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


Claudia Kraft
Ruhr University, Bochum

Debates on the Expulsion of Germans in Poland since 1945

1. Short Description

The Official Standpoint up to 1989

The expulsion of Germans from Poland after World War II was inextricably linked to the National Socialist occupation and extermination policy as well as the reorganization of Europe by the victorious Allies. The policy of National Socialist German towards Poland seemed to have made impossible any future co-existence of Germans and Poles on the territory of the Polish state which had been shifted westward. The Polish communists, who came to power after the War thanks to Moscow's support, claimed that they were the only political power able to safeguard the newly acquired areas for the state and to protect them from any future German aggression (c.f. Documents in No. 1). The anti-German argument was an important element for the communists to gain acceptance with the population, large parts of which were anti-communist. Out of consideration for alliance policies, the territorial and population-related reorganization was not to be called "Shift to the West", in the course of which the Soviet Union had acquired considerable territories that had formerly been Polish. Instead, the official policy was to speak about Poland's return to "traditionally Polish territory", which for a long time had only become the victim of forced Germanization. The communist position concerning the new territory gained in the north and in the west coincided with the nationality-related policy concepts devised by the bourgeois parties from before the war. This meant that soon there was a fairly broad consensus in society on the necessity of expelling the Germans and integrating the new (or rather "regained", as contemporary diction had it) territories into the Polish state. Voices which immediately after the war criticized the expulsion of all Germans, which was based on the principle of collective guilt, as inhuman remained the minority (as, for instance, the bishop of Katowice, Stanislaw Adamski, No. 2). Pity for the German population was to be found most easily with those Polish expellees who came from their homes in Eastern Poland to the former German Eastern territories, because they know how it felt to lose their homes. As in the GDR, the expellees in the People's Republic of Poland were not allowed to speak about their experiences in public (Memoirs of expelled Germans and Poles from the east of the country, No. 3).

Even though the communist regime lost in legitimacy during the existence of the People's Republic of Poland, it could rest assured for a long time that its anti-German propaganda and its constant claim of the inviolability of the Oder-Neisse Line rallied the population behind it. The communists' domestic loss of legitimacy, which finally led to a turnaround in the political system in 1989, cannot hide the fact that the regime really managed to integrate the new Polish territories into the state - not only economically and politically speaking, but also in the heads of the population. It may possibly have been this successful territorial and mental integration which allowed the rulers during the last phase of their regime to officially voice regret about the suffering inflicted on the Germans during the expulsions (for instance in a 1985 speech by the Head of State, Wojciech Jaruzelski, No. 4).

Opposing Voices

From the late 1950s onwards, the blatant exploitation of the "German Question" by the regime and the standpoint it accordingly assumed towards expulsion was increasingly criticized by the opposition movement, which strove for better relations with their German neighbours. A particularly important sign was sent out in 1965, when Polish bishops sent a letter to their German counterparts in which they asked forgiveness for the wrongs perpetrated during the expulsion and at the same time offered forgiveness for German war crimes (No. 4, p. 21) With this letter, the bishops set an example in a truly pathbreaking way, to which the Polish population, however, at the time largely reacted with a lack of understanding. Understandably, the negative image of Germany was rooted deeply in the Polish soul. Thus, the attempts made by Znak, a group of Catholic members of parliament, and the opposition Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia (Kluby Inteligencji Katolickiej, KIK) to attain a somewhat less ideologized picture of the Germans were all the more remarkable. This new attitude also meant dealing critically with the question of how the expulsion of Germans was to be incorporated into the self-image of Polish society. The most radical tone in which this question was posed was to be found in a text published in 1981 by Jan Józef Lipski during his exile in Paris, in which the author focused on a longer-term historic perspective and Poland's relationship with its minorities as well as its neighbouring states (No. 5). Back in Poland, there was not much of a reaction to the text initially, but later, it became a major point of reference for the debates which became possible in the country's pluralistic political climate after 1989.

