Coming Home to Germany - The Integration of Ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe in the Federal Republic
New York/Oxford, Berghahn Books 2002, 234 s.
After 1945 "the German Question" started to appear in three basic forms. It was focused on how to overcome the division of Germany into two states after 1949, how to find connections with/links to the former territories belonging to Germany or those inhabited by members of German-speaking minorities, and finally, how to integrate millions of refugees, expellees, and evictees in German society. A series of studies investigating the post-war "retrograde migration" of ethnic Germans was published by Berghahn Books, the prestigious British and American academic publishing house, in its series dealing with Culture and Society in Germany, under the title Coming Home to Germany. Berghahn also systematically monitors all themes of German history (Monographs in German History) and publishes the highly reputable review German Politics and Society.
The end of the Cold War and the subsequent bipolar arrangement of Europe also predestined, to a certain extent, "the return of Central European history", namely those recent trends or stages emanating from the post-war division of Germany, and the eviction of groups of ethnic Germans. This necessitated drastic intervention in the strongly diverse and complex environment of the Continental Centre, whose ethnic composition had evolved over centuries. As a result of the rapid disintegration of the Allied coalition and the subsequent East-West conflict, these historical changes were either not reflected at all, or only partially, or in a strongly ideological form. The reviewed publication is a monograph contributing to contemporary reflection on the post-war migration of German-speaking inhabitants from the countries of Central European Countries, as part of the German Question.
After the reunification of Germany in 1990, European policy was repeatedly confronted with the phenomenon of the "German Question", which had dominated it throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It was associated, among other things, with the fact that until the formation of the German "Reich" in 1871, Germans have never lived in one state. This question represents a problem in itself, but it also predetermines, in combination with a series of other factors of an external and internal character, the outburst of two world wars, which caused enormous suffering to all inhabitants of the European Continent and other parts of the world.
Whether introduced in connection with security, integration or diversity, the German Question and its roots are always based on unresolved problems concerning the relationships between the nation and the territory, which is inaccurately symbolised by the interconnection of two concepts in the term the German Culture Nation/Kulturnation as a product of the concept emanating from German Romanticism and the German Nation State /Staatsnation (p. X).
In the period before the First World War ethnic Germans (with the exception of Russia, where they always used to find themselves in the minority position), were in a dominant position not only in Germany, but also in the whole Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. This status was radically changed by the new international arrangement defined by the Versailles Treaty system, which brought about radical changes in Central Europe, namely in its political geography.
A few succession states were created and each of them had numerous German speaking minorities that were deprived of their original status as members of the ruling nation. The largest of all were groups of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia (3. 7 mil.) and Romania (nearly one million). The Reich was dispossessed of some parts of its territory in the East, Upper Silesia was divided between Germany and Poland; and the Gdansk Corridor, which enabled Poland to get access to the Baltic Sea, separated eastern Prussia from other parts of the Weimar Republic.
A series of decisions made immediately after the First World War solved some aspects of the German Question, but ignored and created some others, at the centre of which were namely groups of ethnic Germans (p. 7). Soon afterwards it was evident that revisionist politicians in Germany had found arguments that helped them get support, at first in the domestic environment, but later also on an international scale (incl. destruction of the Czechoslovak Republic).
The Second World War brought the first great wave of violent migrations in the form of Nazi settlement plans leading up to consolidation of ethnic Germans in the so called "core territory", including namely Western Poland, which was ethnically cleaned from all Polish inhabitants (p. 9) and inhabited by nearly a million ethnic Germans. Gradually, other plans to "strengthen German citizenship" started to be implemented in other occupied countries, including the Protectorate Böhmen und Mahren. In 1941 ethnic Germans living in the territory of the Soviet Union were deported to Siberia and Central Asia and even after the war had ended, they were still denied the right to return to their country.
In the last phase of the war millions of ethnic Germans inhabiting vast territories of the states located in of Central and Eastern Europe found themselves running from and in fear of reprisals on the part of victors; or they were evicted, deported and later systematically displaced on the basis of the Potsdam Treaty. S. Wolff comes up with quite a new approach to the German Question, i.e. by focusing on the moment when millions of people experienced the traumatising process of economic, social and political uprootedness, irrespective of the scope of individual guilt, caused by their coming to the environment of Germany devastated by military operations and occupied by victorious powers. Wolff explains (p.9) that no matter how successful the assimilation was for the newcomers in their new homes, never has German society, as a whole, understood the suffering of the displaced persons. Similarly, they could never understand the historical and cultural traditions of the former minorities in the East, which also created the actual essence of their German cultural identity.
