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  • Vertriebene in Deutschland. Interdisziplinäre Ergebnisse und Forschungsperspektiven
  • Michael L. Hughes
Vertriebene in Deutschland. Interdisziplinäre Ergebnisse und Forschungsperspektiven. Edited by Dierk Hoffman et al. (München: Oldenbourg Verlag, 2000. 475 pp. 79,80 Euro).

After World War II, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern Europe states, angered by wartime German atrocities, expelled some 14 million Germans from their former homes in Eastern Europe. The new West and East German states would somehow have to integrate into their devastated economies, societies, and polities the 12 million of these “expellees” who survived the difficult, often brutal expulsion process. This useful book reviews research thus far on this complex, important problem.

Alexander von Plato emphasizes how political context has shaped research on expellees. For decades, Cold War conflicts and widespread expellee dreams of regaining their lost homes fostered a focus on communist perfidy in sponsoring the expulsions, while lack of access to East German and Eastern European archives otherwise limited research primarily to West German developments. Meanwhile, West Germans’ desire to be seen as victims of the Soviets, rather than perpetrators against the Jews and other Nazi victims, skewed discussions of the origins of the expulsions. Then, the collapse of communism opened up East German and East European archives. It also unleashed ethnic violence in the Balkans, spurring research on population movements throughout Eastern Europe, 1912 to the present—including attention to the ways Nazi atrocities and Nazi-sponsored expulsions of non-Germans and Germans, 1939–44, made postwar expulsions of Germans seem legitimate.

Both the Allies and the new German states sought to give the expellees a sufficient sense of belonging in their new homes that they would not become a radicalized, potentially destabilizing force. From the start, Germans debated [End Page 821] integration (where the expellees retained a traditional regional identity based on their original “homeland” in the East but became fully a part of West or East German society) versus assimilation (where the expellees abandoned any separate identity and became just like other West or East Germans). Many expellees wanted integration, especially initially, when most still hoped to reverse the 1940s border changes and expulsions and regain their original “homelands.” The Allies (explicitly) and most West and East German officials and citizens (implicitly) preferred assimilation. The consensus of the 1960s literature was that assimilation had been a success, a conclusion based primarily on the economic integration of (most) expellees and on the increasing intermarriage rates among locals and expellees, especially in the second generation.

More recent literature has called this rosy picture into question. Here and in other works, several authors emphasize that macro-level economic statistics cannot completely capture a complicated picture. Some expellees certainly did well, but others, especially older and female expellees, were condemned to economic marginality. And even on average, expellees lagged behind locals on measures of economic success. Moreover, social and psychological problems, which accompanied the trauma of expulsion, continued to affect expellees for the rest of their lives. And while expellees’ children generally assimilated to West and East German societies, grandchildren often developed a certain nostalgia for their grandparents’ homelands.

Marita Krauss, Thomas Grosser, and von Plato all emphasize here that both integration and assimilation models assume a homogeneous, fixed society into which the migrants, or expellees, need only to fit themselves. Yet no society is homogeneous or fixed. Moreover, twelve years of Nazi dictatorship, brutal total war, defeat and occupation, and the flood of expellees left postwar West and East Germany particularly fluid. The society into which integration or assimilation was supposed to take place was in fact being created in the 1940s and 1950s by the locals and the expellees together. Unfortunately, none of the articles on specific aspects of integration really comes to grips with this reality. This failure seems less a reflection on the individual authors than a testament to the extraordinary difficulty of describing simultaneously a society in the process of creation and a group of outsiders trying to find a new footing. It is, nonetheless, a task that needs to be pursued.

Several of the authors deepen our understanding of the process of expellee integration/assimilation by comparing developments in East Germany with the better-known...

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pp. 821-823
Launched on MUSE
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