Ethnic Germans Seek to Readjust Europe's Postwar Teutonic Plate Series: EUROPE'S TRIBES. Part 4 of S Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today

By Justin Burke, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 1995 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Germans Seek to Readjust Europe's Postwar Teutonic Plate Series: EUROPE'S TRIBES. Part 4 of S Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today


Justin Burke, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE ethnic cleansing that marks the war in the former Yugoslavia is eerily familiar to Herbert Hupka. The scenes of roads jammed with refugees fleeing vengeful victors, are reminiscent of what he experienced a half-century ago. Mr. Hupka counts himself among the first victims of modern-day ethnic cleansing - one of about 14 million Germans uprooted from their ancestral homelands in Central and Eastern Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Hupka maintains that if Europe is to enjoy stability and prosperity in the next century, the worst misdeeds of the latter 20th century must be rectified. And one of the gravest injustices, he adds, was that committed against ethnic Germans after the war. "The expulsion of Germans provided an example for Yugoslavia," says Hupka, who was forced to abandon his native region of Silesia, which was transferred from Germany to Poland after the war. He now heads the Association of Silesian Expellees, headquartered in Bonn. Most would concur these days that the German expellees suffered terribly. But whether that injustice warrants compensation remains the subject of often fierce debate among nations. Leaders of those groups expelled from their homes, including Hupka, want formal apologies and compensation, claiming they are innocent victims of war. But in Central Europe - especially the Czech Republic and Poland - they are widely viewed as abettors of wartime Nazi atrocities and receive little sympathy. How the debate is settled could have critical implications for Europe's future. There's no threat of an armed conflict. But the dispute could keep the divisions created by World War II from being resolved. In particular, the expellee question could complicate the efforts of Central European nations to join the European Union, which has emerged as the prime vehicle for promoting continental harmony. Most formerly communist Central European countries see EU membership as a strategic necessity for cementing market and democratic reforms in place. The EU has made reciprocal noises about expanding eastward, but member states balk at the enormous costs the effort would entail. So far, Germany has proved the EU's chief paymaster and foremost advocate of bringing in eastern states. But if the dispute over ethnic Germans upsets domestic politics in Germany, that could help tip the scales against rapid expansion. Ethnic German leaders openly express their desire to link their grievances to EU expansion. "It would be a mistake to let Poland in {to the EU} without settling this problem," Hupka said. Teutonic purge Expellees came from areas in Central and Eastern Europe that had been populated by Germans for centuries; places like East Prussia, now the Russian province of Kaliningrad; Silesia in Poland; and the Sudetenland of the Czech and Slovak republics. After the war, these lands were purged of their Teutonic peoples virtually overnight, as those who suffered under the Nazis sought retribution. Roughly 2 million Germans died during the forced trek to resettle in a rump Germany greatly reduced in size by postwar territorial realignments. During the cold-war years, divided Germany set aside complaints over the expulsion. But discontent bubbled to the surface following 1989's anticommunist revolutions, and was the main reason the German government dithered before recognizing Germany's eastern border with Poland in November 1990. German-Czech relations, meanwhile, still haven't been fully normalized, largely because of the expellee issue. A German-Czech Friendship Treaty was signed in 1992, but did not address many sensitive issues, including the question of compensation for Czech victims of Nazism. All expellee groups share the same general goals. They want a "right of return," allowing them to buy property and enjoy the full rights of a citizen of their heimat, or homeland. Some also want restitution or compensation for their confiscated property. …

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