Category Archives: Poland

Status of Jews in Moldavia, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 149-151:

These hostile feelings were much more deeply rooted in the north, where the Jewish population had increased from about two thousand families to close on a million in a hundred and thirty years, most of them in flight from the appalling conditions in Poland and the Russian Pale, until in several large Moldavian towns, including Yassy, the Moldavian capital, they now outnumbered the Rumanian inhabitants and monopolized the commerce of the province. Small wonder that this indigestible explosion of people caused dismay, resentment and hostility among the inhabitants; there was nothing comparable here to the harmonious and long established position of the polished and much less numerous Sephardim of the Ottoman world; small wonder, too, that the Jews, denied full citizenship and with nearly every route to advancement or honour denied to them, should expand and excel in the only field that was not barred by prejudice. The remote principality in which they suddenly began to proliferate had no middle class; rural society knew nothing between the mediaeval feudalism of landowners – the great and the lesser boyars, many of whom seldom set foot on their accumulations of acres – and a vast and callously exploited peasantry. There was no urban middle class, and, in Moldavia especially, as the country expanded, the Jewish population became a semi-alien bourgeoisie of middlemen and retailers.

Everyone reluctantly admitted that the Jews were honest in their dealings, however ruthless, and faithful to their agreements. I also noticed that nearly everyone, however ill-disposed in general, had one Jewish friend who ‘was not like the others’, an array of exemptions that must have added up to an imposing total. It was only on later travels in Moldavia and Bukovina that I got to know, talk to and even make friends with Jews not isolated in a Gentile majority. Lack of any need to conform to alien ways had left their way of life absolutely intact: the long black kaftans, broad-brimmed black velvet hats, skullcaps, black, red and blond beards, corkscrew side-whiskers (like those of my host and his son in the woods of the Banat), and a Yiddish largely unalloyed by Rumanian, but embedded with Polish and Russian words as well as the Hebrew studied by the rabbis and divinity students.

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Results of the 1940 Battle for Norway

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 57-60:

Mackesy, with the rest of the Narvik invasion force, landed at Harstad, near Narvik, on April 15. There was more than a little confusion getting ashore, and the landings took longer than anticipated. In one case, it took five days to unload two ships, and meanwhile German aircraft continued their harassing attacks. The Furious, along with the newly arrived Glorious, flew two squadrons of British aircraft ashore, but they had little luck against the Luftwaffe, which claimed six British ships. Pressured by Churchill, [Admiral of the Fleet Lord] Cork urged Mackesy to undertake a land assault, but Mackesy, whose troops were floundering in snow up to their waists, was not to be hurried, and instead began a slow encirclement of the city. As he had with Forbes, Churchill then pressed Cork to undertake a bombardment of the town with his big ships. Cork did so on April 24, though with little effect. By the end of the month the British, French, and Poles had thirty thousand men in the Narvik area, yet the Germans continued to hold the town.

Even as the allied buildup continued, unambiguous intelligence began to arrive in London that a far more serious buildup was taking place on the Continent, where German armored divisions were gathering along the border with France and Belgium. Though the land war in Europe had remained quiescent since the fall of Poland in September, it now appeared that the Germans were about to initiate a major offensive. That led Chamberlain and the rest of the cabinet, including Churchill, to wonder if the Royal Navy was not overextended in Norway. As early as April 24, the day that Cork’s naval forces bombarded Narvik, the cabinet secretly voted to terminate the Norway campaign. The government shared this decision with the French, though they did not tell the Norwegians.

In the first week of May, Chamberlain called for a vote of confidence from the House of Commons. Somewhat defensively, he asked members “not to form any hasty opinions on the result of the Norwegian campaign,” which by now had become an apparent quagmire. Chamberlain narrowly won the vote but, recognizing that a change in government might revitalize British morale, he resigned anyway. Most of the errors of the Norwegian campaign could be traced to Churchill’s unfortunate meddling, but his reputation as an ardent and unyielding foe of Nazism (which he often pronounced as if it derived from the word “nausea”), made him the only suitable candidate as Chamberlain’s successor, and on May 10, the king asked him to form a government. As prime minister, Churchill also kept the portfolio of defense minister in his own hands, and of course he continued to exercise significant influence over naval affairs, so throughout the war he had near complete dominance of military and naval strategy as well as government policy.

