Why did Germany lose territories after World War II

Expulsions after 1945After the transfer of the eastern territories to Poland

"The Frankfurt combat area, our positions on the Oder. The Gauleiter of Berlin, Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels, gets a personal impression of the preparations for the defensive battle. Grenadiers and machine-gun troops have taken up residence along the Oder."

March 1945: Remnants of the Wehrmacht, units of the Waffen-SS and the Volkssturm prepare for one of the last battles of the Second World War. Meanwhile, the Soviet government is already creating facts further east. On March 14th, it transfers the German territories conquered by the Red Army east of Oder and Neisse to the provisional government of Poland.

This will accomplish what had become apparent at the Tehran Conference at the end of 1943. There, the "Big Three" of the anti-Hitler coalition, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet head of state Josef Stalin, had drawn up the boundaries of a post-war European order.

"There was already explicit mention of the Polish border posts on the Oder and Neisse rivers, the Polish borders on the Baltic Sea. This anticipated what was outlined by the Big Three, but what was not yet seen that way from all sides in 1945 was worn ", explains the Eastern European historian Werner Benecke from the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder.

The Soviet conquests as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939 - including all of eastern Poland - no longer called the Western Allies in Tehran into question. As compensation, Poland was to receive German areas east of the Oder.

Displacement to avoid ethnic conflict

To the great powers, orderly resettlements appeared to be an adequate means of resolving conflicts with ethnic minorities and thus creating a stable basis for a future peace order.

Winston Churchill in the British House of Commons in 1944: "Eviction is, as far as we can see, the most satisfactory and permanent means. There will be no mix of populations, which creates endless inconveniences, as in the case of Alsace-Lorraine . "

But the strategy almost never worked: the Germans east of Oder and Neisse, who had not fled westward from the Red Army or were expelled, came under Polish administration in March 1945 and were immediately subjected to reprisals.

The American historian R.M. Douglas, author of a study on the expulsion of Germans after World War II: "The Poles argued that all Germans were Nazis and, if not, that they did not resist and benefit from the Nazis, so they deserved their just punishment. But how would those who justified this approach explain that there were so many women and children among the displaced. Even children were locked in the horrific camps, where they were treated horribly and many died. "

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill (from left) at the Tehran Conference in 1943, the first of several meetings of the alliance against Hitler-Germany (picture alliance / CPA Media / Pictures From History)

The so-called Volksdeutsche were not only expelled, the Polish militia and the UB, the state security service, arrested tens of thousands in the spring and summer of 1945, including members of the NSDAP and suspected war criminals, but also innocents like 14-year-old Gerhard Gruschka. He had been dishonorably expelled from the German young people, but was nevertheless taken to the Schwientochlowitz-Zgoda camp near Kattowitz, one of over 1,000 internment camps with a total of more than 100,000 prisoners. Gerhard Gruschka was exposed to the arbitrariness of the overseers and the camp commandant: "There were cases where he took a stool and then with the seat, which is relatively heavy, has a thick piece of wood, so he then that he pulled out, hit and then regardless of what he hit. "

Some did not survive the ordeal, many died as a result of poor nutrition and poor hygiene. In addition, typhus epidemics were rampant in the emergency shelters: "Every morning, during roll call it usually happened, that a horse-drawn carriage was pulled by prisoners to the morgue. And then the prisoners were loaded, the dead of the night or the previous day. And my memory is, I can't give any numbers, only this load was always overflowing. "

"Expellees", "Resettlers", "Repatriants"

It is impossible to say how high the death toll was in the Polish internment camps. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, were killed. The historian Werner Benecke: "None of this can be justified, but it is also inseparable from what the occupation regime had done in Poland during the war and what many people had in front of their eyes and experienced for themselves after they were alive under the German occupation escaped. "

But it was not only Germans who were exposed to gigantic population shifts.

"I am a" Zabugol ", a repatriant from the region beyond the Bug," says Jerzy Czabator. He comes from a small town that used to belong to Poland, from 1939 to 1941 under Soviet, then until 1944 under German rule. After the end of the Second World War, it was added to Belarus and thus finally to the Soviet Union. Jerzy Czabator and his family had to travel from the Bug to the Oder at the end of 1945.

