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Organised persecution of ethnic Germans

'The World Cannot Live Half Slave, Half Free' Propaganda poster issued by the US government during World War I era accusing Germany of plotting a world take over

The Organised persecution of ethnic Germans refers to systematic activity against groups of ethnic Germans based on their ethnicity.

Historically, this has been due to two causes: the German population were considered, whether factually or not, linked with German nationalist regimes such as those of the Nazis or Kaiser Wilhelm. This was the case in the World War I era persecution of Germans in the United States, and also in Eastern and Central Europe following the end of World War II. While many victims of these persecutions did not, in fact, have any connection to those regimes, cooperation between German minority organisations and Nazi regime did occur, as the example of Selbstschutz shows, which is still used as a pretense of hostilities against those who did not take part in such organisations. After World War II, many such Volksdeutsche were killed or driven from their homes in acts of vengeance, others in ethnic cleansing of territories prior to populating them with citizens of the annexing country. In other cases (e.g. in the case of the formerly large German-speaking populations of Russia, Estonia, or the Transylvanian (Siebenbürgen) German minority in Rumania and the Balkans) such persecution was a crime committed against innocent communities who had played no part in the Third Reich.

German populations have also been persecuted because they were perceived as lacking proper ties to the country in which they lived ' this includes the persecution of ethnic German Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite communities in the United States, and of Tyrolean Germans in the province of Bolzano-Bozen. In the case of the province of Bolzano-Bozen, these hostilities hit the historically German population of an Austrian territory which had been annexed by Italy after World War I.

The debate sometimes encompasses the persecution of citizens of German descent in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia during World War I and World War II.


[edit] Specific locales

[edit] Australia

Persecution of ethnic Germans was much the same in Australia as it was in the United States during World War I.[citation needed] Many were interned for the duration of the war and others faced hostility from their fellow citizens. To avoid persecution and/or to demonstrate that they commit themselves to their new home, many Germans changed their names into anglicised or Francophone variants.[citation needed]

[edit] Germany

The book Other Losses by James Bacque (ISBN 1-55168-191-9) alleges that General Dwight Eisenhower ordered the mistreatment of German prisoners of war who were detained in American-run POW camps after World War II. Other U.S. and German sources estimate the number of German POWs who died in captivity at between 56,000 or 78,000 or about 1% of all German prisoners,[citation needed] which is roughly the same as the percentage of American POWs who died in German captivity, and far less than the 64% of Soviet POWs who died while detained by the Third Reich.

Still, the likelihood of a German POW of dying in captivity was four times higher when captured by Americans than when captured by the British.[1] In fact, Eisenhower had them for a period relabeled as Disarmed Enemy Forces in order to rid them of the protection of the Geneva Convention.[citation needed] Their food rations were then lowered, and the Red Cross was forbidden to visit them.

In addition, millions of German prisoners of war were for several years used as forced labor, both by the Western and Eastern Allies. (See also History of Germany since 1945#Forced labor reparations)

In the U.S. an initially successful campaign was carried out in the years 1944-1948 to convince the U.S. public that the German people should be dealt with harshly.[2]

At the Potsdam conference after World War II, the victorious allies awarded roughly 25% of Germany's pre-war territory to Poland and the Soviet Union. The German population in this area was expelled by force, together with the Germans of the Sudetenland and the German populations scattered throughout the rest of Eastern Europe. 12-15 million were expelled in total. One to three million are estimated to have died during the expulsion, mainly women and children. (See also Expulsion of Germans after World War II).

As agreed at Potsdam, an attempt was made to convert Germany into an agricultural nation, which would only be allowed a minimum of light industry to pay for food imports.[citation needed] Large numbers of factories were dismantled during the years 1945-1950 as reparations or simply destroyed in order to lower the German industrial potential. (see also the Morgenthau Plan).

