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.

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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

The Captive Mind

Chapter 2 of Milosz’s Captive Mind is titled Looking to the West and examines how Central and Eastern Europeans see the West.  Milosz states that those in east see the West with both despair and a mix of hope, and that this mostly a product on the WWII.  The war not only destroyed their economies but also the East’s values system which seemed, prior to war, unshakable.  This is because man sees his world as natural and cannot believe that one day someone will show up on his street with a gun and start executing people or (if we think more recently) that nine men will fly planes into sky scrapers.  However, man adapts and begins to shift his understanding of what is important – a corpse on the street no longer attracts attention because corpses become ubiquitous and asking questions can make one a corpse.  Ultimately, what Milosz is saying in the beginning of this chapter is that the war fundamentally changed society’s value system.  That the city becomes a jungle, man changes his name, and killing cause no moral qualms.  So, Milosz asks a philosophical question –  is the world that existed before the war, or after the world natural?  Answer: They are both natural as they are both within the realm of human experience.  Man is plastic and malleable and can change instantly to suit his new surroundings.  Yet, the man of the west has never had to go through these experiences which demonstrates how relative mans judgments and thinking are.

Milosz states, that after the war, the man of the East also viewed the man of the west as inferior because they did not have the knowledge of war and did not understand that man is malleable; that his “natural” world is a façade that could disappear at any moment.  Furthermore, the man of the East believed that those in west waste the talents of intellect and artist.  They work hard and produce wondrous works but never achieve the fame, recognition and wealth.  They find it ridiculous that those of middling intellect may become rich and famous through accident.  Thus the observation is that the West does not adequately reward those who work hard.  However, in defense of the West, Milosz notes that though the avant garde artist may not directly influence the rabble, he does influence that newest fashions and design that are made for mass consumption and that they therefore do have some prestige.

In discussing the East’s relation with the West, Milosz points out that the East, specifically the center, do use and distribute western culture, but only that part of culture that suits the center.  Those in power denounce the west and the cosmopolitanism that the West produces, but the center will, in actuality, pick and choose parts of western culture to bring to the East.  Science and engineering topics are almost always imported as the center must maintain its technological might.  Yet in other ways the center will bring western culture, – music and art – that it finds suitable for the mass consumption or whatever supports the centers worldview, and the rest will remained banned.  Most of the Western cultural ideas allowed into the Soviet was that produced before WWII.

Prior to the war, Eastern European intellectuals were irritated by the West’s refusal to place Eastern Europe with in the concept of Europe, and in this case, they felt some solidarity with the Russia who have long been the scion of Western Europe.  In terms of cultural influence in the East, prior to the war, there was the West, and though it was disappointing that Eastern culture was not as influential as Western culture, it did exists.  Authors, poets, painters, and others were able to produce what they wanted with no fear of state repercussion, but, under the Soviets, those in the East have no ability to produce their culture even if certain critics consider it to be inferior.  Here again Milosz emphasizes the negativity of the Soviet Union for intellectuals.

Milosz concludes that the Eastern intellectuals’ relationship with the west is complicated.  The West does not fully understand the East and the Soviets governing style sufficiently enough to understand the problems.  Therefore the Eastern intellectual must continue to work for the center until it falls and then hope that the west will understand.

From my understanding of this chapter, Milosz is showing why the post-war did West not understand the East.  The average Western man did not experience war in his neighborhood and therefore has a difficult time grasping the reasoning of those in the East and their support of the Soviets.  Furthermore, Eastern intellectuals at the time believed that Western intellectuals, painters, writers were treated as second class citizens in the West – they had no prestige or power.  Thus, seeing this, it made more sense for those with these talents in the East to stay and support as system they did not support so they could be respected for their talents and intellect.  They believed that staying in the repressive East and being respected was better than being disrespected in the democratic West.

The Long Walk

Continuing with the long walk, I have read about 100 more pages since my last posting and I have to say that while I am enjoying the book I can see why some people question the validity of Rawicz’s book.  I can’t help but think that everything has gone his way and, from his telling, it appears that hunger is the only major challenge he has faced.  Though this isn’t to belittle the accomplishments of he and his party.  I had initially thought to compare this book to A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich but this is doesn’t really work.  After being left to freeze in the potato field, Rawicz and the other prisoners were then handcuffed to steel chains that were connected to enormous lorry trucks, and then they marched through the frozen Siberian plain to for weeks until reaching the gulag camp 303.

