Refugees in Germany… repeating history

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German-speaking settlements in Middle and Eastern Europe (C201.c.7265)

Germany has a long and complicated history of population movement: more recently the integration of millions of refugees after World War Two was not easy; and the current influx of huge numbers of migrants is a topic of intense discussion in Germany. In total, 20.3% of Germany’s population now have a Migrationshintergrund (a migration background) – the official German term used to describe immigrants or their children.

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Movements of the German refugees between 1944 to 1948 (C201.c.7265)

After World War Two, millions of ethnic Germans (the Volksdeutsche) were forced to leave areas of Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Russia and resettle in West and East Germany. Most of those being expelled were descendants of Germans, generations of whom had settled in the eastern lands; they knew no other place as home, and had to load their wagons for the long trek to their ancestral homeland, as described in Die Flucht : über die Vertreibung der Deutschen aus dem Osten (C201.c.7265). The expulsions were, in fact, conducted in a ruthless and often brutal manner, according to Der Weg zur Vertreibung, 1938-1945: Pläne und Entscheidungen zum “Transfer” der Deutschen aus der Tschechoslowakei und aus Polen by Detlef Brandes (539:1.c.805.94) and Die Benes̆-Dekrete : eine europäische Tragödie by Niklas Perzi (610:1.c.200.18). In Poland, German-owned farms and houses were handed over to Poles. In Czechoslovakia, more than 2.2 million Germans were expelled and their property was expropriated, a process detailed in Die Vertreibung: Sudetenland 1945-1946 by Emil Franzel (610:97.c.95.5). At the peak period, in July 1946, 14,400 people a day were being forced to cross the frontier. According to the German Historical Museum 600,000 Germans died as a result of the expulsions. The total number of Germans who were expelled or who departed voluntarily from Eastern Europe after the end of the WW2 reached 11.5 million.

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How cities in Germany dealt with German refugees after WW2 (C201.c.7265)

How did Germany deal with all the newcomers at the time? Historische, politische und soziale Voraussetzungen des Zusammentreffens zwischen Bayern und Sudetendeutschen nach 1945: ein Beitrag zum Strukturwandel Bayerns by Fritz Peter Habel (Uc.7.3201) describes the structural change in political and social conditions after 1945 in some parts of Germany. Many refugees fought to bring their issues to attention, but they were often frustrated by the reality of their lives in the migrant camps. Finding a job, integrating into society, and living in constant fear of deportation was exhausting. The UL has a series entitled Forschungen zur Integration der Flüchtlinge und Vertriebenen in Hessen nach 1945 (573:01.c.78.1-6) which contains research about the integration of refugees and settlements in Germany after WW2.

In 1991, Germany enacted laws enabling Jews from the former Soviet Union to move to Germany due to the fear of growing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. More than 200,000 Jews, people of Jewish descent and non-Jewish spouses sought shelter in Germany. This period of immigration is dealt with in Ich bin kein Russe : jüdische Zuwanderung zwischen 1989 und 1994 (9002.d.9970) by Irene Runge. Since 1991, Jews from the former Soviet Union in Germany are recorded as “Jewish quota refugees”. Ankommen in Deutschland : Einwanderungspolitik als biografische Erfahrung im Migrationsprozess russischer Juden by Franziska Becker (514:6.c.200.29) explores the immigration policy in Germany for these Jews. Further information can be found in Russische Juden in Deutschland : Integration und Selbstbehauptung in einem fremden Land (514:6.c.95.389), which demonstrates the complexity of problems that the Russian-Jewish migrants faced after they moved to Germany in the 1990s. Their integration became a source of conflict and therefore many of them felt isolated insecure. The book highlights the difficulties of social, cultural and relgious integration in Germany.

Also, in the 1990s, around 350,000 people fleeing the Bosnian conflict were given temporary refuge in Germany, but most have since left. The writer Saša Stanišić was born in Bosnia and moved to Germany as a refugee of the Bosnian War when he was 14 years old. He wrote his first novel in German about the war in Bosnia, Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert : Roman (748:39.c.200.180). The book has won several prizes in Germany and abroad, and has been translated into other European languages too, including English: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (2015.8.8098).

Aspects of previous refugee crises have been reflected in recent events in Germany. As before, the arrival of new migrants is presenting challenges to German society. We look forward to receiving the first publications about how Germany deals with this.

Joanne Koehler

2 thoughts on “Refugees in Germany… repeating history

    • Thank you, Pat. I wrote this blog post in the memory of my father in law who passed away last June unexpectly. He was one of the refugees who was forced to flee from former Czechoslovakia with his entire family and the whole village when he was 11 years old after WW2. From the last 20 years I had known him, he kept mentioning to us how they left the place where he grew up and how hard it was for them all to settle in Germany.

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