Due in part to these economic occupation policies, and also due to the refusal of the U.S. to allow food imports to help ethnic Germans, large numbers of German civilians died in the years following the unconditional surrender in what would eventually become West Germany.[citation needed]

[edit] Soviet Union

Hundreds of thousands of German Prisoners of War were kept in Soviet custody for 10 years after World War II.[citation needed] These were not repatriated until Konrad Adenauer went to Moscow in 1955 and urged their release.[citation needed] They, along with alleged German collaborators and other ethnic Germans, were imprisoned in Gulag concentration camps.[citation needed] The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished and Volga Germans were banished from their settlements on the Volga River with many being deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan. (see also Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union)[citation needed]

In the dying days of World War II and during the occupation of Germany, Soviet forces invaded German villages and raped German women en masse. It is believed by historian Antony Beevor that "a 'high proportion' of at least 15 million women who lived in the Soviet zone or were expelled from Germany's eastern provinces were raped."[3] Several thousand women committed suicide. On the final day of hostilities, 900 women in one village just east of Berlin took their children and drowned them in the river (followed by their own suicides) as soon as they heard the Russian guns coming. Although all militaries have histories of rape, the gang-raping of ordinary German women occurred with the approval of many district commanders. In all, only about 4,000 Soviet soldiers were ever punished for atrocities. (See also Red Army atrocities)

[edit] Poland

In the 18th century, the German states of Prussia and Austria participated in the Partitions of Poland, in which the historical Kingdom of Poland was erased from the map.

Poland regained its independence only in 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles recreated country Second Polish Republic. However, minorities of Ethnic Germans remained in the territories of Poznań, West Prussia, Upper Silesia, and eastern Pomerania within Poland. In Poznań and eastern Pomerania, the number of German speaking citizens was 9% in 1931, and 6% in Upper Silesia.

In 1939, the Germans exploited the fact that Poland contained ethnically German populations as a casus belli in order to justify their actions against the Polish Republic. In this, they were aided by a number of ethnic German Polish citizens who sympathised with Nazism.

In Poland during the German occupation in World War II, the status of Volksdeutsche had many privileges but one big disadvantage: unlike Poles, Volksdeutsche were conscripted into the German army. The Volksliste (a list of peoples categorised according to Nazi philosophies of "racial purity") had 4 categories. No. 1 and No. 2 were considered ethnic Germans, while No. 3 and No. 4 were ethnic Poles that signed the Volksliste. No. 1 and No. 2 in the Polish areas annexed by Germany numbered ~1,000,000 and No. 3 and No. 4 ~1,700,000. In the General Government territory, there were about 120,000 Volksdeutsche.

Volksdeutsche of Polish origins were treated by Poles with special contempt, and the fact of their having signed the Volksliste constituted high treason according to Polish underground law.

German citizens that remained in the territory of Poland after World War II became as a group personae non gratae. They had the choice of either applying for Polish citizenship or being expelled to Germany. The property that belonged to Germans, German companies or the German state, was either transferred to Soviet Union or confiscated, along with many other private properties, by the new Polish communist state. German owners, as explicitly stated by the law, were not eligible for any compensation. Those who decided to apply for compensation were subjected to a verification process. There were also many acts of violence against Volksdeutsche.

[edit] Czechoslovakia

See also: Germans in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938), Beneš decrees, Sudetenland, Flight and expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia during and after World War II.

In the summer of 1945 there were a number of incidents and localised massacres of the German population.[4]

The following examples are described in a study done by the European University Institute in Florence:[5]

  • In the PÅ�erov incident, 71 men, 120 women and 74 children were killed.
  • 30,000 Germans were forced to leave their homes in Brno for labour camps near Austria. It is estimated that several hundred died in the death march.
  • Estimates of killed in the �šstí massacre range from 30 - 50 to 600 - 700 civilians. Some women and children were thrown off the bridge into the Elbe River and shot.

Law No. 115 of 1946 (see Beneš decrees) providees: "Any act committed between September 30, 1938 and October 28, 1945, the object of which was to aid the struggle for liberty of the Czechs and Slovaks or which represented just reprisals for actions of the occupation forces and their accomplices, is not illegal, even when such acts may otherwise be punishable by law."

As a consequence all atrocities committed during the expulsion of Germans were made legal, and since the law is still in effect no perpetrator has ever faced charges for his or her crimes during the expulsion.[6]

[edit] Norway

The children of Norwegian mothers and German soldiers were persecuted after the war, see War children.