The Debate in the Public and in Politics since 1989

Since the beginning of the 1990s, a lively debate has been going on in Poland on the role which the expulsion of the Germans plays in Polish history. In this regard, one notices that not only the historic context of World War II and the subsequent territorial reorganization of Central Europe are used as the backdrop against which events are studied, but that for the first time, Polish responsibility for the expulsions in general and their execution in particular is also made an issue. After the signing of the German-Polish treaty on borders and neighbourly relations as well as the visible congruence of Germany's and Poland's interests in a Europe which was reuniting in the first half of the 1990s, it was not only Poland's political and intellectual elites who dealt with the issue of Polish responsibility, but also larger parts of the general public (Contributions to the Debate in No. 4). One may note that during that time, people dealt more intensively with the fate of the East German expellees in Poland than in Germany itself. Especially in those regions from which the Germans had been expelled, Polish citizens began looking for traces of German cultural heritage and German traditions (as, for instance, a German-Polish network set up in the border regions, c.f. No. 6 or German-Polish discussion groups on the issue of expulsion, No. 7). Only when shifts in German remembrance culture became evident at the turn of the millennium, which gave rise to Polish fears that the importance attached to World War II and the related Polish suffering might decrease, did a swing in opinion in parts of the Polish public and the Polish elites occur (voices of both the older, No. 8, and the younger generation, No. 9). In Germany, the sometimes hysterical Polish reactions did not pass unnoticed and were severely criticized. One has to ask oneself, however, why the German public was not as sensitive to the serious way that Poles dealt with the issue of expulsion during the first half of the 1990s. A positive reaction and a broader dialogue on the topic might perhaps have prevented the current ill feeling evident in German-Polish relations.

Changes in Historiography

For many years, there were strict limitations on dealing with the expulsion of Germans in a scientific manner in the People's Republic of Poland. It was considered the inevitable consequence of the German extermination policy in Eastern and Central Europe and the territorial reorganization following World War II. Since the 1960s, the integration and settlement of the new Polish territories was intensively studied. This meant that the "forced resettlement" or "transfer" of the Germans was also studied - but only as a precondition for the successful integration of these territories, without asking about the responsibility of the Poles involved or about the impact of these events on the country's political culture. In addition, historians fell back on traditions found earlier in Polish historiography, traditions according to which the former Occupied Eastern Territories (Ostgebiete) were considered as originally Polish territories. The disappearance of the Germans from Poland thus was regarded as a more or less logical consequence of historic developments.

Only once historiography was no longer subject to political limitations after the political turnaround of 1989 was it possible to use a more comprehensive approach when dealing with the complex of theme that was "expulsion". Sometimes in co-operation with their German colleagues, Polish historians seized the opportunity of more liberal access to the archives to reconstruct the sequence of events during the expulsions and the activities of the decision-makers and players involved. The topic of expulsion was considered one of the "blank spots" which had been caused by the restrictions that the science of history had been subjected to during the existence of the People's Republic of Poland and which Polish historians now began to reappraise with great vigour. In the meantime, comprehensive monographs and source collections have been created for almost all regions from which Germans were expelled after World War II. Besides the expulsion of Germans, the expulsion of Poles from the former Polish Eastern territories and expulsions within Poland, which mostly affected the Ukrainian part of the population, were focused on. When dealing scientifically with this subject in the future, one issue will surely be in how far it can be fitted into an overall history of authoritarian and totalitarian systems of the 20th century.


