’s western border.  Konrad Adenauer and the CDU took particular interest in winning the expellee vote by devising ways to ease integration and keep in close contact with expellee organizations; however, politically Adenauer and the CDU remained devoted to Western integration not German reunification with the borders of 1937, a clear goal of the expellees.[25]

In recent years historians have investigated the fate, hardships, and politics of the expellees; however, it remains unclear if the Anglo-American citizenry understood the plight of the expellees.  The press’ reporting on the expellees focused heavily on the logistical aspects of the expulsion.  Newspaper articles analyzed how many Germans were shipped, from what area, and which nation was in charge of overseeing the transportation.  Only those involved in the occupying forces completely understood the magnitude of the expellees’ situation.  General Lucius Clay, the American military governor, said “Little has been written of this problem (expellees), which is a continuing major threat to stability in Germany and in central Europe.”[26]  In Great Britain, publisher Victor Gollancz, after seeing Germany’s plight first hand, created an assembly called Save Europe Now (SEN).[27]  This group lobbied the British Parliament to ship more basic food stuffs to Germany but Prime Minister Attlee and his advisors blamed the situation on Russia’s refusal to send grain from East Germany.[28]  Even with these men trying to bring the expellees situation to the forefront, most journalists continued examining the transportation and political implications of the expellees and ignored physical and emotional burden of the expulsions.

Following Paikert’s research discussed above, I have divided the Anglo- American media’s articles on the ethnic German expulsion into three separate periods.  The first period examines the year 1945 when the press described all Germans moving from the east into Germany as “refugees” disregarding place of origin.  With the war unresolved, the German people during 1945 remained classified as enemies and any discrimination against German civilians and refugees remained justified.  During the second period, from 1946-1947, the press viewed the expellees as a problem that needed a prompt solution and focused on expellee unemployment, food, housing, and transportation from the east.  By 1946, with the world moving towards an east west divide, the Anglo-American press realized that Germany needed to be a unified nation with a robust economy to prevent Soviet expansion.  The third period, from 1948-1950, observed continued expellee unemployment, the rise in expellee political power, and the economic reforms aimed at expellee integration.  During this period, the press discussed the emerging benefits of the currency reform and Marshall Plan but overlooked how these reforms affected the expellees.  In 1949, Germany held its first election since the war’s conclusion, and the expellees demonstrated the power of their vote by winning forty percent of the vote and fifteen seats in Schleswig-Holstein.  The media illustrated Bonn’s fright from the number of expellee seats won in local governments and proceeded to raise awareness of the expellee struggle forcing Bonn to seriously respond to the expellee plight.


As the Red Army swept across Poland in late 1944 and 1945, ethnic Germans communities fled west fearing the violent and vengeful Soviet soldiers.  During this time, the Anglo-American press categorized all Germans as enemies, warmongers, and murderers.  The German people were collectively guilty for the war a factor that Tony Judt argues is one of the most salient features of postwar Europe.[29]  Thus, with all Germans collectively guilty, the predicament of the ethnic Germans was not seen as a humanitarian crisis, but rather an effect of the German people’s actions.  The Chicago Daily Tribune stated:

Hordes of German refugees streamed out of Poland and eastern Germany today . . . The refugees – women, children and aged – swarmed the roads of eastern Germany . . . Many of them came from the “Lebensraum” Hitler stole from Poland, some out of the menaced eastern provinces of Germany.[30]

In this excerpt, the press identified German refugees fleeing westward to avoid the onslaught of the Red Army, but it also displays the press’ inability to differentiate between those Germans who colonized the east and those who lived there for centuries.  This is a critical distinction.  While ethnic Germans benefited from Nazi policy, they were not recent colonizers of Eastern Europe or “Lebensraum Germans.”  The press’ attempt to categorize all Germans fleeing from the Soviets as part of Hitler’s Lebensraum policy is wildly inaccurate as only 2.5 million Germans moved from the Reich to the occupied territories.[31]  This classification as “Lebensraum Germans” stigmatized all Germans fleeing westward as benefactors of Nazi policy, when in reality the “Lebensraum Germans” only accounted for one sixth of the German population that fled the westward.  The press’ failure to realize the distinction between those Germans who were Nazi colonizers and ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe reveals not only the media’s ignorance of European history but also the belief that all Germans were Nazis regardless of origin.

Once the war finally concluded, the press acknowledged the expulsions of the ethnic Germans from Poland.

