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ethnic bias and nationalist revisionism among scholars as a cause for forgetting the ethnic cleansing of germans

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HOW TO CITE THIS SCHOLARLY ESSAY: Institute for Research of Expelled Germans. "Ethnic bias and nationalist revisionism among scholars as a cause for forgetting the ethnic cleansing of Germans." http://expelledgermans.org/distortedmemory.htm (accessed Day-Month-Year).

This article supports our essays on the progressive abandonment of the expelled Germans by the governments of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic (click here), as well as our article on the distorted historical memory and ethnic nationalism that prevents commemoration of the ethnic cleansings (click here), with Germans being equally as guilty as the nations involved in the expulsions. This article demonstrates the enduring role of ethnic bias and nationalist revisionism among scholars (especially Germans and expellee advocates) in documenting the expulsions.

 

A critical factor inhibiting commemoration and causing us to forget the ethnic cleansing of over 10,000,000 ethnic German civilians is the latent ethnic bias and nationalist revisionism among academics. Arguments either for or against commemoration among scholars and institutions are often inextricably linked to ethnic nationalism and its associated versions of distorted historical memory. For a variety of reasons, many of the proponents of publicizing the expulsions are to varying degrees tied to German nationalism, historical revisionism, or even unfortunately to neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial. Whereas most Polish and Czech scholars either do not fully scrutinize the ethnic cleansing or simply overlook it in their historiography, many German advocates of the expellee story have an ulterior motive. This greatly compromises the legitimacy of scholarship on the subject and further discourages commemoration altogether, since opponents rightfully point to an general underlying revisionism or German nationalism. The link between revisionism and the effort to document the ethnic cleansing springs from several factors. Very few proponents have been willing to analyze the expulsions with fair attention to each culture's interpretation. Many nationalists use the story of the suffering of so many ethnic Germans to emphasize that Germany has been “victimized.” Such biased discussions and one-sided polemics are frequent on a-historical White Nationalist forums like Stormfront, Stirpes, and the National Alliance. As they present it, the end of the war saw the rape of Germany's ancient eastern territories, the crippling of its armies, its national humiliation, and the mass murder of all traces of the German race from the mountains of northern Italy to the distant hills of Central Asia. Nazi atrocities are either overlooked or underplayed. This romanticized victimology of Germans abroad is presented as an impetus for German nationalism and national solidarity around lines of German blood, rather than mere nationality.


Many nationalists also use the fact that the memory of the complete demographic reconstruction of Europe and one of the worst expulsions of the twentieth century has been almost completely forgotten as evidence of an international conspiracy. Predictably, either spoken aloud or surreptitiously believed, “the Jews” are the main target of blame. They claim that the present invulnerability of Jews to criticism for their atrocities against Palestinians or domination of the media derives from the fact that Jews have consistently hid the reality that other peoples were also singled out for racial resettlement than the Ashkenazim during the Holocaust. As they argue, the world has not heard the story of the ethnic cleansing against Germans because the Jews have undermined the rights and honor of their mortal enemies, the Germans. The current illegality of Holocaust denial, in their eyes, verifies the myth of a conscious Jewish conspiracy by Jews against Germany. With many proponents of expellee commemoration surreptitiously asserting such Antisemitic polemics, few are keen to hear the story of the plight of Germans, who are already often perceived to have a proclivity for belligerence and war. Of course, these assertions are paranoid, ahistorical, counterproductive, and false.

Admittedly, the mention of this ethnic cleansing does indeed often inspire fervent criticism from angry Jewish groups both in Germany and abroad. Understandably, many Jews (and especially Zionists, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli nationalists) are afraid that excessive attention on the suffering of Germans will either diminish the importance of the Holocaust, or divert responsibility off of the Germans and onto Hitler alone. By portraying the German people as yet another people ruined by Hitler's war, some fear, the exclusivity and severity of the Jewish tragedy will be undermined. Others refuse to acknowledge that an ethnic cleansing even occurred. One article written by a Holocaust survivor insisted that even considering the deaths of a supposed “small number” (“only” 400,000 to as many as 2,280,000) would be an insult to the Jews. [1] He continued that “...to label as victims the millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from their homes in Eastern Europe after the defeat of the Nazis is to make a mockery of the Holocaust...it seems that the conviction that Germans do not have enough Lebensraum keeps smoldering in Germans' subconscious. How else to explain an effort to reclaim German heritage in Eastern Europe other than as a Drang nach Osten?” [2] Like the Poles, Czechs, and Germans, many Jews therefore have their own highly chauvinistic version of historical memory as well. Unfortunately, nations and sponsors of general human rights have thus far been unable to simply commemorate the death of at least 400,000 German civilians without exciting bitter lines of nationalistic division and hatred. Although Jewish groups do indeed play a limited role in obfuscating the memory of the ethnic cleansing, the historical factors behind this deletion of tragedy from our collective consciousness are far more complicated and involve many different nations, as outlined throughout this essay.