2. Source Citations

  1. "Unsere Heimat ist uns ein fremdes Land geworden …" Die Deutschen östlich von Oder und Neisse 1945-1950. Dokumente aus polnischen Archiven (Quellen zur Geschichte und Landeskunde Ostmitteleuropas, 4/I-4/IV.), hrsg. v. Włodzimierz Borodziej und Hans Lemberg, 4 Bände, Marburg/Lahn 2000-2004 [polnische Ausgabe: "Nasza ojczyzna stała się dla nas obcym państwem …". Niemcy w Polsce 1945-1950. Wybór dokumentów, pod redakcją Włodzimierza Borodzieja i Hansa Lemberga, 4 tomy, Warszawa 2000-2001].
    Signatur: A 04-541
  2. Die Aussiedlung der Deutschen und die Ansiedlung der polnischen Bevölkerung im Raum Krzyzowa-świdnica (Kreisau-Schweidnitz) 1945-1948. Dokumentenauswahl, hg. v. Karol Jonca, Wrocław 1997 (zweisprachige Ausgabe), S. 117ff.
  3. Vertreibung aus dem Osten. Deutsche und Polen erinnern sich, hgg. v. Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg, Renate Stößinger u. Robert Traba, Olsztyn 2000 (Polnische Ausgabe: Wypędzenie ze wschodu. Wspomnienia Polaków i Niemców, Olsztyn 2001).
  4. Verlorene Heimat. Die Vertreibungsdebatte in Polen, hgg. v. Klaus Bachmann u. Jerzy Kranz, Bonn 1998, S. 30 (poln. Ausgabe: Przeprosić za wypędzenie?, Kraków 1997).
  5. Lipski, Jan Józef: Zwei Vaterländer – zwei Patriotismen. Bemerkungen zum nationalen Größenwahn und zur Xenophobie der Polen, in: Wir müssen uns alles sagen …Texte zur deutsch-polnischen Nachbarschaft von Jan Józef Lipski, hg. v. Georg Ziegler, Gliwice 1996, S. 185-228, besonders S. 190-199 (zweisprachige Ausgabe).
  6. Aufbau eines deutsch-polnischen Netzwerkes "Spurensuche – Alte Heimat/Neue Heimat" (Po śladach – stara i nowa mała ojczyzna),
  7. Und dann mußten wir raus. I wtedy nas wywieźli. Wanderungen durch das Gedächtnis. Von Vertreibungen der Polen und Deutschen 1939-1949. Wędrówki po obszarze pamięci. O wypędzeniach Polaków i Niemców, hg. v. Wanja Ronge, Berlin 2000 (zweisprachige Ausgabe).
  8. Bartoszewski, Władysław, Wider das selektive Erinnern, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine vom 6. August 2003) (polnisch: Przeciw wybiórczej pamięci, in: Rzeczpospolita vom 15. Juli 2003).
  9. Buras, Piotr, Falscher Ansatz für das Gedenken, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung vom 1. September 2003.

