Prof. Dr. Gesine Schwan
President, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder),
coordinator for German-Polish cooperation
Forced Migration and Expulsion
in 20th Century Europe
The experience of having to leave one's home under duress and by means of the threat of violence, having to leave one's possessions, one's familiar surroundings and one's neighbours behind, venturing out to unknown and inhospitable places where one is not welcome - in the last century, this was an experience which was shared by millions of people and which was indelibly etched into the collective memories of many countries.
Millions of Germans who had to leave Poland, the Czech Republic and other Eastern European states after World War II also suffered this fate. Their expulsion, but also the reception of refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, is an important, albeit quite controversially discussed, part of German post-war history. Until today, the issue of expulsions has remained highly topical and explosive, not least in regards to the relationship with our Eastern neighbour states, which recently became our partners in the expanded European Union. Thoughtless remarks can cause a lot of trouble in this context. The debate on a possible "Centre Against Forced Migration" or the demands for compensation voiced by some expellee organization officials are still suited to put pressure on the efforts of creating a closer, trust-based relationship with our neighbours.
If one wants to talk about expulsions, one must take into account the whole phenomenon and the entire historical context and not only look at the fate of the Germans after 1945. For forced migration was (and has remained until today) a common way of exerting political power at the expense of the civilian population, which many people were and still are affected by. In addition, the questions of guilt and the injustice preceding the expulsions must be addressed. If the crimes committed in the wake of the German war and occupation policy from 1939 to 1945 are unceremoniously left out of account, the expulsion of the German population can be understood as little as the way that this subject is dealt with in our Eastern neighbour states today.
The continuously progressing unification of Europe means an increased chance of overcoming views limited by national interests, of getting to know the multitude of approaches and perspectives concerning the expulsions of the 20th century and of developing a common European remembrance culture. This very approach is followed by the
"Danzig Gdansk declaration" published by Presidents Kwasniewski and Rau, to which current Federal President Köhler has also committed himself. Remembrance and grief should not be abused for mutual recriminations, set-offs and claims for compensation, but instead stand for themselves and be lived by themselves far from all political exploitation. Even former enemies can be united in grief.
This fact constitutes a challenge for teachers, students, pupils and for adult education, as well. The "FES Net Source: History and Politics" subject module called "Forced Migration and Expulsions" is aimed at anyone working in these fields. It offers a collection of introductory texts on many facets of the subject, links to important websites, literary references and source texts on focus topics such as the role of nationalist ideas, as well as an overview of forced migration in Europe in the past century, in particular during and after World War II, and the way that the topic has been dealt with since.
In addition, the subject module informs the reader about various initiatives which deal with the issue in a spirit of European reconciliation. At this point, the
"European Network on Forced Migration and Expulsions" merits mentioning. It was founded by scientists from eight European states with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
Even after decades, forced migration is a highly sensitive, painful topic in Germany and Eastern Europe, but it is a thing of the past, once and for all. For millions of people in other parts of the world, however, the fear of being expelled from their homes continues to be a topical and acute threat. This is another reason of dealing with the issue - to learn from history in order to do better in the future.
I wish everyone working with the subject module much gain and much success!
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