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Forced Migrations and Expulsions in Europe, 1938-48

The largest wave of forced migrations Europe has seen in its history happened in the years around World War II. Emigration, escape, deportation, expulsion, resettlement - many millions of people were affected, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. It is not possible to deal with all these events in detail here. Some of these events are to be picked out and reviewed in greater detail. On the one hand, they are exemplary for forced migrations, but on the other hand all of them naturally had a specific sequence of events and their own historic context.

  • The Nazi policy called "Heim ins Reich" or "back to the Reich" was aimed at bringing ethnic Germans to Germany from those countries where they formed a minority. Corresponding agreements allowed to resettle the people affected even against their will. The objective of this policy was an ethnic homogenization. After the beginning of the war, many resettlers were sent to the territories captured by the Germans from which the Polish, Czech and Jewish populations had been forcedly evacuated, deported to ghettos and concentration camps or murdered.

  • National Socialist "Population Policy" in Eastern Europe during the war years: This section examines Nazi Germany's occupation policy in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

  • The correlation between the clearing out of occupied territories in Eastern Europe by forced relocation of the non-German population and the deportation and murder of millions of Jews has been pointed out in particular by historian Götz Aly. Certainly, the objective of attaining an ethnic homogenization plays a major role in this respect as well. Moreover, the initial phases of the Holocaust with its bureaucratic registration and the deportation of the Jewish population including the relocation plans that were still being considered at the time (e.g. the resettlement of all Jews in Madagascar) show at least some similarities with other activities of forced resettlement. One must not forget, however, that an anti-semitism was at work here which was much older than nationalist ideas and that the racist, exterminatory thinking of the National Socialists became evident in their rhetoric and in their actions even early on - it is rather doubtful whether any resettlement plans ever were realistic. The Holocaust does show some connections to the phenomenon of forced migration, which is why it has been included here, but in the end, it does remain an event unparalleled in history.

  • Furthermore, there were large-scale forced migrations during and towards the end of the war in other regions as well, especially on Soviet territory and in the areas occupied by the USSR. Here, we have chosen the example of those areas which used to form the eastern part of Poland before they were annexed to the Soviet Union. The Polish population was relocated to the reshaped Poland, often to those areas which the German population had had to leave beforehand.

  • The escape and forced relocation of the German population from many countries of Eastern and Central Europe after the end of the war is the last phase in the history of forced migrations during the period around World War II. In this field, we take a look at the events in Czechoslovakia and Poland, where the largest number of people was affected. Because of their great symbolic significance, the so-called Beneš Decrees have received their own sub-section.

This complex of themes in particular is especially volatile even six decades after the events themselves. It is being debated controversially by historians. When it comes to politics, it is a cause for irritation, conflict and strife, as evidenced by the debates on the right method of remembrance and the claims for compensation.

In addition, the debate is also marked by the fact that for a long time, and sometimes even until today, highly differing perceptions of the events as well as highly differing historiographies existed or have been existing in the various countries. Therefore, a climate of increased communication, of an exchange of ideas and of understanding must be built up laboriously and gradually.


Gerrit Schäfer


Literary References

Aly, Götz
"Endlösung" : Völkerverschiebung und der Mord an den europäischen Juden / Götz Aly. - Frankfurt am Main : S. Fischer, 1995. - 446 S. : Kt.
Literaturverz. S. 421-432
ISBN 3-10-000411-6
Signatur(en): A 96-4350


Monika Flacke, Ulrike Schmiegelt
Mythen der Nationen. Kampf der Erinnerungen. Über die Schwierigkeiten der Musealisierung europäischer Zwangsmigrationen.
In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 51/1 (2003), S. 54-58.
Signatur(en): X 1069


Naimark, Norman M.
Flammender Hass : ethnische Säuberungen im 20. Jahrhundert / Norman M. Naimark. - München : Beck, 2004. - 301 S.
Einheitssacht.: Fires of hatred <dt.>
ISBN 3-406-51757-9
Signatur(en): A 04-1036


Literature out of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Library

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