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The Expulsion Of The Germans: The Largest Forced Migration In History

In December 1944 Winston Churchill announced to a startled House of Commons that the Allies had decided to carry out the largest forced population transfer — or what is nowadays referred to as “ethnic cleansing” — in human history.




Millions of civilians living in the eastern German provinces that were to be turned over to Poland after the war were to be driven out and deposited among the ruins of the former Reich, to fend for themselves as best they could. The Prime Minister did not mince words. What was planned, he forthrightly declared, was “the total expulsion of the Germans… For expulsion is the method which, so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting.”
The Prime Minister’s revelation alarmed some commentators, who recalled that only eighteen months previously his government had pledged: “Let it be quite clearly understood and proclaimed all over the world that we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people.”
In the United States, senators demanded to know when the Atlantic Charter, a statement of Anglo-American war aims that affirmed the two countries’ opposition to “territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned” had been repealed. George Orwell, denouncing Churchill’s proposal as an “enormous crime,” took comfort in the reflection that so extreme a policy “cannot actually be carried through, though it might be started, with confusion, suffering and the sowing of irreconcilable hatreds as the result.”
To this day, the postwar expulsions — the scale and lethality of which vastly exceed the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the break-up in the 1990s of the former Yugoslavia — remain little known outside Germany itself. (Even there, a 2002 survey found that Germans under thirty had a more accurate knowledge of Ethiopia than of the areas of Europe from which their grandparents were deported.)
The textbooks on modern German and modern European history I use regularly in my college classroom either omit mention of the expulsions altogether, or relegate them to a couple of uninformative, and frequently inaccurate, lines depicting them as the inevitable consequence of Germany’s wartime atrocities. In popular discourse, on the rare occasions that the expulsions are mentioned at all it is common to dismiss them with the observation that the expellees were “got what they deserved,” or that the interest of the expelling states in unburdening themselves of a potentially disloyal minority population should take precedence over the deportees’ right to remain in the lands of their birth.


THE PROBLEMS OF APPLYING THE

WORD ‘GENOCIDE’ TO EXPELLED

GERMANS

The definition of the word ‘genocide’ has become a subject of intense debate due to its severe political, diplomatic, historiographic, and inter-cultural consequences. The standard definition as accepted by the United States and United Nations (the most salient monitors of global human rights interests and prosecution) is the conscious attempt to target a specific race, culture, religion, or nation for extermination. Many peoples or social identities that have historically suffered discrimination or ethnic persecution readily employ the term for a variety of factors: 1) a shared feeling of calamity and tragedy for cultural solidarity; 2) as a means to gain political, economic, or commemorative subsidy or restitution and; 3) to depict the conscious and premeditated brutality performed by a rival ethnoracial or cultural group. Some peoples, especially the Albanians and Armenians, fervently choose the word genocide in order to emphasise the brutality of their political rivals, the Serbs and Turks respectively, who have denied them independence. As a result, the word ‘genocide’ is often used broadly in exaggeration and with great political motivation, and is often bitterly disputed by the ethnic group accused of that genocide. Read our Comparative Genocide Table to see these disputes.  >>>MORE<<<
TOTAL= approximately 10-13,000,000 civilians expelled or displaced, over 2,000,000 dead.

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