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20 On a summer day in 1937, a hunter pauses at the edge of a meadow halfway up to the summit of the Löserhag and looks behind him into the valley of the Sinn River. Yellow and blue flowers dapple the clearing in the bright sun. A few feet away, a narrow footpath plunges into the gloomy darkness of the great beech forests of the Franconian Rhön. The hunter looks down the slope to the valley floor toward the village of Wildflecken. With its tidy red roofs, the town of a few hundred souls nests in between two ranges of hills along a single railroad track that connects it to the world beyond. But the hunter’s home is changing as he watches. He can see the red brick bridge over the Brückenau road and the new square in the middle of town. Across the valley and up a hill, hundreds of workers put the last touches on rows of squat, narrow buildings. Soon there would be horses inthenewlybuiltstablesandhundreds,thenthousands,ofsoldiersliving in the barracks. A new street connects the town and the base, paved with heavy white stones to accommodate the vast bulk of military vehicles thatwillsoonrumblethroughthevalley.Turningtothewest,ourhunter shakes his head when he sees farmhouses and villages sitting abandoned in neat clearings a few kilometers away. A year ago, those villages had been his neighbors. Then the German state ordered them abandoned to build the new troop training facility. As he shoulders his rifle and walks into the woods, he wonders to himself what all of this change will mean for his family and his town. Perhaps he suspects that Germany is on the road to another war, but he cannot know what that struggle will mean for this quiet valley. The Wild Place, 1933–1945 one The Wild Place, 1933–1945 21 Like so many places in Europe, the titanic conflicts of the 1940s transformed Wildflecken and the Sinn Valley. This rural area typified many of the ruptures and upheavals experienced across defeated Germany during and following the Third Reich. In the wake of the war, four groups lived in close proximity in and around the town. Local residents, DPs and the UNRRA field workers sent to supervise them, American troops, and ethnic German refugees created a dense network of associations ,compromises,andconflictsinthepostwarperiod.Eachgroupwas aproductofthewar,itsstatusdeterminedorchangedbythepreparation for, initial successes of, and ultimate catastrophic failure of Hitler’s war of conquest and racial imperialism in Europe. This chapter will consider the paths that each of these groups followed to Wildflecken. In each case, the history and geography of the region played decisive roles in shaping the demography and the fate of the town and its people. Wildflecken spent much of its history in isolation and obscurity, tendencies that perversely helped to project it into the arena of international politics during the early Cold War. Its local history is not unlike thousands of other communities in rural Central Europe, for whom the tides of war and the boundary changes that followed meant new masters, new populations, and a precarious existence as border communities.1 If we are to understand the transformation of Wildflecken, we have to examine the history of the place itself, its role in the German war machine of the 1930s and 40s, events taking place in war-torn Central and Eastern Europe, and the politics of the victorious wartime alliance. While the history of Wildflecken is the history of a verysmallplace,thereisnoquestionthatthistinycommunityplayedan important part in the wider history of Germany, Europe, and the world. The“unweaving”ofmultiethnicEuropereacheditsterriblezenithin dark years of the 1940s.2 In the shatter zone of Central and East Central Europe, Nazi and Soviet population policy, coupled with the violence of the war, produced an enormous wave of refugees, probably totaling about thirty million individuals.3 The experience of displacement, whether by act of war or state policy, was one of the central narratives of postwar period in Europe. However, accounts of forced population removal have tended to privilege the power of the state and to draw broadandundifferentiatedgroupsofvictims.4Localhistoryallowsusto 22 Strangers in the Wild Place disaggregate categories of refugees, locals, and occupation troops and to move beyond contemporary legal categories to examine the interaction between refugee groups and between refugees and other participants in Germany’s postwar history. The postwar refugee crisis in Germany was a primarily a rural one, inthatsmallercommunitiesthatsufferedlesswartimedamagewerebest abletoaccommodatevastnumbersofthedispossessed.ThreecharacteristicsofWildfleckenanditswarcontributedtothedramatictransforma tionofthetownanditspeople :itsstrategiclocationneartheboundaryof the American and Soviet occupation zones, the relative lack of wartime damage, and its role in the...


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