In Poland, expulsions have gone on both from the former Polish territory seized by Hitler and settled by the Volksdeutche and from German territory placed under Polish administration at the Potsdam Conference.  The difficulty in preventing Poles from returning to their homes in what was always Polish territory and from kicking out the invaders is recognized – and the justness of their action is not questioned. [32]

Although this article recognized German expulsion it makes two false statements.  First, the press categorized the Volksdeutche as colonizers when in reality the Volksdeutche were the ethnic Germans who lived in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years.  They were not the colonizers of Nazi policy.  Second, the article states that the territory placed under Polish administration after the Potsdam Conference was always Polish, when in fact much of the territory discussed belonged to prewar Germany and Prussia prior to 1871.  Although the argument can be made that Fredrick the Great conquered this territory and encouraged German “colonialization,” the territories along the German-Polish border were historically composed of both Germans and Poles.  This mistake can be attributed to a lack of research, but the phrase “the justness of their actions is not questioned” presents the opinion that forcibly removing Germans from Eastern European was a righteous act – forcibly removing the German “colonizers” is the correct moral action.  This article presents the situation as black and white; all Germans must be removed from Eastern Europe in order to prevent future German wars of expansion.  The press makes no attempt to understand the ethnic German situation and clearly reveals that the press still viewed the German people as enemies in late 1945, five months after the war’s conclusion.

The scope and scale of the war created millions of refugees of all nationalities, but their plight was laid at the feet of the Germans by the Anglo-American press.  In describing the displaced persons and inhumane conditions the press asked, “Who do you suppose is going to feed and house these Poles, Russians, Yugoslavs . . . and other liberated slaves suddenly thrown into our lap? The first guess is right – the Germans.”[33]  The press, along with the Allied governments, held the view that the Germans must pay for their crimes; that those who caused the destruction of Europe would be held responsible.  An article from the New York Times makes this clear, “This is retribution at its best.  These browbeaten people, ground under the Nazi heel, some for almost five years are now getting top priority on German food.”[34]  Furthermore, the press also believed that, “The German refugee question is one that the Germans will have to solve.”[35]  Thus the press proposed that Germans were not only responsible for their own ethnic refugees but all refugees the war created.  This responsibility in the wake of a famine exacerbated the problems in post war Germany leading starvation, homelessness, unemployment and political extremism.


In 1944, the European Advisory Commission, established to study the postwar political problems in Europe and make recommendations to the three Allied governments, stated:

German minorities became the advance guard of National Socialist penetration and the states they helped to deliver to Hitler have a well founded grievance against them.  Their transfer to Germany would probably contribute to the tranquility of the countries concerned.[36]

Notably, the commission falsely suggested that all Germans of Eastern Europe were the advanced guards of the Nazi party, however, its proposition to transfer the German population eventually became reality, and in the years 1946 and 1947 the Anglo-American press observed these transfers.  Articles examining the expulsion of the ethnic Germans focused on logistics, transportation, and the conditions of the ethnic Germans during expulsion.

The London Times reported in January of 1946 that, “about 3,000,000 Sudeten Germans were to have been transferred into the various zones of Germany between December 1 and August 1 next, has already broken down.”[37]  This account and others reported the expellees as statistics.  “Some 180,000 Germans have already left for the British zone in Germany . . . and 1,500,000 more are to be deported.  From now onward 250,000 Germans are expected to leave Poland each month.”[38]  When a group of expellees set out for the U.S. Zone, the British press stated the party consisted of 1,209 people: 295 men, 700 women, and 214 children.[39]  In these articles, the media never raised questions about the morality or legality of the transfers; they only factually reported the number of Germans to be transferred.  The lack of inquiry into why these transfers were undertaken and the bland statistical reporting reveals that the press still observed the German people as warmongers and that the nations of Eastern Europe needed to be free of Germans populations to prevent future territorial expansion.   The population transfers were part of the German people’s punishment for supporting the Nazi party.

Though the press never argued against the transfer of expellees, they reported Anglo-American complaints of inhumane treatment during expulsion.