"I traveled more than 1,000 kilometers to get here. Mom, Dad, I, my three brothers and my sister, we lived in Nagorna. Our village was six kilometers from the border with Russia. We lived there until 1939 In December 1945 we packed a rickety cow, goats, hay and a few little things. We were taken to the town of Kleck, 14 kilometers away, to a train, in a kind of freight car The train set off. We kept going and so we came to Gubin. Nobody greeted us; the engine driver shouted: 'The train won't go any further!' And that was the end of the matter for him. "

Officially, they were called repatriants, returnees, in order to establish a centuries-old, albeit controversial, Polish claim to the territories east of the Oder and Neisse rivers. "In West Germany they talked about expellees, in the GDR they talked about resettlers, in the People's Republic they talked about repatriates; a completely different perspective . "

"Orderly and humane" population transfer

There were also displaced persons in Jan Piskorski's family. Piskorski, professor of European comparative history at the University of Szczecin, calls them "chased away". "In the family there are quite a few people who can be described as displaced persons. In Germany and Poland it is actually normal to have displaced persons in the family. Wars have destroyed the whole structure of Germany and Poland. A third of the Poles became relocated, a totally new state and with a new social structure arose. "

The population transfer should proceed "properly and humane", as decided by the three victorious powers at the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. But the Allied notion of being able to carry out major forced relocations smoothly is what the historian R.M. Douglas cynical and a breathtaking self-deception.

After the borders were redrawn in 1945, the victorious powers envisioned an "orderly and humane" population transfer from the eastern regions (imago)

"The suffering that the resettlement was supposed to prevent was so severe that it was only exceeded by the suffering during World War II. It is extremely dangerous to treat certain sections of the population, a certain category of people, as having absolutely no rights."

Driven from the east, Werner Sepp and his family came to Geretsried in 1946, a barrack camp south of Munich that had previously served as accommodation for an armaments company. "We knew we were going to Bavaria, but that was all. Then we were unloaded here on Sunday morning at eight o'clock and I see my grandmother sitting on her box and saying: 'Should we live there?' So that was this barrack camp, with double barbed wire around it, the barracks - some of the windows ripped out, the doors ripped out - in an absolutely desolate condition. "

Around 14 million refugees and displaced persons came to what would later become the Federal Republic and GDR. Many not only had to live in makeshift accommodation for years, they were also met with defiance and contempt. In the eyes of their compatriots between the Rhine and the Oder, they were "pack run by", "Gesocks aus dem Osten", "Polacken".

An abusive prayer that was circulating in Swabia in 1946: "Lord God in heaven, see our need, we farmers have no fat and no bread. Refugees eat each other fat and steal our last bed. We starve and suffer great pain. Lord God send the rabble home. "

Unwelcome even in the new place

In a book with the programmatic title "Kalte Heimat", the Berlin historian Andreas Kossert described how hostile refugees were received after 1945. In Schleswig-Holstein, for example, politicians seamlessly tied into National Socialist ideas.

"Where some local parties really said: The East Prussian refugees are a" mulatto breed ", they do not belong to our Germanic blond race and endanger our Schleswig-Holstein character. And there are similar examples in southern Germany, across Germany from Bavaria to Schleswig -Holstein, but also in the Soviet occupation zone, an exclusion, a discrimination to an extent that I would never have expected from a people who started the war together and lost together. "

The military administrations of the Western Allies were forced to requisition housing and to carry out compulsory admissions because the local population did not want to move together voluntarily. In some places the displaced people moved into their new quarters under the protection of submachine guns.

At the end of the war, Herta Mahlo was 13 years old when she was imprisoned in the Polish labor camp in Potulice with her mother and five-year-old sister. She had to do four years of forced labor on surrounding properties until she was able to leave the camp for Thuringia in July 1949. "And then we actually got into transports, in cattle wagons; really bad. We were greeted - I will never forget - what do you" Polack "want, always getting more. What do you want here? That was terrible. I had to sign that we would never talk about our camp when we left there. "

"Committed to silence in the GDR"

Until 1989 the topic of flight and expulsion was taboo in East Germany because, from the perspective of the GDR leadership, it contradicted the friendly relations with the so-called socialist brother states. Andreas Kossert speaks of a radical forced assimilation. "In the GDR the problem was solved ideologically relatively soon. They simply avoided the word expulsion, they chose the term resettlers for it; and this problem of resettlers was also officially declared settled by decree in 1950. And from then on the 4.3 million were settled Obliged to silence displaced persons in the GDR. "

The East Germans fared no differently than the repatriates in Poland. Jan Piskorski: "They were forbidden in a certain sense, especially if you wanted to talk about the Poles from the East. The topic was taboo until 1989 or at least until the Solidarnosc period, that is until 1980."