3. Literary References

  • Borodziej, Włodzimierz, Flucht, Vertreibung, Zwangsaussiedlung, in: Deutsche und Polen: Geschichte, Kultur, Politik, hgg. v. Andreas Lawaty u. Hubert Orłowski, München 2003, S. 88-95.
    Knapper, aber sehr instruktiver Überblick sowohl zur Terminologie in Deutschland und Polen, zum historischen Prozeß der Vertreibung selbst wie auch zu den neueren Entwicklungen in der öffentlichen Debatte und in der Geschichtsschreibung seit 1989.
  • Borodziej, Włodzimierz, Historiografia polska o "wypędzeniu" Niemców [Die polnische Historiographie zur "Vertreibung" der Deutschen], in: Przegląd Badań, Polska 1944/45-1989, Studia i Materiały [Forschungsüberblick, Polen 1944/45-1989, Studien und Materialien] II/1996, S. 249-269.
    Die wichtigsten geschichtswissenschaftlichen Positionen, mit denen in der Volksrepublik Polen versucht wurde, die Vertreibung zu rechtfertigen und in das Geschichtsbild des sozialistischen Staates einzubauen.
  • Buras, Piotr/Piotr M. Majewski, Pamięc wypędzonych. Grass, Beneš i środkowo-europejskie rozrachunki. Antologia tekstów polskich, niemieckich i czeskich [Die Erinnerung der Vertriebenen. Grass, Beneš und mitteleuropäische Abrechnungen. Eine Anthologie polnischer, deutscher und tschechischer Texte.] Warszawa 2003. Dokumentation der öffentlichen Debatten (vor allem in der Presse) in Deutschland, Polen und Tschechien in den letzten Jahren, in denen es vor allem um eine neue Erinnerungskultur und die Problematik von Restitutionsansprüchen vor dem Hintergrund des Entstehens einer gesamteuropäischen Rechtsgemeinschaft geht.
  • Dmitrów, Edmund, Vergangenheitspolitik in Polen, in: Deutsch-polnische Beziehungen 1939 - 1945 - 1949. Ein Einführung (Einzelveröffentlichungen des Deutschen Historischen Instituts Warschau, 5), hgg. v. Włodzimierz Borodziej u. Klaus Ziemer, Osnabrück 2003, S. 235-264.
    Darstellung der Vergangenheitspolitik der Volksrepublik Polen: Konstruktion neuer Geschichtsbilder, historische Tabuthemen, Umgang mit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und seinen Folgen, vor allem auch instrumentelle Behandlung der "deutschen Frage" durch die Staats- und Parteiführung.
  • Flucht und Vertreibung in europäischer Perspektive, hgg. v. Jürgen Danyel u. Philipp Ther (Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 51/2003, Nr. 1).
    Signatur: X 1069
    Die Zwangsmigrationen des 20. Jahrhunderts und ihre Folgen in europäischer Perspektive.
  • Kerski, Basil, Geschichte und Erinnerung in den aktuellen politischen Debatten zwischen Deutschen und Polen, in: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Polen-Instituts 14/2003, S. 13-23.
    Stellenwert der Wahrnehmung des Zweiten Weltkriegs und der Vertreibung in den aktuellen deutsch-polnischen Beziehungen.
  • Kompleks wypędzenia [Der Komplex der Vertreibung], hgg. v. Włodzimierz Borodziej u. Artur Hajnicz, Kraków 1998.
    Die Vertreibungen im und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg sowohl in faktographischer Aufarbeitung als auch in ihren Implikationen für die Nachkriegsgeschichte und Geschichtskultur Polens.
  • Kraft, Claudia, Die aktuelle Diskussion über Flucht und Vertreibung in der polnischen Historiographie und Öffentlichkeit, in: Zeitgeschichte-online, Internetportal zur Zeitgeschichte des Zentrums für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam (
    Darstellung der öffentlichen Debatte in Polen mit dem Schwerpunkt auf den Stellungnahmen seit Beginn des Konfliktes um das "Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen".
  • Krzemiński, Adam, Die schwierige deutsch-polnische Vergangenheitspolitik, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, B. 40-41/2003, S. 3-5.
    Signaturen: Y 511, MF 179
    Konflikte zwischen Deutschland und Polen über die Interpretation beziehungsgeschichtlich wichtiger Ereignisse.
  • Krzoska, Markus, Wypędzenie Niemców z Polski. Debata publiczna w Polsce i najnowjsze wyniki badań naukowych [Die Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Polen. Öffentliche Debatte und neueste Forschungsergebnisse in Polen], in: Śląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka 56 (2001) Nr. 2, S. 191-211.
    Die publizistische Debatte und die wissenschaftliche Behandlung des Themas vor allem seit 1989.
  • Traba, Robert, Streit um die Erinnerung. Die Aussiedlung der Deutschen aus Polen in der Geschichtsschreibung und im kollektiven Bewußtsein der Polen, in: Ostra-Gehege. Zeitschrift für Literatur und Kunst 2002, 4, S. 23-27.
    Die Bedeutung des Erinnerungsortes "Vertreibung" für das kollektive Gedächtnis im heutigen Polen.
  • Verlorene Heimat. Die Vertreibungsdebatte in Polen, hgg. v. Klaus Bachmann u. Jerzy Kranz, Bonn 1998.
    Die wichtigsten Dokumente zur Beschäftigung mit dem Thema Vertreibung in Polen seit dem Brief der Bischöfe 1965. Sowohl politische Stellungnahmen als auch publizistische Debatten.
  • Wóycicki, Kazimierz: Opfer und Täter – Die polnische Abrechnung mit der Geschichte nach 1989, in: Vergangenheitsbewältigung am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts, Opladen 1998 (Leviathan Sonderheft, 18), hgg. v. Helmut König, Michael Kohlstruck u. Andreas Wöll, S. 291-308.
    Signatur: X 2919/18
    Allgemeine Darstellung des Umgangs mit der Vergangenheit in Polen, Schwerpunkt auf dem Umgang mit der Vergangenheit der Volksrepublik Polen nach dem Systemwechsel.
    Internetportal des Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam zum Thema "Die Erinnerung an Flucht und Vertreibung". Dort findet man eine regelmäßig aktualisierte Presseschau, Berichte über Projekte und Tagungen, Rezensionen und Bibliographien zum Thema etc.


Die deutsche Besatzungspolitik in Polen

Vertreibung der deutschen Bevölkerung aus Polen

Zwangsmigrationen im östlichen Polen am Ende des Zweiten Weltkriegs

Literatur aus der Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

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