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L’espulsione dei tedeschi dall’Est

The Expulsion of Germans from the East
Copyright © 1963-2009, NYREV
Of the 12 million or so Germans who fled or were expelled from Eastern Europe at the end of the war, the vast majority came from Czechoslovakia (3.5 million) or Poland (7.8 million). Most of the second group came from lands taken from the defeated Reich and assigned to Poland by the Allies. About half of the 12 million fled, and about half were deported—though a neat division is impossible, since some of those who fled later returned and were then deported.
In late 1944 and early 1945 some six million Germans fled before the Red Army; it was then that most of the 600,000 or so fatalities among German refugees took place. Many of these were simply people who were caught between armies; some were purposefully massacred by Soviet soldiers or died in Soviet camps. Murders were also committed by Czechs and Poles. Hitler shares responsibility for these deaths, since German authorities failed to organize timely evacuations.
The postwar deportations of Germans, a direct result of Hitler’s war, were a Czechoslovak-Polish-Soviet-British-American project. During the war, the exiled leaders of occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia expressed their wish to keep their postwar German populations small, and the Allies agreed that German populations would be removed after victory. Winston Churchill recommended a “clean sweep,” and the Allied Control Council issued the official plan for the transfer of six million Germans.
The (non-Communist) Czechoslovak government had Stalin’s approval to expel its Germans, but also Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s. Poland was under Soviet control, though any Polish government would have expelled Germans. Polish Communists accepted Stalin’s proposal that Poland should be moved very far to the west, which implied expelling more Germans than democratic Polish politicians would have wished. (It also entailed the deportation of Poles from the eastern half of pre-war Poland, which the Soviets annexed. About a million of these Polish expellees settled the lands from which Germans were expelled.)
From May to December 1945 Polish and Czechoslovak authorities dumped about two million Germans over their borders. From January 1946, Polish and Czechoslovak authorities continued to force Germans to leave, while British, Soviet, and American forces arranged their reception in their occupation zones in Germany. In 1946 and 1947, the Soviets received slightly more than two million Germans in their zone, the British some 1.2 million, and the Americans some 1.4 million. Deportations continued at a slower pace thereafter.
Although the expulsions were a case of collective responsibility, and involved hideous treatment, mortality rates among German civilians—some 600,000 out of 12 million—were relatively low when compared to the other events discussed here. Caught up in the end of a horrible war fought in their name, and then by an Allied consensus in favor of border changes and deportation, these Germans were not victims of a calculated Stalinist killing policy comparable to the Terror or the famine.

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