Initially, the SED leadership did not want to accept the Oder-Neisse as the eastern border. However, conflicts between the allies were not foreseen in Stalin's sphere of influence, and so the heads of government of the GDR and Poland signed the Görlitz Agreement on July 6, 1950 - a treaty with the Oder-Neisse Line as an inviolable border of friendship, according to GDR Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl. "This border is the peace border, because in the future it will no longer allow the warmongers of the world to incite the Poles and the Germans against each other."

In the Federal Republic, on the other hand, leading politicians such as Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, CDU, emphasized that East and West Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia would find their way back into a unified Germany. "We can therefore under no circumstances come to terms with a unilateral separation of these areas from Soviet Russia and Poland."

Initially, the Allies did not allow country teams and expellees' associations in West Germany, but after a few years the ban was relaxed. Stuttgart, August 1950: The charter of expellees is solemnly proclaimed at a rally: "We expellees renounce vengeance and retaliation. This decision is serious and sacred to us in commemoration of the endless suffering that the last decade in particular has brought upon humanity Has."

Associations of displaced persons as an important group of voters

The displaced persons' associations with their millions of supporters became an influential group of voters who put pressure on the political parties. The declared goal: not to give up the lost territories in the east. The associations instrumentalized the personal fate of the refugees for their political demands, believes the Eastern European historian Karl Schlögel: "That way, elections were won and politics was made. This became a policy of demarcation, blockade, and refusal , pursued a policy of non-recognition. It was about political programs, about a tone of opinion, about fiery speeches and confessions. "

Ultimately, however, the integration was a success story. As welcome workers, the expellees made a significant contribution to the upswing in Germany's economic miracle and were decisive factors in breaking up and modernizing the encrusted denominational and social structures.

In 1951 over 15,000 displaced people came to the "Home Day" at the Berlin Waldbühne (picture alliance / dpa)

The more the expellees integrated themselves into West German society, the more questionable the formulaically repeated claim to the lost homeland beyond the Oder and Neisse rivers became. Werner Benecke: "The famous quote comes from Brandt: There is nothing lost that has not long been lost. And that is actually an insight that the Federal Republic, even if it still printed a dashed line on the Oder and Neisse in its school atlases , actually couldn't do anything about what had actually happened. "

Therefore, the first Federal Government led by Social Democrats under Willy Brandt decided in 1969 to initiate a new Ostpolitik. "Change through rapprochement" was the well-known formula for turning to the East and recognizing the political realities.

"We want to be and become a people of good neighbors, internally and externally," said Willy Brandt in his government declaration of October 1969. A good year later, in December 1970, the Chancellor visited Poland to sign the Warsaw Treaty. with which the Federal Republic recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the western border of Poland. On the morning of December 7th, Brandt set a sign of reconciliation between the two states with his historic kneeling at the memorial for the dead in the Warsaw ghetto.

"The Chancellor walked slowly towards the monument, and two pylons burned to the right and left. And when the Chancellor stood in front of the monument, he fell, yes you really have to put it that way, he suddenly fell on his knees. And nobody could withdraw from this moment. "

Largest forced relocation in human history

What nobody thought possible at the time: almost 20 years later the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet empire collapsed, the Germans in East and West achieved reunification, and Germany and Poland signed friendship treaties in which they crossed the Oder-Neisse border confirmed as an inviolable state border.

Around 80 million people were victims of flight and displacement in Europe in the 20th century. The population shifts after World War II are what historians call the greatest forced relocation in human history. Then followed decades of sedentariness and stability until hundreds of thousands of refugees from ex-Yugoslavia and Syria came to Germany first in the 1990s and then again in 2015. Today's pictures of the Turkish-Greek border or the island of Lesbos show that the quiet years are not necessarily the norm.

The historian Karl Schlögel: "I have the impression that we are about to understand that these 50 years of calming and sedation and sitting down and sitting, that that was perhaps the exception and that in a sense we are getting used to it again that everything is in motion. "

(*) The post's headline has been corrected.