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Home / Poetry R. M. Rilke / Poetry / theses on the expulsion



Alfred de Zayas


Historical Theses

1. Mass expulsion, deportation for purposes of slave labour and genocide have existed since biblical times.

2. During the Second World War Nazi demographic manipulation was done for purposes of gaining “Lebensraum” or vital space. The German approach to “Lebensraum” had its parallels in history, including the policy of Spanish “christianization” of Central and South America, the British and French “colonization” of North America, and the American policy of “manifest destiny” pursuant to which the autochthonous population of North America was decimated and driven out of historical lands.

3. The term “population transfer”, was used at the Conferences of Teheran, Jalta and Potsdam to refer to the westward displacement of the German Population of East Prussa, Pomerania, Silesia, East Brandenburg, Sudetenland etc.

4. By whichever term -- expulsion, deportation, transfer or ethnic cleansing -- the aim of demographic manipulation is to drive the original inhabitants out of land intended for annexation and colonization.

5. In the context of the expulsion of the Germans, the term “population transfer” served as an euphemism for the Soviet Army’s policy of terrorizing the German civilian population so as to induce their departure. Those who did not leave on their own accord were subjected to “transfer”, without any compensation for the property left behind.

6. The phemonemon of the displacement of the Germans from the East knew several phases -- first the evacuations of German populations undertaken by German authorities beginning in the Fall of 1944, then the general flight of refugees in the Spring of 1945, followed by the wild expulsions of the summer and fall of 1945, and finally the forced resettlements which began in 1946.

7. Whereas the Germans who fled in the fall of 1944 and the spring of 1945 were war “refugees” in the more classical sense, they could also be subsumed under the broader concept of “expellees”, because they had fully intended to return to their home regions at the conclusion of hostilities. However, Polish and Soviet authorities prevented a return, so the term expulsion can apply with equal force to all affected.

8. After the subjugation of Poland in September 1939, Hitler and Stalin employed similar measures to perpetuate the dominion over their respective shares of booty. Hitler deported about one million Poles from the western Polish regions annexed by the Reich. This act was followed by transplanting and settling various groups of ethnic Germans in these annexed Polish territories, ethnic Germans who for centuries had lived in several countries of Eastern Europe and found themselves in 1939-40 within the Soviet sphere of influence (Heim ins Reich, "Back Home to the Reich" was the slogan). At the same time, Stalin sought to consolidate his power over the territory east of the Ribbentrop-Molotov line by deporting anti-Soviet Poles and by murdering the Polish military elite (Katyn, 1940).

9. The principle of “population transfer” of Germans in the West was first advocated by exiled Czech politician Eduard Benes, after the Munich Agreement of 1938 and even before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the course of the war, in his discussions with Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, Benes made the forced resettlement of the Germans of the Sudetenland his primary war aim. Initially only a few hundred thousand Sudeten Germans were to be affected, people who were perceived as disloyal to the Czech State and who, according to Benes, had acted as Hitler's "fifth column." Gradually Benes's demands for expulsion included more and more Germans, without any inference of guilt on their part, but simply because the Czech State did not want to be burdened in future with a sizable German minority.

10. After the principle of forced resettlement of ethnic Germans ("disloyal minorities") had been accepted by the Allies, it was extended to a planned westward adjustment of the Polish State into purely German Reich territory, namely its eastern provinces. At the Tehran Conference (Nov.-Dec. 1943) it was decided that, in consideration of Stalin's demand for Polish territory east of the Ribbentrop-Molotov line (the Curzon line of the Treaty of Versailles), Poland would be compensated in the West at Germany's expense. Territorial compensation would be made in conjunction with a plan to expel the native German population.

11. Official government documents in the Public Record Office in London and in the National Archives in Washington amply prove that experts in the Foreign Office and the State Department urged limits on territorial compensation to Poland (initially only East Prussia, then maximally to the Oder River). They also advised limits on the concomitant resettlement of Germans (between 2 1/2 and 7 million), to be supervised by a so-called Population Transfers Commission, which would guarantee an orderly, step-by-step process and compensation for abandoned property. The diplomats cited the precedent of a population exchange between Greece and Turkey from 1923 to 1926 as justification, an exchange which was conducted under the supervision of the League of Nations and on the basis of the Lausanne Treaty.

12. At the Potsdam Conference in July, 1945, Article XIII concerning the transfer of Germans was adopted. It is frequently misinterpreted when claimed that the Anglo-American alliance advocated or even condoned the final extent of the transfers. On the contrary, Article XIII was an emergency measure, drafted and adopted in great haste, a response to the wild expulsions of Germans from Czechoslovakia, Poland and the eastern German territories, which had created a chaotic situation in the American and British zones of occupation. Even Berlin was affected by the mass influx, as verified by numerous American and British reports from the period. Article XIII was not a blank check for the expelling States. Moreover it had its primary purpose in a moratorium on expulsions, under the jurisdiction of the Allied Control Council in Berlin, which would then determine the extent and time for any future transfers of population.

13. The American and British governments repeatedly lodged protests in Warsaw and Prague with regard to the inhuman treatment of the German populations, and for non-observance of the guidelines set forth in Article XIII.

14. After the Allied Control Council had drawn up an admissions plan in November 1945, the resettlements could be carried out with fewer human losses. Nonetheless, in 1950 the Walter Commission of the American House of Representatives issued a detailed report concerning the expulsions of Germans, criticizing them for the fact that no phase of the expulsions could be described as humane.