In this light, the contemporary trend in German society is quite understandable, i.e. the trend of "discovering" evictees/displaced persons, find themselves in the centre of attention of the mass media, politicians and social science researchers, namely in connection with the debate, which has been going on since 2000, concerning the Establishment of the Berlin Centre against Expulsions. The destinies of refugees from "Eastern territories" have become themes of literary bestsellers (G. Grass: Im Krebsgang), a documentary series and publications (among other K. E. Franzen: Die Vertriebenen). Subsequently, numerous themes of civilian inhabitants´ sufferings caused by air raids of German towns by the Allies, rapes of German women, etc. The German identity has now been restored thus opening the way to a grasping of modern history with Germans not being only perpetrators, but also victims. Looking at the problem from the social point of view, this emancipation is desirable and legitimate; however, its political consequences in the form of re-nationalisation remain unpredictable.
In connection with these topics S. Wolff notes that the internal debate focusing on the topics of eviction and political rhetoric from the representatives of evictee organisations have complicated the process of the Czech Republic and Poland joining the European Union. Interesting is the statement concerning the incapability of German society to cope with expatriation in the post-war era and again after the unification of both parts of Germany has given use to the possibility of a selective explanation of history to some of the evictees and their descendants. They exclude nearly all that preceded these deportations from the selective explanation of history. Wolff claims that the transfer and everything that followed provides us with a classic example of multidimensionality surrounding the German Question, which has not lost anything of its European and International relevance even in the present day.
The book is a collection of studies divided into two parts. The first is devoted to historical, social political and legal dimensions of the process of the refugees, evictees and expatriates´ integration into the Federal Republic of Germany. The second part examines, by means of analysing and interpreting numerous works of fine arts (in the role of the medium; with themes migration or integration having the quality of an appeal), the transitive process of cultural metamorphosis of German minorities and their becoming part of the German national culture.
In the introductory chapter S. Wolff points to the key role of contemporary changes in the definition of who is considered to be a German. He asks the following more generic question: "What and where is Germany?"(p.3). The Act of 1913 defining citizenship/Reichs und Staatsangehörgkeitsgesetz, determined that only descendants of German citizens could be considered to be Germans. The main aim of this blood law /ius sanguinis / was to support and preserve ethnic traditions of the German National State. It was very difficult to find corresponding English equivalents to the following three terms determining German legal and political thinking: Staatsangehörigkeit, the affiliation defined as a formal legal relationship between a citizen and a/the state; Staatsbürgerschaft, state citizenship defined as participants´ membership in society, and Volkszugehörigkeit, defined in terms of ethnic and cultural identity.
The very last category was exploited by Nazi ideology during the Third Reich to stress ethnic loyalty of the folk/völkisch type (which is translated incorrectly as ethnological), with the help of which it also helped to sever the loyalty of ethnic Germans from those states, part of which they were. It is possible to find the roots of the tragic post-war solution of ethnic problems in the transfer of ethnic Germans to German territory. The German national minorities´ agitation for their ever-increasing demands became the tools for the Nazi expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. The author notes that an understanding of the development after 1945 requires knowledge of the historical development, which ethnic Germans "created" outside Germany. It was particularly the Versailles Treaty that continued to preserve the German Question, though in a modified form.
The German Question was given a new dimension after the end of the Second World War by evicting a portion of big groups of ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe. By 1950, nearly fourteen million ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe had left their home (either by spontaneous flight or by violent deportation), nearly two thirds had settled in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, as later created. In spite of prior fears of the Allied bodies, which administered the occupied zones of Germany, evictees had become a factor of the economic growth and significantly contributed to the subsequent "Economic Miracle" of West Germany, underway at that time.
The geopolitical reality of the ruling victorious powers facilitated the possibility "to cope with" the German question more easily, if for no other reason, than for its marginalisation within the fight for global ascendancy over and for the protection of the spheres of influence in the pending bipolar conflict between the East and the West. The occupation of the German territory by the Allies and their strict control of the political process, including the permanent division of the country and inclusion of its western and eastern parts in two powerful blocks of the Cold War, also facilitated the solution of the German Question. At that period of time it was the priority of the FRG foreign policy, which strove for the facilitation of immigration for the largest possible number of remaining ethnic Germans, to the territory of the mother state.
As the tension between the East and the West started to ebb in the final stages of the Cold War, hundreds and thousands of ethnic Germans used to come from Romania, the Soviet Union, also from the former Czechoslovakia, mostly seeking a higher standard of living. The hypothetical question arises [Münz 2002: 137] whether Sudeten Germans would spontaneously have left their mother country if the post-war transfer had not occurred. History, however, does not profess to know any "if" theories of history.
What remains is, undoubtedly, the remarkable result showing that German society succeeded in accepting millions of people in several waves; often people who claimed their allegiance to German culture and language only formally, or people who were coming from totally different kinds of environments, from the environment of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, quite often only with vague ideas about the target country, often with low professional qualifications, including insufficient knowledge of German.
