How many Germans were expelled after the Second World War
Flight and displacement
The horrors of conquest
The concentrated war machine of the Allies is directed against the aggressor Germany in the last months of the war. The war against Nazi Germany is increasingly turning into a war against the civilian population.
If the Germans had already suffered the horrors of the Allied bombing raids on the large cities of the German Empire, the systematic encirclement of Germany by ground troops is now beginning.
The invasion of the Red Army and the Western armed forces finally resulted in Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945.
The great escape 1944/45
As refugees refers to people "who, as a result of events in Europe, are forced to leave their place of residence in view of the danger to their life and freedom". Displaced persons on the other hand, "people who are removed from their homeland by force or other means of coercion, regardless of whether they are based on an international agreement or not"
In practice, the lines between refugees and displaced people are blurred. Many residents of the eastern German territories experience both flight and displacement.
When the Red Army first set foot on East Prussian soil in October 1944, the Soviets could be thrown back once more. But even in the short period of the first Russian invasion, there were attacks on the German population.
East Prussian refugees soon begin to head west. From October 1944 onwards, your reports of atrocities by the Russian army lead to huge migrations of refugees among the German population who want to retreat to the west of the German Reich.
The German Odyssey
The cold season sets in in October 1944 - this year it comes particularly hard and early. Millions of German civilians flee East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania in snow and freezing cold.
All train connections are interrupted by the front. Cars and motorcycles are only owned by the Wehrmacht. The people flee on foot, with handcarts or horse-drawn carts to the western part of the Reich. Old men and women sit on the wagons, barely sheltered from the icy winter. Mothers push prams with small children many kilometers.
There is no medical care, no food and hardly any drinking water. Infants and young children are the first victims. They die of hypothermia or starvation in the freezing cold.
Even old, sick and weak people have little chance of survival. Clothing and escape equipment are extremely unsuitable. Many refugees carry unwieldy, heavy suitcases, very few have a backpack.
People often flee uncontrollably, in wild panic and at the last moment. They hardly have time to think about the bare essentials. Many people who want to flee are also prevented from leaving their homeland for too long by the Nazi district leaders and Gauleiters with perseverance slogans.
Millions of people want to go to West Germany in one fell swoop. However, weakened by the exertion of their flight, they can only cover a few kilometers a day. The Russian front, on the other hand, penetrates 50 to 70 kilometers deep into the interior of the Reich every day.
The rapidly advancing Red Army is literally rolling over the refugee trails that cannot evade quickly enough. Tanks shot into the wagons, Russian low-flying planes shelled the columns of refugees. No distinction has been made between enemy soldiers and the civilian population for a long time.
Those who are caught up by the Russian soldiers face abuse, rape and murder. It is estimated that around 1.4 million women were raped. Detained men, young people and prisoners of war are deported to Russia by the hundreds of thousands as "living reparations".
Escape over the Fresh Lagoon
When East Prussia was encircled by the Soviet army at the end of January 1945 and cut off from the rest of the German Reich, the refugee treks tried to escape the Russians by daring to cross the frozen fresh lagoon. After about eight kilometers, they want to reach the Fresh Spit, a narrow tongue of land on the Baltic Sea.
From there they want to go on to the safe port of Danzig. But the escape over the frozen fresh lagoon turns out to be fatal. People have to wade through 25 centimeters high ice water, there is always the danger of a break in the ice.
Numerous wagons break into the ice because they are being shot at by Soviet low-flying planes. People drown and freeze to death in droves.
The way across the sea
Around two to three million refugees manage to flee to Kiel, Lübeck or Denmark. But many of those willing to flee do not make it onto one of the few transport ships. But even those who have made it and found space on one of the overcrowded refugee ships are by no means safe.
On January 30, 1945, the former cruise ship "Wilhelm Gustloff" with more than 10,000 refugees and wounded soldiers on board was hit by three Soviet torpedoes and sank. More than 9,300 people drown and freeze to death in the ice water of the Baltic Sea, only 1239 passengers were rescued.
Parallel to the great waves of refugees, the systematic expulsion of Germans from the formerly occupied territories began between winter 1944 and summer 1945.
Whether in Poland, in the Sudetenland, in the southern, northern and western outskirts of the Bohemian countries (Czechoslovakia), in the German "Volga Republic" on Russian territory, in Hungary, Romania (Transylvania, Banat), Croatia (Slavonia), Serbia (Vojwodina), Slovenia and the Baltic States: The expansionist settlement policy under the Nazi regime claimed countless victims.
Now the resentments of the peoples oppressed for years towards the German civilian population are discharging. Hatred and destruction are the answer to the violent crimes of the Nazis.
Arbitrary assaults, murders, executions, rape, expropriations, humiliation and reprisals hit the hated Germans very hard. The German population is first sporadically, later systematically expelled from the Eastern European countries.
The Potsdam Agreement
The politically desired extent of the expulsion actions was confirmed in August 1945 at the Potsdam conference between the victorious powers. But a regulation of the "ethnic-territorial reorganization" of East Central Europe is to be found that guarantees an "orderly and humane transfer" of the population.
But this contractually regulated agreement of an orderly eviction is not worth the paper on which it is written. Despite the Potsdam Agreement, the situation is still chaotic. Germans are often expelled from one moment to the next. They are expropriated, their property and land confiscated without compensation.
The expulsions from the former eastern areas of the German Reich continued long after the end of the war. Many of those who stayed at home are exposed to revenge, especially from the Czechs and Poles, thousands are murdered, hundreds of thousands are imprisoned in camps or often have to do forced labor for years.
The chaos of the zero hour
Well over twelve million refugees and displaced persons are looking for a new home after 1945. The first point of contact are relatives in the Allied zones, if they exist. Most of the time, however, the odyssey of the refugees is aimless and disoriented. In some cases there is considerable disinformation.
In the chaos of the immediate post-war period, the migrating refugees and displaced persons primarily seek protection and security from violent attacks and acts of war on the part of the victors. For most of them, there is no actual destination of the trip.
The huge streams of refugees run right through the destroyed Germany and meet people who hardly have the bare essentials for life due to bombing and acts of war. In many places, the newcomers are therefore viewed with suspicion and not infrequently treated with hostility.
It is the Germany of the "zero hour", and in the war-torn landscapes of ruins there is a lack of water, food, medicine, living space, clothing, heating material and work. Many displaced persons have to live in reception camps or barracks for years, living space has to be newly created.
In addition to the hardships of flight and the loss of their homeland, the displaced are faced with the lot of social decline. You have to start over with empty hands. They had to leave their house, yard, belongings behind. Valuables that were taken away were mostly confiscated by the occupiers, and there is no compensation.
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