15. An even worse fate befell almost one million deportees. Just 55% of them survived. In this case the joint responsibility of the Anglo-American alliance is clearly evident. At the Yalta Conference on February 11, 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt accepted the principle of German forced labor as war reparations. This common resolution, also signed by Stalin, sanctioned the deportation of ethnic Germans from Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary, and Reich Germans from East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia --women as well as men-- into slave labor in the Soviet Union. The term used to describe the use of forced labour was “reparations in kind."

16. Flight, expulsion and deportation cost more than two million innocent victims their lives, all as part of a quasi-peace measure following the capitulation of Germany. The world must take note of such an event, without polemics or a rationalization that it was a balancing of accounts. It is an historical fact. In this context the renunciation of revenge and retribution in the Charter of the Expellees deserves special attention.

Legal Theses

1. Population transfers should be seen from the perspective of human rights. The phenomenon of forced resettlement is not limited to the German experience but continues to threaten and affect other peoples throughout the world.

2. Expulsion is not the solution of tensions associated with national or ethnic minorities. The recognition and respect of minority rights is.

3. The right to national self-determination, recognized as jus cogens, of necessity must embrace the right to one's homeland, for self-determination can be exercised only if one is not driven from one's homeland.

4. The Hague Conventions, in particular the Regulations on land warfare were applicle during World War Two. Articles 42-56 of the Regulations limit the powers of occupying nations and grant protection to the populations of occupied territories, especially to the honor and rights of the family, of life and private property (Article 46). Collective punishment is forbidden (Article 50). Mass expulsions cannot in any way be brought into harmony with The Hague Conventions.

5. The verdict of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg condemned the expulsions perpetrated by the National Socialists as war crimes and crimes against humanity. International law has per definitionem a universal applicability. Therefore, the expulsions and deportations of the Germans, measured against the same standard, similarly constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

6. Article XIII of the Potsdam Agreements could not and did not legalize the expulsions of Germans. The Allies did not have unlimited powers over the lives of the eastern Germans. Even if there had been an "Inter-Allied Transfers Treaty" (and Article XIII of the Potsdam Protocol constitutes no such treaty), it would still have to be judged according to principles of international law.

7. Any population expulsion or forced resettlement would violate numerous provisions of international law, in particular human rights and humanitarian law. Article 49 of the IV. Geneva Convention, dated August 12, 1949, concerns the protection of civilians in wartime. It expressly forbids forced resettlement. The only exception is in cases where military necessity requires evacuation, and for the single purpose of protection of the civilian population. Such evacuations, which may only be temporary, are illegal when determined by policies of expansion.

8. Collective expulsions in times of peace violate the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948, and the Human Rights Covenants of 1966. Parties to the Fourth Protocol to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are bound by Article 3, Paragraph 1: "No one shall be expelled, by means either of an individual or of a collective measure, from the territory of a State of which he is a national;" and by Article 4: "Collective expulsions of aliens is prohibited."

9. José Ayala Lasso, the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement of 28 May 1995 to the Assembly of German expellees at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, stated: “The right not to be expelled from one’s homeland is a fundamental right …I submit that if in the years following the Second World War the States had reflected more on the implications of the enforced flight and the expulsion of the Germans, today’s demographic catastrophies, particularly those referred to as “ethnic cleansing” would, perhaps not have occurred to the same extent.”

10. In his final report on the human rights dimensions of population transfers, the Sub-Commission’s Special Rapporteur, Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasahnew concluded that population transfers were incompatible with international law and that the victims of forced resettlement are entitled to return to their homelands and to restitution.


1. All victims of war and tyranny deserve respect and compassion. Any attempt to downplay or even conceal crimes offends not only the ethos of scholarship, it insults the victims and their memory.

2. The expulsion of the Germans is a legitimate subject for scholarly research. It is one of the most portentous events in modern history, for it extinguished a community of cooperation between Slavs and Germans which had grown and flourished over several centuries. It therefore cannot simply be excluded from the common European experience. Unfortunately there still exists a certain taboo concerning this subject matter, which may not restrict research as such, but certainly restrains public discussion. It is, after all, a question of historical completeness.

3. Historians are bound by a scholarly and moral obligation to research and present historical events, to determine the facts and organize them into the greater historical context. It is unworthy of a free society and the spirit of free inquiry when historians who tackle controversial or unwelcome topics, no matter how serious and disciplined their work may be, are accused of concocting nothing more than "a balancing of accounts" or "apologies" for crimes.

4. The expulsions cannot be regarded as a question of crime and punishment. The task of punishing those responsible for the war and war crimes was delegated to the Nuremberg Tribunal, which introduced a new principle of international law, that of personal liability for the actions of politicians and soldiers. Nevertheless, 15 million Germans were expelled, or forced to flee, without any question as to their individual guilt or innocence. Any punishment which does not take personal responsibility or extenuating circumstances into account is juridically and morally indefensible.

5. Similarly, a principle of collective guilt cannot be applied to the expulsions, just as there can be no collective guilt for war. But there is surely a collective morality which commits us all to humane conduct toward one another. In other words, guilt can only be understood as belonging to the individual, whereas morality binds us all.

6. There can be no such thing as humane forced resettlement, a contradiction in terms, for the coerced loss of one's homeland can never be humane.

7. The tragic experience of the German expellees could have served as a warning to spare other nations the traumata of expulsion from their homelands, heritage, and pride. Alas, for decades the facts of the expulsion of the Germans were systematically ignored by the media and even by professional historians, whose function was and remains to do proper research, to chronicle events and to put them in perspective. No wonder that the ethnic cleansing of the 1990’s in the former Yugoslavia was presented by the media as unprecedented. The expulsion and spoliation of the Germans remains an important subject for study in the high schools and universities. We owe this recognition to the victims – as we owe the truth to ourselves.


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