On the “Vertreibung”, Expulsions, and Hope

Of late, I have received numerous queries and comments from our readership regarding my position on and interest in the ethnic expulsions of German peoples from Eastern Europe after World War 2. I think this is a fair question that merits response.

I guess I would begin my response by stating that expulsions and holocausts (genocides) did not start nor end with the Germans of 1930-1940s Europe.

From a historical context some of the earliest genocides were (according to Wikipedia):

  • the destruction of Melos by Athens during the Peloponnesian War (fifth century BCE)
  • the genocides of Amalekites and Midianites (described in the old Testament).
  • the Yu Ding (禹鼎) records that Liwang of Zhou (d. 828 BC) ordered his army not to leave old and young of a rebel country alive.
  • the destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War (149–146 BC) “The First Genocide”.

Expulsions and ‘holocausts’ continue today and have been conducted with vigor for millennia.

In World War 2 alone there were at least four major ‘genocides/holocausts’ conducted against non-combatant civilian populations of:

  • Jews (up to 6 million),
  • Chinese (up to 16 million)
  • Germans (up to 3 million)
  • Polish (up to 2.5 million)

Other less easily classified WW2 ‘genocides/ mass murders/ displacements’ were conducted against the Soviet controlled peoples (Russians, Latvians, ethnic Germans, etc.), American Japanese, Indians, Indochinese, Indonesians, European gypsies, and homosexuals.  Since World War 2, there have been numerous additional ‘holocausts’, including those against Cambodians, Bosnians, Rwandans, Sudanese…

The extreme sadness is that each event is inexcusable and more sadly, few are even remembered or acknowledged. Historically, governments and peoples continually attempt to rationalize and justify their genocidal crimes in the context of some prior crime, either real or imagined, that was perpetrated upon ‘them’ previously by the ‘other’. The cycle simply never ends. There is no first crime, there is no last retaliation. It is simply a vicious hate based spiral/ cycle. In human terms, the cycle is nearly infinite in duration and scope. As someone once said: “An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind”.

So why do I bother to tell and document the Vertreibung story? I tell the story of the German Expulsions because my family was very fortunate to have survived the pogroms, murders, concentration camps, loss of property, etc. and because the Vertreibung bears telling. The Vertreibung was the largest ethic cleansing in history, involving the displacement of as many as 14 million people; the crimes against humanity in this event are immense and almost always ignored- especially by those most closely involved in their sanction and conduct. People need to be informed. The acts should be remembered in the hope that they will not be repeated. Most importantly, governmental or social ‘retribution’ meted out during the Vertreibung needs to be unconditionally viewed as inexcusable, unacceptable by anyone, anywhere. Crimes, genocides, expulsions such as these are unpardonable, even when they are conducted against a people who had the great misfortune of being associated with a hated and abjectly defeated government.

Our family, your family, every family has been wronged at one time or another. We have all, almost certainly, been associated with losing wars, being on the wrong side of an issue, and being expelled from homes and lands we thought were ours. Our families have been wrongly incarcerated and punished by people who believed they were superior to us. We have been punished for our language, our color, our intellect, our beliefs and more. No family is immune.

Fortunately each of us has a choice. We can choose to perpetuate, hide, ignore or excuse these events; or we can attempt to stop their continuance and recognize them for what they are: crimes against humanity.

I choose to tell the tale, and I refuse to continue the cycle. The Vertreibung, like many other expulsion/ genocides, needs to be viewed in the light of day. We need to examine it, evaluate it, and our reactions to it. We need to move forward by forgiving ourselves and others. In forgiving others, we free ourselves. In asking for forgiveness, we earn the right to be forgiven.

So, during this annual season of remembrance, love, peace, and forgiveness, I extend my fervent wish for broader understanding, acceptance, and tolerance. I hope you will join me in working for a world where we all can see and appreciate our shared humanity. A world where reconciliation is possible and we can forgive one another for our collective transgressions, while still valuing the sacrifices each of our families have made.

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