At the camp, Rawicz and the new arrivees are forced to build their own barracks and then they are placed in labor groups.  However, Rawicz gets lucky as he is recruited with several other prisoners to work indoors and make skis for the Soviet army.  This an especially beneficial position to have in the camp as he got to work indoors and received extra bread.  It is in the ski shop that Rawicz begins to think of escape.  Rawicz again turns out to be lucky.  The commandant has a radio of German make called a telefunken which breaks and Rawicz happens to have had this type of radio back and Poland and volunteers to fix.  In he commandants quarters, Rawicz plays at fixing the radio while speaking with the commandant and his wife.  On his second attempt to fix the radio he finds what he thinks is the problem but does not want to fix he radio yet as this quite bonus for him.  The third time he does fix the radio.  While working on the radio Rawicz has built a relationship with the commandant’s wife and he is often called to keep her company.  During one of their conversations the idea of escape comes up but Rawicz is hesitant to discuss this topic.  Next time, he blatantly reveals that he does think of escape so he and the commandant’s wife discuss and plan how one would escape.  Eventually this game becomes a reality as they become more serious in their discussions.

While not talking with the commandant’s wife, Rawicz begins recruiting healthy men and storing food for their escape.  THey also begin saving supplies such as animal skins and tools.  During a conversation with the wife, she tells Rawicz that the commandant will be away in April and that this would be a good time to escape.  She also make six packs with food and supplies for Rawicz and the others. When the commandant leaves for a week, they make their break and escape into the open tundra of Siberia headed south.  The journey south towards Mongolia goes well with little incident expect for the crossing of rivers.  They also find a trapped elk which they kill.  As the journey south continues, they stumble upon a girl – who happens to Polish and an escapee from a kolhoz.  Her name is Kristina, ane with some debate, the men decided to add her to the party.

So far, while the book is a fun read, I find their journey and escape much to easy and everything just seems to go their way.  Again I’m not saying that the book is not factual but it just seems too easy.  Also, as I mentioned this is nothing like Solzhenitsyn because Rawicz spends almost no time in the camp and because he has a cushy job making skis.

The Long Walk

Yesterday, I picked up The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz at my local bookstore.  I know that I initially set out to collect my thoughts on more academic and intellectually challenging works but I was attracted to this book for several reasons.  First is that it falls into my interests as a historian.  I spent my undergraduate and graduate school years studying Central Europe particularly the Cold War era so I have a deep interest in Poland and the Gulag system of concentration camps (one of my graduate professors specializes in the Gulag system and is publishing a book by Princeton University Press this June).  So not only does this book fall within the area of my research interests but it is also touted as an excellent piece of adventure writing which I absolutely eat up.  By doing a little research on the book and its author, I have discovered that Rawicz’s tale is highly contentious as many researchers, with documentary evidence, have questioned the validity of the book.  However, while Rawicz’s case my not be 100% factual, many men like Rawicz were sent to the Gulag, then escaped or were released, and forced to walk home as the Soviets refused to provide transportation for them.  Thus, Rawicz’s account may not be fact but it is plausible.  With this reasoning, I read the first 50 pages yesterday.

This first part of the book describes Rawicz’s arrest, torture, trail, and shipment to Siberia.  Reading this account, I could not help but think of two other works, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which describe similar experiences.   Rawicz grew up near the Polish-Russian border, trained as an architect, and was a soldier in the Polish cavalry during the beginning of the Second World War.  He was eventually captured by the Soviet NKVD (secret police) and asked to admit his guilt – but he was never told what he was guilt of.  Therefore, he refused to sign the document leading to his torture in the Soviet prison system.  His stubborn refusal eventually led to his trail.  The trail was basically a theater act in which the Soviet officials employed all types of chicanery to get him to sign this document.  This is the part of the book that reminds of Koestler.  No matter one’s innocence or guilt, once the Soviets decided you were guilty, you were guilty, and they employed any means necessary to get the prisoner to admit their guilt.  In Rawicz’s case, the judge asked him to write his name on a small slip of paper, and then, through the use of wet ink or a forger, they placed his signature on the documents admitting his guilt to spying against the USSR.

Now officially “guilty,” Rawicz was charged with 25 years of hard labor.  He recounted the trip Siberia crammed in the back of a transport truck with dozens of other prisoners and their destination – a shelter-less, snow-covered, potato field.  Several things struck me about this section of the book.  First was the description of the barren vastness of Russia. Secondly, and I think more revealing, he briefly mentions mountains of rotting grain in the middle of Siberia.  This demonstrates the inefficiency and ineptitude of the Soviet system.  The inability of the Soviets to provide basic goods and services to the population was, in my opinion, one of the major failings and crucial reasons that communism failed.  Soviet’s planned economy focused on the manufacturing of large industrial goods and ignored the production and/or distribution of consumer goods.  This is where I left Rawicz, in the middle of a potato field, in Siberia, huddling behind a snow drift for warmth.