German POWs in Norway were forced to clear minefields and then walk over them, leading to the death and mutilation of hundreds of prisoners.

[edit] Italy

See also: History of South Tyrol.

After the end of World War I, the German-speaking southern part of Tyrol was included in the new boundaries of Italy. Following the rise of the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini, the ethnic Germans of this enclave faced growing persecution. Their names, and the names of the towns and places in the area, were forcibly changed to Italian. In addition, Mussolini engaged in a vigorous campaign to resettle ethnic Italians into the region. Many Tyroleans fled to Germany during this time, and the matter of this province became a source of friction between Hitler and Mussolini.

After the end of World War II, the organised persecution of Germans in the province of Bolzano-Bozen came to an end, although ethnic strife continued for decades.

[edit] United States

During the 18th and 19th centuries, German-Americans were the most visible non-Anglophone group in the United States. Most Germans lived in Pennsylvania but German-language schools and German-language media were common throughout the Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states. Numerous incidents of hostility against these groups took place during the nineteenth century, but were largely non-systematic. The anti-slavery position of Germans in the South brought about violent clashes in slave states, such as Texas during the American Civil War.[citation needed]

A source of particular tension was the presence of pacifist Mennonite and Amish communities, which spoke (and speak) a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch. These communities attracted considerable hatred, particularly during the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War, when many Mennonites and possibly Amish were imprisoned or forcibly conscripted.[citation needed] Although most Germans were not Mennonites, this reinforced the popular view that Germans did not consider themselves part of America.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, anti-German sentiment quickly reached a fever pitch. Many Germans supported their (former) homeland's side in the war,[citation needed] in which America long remained officially neutral. The portrayal of Germany as "The Hun" in British pro-war propaganda inflamed existing tensions. The situation came to a crisis with America's entry into the war in 1917. The period from 1917 to 1919 is regarded as the time when German-American ethnic identity came to an end.[citation needed] Anti-German rioting was widespread. Many German-language periodicals, which had numbered in the hundreds, ceased operation (many were destroyed). However, there are cases of towns where the residents spoke German on a daily basis and the local newspaper was in German at least as late as the 1950s.[citation needed] These towns were primarily in the Midwestern region of the United States. Many German-Americans translated their names or altered them to resemble English names (a trend which had begun in the nineteenth century, e.g. Gustave Whitehead). By the time the U.S. troops returned from Europe, the German community had ceased to be a major force in American culture, or was no longer perceived as German (see Groucho Marx).

When in France during World War I, members of Yale University had learned about the German song Die Wacht am Rhein and were apparently shocked to discover the fact that Yale's traditional song "Bright College Years" had been written to the "splendid tune" of Karl Wilhelm. Suddenly hating this melody, Yale Alumni sang "Bright College Years" to the tune of the Marseillaise instead, and after the war the German melody was banned for some time until it was reinstated in 1920.[7]

Today, many argue that the Germans are the one ethnic group that has been assimilated into American society.[citation needed] Largely for this reason, although some persecution of ethnic Germans did occur during World War II, it was not widespread. Most of the German-American population no longer identified themselves as German, nor were they identified with the Nazis in the popular mind. Despite this, the US government interned as dangerous nearly 11,000 persons of German ancestry. Only enemy aliens were supposed to be interned, but family members, many of them American citizens, often joined them in the camps.[8]

[edit] Canada

In Canada, thousands of German born Canadians were interned in detention camps during World War I and World War II and subjected to forced labour. Many Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans were also detained during World War I as were Japanese and Italian-Canadians during World War II.

[edit] Britain

Germans were demonized in the press well before World War I, e.g. when the Kaiserliche Marine started to challenge the Royal Navy, but particularly around 1912 and during World War I. Anti-German sentiment was so intense that the British Royal Family (which was of German origin) was advised by the government to change its name, resulting in the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha becoming the House of Windsor. On the other hand, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was a grandson of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and the nephew of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The German Shepherd dog was renamed the Alsatian, which is the name under which this breed is still commonly known in Britain.

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