On that same May 10, German armored columns, backed up by tactical aircraft, charged across the frontiers of France and Belgium. The swiftly unfolding campaign in France necessarily became Churchill’s most immediate priority, though he still hoped to complete the capture of Narvik before withdrawing from Norway. In part, he wanted to destroy the ore piers and railroad facilities there, but he also hoped that the seizure of Narvik would somehow validate the decision to go into Norway in the first place, which would demonstrate that the campaign had not been a complete failure—another Gallipoli. He replaced the cautious Mackesy with the more energetic Claude Auchinleck, and pressed Lord Cork to “get Narvik cleaned up as soon as possible.”

The Allied ground attack on Narvik took place on May 27. Hitler ordered the German defenders to fight to the last man, though they withdrew inland instead, destroying the railroad tunnels as they did so, thus actually aiding the British objective of making Narvik all but useless as an ore terminal. By the next day, Narvik was at last in British hands, though by then its importance had been overwhelmed by events elsewhere, and almost immediately the British prepared to evacuate not only Narvik but all of Norway. Norway’s King Haakon VII accepted a British offer to carry on a government in exile and was spirited out of Tromsø (along with fifty tons of Norway’s gold reserves) on June 1. At least as important, a handful of Norwegian warships and more than a thousand merchant vessels joined him. Given the worldwide dearth of shipping—on both sides—that was a significant boost to the British war effort.

Admiral Raeder had achieved his goal. Norway—or at least the principal port cities of Norway—had been occupied. To accomplish it, however, he had risked most of his surface navy and it had been severely crippled. Three cruisers, including the brand-new Blücher, and all ten of the destroyers sent to Narvik plus a dozen other ships had been sunk, and nearly every major combatant that survived the campaign had been damaged. By June 1940, the Kriegsmarine had fewer than a dozen surface combatants that were fit for service, and it no longer posed a meaningful threat to the Royal Navy in the North Sea or anywhere else. Raeder was also disappointed by the political outcome in Norway. From the start he had hoped that once the shooting stopped, it would be possible to adopt “a warm and friendly attitude” toward the Norwegians. Instead, Hitler’s appointed deputy treated Norway as a conquered province, a circumstance that gnawed at Raeder, who repeatedly tried to convince Hitler to adopt a more conciliatory policy, though with no success.

Finally, and ironically, the circumstances that had made Norway important enough to justify risking the entire German navy changed dramatically almost immediately. Once the Wehrmacht overran France, Dönitz’s U-boats obtained access to French ports on the Atlantic, which made those in Norway of little value, and the seizure of the enormous iron mines in French Lorraine made the mines in northern Sweden far less important. In the end, despite what looked to many like a German victory, Raeder had risked everything, lost much, and gained little.

The British, too, lost much in the Norway campaign, and for them there was one more tragedy to endure. On June 8, the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, accompanied by two destroyers, Ardent and Acasta, was returning to Britain from the evacuation of Trondheim. The Glorious had just recovered a squadron of Hurricane fighters from Norway that had managed to get aboard despite the fact that RAF planes lacked trailing hooks to catch the arrester wires. With her deck crowded with the Hurricanes, she had no fighters aloft when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau suddenly appeared on the horizon. Raeder had sent the battlecruiser twins to sea four days earlier under Wilhelm Marschall with orders to attack British shipping off Narvik. Though it was too late for that, Marschall stumbled into an unforeseen opportunity. With the Hurricanes crowding her flight deck, the crew of the Glorious could not get any fighters or bombers aloft. There was no explanation at all, however, for the fact that there were no topside lookouts on duty that day; the captain of the Glorious, Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, did not even order general quarters until twenty minutes after the German warships were in sight. The result was that the Glorious achieved the inglorious distinction of being the first aircraft carrier in history to be sunk by surface gunfire. Only thirty-four minutes after the Scharnhorst opened fire, the Glorious rolled over onto her starboard side and went down.

