Resettlement not displacement was the driver

Dear Editor, Mary Kenny seems at sea with the details of the displacement of Germans from eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War and its aftermath (IC 17/9/15). Whereas many Germans and people of other nationalities fled red army advances towards the war’s end and immediately afterwards, the Allies decided to resettle ethnic Germans living in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary at Potsdam in 1945. 

If Joseph Stalin was the main culprit here, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill approved. Up to 15 million ethnic Germans were expelled from their homes in several eastern European countries. 

If nearly half came from the German provinces of Pomerania and Silesia, annexed by Poland in 1945, the remainder came from German communities extending as far east as the Volga, where their ancestors had settled from the 18th century and even earlier. 

For most, the only connexion with the German state was a common language. The only thing Germany could offer initially were refugee camps and over a million expellees died in transit. This contrasts with the Potsdam aspiration that the expulsions be “orderly and humane”.

This is a relatively unknown and inglorious chapter in Europe’s history, and some human rights experts bizarrely see it as a model as to how ethnic population transfers may occur in extreme circumstances. 

At present, one quarter of the German population are made up of the victims of these expulsions and their descendants who would take a different view. 

Until this present crisis, the post-war displacement of Germans represents the greatest co-ordinated movement of peoples in the world’s history, including even the effects of Indian partition a few years later.

Similarly, over one million Poles were expelled from Western Ukraine and Belarus with the agreement of the Allied leaders. 

This, too, represents a grim story.

Yours etc.,

Peadar Laighléis

Laytown, Co Meath.


Mary Kenny replies…  Mr Laighleis makes some very valid points. I was drawing mostly on Anthony Beevor’s Downfall, as I cited in the piece. Many nationalities suffered dreadfully in the chaos of 1945, but since Germany has opened the European dialogue about refugees today, I referred to the ethnic Germans refugees as Beevor describes, drawing on Russian and German archives, in his book.