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1 This book is an international history of a very small place. Over the course of less than two decades, Wildflecken, a tiny town in northern Bavaria, went through a series of extraordinary and wrenching transformations that mirrored the profound shattering and reformation of political, social, and economic life in mid-twentieth century Germany. An obscure farm town in 1935, Wildflecken became a base community fortherapidlygrowingGermanmilitarymachineofthelate1930s.Inthe aftermath of Hitler’s disastrous war, American-occupied Wildflecken became a catchment area for several distinct groups of refugees. Just as the refugee crisis began to ebb in the late 1940s, the nascent Cold War escalated, and the American presence, previously declining, dramatically reversed course. For the next forty years, Wildflecken became an American base town, one of many to dot the region as a guarantor of West German security in the midst of a global conflict. This is a book about land and the strangers who lived there, in close proximity to each other, during the years after the war. The land was a hilly, forested 18,000-acre tract just north of Wildflecken stretching out betweenthetownandtheborderbetweenBavariaandthestateofHesse. Over twenty years, different groups and institutions laid claim to that land and asserted their right to make use of it as they saw fit. Military and civilian officials passed countless maps back and forth. They outlined in vivid and contrasting colors the shifting boundaries of a piece of property shaped and re-shaped by events taking place far beyond the valley of the Sinn River. Introduction 2 Strangers in the Wild Place Strangers came to Sinn Valley by the thousands, beginning with the construction of a Germany military base in 1936. At the end of the war, the pace only quickened as streams of refugees flooded the valley to escape devastated cities, flee the oncoming Red Army, or because they had no way of returning home. To understand Wildflecken is to understand something important about the transformation of West Germany from defeat to stability. In postwar Germany, local and regional politics weredominatedbyquestionsofwhattodowithmillionsofpeoplemade refugees by the war. Debates over their fate had much to do with land and property, which became an issue of sovereignty as West Germany moved toward self-government but continued to play host to hundreds of thousands of occupation troops. To understand this nexus of competing groups, interests, and ideas, one must try to see it from a multitude of perspectives. This book examines the experiences of ethnic German expellees fleeing Eastern Europe, homelessGermancivilians fromheavilybombedurbanareas ,non-Germanswhocamefromliberatedconcentration camps, compulsory labor facilities, or from Soviet-dominated EasternEurope(DisplacedPersonsorDPs),refugeeadministratorsfrom bothGermanandUnitedNationsbureaucracies,Americansoldiers,and the community itself. Many of these people were strangers to the country, foreigners who found themselves in the Sinn Valley because of the tides of war and the tumult of the postwar period. But all of them were strangers to each other, thrown together by choice and circumstance. While tension and conflict suffused the relationships within and between these groups, there were also opportunities for compromise and coexistence. In the debatesoverthefutureofatractoflandinnorthernBavaria,theoutlines of a plural and democratic Cold War state began to emerge. Out of this experience developed a distinct, stable, and self-consciously West German society from the ruins of dictatorship and defeat. The creation of civic and governmental institutions in West Germany , and with it the Cold War political and military order in Central Europe, was closely linked to problem of refugees. Refugee policy was a crucial test of German self-government from the beginning of the occupation period. Debates over refugees shaped the creation of German institutionsatalllevels,fromlocaltofederal.Refugeesalsoprovidedthe Introduction 3 backdrop for tensions between the West German state, its constituent parts, and the occupying powers. Refugees of all kinds were themselves often actors in these debates. If we are going to understand the central role of refugees in shaping postwar reconstruction and the history of the American military presence in Cold War West Germany, we have to foregroundtheirvoicesandthevoicesofthoseresponsibleformanaging and caring for them. As Paul Steege notes in his study of postwar Berlin, “everyday life” had a great deal to do with how the Cold War came to be and how it became part of the daily experience of those living on its front lines.1 There have been a number of excellent local histories of German communities published during the first half of the twentieth century, driven by a new interest in studies that bridge the Nazi and postwar years.2 Some of the most interesting local studies, like Neil Gregor’s workonNürnbergorHelmutWalserSmith’sworkonthePrussiantown of...


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