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Global Conflict in East Asia, 1930s

From Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931–1941, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 1;  Casemate, 2018), Kindle pp. 6-7:

In late summer 1939, a 22-year-old man in the uniform of a Wehrmacht officer was on his way to Germany’s border with Poland. His mission was to attach himself to a German division as an observer during the invasion that was only days away. The young man must have attracted considerable attention since his features were anything but Aryan. His name was Chiang Wei-kuo, and he was the adopted son of China’s leader, Chiang Kai-shek. For the past two years he had undergone advanced military training at the War Academy in the south German city of Munich. In that capacity, he had even taken part in Germany’s peaceful occupation of Austria in March 1938.

Chiang Wei-kuo’s story was a reflection of how close Sino-German ties had grown in the 1930s, as Germany’s resurgent armament industry was exporting vast quantities of military equipment to the Nationalist Chinese regime, whose efforts at building up a large modern army were also assisted by a corps of experienced German advisors. The assistance had proved particularly useful since 1937, after full-scale war broke out between China and Japan. By 1939, however, Germany was growing friendlier with Japan and was busy distancing itself from Chiang’s regime. As a result, Chiang Wei-kuo’s presence was beginning to appear out of place, and when he passed through Berlin en route to the Polish border and paid a visit to the Chinese embassy, he received new orders: he was to travel to the United States for military training there.

Consequently, by the time German panzers rolled into Poland in the early hours of September 1, Chiang was already on a ship bound for America, which was emerging as an important new ally for China. He would soon commence studies at the Armored Force Center, Fort Knox, before returning home three years later, his brain filled with the latest military knowledge. He was not the only one in his family to travel widely. His stepbrother Chiang Ching-kuo had spent 12 years in the Soviet Union. He had a Belarusian wife and even a Russian name, Nikolai Vladimirovich Elizarov.

The two stepbrothers formed just a corner of a corner in the immensely complex web of relations and interactions that characterized Chinese and Asian politics and society during the 1930s, the decade that saw the Sino-Japanese War flare up and, little by little, set in motion events which would eventually lead to Japan’s conflict with an array of Western powers. What the Chiangs do exemplify, however, is the extent to which the war in the Asia Pacific was, right from its earliest origins, a global affair, involving both indigenous actors and actors from thousands of miles away.

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Negotiating the Treaty of Nerchinsk, 1689

From The Amur River: Between Russia and China, by Colin Thubron (Harper, 2021), Kindle pp. 63-66:

Nerchinsk has been in decline ever since the Trans-Siberian Railway bypassed it at the end of the nineteenth century. Its distant silver mines are long worked out, its factories failed. A palisaded prison spreads close to where the Nerva river joins the Shilka, and a military airfield lies abandoned on the outskirts. I search in vain for any memorial to the treaty signed here: an agreement whose breach and promise still resonate across three centuries.

The 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk marked the first check to Russia’s headlong conquest of Siberia. From the Ural mountains to the Pacific Ocean, over more than three thousand miles, Cossacks and soldiers had traversed the whole continent in less than sixty years. It was in the frozen governorate town of Yakutsk, six hundred miles from the still-unknown Amur, that rumours spread of a mighty river flowing through a paradise of harvest fields to the south. In 1643 a desperate, three-year expedition under Vasily Poyarkov descended from the starving settlement and ravaged the middle courses of the Amur, exacting a tribute of furs from the scattered Daur tribespeople, or slaughtering them. By the journey’s end Poyarkov’s mutinous force of 150 men was reduced to 20 by starvation, disease and fatal flogging – some he killed with his own hands – and he returned to Yakutsk with the first, tentative mapping of the Amur. In a pattern that would be repeated, Poyarkov was recalled for trial in Moscow, and vanishes from record.

Four years later a more terrible scourge was unleashed on the Amur by the buccaneer Yerofei Khabarov, who ravaged the riverine settlements for over five hundred miles. In one episode alone he boasted of the massacre of 661 Daur villagers ‘with God’s help’, along with mass rape.

But now the native peoples appealed to the nominal suzerain of the region, China. Khabarov was withdrawn for trial in Moscow, and his eventual successor, with more than two hundred men, was blown to bits by Chinese cannon on the lower Amur. For thirty years afterwards the two great empires fought a shadow war of mutually ignorant diplomacy, while a flood of Russian peasants, Cossacks and criminals, beyond government control, poured into the Amur basin. It was after 1680, with their rule secure, that the Manchu Chinese at last lost patience. One by one the Russian forts were eliminated, and after the death of more than eight hundred besieged Cossacks in their last Amur stronghold, Moscow and Peking moved to negotiate a peace.