British Control Commission officials allege that the Polish authorities are sending an unduly high proportion of the very old, sick, and the weak, and that it thus appears that there is being transferred not, as agreed at Potsdam, the whole German minority, but the less useful part of it.[40]

This selection demonstrates that the press reported on the inhumane transfers, and observed that the Polish government was selectively transferring the least productive part of society.  However, this also reveals that the press relied on military reports of the expulsion and never undertook their own investigations into the transfers.  The London Times stated in early 1946 that the U.S. and Czechoslovakia reached an agreement that, “transfers will be carried out under medical supervision.  Each individual will be entitled to 30lb. of food and one week’s rations.”[41]  While this is a positive sign in the transfers, the Wall Street Journal reported that upon the arrival of Sudeten Germans in Bavaria, “a large percentage of the expellees arrived without any baggage whatever, the luckier ones with 50 kilos.”[42]  In these articles, the press exposed both Poland and Czechoslovakia for their ill treatment of the expellees, yet the press never questioned the continuation of the transfers or suggested a stoppage to better the situation.  The press willingly agitated and reported the appalling conditions the German expellees experienced because the Potsdam Agreement specifically stated that transfers must be “orderly and humane,” yet because the Anglo-Americans regarded the expulsion of the ethnic Germans as legal, the press never questioned or protested against the expulsions, only the negative conditions.  Furthermore, this reveals that the Anglo-American press corps refused to question military and government officials’ decision to legitimize population transfers.  The press was to report the facts not question the decisions and judgment of political and military leaders.

In addition to the ill treatment of expellees, the massive influx of humanity into Germany created numerous dilemmas, but the utmost problem affecting expellees was the famine of 1946.  The London Times reported,

Germans in the British occupation zone face drastic food ration cuts which will reduce the civilian diet to less than 500 calories daily, unless immediate help is received from outside.[43]

The food crisis became a momentous problem for the Anglo-Americans and the press reported that General Clay, the American Military governor, was “deeply disturbed” about maintaining the ration levels.[44]  The press realized the food crisis was a desperate situation not only because of starvation, but the possibility that a famine would further deteriorate expellee integration.  Air Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas, British commander in chief in Germany said,

Without food, the Germans cannot work.  Without work, they cannot produce coal.  Without coal, industry cannot get going again.  Without industry, a reasonable standard of living cannot be achieved.[45]

Without a solution to the food crisis, the situation in Germany deteriorated.  Finding an answer to this catastrophe became the only issue in Anglo-American policies in Germany.

The press reported on a meeting between top British officials in which they tried to solve the crisis.

The great and very much feared food crisis in the British zone of Germany has come and today the British Government leaders buckled down to see what they could do about it. . . It is realized that something must be done to rush more food into the British zone, but one senses here a feeling of helplessness, for Britain does not have the food.[46]

The article blamed many different parties for the crisis including the Allied Control Council for underestimating grain usage and the Germans who, “did not collect food and distribute it properly.”[47]  The press finally reported some relief in June of 1946 that, “A total of 35,500,000 pounds of relief material has been shipped to Germany . . . this figure represented more that $25,000,000 worth of food, clothing and medical supplies.”[48]  Between June 1945 and April 1946 over one million tons of food poured into the British zone, and extra purchases were made to prevent British personnel from drawing on German resources.  This crisis led the Anglo-Americans to form Bizonia in order to pool their common resources; however, this did not alleviate the situation as there were few resources to merge.[49]

In the years after the war, the press also reported on expellee relations with the local Germans and the severe shortage of housing.  These two problems were tied together.    Upon arrival in Germany, the expellees were placed in Displaced Persons (DP) camps or in the homes of the local population because housing was nonexistent.  Supplying shelter to the expellees aggravated the locals and they housed the expellees in cupboards or attics, “one happy family boasted ‘our landlord helped us partition off a good place in the attic.’”[50]  The Wall Street Journal stated,

accommodating them (expellees) in private homes has resulted in considerable harm to health and morals . . . an alarming rise in filth and diseases.  The number of TB cases is growing steadily, having increase three to five fold since 1935.[51]

The article later accounted that the death rate for expellees in Bavaria was higher than the indigenous population.[52]  The press reported the difficulties the Allies faced in locating expellees housing, and the problems that resulted from the housing crisis.  However, the press again avoided criticizing the Anglo-American policy, and remained attached to the idea that the expellees were a “German problem.”

The press also reported on expellee unemployment, and often acknowledged that the only positions available to expellees were agricultural positions.

