- Ethnic Cleansing and Nationalization in the German-Polish and German-Czech Borderlands
In his study of the Polish massacre of the Jewish inhabitants of Jedwabne in July 1941, Jan Tomasz Gross suggested that the myth of Jewish collaboration with the Soviet Union, often used to justify Polish indifference to the fate of the Jews, was in fact constructed by Polish collaborators:
Thus, it appears that the local non-Jewish population projected its own attitude toward the Germans in 1941 (this story remains a complete taboo and has never been studied in Polish historiography) onto an entrenched narrative about how the Jews allegedly behaved vis-à-vis the Soviets in 1939. . . . Could this be, perhaps, a particular instance of a more general phenomenon characteristic of this epoch? Aren’t people compromised by collaboration with a repressive regime predestined, so to speak, to become collaborators of the next repressive regime that gains power over the same area? Such individuals would be inclined to demonstrate enthusiasm for new rulers and their policies right from the beginning, in order to accumulate [End Page 143] sufficient credit in advance, to balance their liabilities in case their roles under a previous regime become known. Alternatively, they will collaborate because they are such an obvious and easy target for blackmail once their past record becomes known to new rulers. . . . In light of what has been said here so far, I would venture a proposition that in the process of the Communist takeover in Poland after the war, the natural allies of the Communist Party, on the local level, were people who had been compromised during the German occupation.1
Gross thus suggests a link between nationalism and communism across Europe, but perhaps in an unexpected way. Many nationalists across Europe may have had a visceral hatred of socialism, but their behavior in many ways furthered and enhanced communist rule, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Such a complexity of motivations and consequences for nationalism and communism can be seen in the works under review here, all of which deal with the topic of the ethnic cleansing of Germans during and after World War II. Although ethnic cleansing has many faces, it found its most concrete realization at this time with the mass deportation of millions of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia, where these acts were framed in terms of national justice or social reform.
In West Germany in the 1950s, there were some eight million expellees and refugees from Eastern Europe. Organized into Landsmannschaften, they often ended up playing an outsized role in postwar politics, both at home and abroad. In this politicized atmosphere, scholars in Eastern Europe and West Germany were preoccupied with justifying the expulsions or retelling the suffering of the expellees—the scholarship is too rich to list here. Newer works focus on the reintegration of the expellees, the nationalization of “post-German” landscapes, and the influence of expellees on their new societies.
The English-language works reviewed in this essay are the results of the post-1989 opening of archives that allowed for new ways to look at the expulsions in Poland and Czechoslovakia as well as the fate of German expellees in comparison with the Poles and Czechs who settled the “recovered territories.” Here, this essay will look at what these recent works can tell us...