Nerchinsk by then had become Russia’s gateway to the Amur, yet was little more than a stockaded fort with a few government and traders’ dwellings. This wooden village would later be wrecked by the flooding river, and rebuilt more durably on higher ground; but in 1689 the waterside meadows became the venue for the first treaty China ever concluded with a European power. The two empires – the parvenu Russian and the ancient Chinese – were deeply strange to one another. Their delegates were well versed, but their rulers far away. Peter the Great, barely seventeen, was preoccupied with domestic turmoil, but his depleted Treasury was dreaming of trade with China. The Chinese emperor Kangxi, the most powerful and cultivated of his dynasty, was anxious above all to seal his frontiers against the incursions of these brutish northerners, and to prevent Russia from allying with a newly belligerent Mongol power pressing in the west.

The delegations agreed to meet in scrupulous equality, but China’s two ambassadors, close relatives of the emperor, arrived from Peking with 1,500 soldiers and a fleet of supporting junks and barges, loaded with cannon, that converged on Nerchinsk along the river. Against this entourage of some 10,000 the Russians could muster barely 2,000 men. But issues of procedure and etiquette stifled all else. Noting the Russians dressed in cloth of gold and precious furs, the Chinese stripped off their blazoned brocades and moved to the conference in sombre dress under huge silk umbrellas. An identical number of guards attended each embassy: 260 men, who faced off at equal intervals and ceremonially frisked each other for hidden weapons. The Russian ambassador advanced behind a slow march of flute-players and trumpeters. The delegates dismounted in unison and entered their two tents simultaneously – tents that had been scrupulously merged so that no one would suffer the indignity of visiting the other first. The ambassadors sat down and shouted their greetings in concert. Only three Russian dignitaries took seats, and the Chinese mimicked them, leaving more than a hundred mandarins standing opposite their Russian counterparts during the first session. They remained in mutual incomprehension. The ambassadors shared no word of language. So the negotiations were conducted in Latin by two Jesuits attached to the Chinese court, and by an erudite Pole for the Russians.

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Who All “Collaborated” with Nazism in Europe?

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 366-368:

The frequently reiterated assertion that the clearance of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary has in some way prevented the outbreak of World War III is a proposition so obviously false as hardly to deserve rebuttal. What made for peace in Europe was a lengthy occupation of Germany by both superpowers, which in itself offers a complete explanation of why, so long as it continued, no danger was to be apprehended from that quarter. The successful rehabilitation of the German political system, the inculcation of democratic habits and instincts among the people, and the binding together of postwar Germany within a larger European union are nearly as important factors in the transformation that has taken place in the character of European nationstate interactions since 1945. In these circumstances, the continuing presence of significant ethnic German minorities in Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Russia has not threatened the peace of the continent. There is no reason to suppose that if others had remained in their ancestral homelands a greater menace was to be apprehended.

Lastly, the suggestion that the ethnic Germans were, as presumed fifth columnists before the war or eager Nazi collaborators during it, especially if not uniquely deserving of punishment is no easier to sustain. As we have seen, a rule specifying a minority nationality’s unconditional duty of loyalty to a state to which it has been unwillingly attached that can be depended upon to vindicate the Czech or Slovak nation’s stance in 1918 [deserting in great numbers to fight for Russia rather than Austria-Hungary] and to condemn that of the Sudetendeutsche twenty years later is difficult to formulate. As for their wartime record, evidence is scanty that it was any worse than, or different from, that of the German people as a whole. Unquestionably that is quite bad enough, and I should not wish to be interpreted as contending otherwise. But even if all Germans, ethnic or Reich citizens, were equally guilty, not all Germans were equally severely punished. Why the Volksdeutsche, who if the worst that can be said about them is true came late to Nazism, should have been imprisoned, expropriated, and deported when the people of the country that originated Nazism and exported it abroad by the most brutal means suffered none of these things is hard to square with notions of strict and impartial justice.