It has been impossible to place more than a fraction of the expellees in the professions or trades in which they were trained. (A) majority of employed expellees are now engaged in agriculture . . . where as a vocational breakdown of the expellees from Czechoslovakia shows that only 25% engaged in agriculture and forestry in their native lands.[53]

Another article discussed that most of expellee workers were miners or industrial workers, and they were unable to find jobs in Bavaria expect for seasonal jobs as lumberman.[54]  Furthermore, expellees who wanted to start their own business faced incredible barriers.   The expellees were denied credit, faced special legal complexities and the local population fought against threatened competition.[55]  The Ruhr industrial area eventually employed the largest amount of expellees, and North Rhine-Westphalia agreed to build homes for the families that located jobs.[56]


If the press recognized the expellee employment problems by the late 1940s, they only acknowledged how unemployment affected German economic recovery and the political problems it created.

Taken as a group, the refugees generally are a potential source of political danger.  They are homeless and dissatisfied.  Throughout western Germany, save in rare instances, they have encountered resistance from the local populations.[57]

This article continues stating that the expellees perceived the larger political parties as opportunistic and only cared for expellee votes not the social and economic issues facing the expellee demographic.[58]  The political isolation felt be the expellees further prevented and delayed the integration of the expellees into the West German society, and led to political extremism.  Understanding this political situation, the press reported that this problem could lead the expellees to associate with radical politicians.

Without homes, without possessions, often without clothes except for a single suit or dress living in miserable and crowded conditions, either unemployed or employed in work which they have no inclination  . . . They (expellees) might be the first supporters of a new Nazi movement or they might, for all their sufferings turn towards Communism in the hope that a Communist Germany might recover the lost lands by agreement with Russia.[59]

With the onset of the Cold War, the Western Allies feared the expellees’ political radicalization and banned the formation of expellee political parties.  The military government hoped that the expellees would integrate into other established parties; however, with established parties focusing on broader segments of the population, integration failed to occur and the expellees finally created their own party, the Union of Expellees and Disenfranchised (Bund der Heimatvertriebenen, or BHE).  As the elections of 1949 neared, the press continued examining the expellees’ political emergence.

Prior to an election in Schleswig – Holstein the press announced, “the emergence of a new political force in Western Germany . . . represented by 10,000,000 expelled Germans.”[60]   Jobless, homeless, and starving, the press recognized the emerging political power the expellees represented particularly in Schleswig-Holstein were the expellees represented over forty percent of the population.  The press reported that the expellee party demanded, “adequate resettlement, compensation for losses, and the return of Eastern Germany.”[61]  The politicalization of the expellees forced the Anglo-Americans and the German government to acknowledge expellee problems, and finally initiate policies aimed at specifically aiding the expellees.  The election results in Schleswig-Holstein confirmed the Anglo-Americans and the Germans worst fears.

The expellee party of Schleswig-Holstein won forty percent of the vote and gained fifteen seats in the legislature.  The New York Times reported,

The victory . . . may induce the refugees and the discontented throughout the country to form a national movement along the same lines.  That would be an extremely difficult organization with which to cope.  The refugee party appeals to the same type of unhappy post war groups as did the Nazi party in the early Twenties.[62]

By comparing the expellees to Nazis, this article demonstrates the real fear in Germany – that a fascist or communist political organization that pandered to the expellees and disenfranchised peoples would attempt to seize power.  The press and the German government were finally realizing that the expellees were a potentially dangerous group, and without assistance were likely to develop into radical political organization capable of disrupting the new German government.  If the German politicians desired a peaceful democratic government, they now needed to address the expellee concerns.

The large numbers of unemployed expellees and their emerging political power forced the German Government to work on improving the expellee situation.  The London Times reported on a series of proposals developed by Konrad Adenauer and other Ministers.

(1) The spending of 2,500m. D-marks on housing; (2) the granting of more than 200m. D-marks to the railways for projects employing a large amount of labour; (3) the granting of 50m. D-marks to the Post Office for similar projects . . . (6) the granting of additional 300m. D-marks to Bavaria, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein, which are especially burdened by the inflow of those driven from the east.[63]

In addition, Adenauer wanted the Allied High Commission to raise the level of steel production, to decrease unemployment, and increase exports.  However, the Bonn government faced financial issues in starting this program.  Bonn counted on Allied aid but the Americans believed the Germans should find support within Germany.[64]   The Adenauer government faced early struggles funding their proposals; however, with the Marshall Plan, the currency reform, the Monnet Plan, and the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community the new West German nation began to recover economically.  The economic recovery of Germany slowly improved the expellee situation which would eventually lead to integration.

