Academic journal article Refuge

Narrating "Home": Experiences of German Expellees after the Second World War

Academic journal article Refuge

Narrating "Home": Experiences of German Expellees after the Second World War

Article excerpt


This article explores the experiences of forced displacement through the narratives of expellees in Germany after the Second World War. It considers how disruptions of "home" over time and space have led to constant deconstructing and reconstructing of home. Based on autobiographical interviews, this article argues that home is multidimensional and contradictory, changing over time and through experiences, becoming simultaneously connected to a specific place and time while transcending this rootedness. This continuous contestation of home has led expellees to form an imagined, idealized, and romanticized notion of their Heimat that exists in memory and is combined with their current home, Zuhause.


Cet article etudie les experiences de deplacement force a travers les recits des expulses en Allemagne a la suite de la Deuxieme Guerre mondiale. Il considere le processus par lequel les perturbations dans Videe d'un <> dans le temps et Vespace ont mene a une deconstruction et reconstruction constante de cette notion. En se basant sur des entrevues autobiographiques, cet article avance que Videe de <> est multidimensionnelle et contradictoire, se transformant a travers le temps et les experiences, s'attachant a un lieu et tempsparticulier et en meme temps evoluant au-dela de cet enracinement. Cette contestation continuelle de Videe de << chez-soi>> a mene les expulses a former une notion imaginee, idealisee et romantique de leur Heimat qui existe dans la memoire et qui est conjuguee avec Videe de leur Zuhause, leur chez-soi actuel.


There were twelve million German refugees and expellees in Germany after the Second World War. This was one of the biggest movements of people in Europe's recent history, yet little is known about how individuals experienced it. (1)

In this article my aim is to explore how expellees experienced their expulsion and subsequent repatriation, and how this influenced their understanding of "home." Following Malkki, I will examine their experiences to "question the notion of identity as a historical essence rooted in particular places, or as a fixed and identifiable position in a universalizing taxonomic order." (2) Broadly speaking, their common experience was an expulsion from their childhood home and being placed in a "home by chance." (3) Disruptions of "home" forced them to continuously negotiate meanings of home, both materially and symbolically.

Among the narratives in this research three main chronological phases of "home" emerged. The first is dominated by a sense of "loss," the second phase by "itinerancy," and the final phase is "settlement." These three phases will be explored in this article.

These experiences of "home" contributed to a distinct construction of what "home" means to expellees. Previous studies on this topic found that expellees make a clear distinction between Zuhause (at home) and Heimat homeland, (4) where ties to the "homeland" are maintained, and the new home is only reluctantly accepted. (5) Such discourses are present in personal and collective narratives. (6) "Home" here is a multidimensional concept, which includes personal and social aspects as well as physical, emotional, material, and symbolic meanings. Furthermore, "home" can be contradictory and ambivalent, fixed and yet without boundaries. (7)

By analyzing the three phases of "home" in the narratives of expellees, my aim is to understand what "home" and "homeland" means to them, how these phases have influenced expellees' construction of "home," and to what extent recent theories can explain these constructions. In this article I will first discuss the concept of home and the historical context of this article. I will then explore the three phases of "home" as narrated by the expellees and finally evaluate how they contribute to a conceptualization of "home"--in short how displacement, deterritorialization, and exile shape the construction of "home. …

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