More to the point, it conveniently elides the wartime record of the majority populations, which itself did not always bear close examination. Many Slovaks, for example, bore little less responsibility for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference than did the Sudeten Germans. For most of the Second World War, Slovakia was a German client state; Slovak troops took part in the invasion of Poland alongside their German allies in September 1939, and of the Soviet Union in June 1941. With only a single dissenting voice in the Slovak parliament, the great majority of the country’s Jewish population was expelled to German-controlled territory, from which only a comparative handful returned alive. Yet few Slovaks were punished after the war for these offenses, and none expelled. Besides, at a more mundane level the postwar meaning of “collaboration” was highly variable, with the same actions—or inactions—attracting either official toleration or condign penalties based on one’s ethnicity. During the Great War of 1914–18, J. R. Sanborn points out, some of the inhabitants of central and southeastern Europe “held affinities for one occupying force or another … but most people wisely tried to keep their heads down, to stay out of danger when they could, and, when all else failed, to run away. Nothing got you on the end of a rope faster than taking sides in a fluid war with an uncertain outcome.” In the Second World War also, this inglorious but time-tested formula for survival was the most popular strategy practiced by ethnic Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and most other peoples who were given the opportunity to do so by their Nazi overlords, or, in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, their scarcely less vicious Stalinist counterparts. (Tragically, it was an option denied to Jews, Sinti, and Roma.) For only the Germans, though, was it adjudged a “passive war crime” at the end of the conflict.

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Removing Traces of German Settlement

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle p. 280:

In each of the expelling countries, governments, residents, and ecclesiastical authorities struggled mightily to eradicate all indications that Germans had ever been present. As Edvard Beneš urged his compatriots, “We must de-Germanize our republic … names, regions, towns, customs—everything that can possibly be de-Germanized must go.” Place names were changed overnight, often by direct translation into the new language (e.g., the substitution of “Zielona Góra” for “Grünberg”); statues and memorials demolished; and fanciful local histories composed that airbrushed into oblivion centuries of German presence. “In Wrocław the government had special teams that roved for years painting over and chiseling out German inscriptions. Derelict German cemeteries were converted into parks, and headstones were used to line ditches and sewers.” The most ambitious—and unrealistic—attempt to accomplish this objective was an order by Commandant Srević of the Banat military region in Yugoslavia that all German signs on buildings be removed within twelve hours, on pain of the immediate execution of the German occupants. Nor was this a passing phase. As late as 1989, applications for visitors’ visas to Poland from Germans born in the Recovered Territories were routinely rejected if the applicant used the former German place name when stating his or her place of birth. The de-Germanization effort extended not only to penalizing the use of the German language, but to putting pressure on residents to abandon German-sounding personal names. The success of the campaign, however, was mixed. Cultural and sometimes physical clashes ensued between settler Poles and many of the indigenes of the Recovered Territories, who had absorbed over the years a high degree of Germanization. New place names could also be rejected by the local population, who sometimes “boycotted new names and even broke road signs that identified the new name…. For them, place name changes on the lands in which they had been living were never the processes of re-Polonisation, but rather Polonisation against their will.”

Consigning evidence of German settlements to George Orwell’s “memory hole” was one thing; putting self-sustaining communities in their place entirely another.

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Czech and Polish “Wild West” in 1947

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 255-257:

The removal of the ethnic Germans was not just an enormous logistical undertaking. It was also the source of a highly disruptive economic and social transformation of the affected areas, one whose impact remains to the present day. In much the same way that the wartime cooperation of ordinary Germans (and, indeed, Poles, Ukrainians, and other nationalities) in the persecution and removal of Jews had been obtained by the opportunity it provided to appropriate Holocaust victims’ property, Czechoslovak, Polish, and Hungarian citizens’ enthusiasm for the expulsions owed a great deal to the prospect that they would profit from the confiscation of their German neighbors’ wealth. The new borderlands, however, proved to be no Eldorado, and the new economic and social realities that were produced under abnormal circumstances brought a fresh set of unforeseen complications in their train.