After 1990, a united Germany has been striving for improvement in the level of protection for German minorities still living in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Neither of these approaches, however, remains without problems, primarily in the case of a large group of immigrants who came from the territory of the former Soviet Union after 1993 (when the legislature framework was changed). The results of integrating this group into German society are significantly worse. The main reason lies in their low ability to use the language or in their lack of qualifications, which has numerous social consequences (such as self-ghettoisation). The deteriorating economic situation in the Federal Republic of Germany along with the growing xenophobia of German society has significantly complicated the process of assimilation of eastern immigrants in the 90s.
From the point of view of a better understanding of the social process of integration of ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe into the structure of post-war Germany (The Federal Republic of Germany) Chapter 2 can be considered as the most significant contribution. It deals with "The Conflict of the Past and the Present in Individual Identities: The case of German refugees and Evictees from the East" by R. Schulze (University of Essex), who has been involved in the systematic and long-term study of the theme of integration /Eingliederung. The paper is based on research into personal stories of post-war settlers in the German rural area of Celle, situated north of Hanover (The Federal State of the Lower Saxony).
At the beginning of 1945 refugees and evictees started to come to this area from the territory east of the Odra-Nisa line and their number had increased by April 1948 up to more than 42 thousand, while the "old settlers" reached 86 thousand. As early as the time of research (1991), the migration rate for setters and their descendants accounted for more than one third of the total population in the region. The author hypothesizes that in spite of initial difficulties ("Here in Celle we had nothing - no contacts, no money, no influence. We were foreigners-Rucksack Celler- and they did not accept us.") (p.43), the social group officially designated as evictees/ Vertriebene or even as "those evicted from their homes" were fully integrated in the new environment in the course of the 60s and to an even fuller extent in the 70s. The differentiation between native inhabitants and newcomers completely disappeared in the seventies (p. 41). In some places, however, local environments had been closed to evictees for decades and the designation of these groups as -"Polacken" was strongly pejorative. All respondents brought with them extremely detailed recollections of their former home in the East. Even fifty years after that event more than one half of the refugees and evictees in the Celle area considers the place of birth as their home/Heimat.
The results of the Research in Biographical Identities (Nachkriegsleben in einem land lichen Raum), carried out by R. Schulze, suggest that the experience of expulsion from home and the coming to a quite new environment remain, henceforward, the determining factors in the lives of the people who were subjected to such an experience. This experience served as a catalyst or a strongly motivating factor for the systematic acquisition of a professional career (the willingness to work under a heavy workload) with a corresponding standard of living and social growth in particular.
Respondents placed an extraordinarily strong emphasis on their attainment of a higher level of education in their own lives, and even more so in the lives of their descendants. Thanks to the modified identity the interviewed persons define themselves more frequently by means of their profession, personal interests and family networks. Interviews with these people showed that full integration (in terms of internal identification with the new home in the West) had not been achieved and it would probably not be possible for the generation who actually experienced it first hand/Erlebnissgeneration (p. 48).
Their common fate in expulsion from the East in the period of the Cold War generated interest in "landsmannshaft" organisations/Landsmannschaften, the existence of which was supported by the Evictees Federal Act /Bundesvertriebenengesetz of 1953, imposing, in section 6 of the Act, a duty on the federal government to preserve the German cultural heritage of refugees and evictees. In compliance with the Act, each town, even a small town in the Federal Republic of Germany, with a ratio of inhabitants from ethnic Germans, was expected to have its "patron twin" in the East. Nevertheless, in spite of the enormous existence of support (both economic and political), evictees remained voluntarily excluded from the generally accepted collective history of Western Germany, as formed predominantly by its majority society (p.50). Generally, or even intentionally ignored, was the fact that evictees had become part of the historical roots of the Federal Republic, without being incorporated in its memory. This fact is undoubtedly associated with the phenomenon of the "newly discovered" identity of the Unified Germany, forming the reference framework for the discourse developed since 2000, either in the form of internal German debate, or in the relations of the Federal Republic of Germany to Poland and the Czech Republic, in connection with the requirement of the Union of Expellees (supported by the CDU/CSU) to establish a Centre against Expulsions. However, I miss in this connection even a small reference to the standpoint of Jewish organisations (Jewish Claims Conference, etc.), which reject, on principle, this interpretation of the framework of modern German history (maintaining that the systematic murdering of Jews cannot be compared with eviction or expulsion of groups of ethnic Germans).
The results of Schulze's study show that "the expellees factor" remains, to a certain extent, a major theme both for politicians and evictees themselves on the one hand, and for German society as a whole on the other. Thus the interest of politicians of all parties in the Federal Republic of Germany provides sufficient proof of this statement.
