Historical Memory and the Expulsion of Ethnic Germans in Europe, 1944 - 1947
As the Second World War in Europe came to an end the Russians advanced from the east towards Berlin. German occupation of Poland and Czechoslovakia had been particularly brutal. Both of these countries, products of German defeat at the end of World War I contained millions of ethnic Germans, who had previously co-existed with their Slav neighbours, often for many centuries, but were now perceived by these neighbours as having encouraged and collaborated with Nazi Germany. Russians, Poles and Czechs now sought revenge triggering the largest forced expulsion in recorded history. Somewhere between 8 and 16.5 million ethnic Germans fled to the west, and between 2 and 3 million perished during flight. Expellee property was subsequently seized by the Poles and Czechs. In broad terms, until the 1990s these events were seen within Germany as part of a submerged collective memory, suppressed in part by their having lost the war. In the last 20 years with an increasingly powerful expellee organisation (the Bund der Vertriebenen, Federation of Expellees) influencing mainstream German politics, academia, and the German media, an attempt has been made to change historical memory, or rewrite what has been referred to as an 'unacceptable past'. This, in recent years has led to claims by former expellees against the Czech Republic, and Poland for restitution. This in itself has led to bitter accusations by these countries that the expellees have rewritten German history portraying themselves as victims of the Second World War. This thesis explores the methods employed by the expellee groups and their supporters in the restructuring of their historical memory by examining literature dating from the 1950s until the present day from primarily German and American sources, as well as German television documentaries from 2000. These sources are considered in relation to how collective and historical memory have evolved into a position that has allowed the expellees to create an 'acceptable past'.