To a substantial degree, the scramble for booty dictated the breakneck pace of the expulsions, as local authorities, militia bands, or politically connected individuals rushed to grab the most desirable German properties for themselves before others, or the central government, got in ahead of them. The lion’s share of the loot, nonetheless, wound up in the state’s hands, where it became an important instrument of communization. Before the Second World War, Communist parties had been negligible influences throughout central and eastern Europe. The Nazi-Soviet Pact; Stalin’s treacherous attack on Poland’s eastern frontier when the country was fighting desperately for its life; the expulsions and massacres that had followed, at the Katyn Forest and elsewhere; and the Red Army’s cynical abandonment of the Polish Home Army to the Nazis in the Warsaw Rising of August 1944 did nothing to persuade ordinary Poles that the Russian leopard had changed its spots. Though the USSR’s standing in Czechoslovakia was higher—thanks in large measure to the perception that Moscow, in contrast to the appeasement-minded Western powers, had been ready to assist Prague militarily before the Munich Conference—there was little enthusiasm for state socialism on the Soviet pattern. Because Communists controlled the Ministries of the Interior and of Agriculture in both countries after the war, however, they were also in a position to decide the redistribution of confiscated German property. They took full advantage of the rich sources of patronage this provided to buy, if not the support, then at least the acquiescence of citizens in their continued rule. The expulsions, then, provided the material basis that enabled the governments of the Soviet satellites to solidify their domestic standing at the moment of their greatest vulnerability.

As the dispute over the Jelonka Hotel demonstrated, though, property redistribution could be an instrument of social disruption as well as social cohesion. Disputes over the true ownership of a confiscated house or farm, in a situation in which the premises might have changed hands several times over the card table in a single weekend, would clog up the court systems of the expelling countries for years into the future. Overnight, the borderland areas were stripped not just of population but of agencies of government: when a German town was cleared of its residents, its local council, police force, municipal administrators, and providers of essential services like waste removal or water supplies usually went with them. Even in those relatively rare cases when replacement officials from the majority population could be found to take their place, Soviet military commanders, preferring to concentrate the skeins of power in their own hands, often prevented them from taking up their positions. In a literal and not merely a metaphorical sense, then, many of these districts became lawless areas—as the hapless Kazimierz Trzciński had discovered when he tried to take possession of his hotel. For several years after the change in jurisdiction, a vacuum of state authority existed and the rule of the gun prevailed. It was hardly surprising, then, that fewer people than resettlement authorities hoped were willing to put down permanent roots in such areas; or that a disproportionate number of those who did, like Trzciński himself, turned out to conform poorly to the image of the sturdy, self-reliant pioneer depicted in Communist propaganda. The name that both Poles and Czechoslovaks gave to their frontier regions after the war—the “Wild West”—reflected their awareness that even after the Germans’ departure, these were places that remained alien in many respects from the countries of which they were nominally a part.

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Occupied Germany as Ethnic Wastebasket

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 192-193:

As 1946, the year of “organized expulsions,” began drawing to a close, each of the Big Three was feeling the strain. “At present,” Colonel Thicknesse warned, “we tend to regard occupied Germany as a waste-paper basket with a limitless capacity for the unwanted waste of the world. We are not convinced that this attitude is correct, either economically or politically.” According to figures reported to CRX [= Combined Repatriation Executive], by November the Soviet zone had admitted more than 1.8 million expellees from Poland and Czechoslovakia; the U.S. zone approximately 1.7 million from Czechoslovakia and Hungary (including 160,000 who had arrived via Austria); and the British zone more than 1.3 million from the Recovered Territories: a cumulative total of almost five million people. To this figure could be added a number which could not be precisely calculated—but certainly one in the hundreds of thousands for each occupation zone—of Volksdeutsche who had made their way under duress out of their countries of origin, but entered Germany as unregistered “infiltrees.” All were arriving in a country whose urban centers the Western Allies had gone to immense trouble and expense during the previous five years to level to the ground, an endeavor in which they had enjoyed considerable success and which had left Germany with “a worse housing problem than has ever before existed in any area of comparable size and population.” Even after every available camp, military base, school, church, barn, air raid shelter, and, in some cases, cave had been filled with expellees, the onrushing human tide continued to overwhelm the best efforts of the rudimentary German administration upon whose shoulders the occupying forces thrust the responsibility. As a rule, according to reception officers in all three occupation zones, the expellees were arriving in possession of little more than the—usually insufficient—clothing in which they stood. The overwhelming majority were women and children. Few could make any meaningful contribution in the short term to their own support. Hundreds of thousands needed immediate care, in hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, or residential centers for the disabled, though the shortage of resources meant that a great many would not receive it.