The Anglo-American press viewed German expellees from Eastern Europe as a problem that needed a solution instead of a humanitarian concern.  The devastation created by the Nazi war machine allowed the press to view ethnic German refugees as enemies of war instead of a people ravished by the Red Army and driven from their homes.  At the conclusion of the war, Allied agreements and military positions created the conditions for the legal expulsion of the ethnic Germans.  The nations of Europe suffered under the Nazi regime, and the Allied governments’ endorsement of the Potsdam Agreement allowed the nations of Europe to legally retaliate by deporting their ethnic German minorities without repercussions.  The press reported the expulsion of the ethnic Germans with similar feelings, and only described the logistical and political consequences of the expulsions.  They reported the number of expellees, their origin, their living conditions, and their employment status, but the press never pursued the hard questions about the legitimacy of the expulsions.   The press and the Anglo-American governments only brought the expellees’ dire situation to the forefront during elections.  Worried about the expellees’ radical politics, the press suddenly began addressing the expellee plight.  This political unrest led to the Equalization of Burdens Act (Lastenausgleichsgestz, or LAG).  Passed in 1952 LAG compensated the expellees for lost property, homes, business and other assets at a ratio of one to ten.  Implemented when unemployment was highest, LAG contributed to the integration of the expellees into West German society as they no longer felt like welfare recipients, but rather participants in the recovering economy.[65]  LAG, along with Marshall Plan aid, improved the expellee economic situation during the Wirtschaftswunder, and the growing economic progress gave the expellees a new national identity.

The Economic Miracle of the 1950s offered all Germans a new national identity.  They ceased to view themselves as expellees or locals, but rather as members of a new prospering democratic republic.  The economic prosperity created great pride in the Germans, and this pride fostered a new collective identity.[66]  The government emphasized this new economic identity, and encouraged expellee participation in the Federal Republic which helped to further integrate the expellees.  Expellee political organizations lost their influence, and the BHE, which tried attracting a broader demographic, became irrelevant with expellee integration.  As Germany recovered and the Cold War accelerated, the original expellee political goals of reclaiming their homelands were seen as dangerously radical.  With the introduction of Ostpolitik, the general public viewed the reclamation of the eastern territories as anarchist.  The shift of the Ministry for Expellees into the Ministry of the Interior by Willy Brandt in 1969 demonstrated the declining influence the expellees as a unique demographic.[67]

The most powerful display of expellee integration came from the expellees themselves.  In August of 1950, the leaders of the expellee organizations presented The Charter of German Expellees (Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen) exactly five years after the declaration of the Potsdam Agreement.  Unlike most special interest groups, the expellee charter was not a list of demands.  It advocated for equal rights, reasonable distribution of burdens, and integration.  The expellee charter was a document for the future, and the Charters’ statements and goals were very similar those of the future European Community.  The expellees declared three principles they supported to create a united Europe:

  1. We, the expellees, renounce all thought of revenge and retaliation. Our resolution is solemn and sacred in memory of the infinite suffering brought upon mankind, particularly during the past decade.
  2. We shall support with all our strength every endeavor directed towards the establishment of a united Europe in which the nations may live in freedom from fear and coercion.
  3. We shall contribute, by hard and untiring work, to the reconstruction of Germany and Europe.[68]

These declarations displayed the expellee population’s renouncement of their radical political objectives and movement towards a united Germany and united Europe.

The expellee charter also recognized that support and care for refugees is the responsibility of all nations.  “The nations must realize that the fate of the German expellees, just as that of all refugees, is a world problem the solution of which calls for the highest moral responsibility and for a commitment to tremendous effort.”[69]  However, the nations of the world have disregarded this statement or delayed taking action until the situation can no longer be ignored.  Ethnic cleansing is still being pursed in the Balkan Peninsula between Serbia and Kosovo, the Darfur region of Africa, and between the Sunni and Shia Islamic denominations.   Although ethnic cleansing is still practiced throughout the world, the press no longer hesitates reporting this terrible practice and raises awareness by bringing these stories to newspapers and the internet daily.

[1] Alfred M. de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 121.

[2] Hugh LeCaine Agnew, The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, StanfordUniversity, 2004), 25.

[3] Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War they Waged and the Peace they Sought, (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1957), 284.

[4] Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence II, ed. William Kimball, (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1984), 613.

[5] John Wheeler-Bennett and Anthony Nicholls, The Semblance of Peace: The Political Settlement after the Second World War, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972); Diane Shaver Clemens, Yalta, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1970); Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War they Waged and the Peace they Sought, (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1957); William McNeill, America, Britain, and Russia, (New York, NY: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970); John L. Snell, Illusion and Necessity, (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1963).