Somewhat less traditional, nevertheless bringing contribution to "deideologisation" of the theme, mostly understood as an excellent political issue, is the second part of the publication, which deals with the integration of German minorities culture in the National Culture of Germany (The Transition from German Minority Culture to the National Culture of Germany: Art as a Medium to Address and Express the Challenges of Migration and Integration).
Chapters 7 to 10 submit an analysis of the work of Richard Wagner, who immigrated to the German Federal Republic from Romania with his wife Herta Müller, who like him is also a novelist, in 1987. In Germany Wagner's works were greeted with great public acceptance, the roots of which are seen by D. Rock, among other things, in the "strained relations" between the centre (represented in the essential form by Berlin, Wagner's place of residence) and the periphery (i.e. the environment of the Romanian Germans). However, in his current place of residence Wagner defines himself as a Central European since, as he says, "Central Europe is the only concept reflecting the enormous variety that exists in Eastern Europe," (p. 129). Wagner's Berlin Central European citizenship is a somewhat striking resolution of unquestionable /unanimous German identity, as the author speaks about it in Chapter 8, which is a record of the debate with the editors of the reviewed publication, with D. Rock and S. Wolff. Here he also explains his selection of Berlin. In the case of Berlin he appreciates the strong spirit of cosmopolitism contrasting with the idea of the German Culture Nation, he brought with him from the periphery inhabited by Banat Swabs. The author considers both poles of these different environments to be the key to his own literary work. This extensive conversation provides valuable information about the relationship of both groups of Romanian Germans (Banat Swabs and Transylvanian Germans) to Romanian statehood and culture. In this part we can also find repeated complaints about the lack of awareness of any Germans living outside Germany (which lost one third of its total area) in the "clean-boled" Germany (p. 143).
From the Czech reviewer's point of view, most interesting in the second half of the book is probably Chapter 13, in which K. Tonkin analyses the birth of the Sudeten German identity and its development after the Second World War in the German environment and subsequently analyses three works of this author, coming from the Orlické Mountains (From Sudetendeutsche to Adlergebirgler: Gudrun Pausewang´s Rosinkawiese Trilogy). In a brief historical survey of the genesis of Sudeten German identity he notes, among other things, that ethnic Germans in Bohemia and Moravia used to feel, after the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the necessity for unification in order to defend their political interests. I only wish to add that from the works of Czech historians it is clear that Czech Germans started to be unified intensively as early as the end of 19th century and political polarisation contributed very quickly to their further unification.
These and some other statements suggest that the authoress is, to a certain extent, subject to interpretations of some German historians. This need not necessarily be a result of subjectivism, but the result of a long-time lack of representative works from Czech historians in academic libraries (not only German). The production in the German language, so as to speak, has an unbelievable and extremely strong influence. In spite of the fact that Tonkin is territorially quite distant from the environment of the theme (University of Western Australia), the chapter contains some valuable findings; for instance it stresses specific qualities of the Sudeten Landsmannschaft in comparison with some other landsmannschafts. Sudeten Germans brought a strong awareness of belonging to a group and traditional political activism to their new home. Unfortunately, here I also miss a more detailed analysis of these problems; e.g. as it was quantified by means of hierarchical definition factors by L. de Jong, a historian from the Netherlands in the mid-fifties (The German Fifth Column in the Second World War. London: Routledge&Keegan 1956). At the end of the chapter the authoress hypothesizes that the political factor of Sudeten Germans´ identity has been losing its intensity in the course of the last thirty years, on the contrary, its more vital portion, rationally geographical appearance (place and customs), considered as more bearing and permanent by the authoress, has experienced a revival (p. 208).
At the end of this publication S.Wolff notes that German ethnic minorities in the period between the two world wars were understood to be a security risk to the states of the territories in which they were located. He comments on the role of Sudeten Germans as follows: "Although some of them took part in the resistance movement against Nazism, both at home and in exile, a significant number of their participants also took an active part in German "war efforts" and contributed to the very idea of looking at ethnic Germans as the fifth column and "willing executioners" of Nazi politics in their home countries that formed attitudes of inhabitants of neighbouring non-German states and created the climate that resulted, after 1945, in mass displacement." (p. 222).
Numerous tables increase the value of the publication, which can be recommended to all readers who have a deep interest in problems of ethnic minorities. In this case some reservation must be made in connection with table 1.2: Number of evicted persons, where in the case of Czechoslovakia the author notes that in the course of deportations/transfers and eviction 220 000 persons perished. This figure, which has been used for a long period of time by the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, is quite untrustworthy. This figure is nearly ten times higher that the data, which appear in respected studies of both Czech and German historians.
In any case, the reviewed publication helps better understand the motives of the contemporary internal German discourse on deportation/eviction/transfer, as well as the character of arguments with which the main actors in the debates operate. The topic developed by this publication implicates the very Czech environment and enters, as an important factor, into the current shaping of Czech-German relations.