This was not at all how the Allies had envisaged the population transfers when they had been sold on the idea during the war. Then the stated rationale had been to remove a cohort of “dangerous” Germans—above all, fit men of military age—who might threaten the security of the countries in which they lived. Instead, it had been the least dangerous Germans who had been deported, while the fit men were being held back for forced labor, and in many cases pressured to take out Polish or Czechoslovak nationality against their will. The occupying powers thus found themselves presented with a first-class social, economic, and humanitarian crisis that threatened to undo whatever plans they had made for German reconstruction, as well as to disrupt the economies of the expelling states for years to come. Predictably, each of the Big Three with the benefit of experience discovered its enthusiasm for this novel method of “stabilizing” the European continent shrinking to the vanishing point. After coping—or failing to cope—with the “wild expulsions” of 1945, and finding the “organized expulsions” of 1946 from their perspective to be less satisfactory yet, each of the Allied powers entered 1947 with the same overriding objective: to put an end to what was proving an intolerable burden to it as quickly as possible.

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Herding Fractious Volksdeutsche

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 53-55:

At all levels of German society, scruples over profiting from the displaced Poles’ and Jews’ misery were rapidly overcome. Volksdeutsch colonists brought in from outside the Incorporated Territories fought vigorous turf battles with those already there, who pressed the authorities—often successfully—for compensation for their losses at the hands of the Polish state during the interwar years. Both found themselves competing with hundreds of thousands of predatory Reichsdeutsche, the citizens of the “old Reich,” who flooded into the conquered districts with an eye to the main chance. (One of them was Hitler’s favorite tank commander, General Heinz Guderian, who trawled the Warthegau in search of an estate befitting his elevated status. When an aghast Field Marshal von Manstein asked him what had become of the Polish owners of the manor he eventually selected, “Guderian said that he did not know, when he had taken over his estate the Poles had gone and he had no idea what had become of them.”) Tensions among all three groups, and among different ethnicities within the Volksdeutsch “family,” frequently ran high:

Settlement advisers depicted Bessarabian German children fighting local Volksdeutsche children. Native ethnic Germans were portrayed complaining that everything was done for the incoming settlers but nothing for them, and murmuring that if the settlers hadn’t come, they would have got all the confiscated Polish land for themselves. One settlement adviser reported that the local ethnic Germans called the settlers from Bukovina “gypsies.” Bukovina Germans hit back by calling the local ethnic Germans “Poles.” Settlement advisers were also quick to criticize fellow Reich Germans, usually men, for arrogance towards the Volksdeutsche. One told the story of a settler’s wife from Bukovina who forgot to wear the badge showing she was German and was thrown out of the post office, where she was trying to post parcels to her son at the front, by a Reich German man who hit her in the face.

Trying in just a few years to concoct a cohesive Germanic whole from a Volksdeutsch melting pot that constantly threatened to boil over was thus a forlorn hope. For many colonists, the dream of an idyllic life in the Incorporated Territories ended even sooner. The Volksdeutsch holding camps proved irresistibly attractive as reservoirs of available personnel to military recruiters and to businesses struggling to maintain production in the face of Germany’s increasingly acute labor shortage. Inmates, facing an open-ended sojourn in ramshackle facilities whose commandants were prone to imposing upon them “a militarized regimen, separating them by sex and treating the newcomers as children, if not prisoners,” were susceptible to such overtures. Sometimes even Himmler yielded to the temptation, ordering in December 1940 that the Bessarabian Germans, who had not fulfilled his expectations as potential colonists, be conscripted instead into labor battalions. On other occasions it was the Volksdeutsche themselves who threw in the towel. Some colonists from Galicia, disappointed with the farms assigned to them in the Warthegau, abandoned them in the autumn of 1940 and sought readmission to their holding camp in łódź; another group was arrested for rejecting the properties they were offered and holding a demonstration against the authorities. And sometimes the mismatch between colonist and colony was so great that no amount of official intervention could make Germanic silk purses out of sociological sow’s ears. The genteel Estonian and Latvian Volksdeutsche proved a particular disappointment as settlers, looking askance at the notion that they should become agrarian pioneers in the agoraphobia-inducing Polish steppes. “Either they were large landowners, who were not prepared to accept the conditions of peasant settlements (which would be like suggesting to Thomas Jefferson or ‘Turnip’ Townshend that they take on three acres and a cow) or they were urban dwellers…. Soon planning officials were calling on the evacuation staff not to send them any more Balts.”

