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German expulsion after World War II

German expulsion after World War II refers to a policy agreed to at the Potsdam Conference and undertaken by the Soviet Union and its satellite powers in Eastern Europe. They expelled ethnic Germans from countries under Soviet influence. Some allege that the purpose of this policy was to punish Germany for its actions during World War II and to create ethnically homogenous nations. Others believed this is the only way to prevent ethnic violence. As Churchill expounded in the House of Commons in 1944, "Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble...A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions..." Some of those removed had been settled in the East by the Nazi government. Some groups claim that over 15 million Germans were forced to relocate and an estimated 1.8 to 3 million died during the trek. However, those numbers may include the evacuation during the WWII. These numbers are not well established as little research has been done on this subject. At least some of these persons fled voluntarily, rather than being expelled by any government.

It was believed, that since Adolf Hitler used existence of large German minorities in other countries as pretext for waging aggressive wars, removing Germans from territories of other countries will remove potential causes of future problems. Also, there was little empathy for German victims, since they themselves started policy of ethnic cleansing in occupied territories, for example in Greater Poland.

The subjects of this policy included Germans living east of the Oder-Neisse line, ethnic Germans living in Poland and Sudetenland Germans in Czechoslovakia. Communists also expelled ethnic Germans from other eastern European countries. Many expelled Germans found refuge in West Germany, a few in East Germany, and large numbers in many countries of the world.

At the time the policy was undertaken and until the 1990s, there was little argument over the morality of the policy. Many of the propaganda themes of the Nazi regime against Czechoslovakia and Poland claimed the ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) were persecuted. Although expellees (in German Heimatvertriebene) and their descendants were active in West German politics, the prevailing political climate within West Germany was that of atonement for Nazi actions, and even within West Germany there was little sympathy for the claims of the expellees.

US Congressman B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee, in the House of Representatives on May 16 1957, called it genocide.

In November and December, 1993, an exhibit on Ethnic Cleansing 1944-1948 was held at Stuart Center of De Paul University, in Chicago, where it was called an unknown holocaust.

In the 1990s the Iron Curtain came down. The issue of the treatment of Germans after World War II for the first time began to be reexamined. The primary motivations for this was the collapse of the Soviet Union, which allowed previously untouchable issues such as crimes committed by Russians during World War II to be raised.

Reports have surfaced of Soviet massacres of German civilians (see the book A Terrible Revenge). Also some of former German concentration camps were used as temporal camps for Germans.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during his Soviet military service had objected to the brutal murder of German civilians of East Prussia. For that he was put in Siberian Gulag for 10 years. There he memorized and later documented his experiences in the military as well as in the Gulag.

Further reading