AGAIN, THE NEED TO KNOW HISTORY
After finishing Teddy’s War, my editor recommended a follow-on book, titled Orderly and Humane, The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, written by R. M. Douglas.
Published in 2012, it describes the movement of people around the European nations during the period of 1945 and 1946. Forty million people had been displaced by the war – ex-prisoners of concentration and internment camps, non-German soldiers who had been forced to fight for the Third Reich, residents of Nazi-invaded nations that had been forced into labor camps, residents of eastern European ghettos whose homes had been destroyed, people who had fled their homes and now had no nation or family to go home to, those who were remnants of dispersed families, those who had escaped the tyranny and were returning, and a million children who had been abandoned or lost during the different invasions, relocations, and killings.
Douglas focuses on the plight of Germans who were living in countries outside of Germany.
It was Hitler’s plan to convert most of Europe (and the western part of Russia) into a homeland for the Aryan people. Invading Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, and others, he captured, confined, or killed the residents who had no Aryan roots, and then recolonized the lands with true Aryans.
For example, when he invaded Poland in 1939, he arrested and deported scientists, intellectuals, college professors, teachers, government leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, and others to work camps in Germany. He closed the universities, schools, churches, public buildings, forbid the speaking of Polish, and took ownership of all the property. That left most of the population as women, children, and the elderly in inferior positions, while he proceeded to give the captured farms, houses, and estates to homeland Germans that he moved into the areas.
In Czechoslovakia, he pumped up the number of Germans living in the Sudetenland by moving in Aryan colonists. The Sudetenland was a wide stretch of Czechoslovakia that bordered eastern Germany. Many hundreds of thousands of German families had historically inhabited this area, not necessarily Nazis or even true Aryans, but as a natural result of two countries having a common border. Many of the German descendants considered themselves Czechs, and many did not even speak German. It totaled perhaps 6 to 10 million people.
After the Third Reich fell, the reborn governments of the invaded countries chose to expel the German people from within their borders. They also seized the moment to carry out programs of general ethnic cleansing of any unwanted minorities. In Czechoslovakia, not only were the new German colonists forced to return to Germany, but the historical Germans residing in the Sudetenland were told to pack up their goods, abandon their homes, and go back to Germany. Along with them, any resident Jews were also told to get out of the country. The big cities, like Prague, were emptied of non-Czechs, as well.
This ethnic cleansing movement raged across every nation in Eastern Europe and resulted in the expulsion of millions of people from where they had lived for generations. Adding to the millions already homeless and jobless was devastating to the populations, the social structures, and the economy.
Huge numbers of refugees were forced to live in former concentration camps like Auschwitz until they could be moved outside the country. Consequently, they were treated as badly or worse as the previous prisoners. Typhus, other diseases, torture, and starvation were once again rampant.
The descriptions of what happened in this time period and the pervasiveness of the persecution of Germans was an eye-opener for me. I had never considered what Europe looked like after the war. It was absolute chaos, sewn throughout with hatred, revenge, and violence. It became (with more than 40 million people) the largest migration of people in history.
I recently watched a two-hour documentary on the National Geographic Channel called After Hitler. I haven’t found it available on DVD, so it may only be currently available on screen.
It tells the story of Europe after the war, 1945 through 1949, and covers not only the forced movements and persecutions of people, but tells of the methodical takeover of Eastern Europe by Stalin, the creation of NATO, the Marshall Plan, and the Berlin Airlift. The documentary was captivating and horrifying.
Many people today have no idea of what the Third Reich’s strategic plans, of the beginning of the Iron Curtain, of what Stalin wanted to accomplish, or of how the rest of the world reacted to the events during that time period. Every bit of that history is important to understand, especially with the current contest of who is most like Hitler and who is not, and our bantering about of words like “socialism”, “communism”, and “democracy”.
People need to watch this video with their eyes open and their mouths shut. Today, more than ever, we need to know our history.
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Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.