The sheer diversity among the Volksdeutsche, indeed, was probably the biggest single impediment to the success of the colonization program. Other than their regional accents, some were indistinguishable from their Reichsdeutsch counterparts. Arthur Greiser, born in Poznań province, was himself Volksdeutsch. But the claims of others were far more tenuous, if not completely fictional. Poles and Jews often observed with bemusement that many members of the Selbstschutz [self-defense] militias that sprang up to assist the Germans were, as one woman put it “people from our town, Poles,” who as soon as the Nazis arrived “suddenly heard the call of their German blood! Mostly they were scum: ex-jailbirds, card-sharps, thieves, petty (and not so petty!) crooks.” The ease with which yesterday’s Pole, Ukrainian, or Czech could become today’s German was not lost on the Reichsdeutsche, who began to describe their supposed co-racials as Beutegermane or “booty Germans” who had attached themselves to the Volk solely for the purpose of grabbing as much loot as they could.

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Degrees of French Patriotism in Alsace

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 69-70:

Even after the return of peace [in 1918], national governments would pioneer methods of displacing unwanted minorities that would be applied on a much larger scale twenty years later. A case in point was France’s “cleansing” (épuration) of the border provinces of Alsace and Lorraine between 1918 and 1921, in what Mark Mazower describes as “a blatantly racist assault on the civil rights of Germanspeakers” in the region. After his victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Bismarck had ill-advisedly annexed the ethnically mixed provinces to the Reich, creating a permanent antagonism between the two countries. When France reconquered Alsace-Lorraine in 1918, it immediately set out to eliminate any basis for future disputes about the provinces’ political complexion by purging them of those who might be thought to favor their reincorporation into Germany. To facilitate the process, the population was divided into four categories by the end of December 1918. Residents whose French loyalties were unquestioned were given identity cards marked with the letter “A,” signifying that they had been citizens of France before the Franco-Prussian War. Those who had at least one pre-1870 French parent received “B” cards. Citizens of Allied and neutral countries were placed in the “C” category; the remainder—a total of 513,000 “enemy” nationals and their children, including those who had been born in Alsace-Lorraine—became members of the “D” class. As we have seen, Heinrich Himmler’s racial gurus would use this system as a model when devising the Deutsche Volksliste in occupied Poland two decades later.

Like the Volksliste, the French classification scheme could readily be applied for the purpose of discrimination as well as expulsion. Category “A” card-holders, for example, could exchange Reichsmarks for francs at a much more favorable exchange rate than members of the other classes. Holders of “B” cards were often turned down for public-sector jobs on the ground of their mixed parentage. The most stringent disabilities, needless to say, applied to the “D” class, whose members among other restrictions were not permitted to travel. Petty persecution, however, soon gave way to deportation. The first to be removed were German-speaking civil servants; later, those marked for expulsion included factory owners and the unemployed. Their fate was determined by commissions de triage that held meetings in camera to assess the French patriotism of the persons concerned, often on the basis of denunciations solicited by local officials from individuals waging personal vendettas. Those who failed this examination were pushed across the frontier into Germany. They were permitted to take thirty kilograms of baggage with them and a maximum of two thousand Reichsmarks, all their remaining property being forfeited to the French state. But an even larger number were induced to opt for “voluntary repatriation” on the same terms. They did so because they expected to be removed eventually; because life in the “D” category had become intolerable; because, although not personally removable, their spouses or children were “D” card-holders; or, in some cases, because they feared physical attack by members of the majority population. Altogether, nearly 100,000 expellees and “voluntary repatriates” were transferred to Germany before the system was discontinued in July 1921.

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