The common link between expellee groups and revisionism is evident in the fact that the first president of the Federation of Expellees, Hans Krüger (1959-1963), was forced to resign his post when it was discovered that he was sympathetic with National Socialism and was previously affiliated with the NSDAP. [3] Another study by Der Spiegel found that “of the almost 200 high-raking members of the [Federation]...in the years prior to 1982, more than a third can be found in the members' index of the NSDAP or are in another way tainted...Three former general secretaries and several vice-presidents are affected.” [4] As another salient example, the late Jörg Haider, the popular ultra-right pan-Germanist, demanded that the Czech Republic abolish its discriminatory Beneš Decrees and pay Germany indemnity for Czech atrocities against ethnic German civilians. Czech nationalists responded with equally bitter denunciation. The Polish magazine Rzeczpospolita, along with most other Poles, consider expellee groups like Landsmannschaft Ostpreussen (East Prussia) and their scholars to be tainted by neo-Nazism and secretly calling for a return of the lost eastern territories. [5] As a result, many see any advocacy of the story of ethnic cleansing against Germans to be a means to a nationalist or revisionist end.

Although most scholars documenting the expulsions are not outright neo-Nazis, many of these notions of disgruntlement with a supposed outside effort to downplay the suffering of Germans are pervasive among scholars and in German society itself. The “betrayal” of the victims by the German government further exemplifies to those of this mindset that the current German state is illegitimate, un-German, and a puppet of external forces (usually claimed to be either the EU liberals, the Americans, or the Jews). As a result, various manifestations of German nationalism and revisionism almost always play a role in documenting the expulsions. With these feelings of tension on all sides in mind, few German government officials – desperately nervous of appearing Rechtsextrem (extreme right) – are willing to entertain the question of an ethnic cleansing of Germans after Hitler's war.

These general underlying remnants of bias and revisionism are present in most scholarly works on the subject. Many of the authors and advocates have family or deceased relatives who suffered in the expulsions, further inflaming their passion and stifling a dispassionate effort for simple documentation of history. This is especially evident in the typically polemical wording of the writings and the biased presentation of post-war historiography. Words like “extermination,” “genocide,” and even “Holocaust” are common, often surreptitiously working to put the suffering of Germans on par with the other, more famous victims of the war and often even the Holocaust itself. German sources are equally vehement, adopting words like Vernichtung (annihilation), Massenmord (mass murder), Vergewaltigung (rape), and moralisches Verbrechen (moral crime). Other writings hastily describe prison camps used in Czechsolovakia and Yugoslavia as “extermination camps” or “death camps.” Others emphasize mass rapes by foaming-at-the-mouth Red Army officers, and children beaten to death en masse with gunstocks. This historical memory among many Germans overlooks the reality that the treatment of Germans was an expulsion and an ethnic cleansing with much accompanying violence, but by no means an intentional effort to exterminate the entire German race (the legitimate qualifier for a genocide). Although the occurrence of mass rapes and massacres is undeniable, the vast majority of expelled Germans died due to starvation and hypothermia, and were force marched to the border rather than “exterminated.” The petulant vocabulary of German historiography demonstrates the common underlying motives of ethnic bias, family passion, and nationalism in documenting the ethnic cleansing.

Another major historiographical fault in most writings on the subject is the vast discrepancy in the number of victims and casualties. In the case of the expelled Yugoslav Germans, for example, more reliable scholarly sources calculate the death toll at ~46,000 German civilians during the expulsions, [6] whilst others exaggerate it as high as 85,399. [7] For the Germans of Hungary, expellee interest groups raise the number of dead as high as 65,000, [8] whilst others claim it to be only 6,000. [9] For the Czechoslovak case, expellee groups insist as many as 270,000, [10] whilst more erudite scholars and Czech dissident groups like Antikomplex reduce it to only 15-30,000. [11] Even Alfred de Zayas (most famous for A Terrible Revenge), [12] one of the most scholarly and prominent advocates of the German story, is often criticized for his overly-passionate and ulterior interests in publicizing the expulsions. With such academic contradictions, coming to a dispassionate and truly scholarly conclusion on the history of ethnic cleansing of Germans is quite problematic.

In other cases, many scholars and expellee groups completely overlook the role of National Socialism in some German minority communities prior to their expulsion. This is a severe lacuna in explaining why these regimes found it necessary to orchestrate their complete removal of ethnic lines. Most expelled German communities had little direct or universal affiliation with Nazism or the invading German armies, whilst others (like the Volga Germans of USSR) did not even get a chance to commit treason before they were expelled. [13] Others groups of Germans, however, were complicit in Nazi atrocities and sustaining German military occupation. Most saliently, the Danube Swabians of Hungary and the former Yugoslavia were pervasively involved in collaboration with indigenous far-right organizations and the German Wehrmacht, and even comprised one of the most brutal segments of the SS, Division-Prinz Eugen. [14] Most scholarship simply overrides these factors in causing the expulsions, beginning their historical analysis with the Germans' peaceful settlement in the eighteenth century and skipping to the Communists' malevolence towards a completely innocent German minority. The vastly polemical, biased, and finger-pointing nature of expellee scholarship greatly stymies any legitimate international dialogue between academics or governments in commemorating such a severe ethnic cleansing.