[6] US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945 (Washington, D.C., 1955), 668-669.

[7] Snell, 140-141.

[8] For the Warsaw Uprising see Norman Davies, Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw, (New York: Viking, 2004).

[9] Herbert Feis, Between War and Peace: The Potsdam Conference, (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1960); Charles L. Mee, Meeting at Potsdam, (New York, NY: M. Evans & Company, Inc, 1975); John L. Snell, Wartime origins of the East-West dilemma over Germany, (New Orleans, LA: Hauser Press, 1959); Alfred M. de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, (Boston : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

[10] Walter LaFeber, The American Age, (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994), 445-446.

[11] G.C. Paikert, The German Exodus, (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1962), 7.

[12] de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge, 33-62.

[13] de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge, 50-61.

                [14] Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, and Allies, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Elizabeth Heineman, “The Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany’s ‘Crisis Years’ and West German National Identity,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 2. (Apr., 1996), pp. 354-395; Norman Naimark, The Russians in Germany: a history of the Soviet Zone of occupation, 1945-1949, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995) 69-140.

                [15]Paikert, 3.

[16] Theodore Schrieder, The expulsion of the German population from Czechoslovakia; a selection and translation from Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mitteleuropa, Band IV, 1 and IV, 2. (Bonn, Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, 1960), 462-463.

                [17] Documents on Germany under Occupation 1945-1950, ed. Beate Ruhm von Oppen, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1955), 49.

[18] K.O. Kurth, trans. Helen Taubert and Margaret Brooke, Documents of Humanity, (New York, NY:  Harper & Brothers, 1954), 20.

[19] Ian Conner, “German Refugees and the Bonn Government’s Resettlement Programme: The Role of the Trek Association in Schleswig-Holstein, 1951-3,” German History, Vol. 18 No.3. (2000), pp 337-361; Thomas Grosser, “The Integration of Deportees into the Society of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Journal of Communist Studies & Transition Politics, 2000 16(1-2): 125-147; Joanne E. Holler, The German Expellees: A Problem of Integration, (Washington DC: George Washington University, 1963); Julius Isaac, “Problems of Cultural Assimilation Arising from Population Transfers in Western Germany,” Population Studies, Vol. 3, Cultural Assimilation of Immigrants: Supplement. (Mar., 1950), pp. 23-37; G.C. Paikert, The German Exodus, (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1962); David Rock and Stefan Wolff, Coming Home to Germany?, (New York : Berghahn Books, 2002).

[20]Barbara Marshall, “German Attitudes to the British Military Government 1945-47,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Oct., 1980), 659-661.

[21] Robert L Hetzel, “German Monetary History in the First have of the Twentieth Century,” Economic Quarterly, (Richmond), Vol. 88 (2002) pp. 1-35; F. A. Lutz, “The German Currency Reform and the Revival of the German Economy,” Economica, New Series, Vol. 16, No. 62. (May, 1949), pp. 122-142; Walter W. Heller, “Economic Policy in Occupied Germany,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 40, No. 2, May, 1950), pp. 531-547.

[22] Ian Turner, ed. Reconstruction in post-war Germany: British Occupation Policy and the Western Zones, 1945-55. (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1989).

[23] Turner, 324.

[24] Pertti Ahonen, After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe, 1945-1990, (New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003).

[25] Konrad Adenauer, trans. Beate Ruhm von Oppen. Memoirs. (Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1966), 168, 174, 175, 187; Ahonen, 92-110.

[26]Lucius Clay, Decisions in Germany, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950), 313.

[27]John Farquhanon, ‘Emotional but Influential’, Journal of Contemporary History (SAGE, London, NewburyPark, Beverly Hills and New Delhi), Vol. 22 (1987), 501-502.

[28] Farquhanon, 502-503.

[29] Tony Judt, Memory and Power in Postwar Europe, ed. Jan-Werner Müller, (Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2002), 160.

                [30] “Nazi Refugees In East Stream Back To Reich.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), January 24, 1945, (accessed April 21, 2010).

            [31] “The Demography of War: Germany,” Population Index, Vol. 14, No. 4. (Oct., 1948), 295.

                [32] Sydney Gruson, “Deportations of Germans add to Europe’s Troubles: Allies, Having Taken Care of Millions of ‘Displaced Persons,’ Try to Stop Them.” New York Times (1857-Current file), November 18, 1945, (accessed March 23, 2008).

