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Germany, its Neighbouring Countries, and the Expellees:
History and History Policy since 1949

Expellee Policy in the Soviet-occupied Zone and the German Democratic Republic from 1945 to 1953

After World War II, what would later become the German Democratic Republic was the one country in Europe most affected by escape and expulsion. In 1948, when the mass population shifts that occurred in Eastern Central Europe had mostly been completed, refugees accounted for almost one quarter of the total population in Germany's Soviet-occupied zone (SOZ). The presence of 4.3 million refugees and expellees caused profound societal changes and had a major impact on the SOZ's and later on the GDR's domestic and foreign policies.

As early as 1945, the Soviet-occupied zone's administrative bodies were forced to react to the immense increase in population and to develop concepts for the new arrivals' longterm integration. These concepts especially included an active social policy, the redistribution of living space, and the land reform. The measures culminated in the "Resettled Persons Act" of 1950. Unlike in the Federal Republic, however, the expellees were not acknowledged as a separate group. This fact is reflected in the term "resettled person", which was created in 1945 and which helped coin the name for the new office called Zentralverwaltung für deutsche Umsiedler (ZVU; Central Administration for German Resettled Persons). The term "resettled persons" was intended to clarify for those affected and for the locals alike that the refugees' escape and absorption was final. At the same time, the term was to support the Potsdam Agreement, according to which the population shift had not been an expulsion which was both painful and illegal under international law, but a legal and planned resettlement. Since the early 1950s, the expellee issue was increasingly made taboo, mostly due to foreign policy considerations, for instance the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line in a treaty signed with Poland at Zgorzelec (German: Görlitz).

The GDR's policy towards the refugees after 1945 can be divided into three areas, a caritative, a redistributive, and a socio-revolutionary one. With its caritative policy, the government attempted to alleviate the worst hardship during the period immediately after the War. Its redistributive measures aimed at redistributing the old-established population's property - in concrete terms, this meant living space in particular. In this area, much more action was taken to help the refugees than in the occupied zones in the West. The socio-revolutionary policy linked integration measures directly with a radical change of the existing social and economic order, especially with the land reform.

At first, the Soviet military administration (SMAD), the constituent states and the local authorities in the SOZ were overtaxed by the streams of refugees. By the summer of 1945, some 2.5 million refugees had arrived in the SOZ. The attempts made during that summer to control and channel the steady stream of migrants were often unrealistic and were constantly belied by the facts. Many areas were completely overcrowded as early as the summer of 1945, because the SOZ acted as a transit and receiving country for refugees.

By founding the ZVU, the Soviet military administration created a specific administrative body to deal with refugee matters which was structured down to the state and local level, quite some time before similar institutions were established in western Germany. In early 1946, the authorities slowly began to be able to handle the first reception of refugees. Until that point, 358 reception camps able to accommodate 350,000 people had been built all over the zone. In the camps, the new arrivals were - as far as the supply situation allowed - fed, medically treated and then sent onward to their place of reception. For the individual states and districts, reception quotas were set which depended on the available living space - the objective was to offer a roof over their head to the refugees. This was most easily possible in small towns or villages, which meant that nearly half the refugees were put up in villages of less than 2,000 inhabitants. This may also explain the significant differences in the share of refugees of the total population when comparing the SOZ's individual states. While 17 per cent of the population were refugees in industrially advanced Saxony - a figure which is similar to the West German average -, the share of refugees was 43.3 per cent in Mecklenburg.

In 1946, the question of what was to happen with the so-called "resettled persons" in the long term came to the fore. The first precondition for the desired integration was giving the refugees the same rights as the old-established inhabitants, which meant a right to food ration cards and public welfare. The first measure implemented specifically for the resettled persons' benefit was SMAD order no. 304, according to which the needy were allowed to apply for a one-off payment of Reichsmark 300 per household and Reichsmark 100 per child. Compared to the restricted means which the government had at its disposal, this was a generous offer. In West Germany, similar lump sum support only was available in 1949 after the Emergency Relief Act had been passed. However, the local authorities had problems implementing the order. A circular sent to the districts by the Brandenburg Minister of Health and social security illustrates that fact. In this circular, he calls for "particular emphathy" with the resettled persons. "It is not acceptable that these people are reproached with their hard lot and that they are told by the authorities of self-government that they are a burden for the communities which are to be their homes and that on these grounds they are denied help." (BLHA, Ld. Br. Rep. 206, Nr. 3312, p. 16.). Since the SOZ was only able to afford special laws such as SMAD order no. 304 in a limited fashion, it started in 1946 to employ social organizations and the churches in its refugee policies. At regional and local level, collections were organized which played a central role in the ZVU's early integration concepts (BAB, DO 1-10, Nr. 1, p. 13.). In 1948, the collections culminated in the so-called "resettler weeks", which were extravagantly advertised but yielded disappointing results.