From personal experiences as the Director of the Institute for Research of Expelled Germans and a researcher with the rare platform of dispassionately documenting the history of the expulsions, many problems can be inferred. Although I obdurately refuse cooperation with or contributions from groups or individuals espousing pro-Nazi, revisionist, or nationalistic motives, my research is occasionally used without permission on other websites for the purpose of presenting the German race as “victimized,” and often to undermine the suffering of Jews and other peoples during the war. This misuse often occurs on websites like Stormfront, among the foremost belligerent and Antisemitic (and therefore one-sided) White Nationalist organizations.

Others have directly criticized the effort of my research to present only the most corroborated casualty figures and lampoon the greatly inflated totals often used by other advocates of expellee commemoration. So too, many emails reveal that some nationalists oppose my willingness to acknowledge the role of National Socialism or SS volunteering when and where it occurred as a potential catalyst for the expulsions, insisting to me that all expelled Germans were innocent victims of genocide and extermination. Others emails have equated my “watered down” (i.e. not polemical) scholarship as evidence that I am a turncoat to the German people and a subscriber to the supposed lie of what three emailers called the “Holohoax.” My own personal interaction and discussions with expellee advocates at academic conferences on the subject further demonstrates the unfortunate reality that many speakers and writers on the topic surreptitiously bear varying degrees of German nationalism, irredentism, and even Antisemitic revisionism. These experiences demonstrate the enduring role of hidden biases in expellee scholarship and historiography. With such an academic environment of firebrand nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, and distorted historical memory as equally present among Germans, Poles, and Czechs, the commemoration effort is greatly hindered. These firm shortcomings are therefore a major cause for the complete absence of the ethnic cleansings from our collective awareness in general.

The struggle for commemoration of the ethnic cleansing against German minorities tells us a great deal about history, politics, and nationalism in building the modern world. It demonstrates that even in ethnic cleansings that the Allied High Commission ordered be carried out “humanely” at the Potsdam Conference of 1945, over 400,000 men, women, and children can lose their lives, universally singled out solely because of their ethnic identity as agents of a criminal Nazi past. It reifies that, due to divisive markers of ethnic identities as framed by the modern state, entire ethnicities can be proscribed as categorically “guilty” for the actions of other nations and victimized accordingly. It exemplifies that, due to multiple cultural and political factors, even some of the worst ethnic cleansings of the twentieth century can be almost completely deleted from our understanding of history. It encourages historians and laymen to wonder, “why do we commemorate and remember some tragedies and not others?” As outlined above, the German story demonstrates that each culture has its own drastically distinct lens for viewing its history as fueled and distorted by ethnic nationalism. Most importantly, it reveals that human rights monitors, scholars, and governments have thus far been unable to simply acknowledge the suffering of 10,000,000 civilians solely because of their ethnicity without being diluted by enduring ethnic chauvinism, hypernationalism, and distorted national myths. It is our responsibility to look beyond these limitations and simply devote ourselves to dispassionate, legitimate scholarship and open discussion in order to bring the story of the ethnic cleansing of at least 400,000 civilians into our collective consciousness and historical memory.


 

___________________________________

Citations/Footnotes

1) Marek Edelman, “Memorial for German Expulsion ‘Victims’ Makes Mockery of Shoah,”
The Jewish Daily Forward, 12 September, 2003.

2) Ibid.

3) Deutsche Welle, “League of German expellees unwilling to investigate own past,” http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,2135984,00.html

4) Ibid.

5) Sokołowski.

6) Michael Portmann, "Communist retaliation and persecution on Yugoslav territory during and after World War II (1943-1945)," Central and Eastern European Online Library, http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=3dc841b5be864aa3bd1f9ebd503c8638. 64.

7) Stefan Wolff, German Minorities in Europe: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Belonging (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 154.

8) Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Ungarn, "Die Vertreibung,” http://www.ldu-online.de/4.html

9) Zentrum gegen Vertreibung, "History of the German expellees and their homelands,"
http://www.z-g-v.de/english/aktuelles/?id=56

10) Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, "1919-1945," http://www.sudeten.de/cms/?Historie:1919_-_1945#Opfer

11) Institute for Research of Expelled Germans, "The removal and discriminatory laws of Czechoslovakia against Carpathian and Sudeten Germans," http://expelledgermans.org/sudetengermans.htm

12) Maurice AlfredDe Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

13) Institute for Research of Expelled Germans, "The vanquished Volga German community," http://expelledgermans.org/volgagermans.htm

14) Institute for Research of Expelled Germans, "The forced labour, imprisonment, expulsion, and emigration of the Germans of Yugoslavia," http://expelledgermans.org/danubegermans.htm

 

 

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