                [33] Gene Currivan, “Army comes to the Aid of Germany’s Victims: Millions of Refugees and Displaced Persons Are Now Getting Help.” New York Times (1857-Current file), April 22, 1945, (accessed March 23, 2008).

                [34] Ibid.

                [35] Ibid.

                [36] US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States 1944, Vol. 1,  Committee on Post-War Programs PWC-141b, 5 Aug. 1944, (Washington, DC, 1966), 306-316.

                [37]“Moving the Sudeten Germans: Breakdown in Plans,” The London Times, January 5, 1946, 3e.

                [38]“Settlement in Former German Lands,” The London Times, April 15, 1946, 3d.

                [39]“Transfer of Sudeten Germans: 1,200 for U.S. Zone,” The London Times, January 28, 1946, 3d.

                [40]“Germans Expelled from Poland: Potsdam Agreement not Observed,” The London Times, April 12, 1946, 3d.

                [41] “Czech Transfers of Germans: Conditions Mitigated,” The London Times, January 19, 1946, 4f.

                [42] Joseph E. Evans, “Mass Expulsions: Twelve Million Shunted Into a Smaller Germany From The East Create Vast Social and Economic Problems.” Wall Street Journal (1889-Current file), July 23, 1947, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [43] “British see Danger of German Hunger,” New York Times, (1857-Current file), February 24, 1946, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [44] Kathleen McLaughlin, “Allies Asked to Pool Food to Avert Crisis in Germany,” New York Times (1857-Current file), March 1, 1946, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [45] “Food for Germany Held Basis of Peace,” New York Times, (1857-Current file), June 8, 1946, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [46] Herbert L. Matthews, “Top Britons Meet on German Crisis: Zone Chiefs Fly to London– Food Plea Sent to Hoover by German in Ruhr,” New York Times, (1857-Current file), May 14, 1947, (accessed March 25, 2008).


            [48] “Huge Relief Supply Sent to Germany,” New York Times (1857-Current file), June 22, 1947, (accessed March 26, 2008).

                [49] Marshall, 659-660.

                [50] Dana Adams Schmidt, “Influx From East Disturbs Germans: Many Resentful of Necessity of Sharing Their Homes with Expelled Persons.” New York Times (1857-Current file), March 9, 1947, (accessed March 26, 2008).

                [51] Joseph E. Evans, “Mass Expulsions: Twelve Million Shunted Into a Smaller Germany From The East Create Vast Social and Economic Problems.” Wall Street Journal (1889-Current file), July 23, 1947, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [52] Ibid.

                [53] Ibid.

                [54] Drew Middleton, “Grave Problem in West Germany Caused by Refugees From the East: Millions Expelled by Satellite States Unable to Find Work — Political Groups Cool to Admitting Them to Party Rolls,” New York Times (1857-Current file),  April 7, 1949, (accessed March 27, 2008).

                [55] Joseph E. Evans, July 23, 1947, (accessed March 25, 2008).

                [56] Drew Middleton, April 7, 1949, (accessed March 27, 2008).

                [57] Ibid.

                [58] Ibid.

                [59] “German Refugees,” The London Times, February 21, 1949, 5c.

            [60] “A New Force in Germany,” New York Times (1857-Current file), July 11, 1950, (accessed March 27, 2008).

                [61] Ibid.

                [62] Jack Raymond, “Voting Spurs Bonn to Help Refugees: Schleswig-Holstein Election,” New York Times (1857-Current file), July 11, 1950, (accessed March 27, 2008).

                [63] “Measures to Create Work,” The London Times, February 10, 1950, 6c.

                [64] Drew Middleton, “Economic Stress Rises in Western Germany: Despite High Production, Problems of Unemployment and Exports Persist Import-Export Gap High Finance Trade Pact Expected Need for United States Aid,” New York Times (1857-Current file), February 19, 1950, (accessed March 27, 2008).

                [65] David Rock and Stefan Wolff, Coming Home to Germany?, (New York : Berghahn Books, 2002).

                [66]Daniel Levy, “Integrating Ethnic Germans in West Germany: The Early Period,” in Coming Home To Germany?, ed. David Rock and Stefan Wolff (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 27.

                [67] Ibid, 29.

                [68] Paikert, 78-79.

                [69]Ibid, 79.

– Originally written in April 2008