During the period of 1944/1945 – 1950, as many as 14 million Germans were forced to flee or were expelled as a result of actions of the Red Army, civilian militia and/or organised efforts of governments of the reconstituted states of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans were detained in internment camps or sentenced to forced labor, some of them for years. The number of expellees and refugees, whose fate could not be ascertained, was estimated to be around 2.1 million, according to two major studies conducted in 1958 and 1965, which were commissioned by the German Bundestag. Millions of German women were raped (the process of escape and expulsion includes the actions taken by the Red Army against German civilians). Private property of the expelled Germans was confiscated. More 4 million Germans resettled in Germany from the end of 1950s, joining the 14 million expellees and refugees.
A German source from the mid-1980’s gives the following estimates of the population transfers.
|Expelled from||Number expelled|
The integration of expellees and refugees into the German society required great efforts from 1940s till 1960s. In some areas, for instance in Mecklenburg, the number of inhabitants doubled as a result of the influx. Other areas, like Bavaria, which had been predominantly Roman Catholic before the war now had to deal with an influx of non-Catholic and non-Bavarian Germans from the East.
The areas, from which the Germans escaped, or which were ethnically cleansed from Germans, were subsequently re-populated by nationals of the states to which they now belonged.
There is considerable, contentious debate over how much blame for the deaths and suffering of the expelled Germans should be placed on the shoulders of the nations who expelled the Germans.
Whether the actual death toll be 1 million or 2 million, it is clear that the blame must be shared among the Allied Powers who made the decision to authorize the population transfers, the Soviet Union which had effective control over the countries involved, the national governments that put the expulsions into motion, and also the paramilitary organizations and local civilians who took advantage of the opportunity to rob, rape, torture and murder the expellees as they transited out of their homelands.
Many of the deaths were caused by death marches ordered by Soviet officials, banditry, famine and widespread disease that accompanied postwar conditions in that part of Europe as well as appalling conditions in the concentration camps created to hold German civilians awaiting expulsion. Probably one of the worst examples of the latter was the labor camp “Zgoda” in Świętochłowice , Poland which was run by Salomon Morel, a member of the Polish Communist Party. (The camp held Upper Silesian local population listed on Volksliste, and some people from other regions and abroad. Morel was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel rejected several Polish requests for extradition, the last one in July 2005.)
During the Cold War era, there was little public knowledge of the expulsions and thus scant discussion over the morality of the policy. Perhaps the primary reason for this is that Cold War geopolitics discouraged criticism of post-war Allied policies by the West Germans and of post-war Soviet policies by the East Germans. There was some discussion of the expulsions in the first decade and a half after World War II but serious review and analysis of the events was not undertaken until the 1990s. It can be surmised that the fall of the Soviet Union, the spirit of glasnost and the unification of Germany opened the door to a renewed examination of these events.