After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe, 1945-1990

After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe, 1945-1990

After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe, 1945-1990

After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe, 1945-1990


This book breaks new ground by connecting two central problems faced by the Federal Republic of Germany prior to reunification in 1990, both of them rooted in the Second World War. Domestically, the country had to integrate eight million expellees forced out of their homes in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the lost war. Externally, it had to re-establish relations with Eastern Europe, despite the burdens of the Nazi past, the expulsions, and the ongoing East-West struggle in the Cold War. This study shows how the long-term consequences of the expellee problemsignificantly hindered West German efforts to develop normal ties to the East European states. In particular, it emphasizes a point largely overlooked in the existing literature: the way in which the political integration of the expellees into the Federal Republic had unanticipated negativeconsequences for the country's Ostpolitik.


Nazi Germany's surrender in May 1945 brought peace, relief, and liberation to a Europe ravaged by total war. Soldiers inured to daily butchery could finally put down their arms. Surviving concentration camp inmates and other victims of persecution by the Nazis and their allies could take their first hesitant steps towards freedom. Those in hiding could crawl back into daylight, and ordinary civilians could again start to think about a future that stretched beyond the next bombing raid or battle. But millions continued to suffer despite the restoration of peace. Many were dazed and disoriented, struggling to find even the barest necessities of life amidst the destruction. Many also bore mental and physical scars that would burden them for the rest of their lives: tangible traces of injury and torment, memories of injustice, persecution, terror, and death.

In this sea of post-war suffering, some of the hardest-hit were the victims of the so-called ‘population transfers’ that accompanied the final stages and the aftermath of the war. That euphemism stood for systematic policies of mass expulsion, spurred by planned border changes and ethnic homogenization drives across Eastern and East-Central Europe. Members of many different nationalities were targeted in these ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations. Although Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, and several other national groups numbered among the victims, the heaviest blows fell against Germans. With its policies of brutal conquest, forced resettlement, and mass murder, Nazi Germany had set the precedent for many of the post-war horrors, and as the decline and fall of the Third Reich was followed by the amputation of many of its eastern territories, a whirlwind of revenge swept Eastern Europe. the number of Germans who either fled or were expelled out of the region was soon enormous. Although precise figures are difficult to establish, the grand total probably reached some fifteen million.

Most of the expelled Germans landed in what was left of the former Reich— the four occupation zones controlled by the victorious Allies. the three western zones that became the Federal Republic bore the brunt of the burden, with some eight million expellees in residence by 1950, while another approximately four million settled, at least initially, in the territory of the German Democratic Republic. These were alarmingly high numbers, and in percentage terms they appeared even more menacing: the expellees constituted over 20 per cent of the total population of the gdr and some 16 per cent of that of the Federal

Gerhard Reichling, Die deutschen Vertriebenen in Zahlen, i. Umsiedler, Verschleppte, Vertriebene, Aussiedler 1940–1985 (Bonn: Kulturstiftung der deutschen Vertriebenen, 1986), 28–32.

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