Finding accomodation for the refugees was another urgent problem; though it should be noted that in 1947, the SOZ lacked more than one million homes in general. Backed by the "Allied Control Council Act No. 18" dated March 18th, 1946, the authorities first seized living space previously owned by Nazis, proceeding much more decisively than the western occupying powers. In 1947, general inspections of homes were launched. In the case of their being not full enough, refugees were often assigned to the respective homes. In contrast to West Germany, the authorities were therefore able to close down the refugee camps fairly quickly. According to a GDR survey of April 1950, 93 per cent of resettled persons lived "in firm (massive) houses", 43,085 or 6.4per cent still lived in huts and lightweight construction homes, while, 4,039 or 0.6per cent resided in emergency accomodation (BLHA, Ld. Br. Rep. 203, No. 1150, p. 75). However, the political limitations imposed on the redistribution measures in the SOZ can be illustrated by the debate on compensation for the losses suffered during the War. When a corresponding bill was introduced into Saxony's state parliament, the following counter-argument was given: "The government of Saxony takes the view that a compulsory survey [of living space, furniture, household effects, etc.] is not possible. We cannot afford the mood among the population to worsen." (BAB, DO 1 - 10, No. 31, p. 202). Apparently, the measures taken in favour of refugees and resettled persons stirred up envy among the old-established population, for whose attitude the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) had to show at least limited consideration.

The third major area of SOZ policy towards the refugees was the land reform. Norman Naimark once pointedly summed up that the integration of the refugees and Communist Party of Germany's desire to gain political control in the country led to the land reform. In early September 1945, the state and province governments passed the land reform bills in which "resettled persons" were explicitly named as a group of recipients besides farm workers and smallholders. Until 1949, refugees received 43.3 per cent of all new farming jobs and 34.9 per cent of all distributed land, a percentage significantly higher than their share of the population of 24.2 per cent. In absolute terms this meant that 91,155 resettled persons were assigned a position on a farm within the scope of the land reform and that, including family members, roughly one in ten expellees in the SOZ was able to make a new life for themselves as farmers. Nevertheless, the land reform had only a limited integrative effect. This was mostly due to the structural problems which arose when big estates were switched to smallholding conditions. This was not changed either by SMAD order no. 209 issued on September 9th, 1947, or the so-called New Farmers' Programme, since there was a shortage of building materials. In 1949, the New Farmers' Programme was complemented by the ancillary directive to give preference to expellees when determining the priority level of construction projects (BLHA, Ld. Br. Rep. 206, No. 2845, p. 105). All in all, the SOZ/GDR paid a high economic and political price for SMAD order no. 209. Investment in the new farming homesteads required that nearly all the resources available for construction had to be channelled into the countryside. In the cities, construction work came to a standstill, even though the need for action was just as high as in the country due to war damages, serious housing shortage, and the increasing demand for workers. Professional integration also remained difficult. Similar to western Germany, most expellees only were able to get inferior jobs hardly ever in line with the person's qualification, and only were able to work their way up over the years. Social differences were mostly canceled out in the course of industrialization policies and increased social mobility.

On the whole, the measures taken by the SOZ in favour of the refugees fell far short of both the government's and the potential recipients' expectations. Since 1948, there has been a trend to declare the resettled persons problem solved or to make it taboo. That year, the SED's Central Committee decided to close down the ZVU, the state resettler authorities and the local resettler committees. The reason given was this: "The continued existence of a specific central resettler authority and special resettler offices in the states and districts would logically result in impeding the amalgamation process by emphasizing specific resettler interests." (cf. BLHA, Ld. Br. Rep. 332, No. 574, p. 20; see also BAB, DO 1-10, No. 4, p. 130). The authorities also prevented the formation of independent lobby groups. At first, the basis for this prohibition, similar to the situation in the western zones, was the coalition ban. But while this ban was lifted in the Federal Republic, GDR police began actively pursuing expellees who openly declared their identity. In connection with the then controversial recognition of the Oder-Neisse line, the GDR's Ministry of the Interior forbade all allusions to the expellees' home countries and making mention of their origins in public, even in cultural life. In late 1950, the authorities broke up the last secret meetings held by expellees, after that, their trail gets lost even in police records (BAB, DO 1-11, HVDVP, No. 886, pp. 12-21, 134 and 159).

Roughly at the same time, even while the regime took increasingly more drastic steps to curb the expellees' efforts at gathering, the "Bill on the Further Improvement of the Former Resettled Persons' Situation" was passed. In a last attempt, it brought together all previous areas of refugee policy. The most significant individual measure by far was an interest-free loan of 1,000 Marks per family intended for them to buy consumer goods. Single-person households were entitled to 600 Marks. In addition, the bill provided for lower-priced loans for the construction of residential and service buildings, a reduction in delivery quotas for "resettled new farmers" by up to 50 per cent, loans for expellee craftsmen and formerly expelled new farmers. Therefore, the law can be compared to the Federal Republic of Germany's Loss Compensation Act, even though the GDR bill did firmly not state that the expellees had suffered any special damages due to the lost war. Quite the opposite was the case, as the expellees were increasingly accused of having been Hitler's fifth column.

As had previous measures, the Resettled Persons Act gave rise to enormous hopes and expectations which, however, it was not able to fulfill. The huge demand caused by the offered loans was not set off by a sufficient supply of goods. In late 1950, the GDR's government already cut back its activities, and from 1953 onwards, no loans whatsoever were awarded any longer. Whereas the benefits given out in the SOZ/GDR until then had met West Germany's level and even surpassed it when compared to the gross national product, after that time the expellees were much better off materially speaking in the Federal Republic. Due to this fact, a disproportionate number of expellees moved to West Germany until the Wall was built.

Philipp Ther


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