De Zayas Alfred-Maurice - A Terrible Revenge

Author : De Zayas Alfred-Maurice
Title : A Terrible Revenge The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950
Year : 1992

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FOREWORD. Many Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans), who formerly lived between the Bohemian Forest and the Urals, the White and the Black seas, and who now inhabit contemporary Germany, Great Britain, and the Americas, are experts in what we call "ethnic cleansing." They obtained their specialized knowledge as victims of the ferocious reaction known as the Expulsion, which followed upon Adolf Hider's genocidal imperialism. Because their mother tongue was German and Hider's adopted fatherland was Germany, it has been difficult for those who fought or suffered under the Nazis to grant them much sympathy. Moreover, some among the Volksdeutschewere hell-bent to become junior partners in the Aryan master race and did all they could to deliver their communities as a fifth column for the Nazis. Most of them, however, were indifferent to politics-farmers in East Prussia and the Romanian Banat, coal miners in Silesia. They were like ordinary people anywhere: not the actors, but the acted upon. As our neighbors and as citizens today, they share the opportunity to shape their destiny in free elections. In the 1930s, in Hungary or Poland, for example, their options were far more limited. The failure of the French, British, and Americans to support constitutional regimes in Spain in 1936 and in Czechoslovakia in 1938 left the political field open to communism and some form of fascism. This ultimately meant that the choice for anyone with an average amount of courage living in East-Central Europe was between Hider and Stalin. Contemporary Americans, safely and smugly hidden behind a Bill of Rights and a superpower military, might think that a choice between Hider and Stalin was no choice at all. But that is because we have not been forced to make such choices. Not yet. For Danube Swabians in the Yugoslavian Batschka or German- Russians in the Ukraine, the choice usually came down to whom they hated more, Stalin or Hider; which doctrine repulsed them more, communism or Nazism. Women and children, of course, were not consulted. The choices were made for them. In most circumstances, any people who suffered the devastating casualties described by Dr. Alfred de Zayas in this volume and in his other works would logically be labeled as victims. Even if one were so bitter as to demand that the Germans should have provided their share of innocent victims, this condition was well met by the 15 million displaced and 2 million killed. To see none of the latter as innocent is to pose a concept of collective blood guilt that augurs poorly for the future. Yet such innocence has rarely been discussed outside of German-speaking countries. The taint of Nazism has been so severe that the German expellees have been victimized by both journalists and historians. Sinister motives for this phenomenon are unlikely. There has been not so much a concerted conspiracy to withhold the truth, as an embarrassed reluctance to tell it. The passions and confusions of World War II and the Cold War discouraged writers and politicians from defending a group of people who were as powerless as they were despised. The German Expellees: Victims in War and Peace should go a long way in righting this wrong. Dr. de Zayas is well equipped, both professionally and academically, to remove the German expellees from the ranks of villains and place them among the victims; one might even say the last large group of Hitler's victims. Alfred de Zayas has been a human rights activist and has worked as a human rights expert for the past two decades, specializing in the rights of refugees and minorities. He has been sent on fact-finding missions to many countries and has examined in /oco the human rights situation in numerous crisis areas. There are dangers, of course, in a historian being as close to history in the making as de Zayas is. As respite from his legal work in Geneva he has been offered the dubious opportunity of viewing contemporary horrors firsthand. Such proximity to unfolding events brings the temptation to reach backward through history, to attempt to explain the past in terms of the present, instead of the other way around. Readers of The German Expellees need not worry. Alfred de Zayas's legal training at Harvard and his historical training at Gottingen (and Tiibingen, where he was a Fulbright Graduate Fellow) have helped him to avoid the trap of understanding backward while forgetting that our predecessors could only live forward. His Nemesis at Potsdam systematically analyzed the Allied responsibility for the decisions to expel the Germans. His Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 has established beyond a reasonable doubt that a war crime is a war crime is a war crime, whether committed by German, Soviet, British, or American forces. The German Expellees is a departure from Alfred de Zayas's other work only in its emphasis, not in its scholarly thoroughness or remarkable objectiviry. What emerges here is a picture of who the German expellees were and where and when they settled in central and eastern Europe. We find among them poets and philosophers, farmers and businessmen; people whose talents were not only valued in German culture but were sought after by the Habsburg emperors, Hungarian nobility, and Tsars Catherine the Great and Alexander I. We discover also that they form major ripples among the waves of German emigration to the United S tates, Canada, and South America. In the new world, as in the old, their contributions have been aesthetic as well as mundane. Furthermore, the phenomenon of the West German economic "miracle" of the 1950s is inexplicable without the inclusion of the highly skilled labor force represented by the expellees. Alfred de Zayas has, in effect, revealed the German expellees as human beings. He restores to them a humanity that was literally taken away from them by Hitler, Stalin, and the Allies and then figuratively withheld by historians and journalists, unwilling or unable to view that part of the 20th century as, in von Ranke's phrase, "it actually was." As for any lessons concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity, a simple, powerful message emerges from this book and the entire body of Alfred de Zayas's scholarship and professional activity. If the peoples of the earth would really seek to diminish the horrors of mass murder, they might do better to concentrate less on loving their neighbors and more on simply not hating them. Once enough of us decided to change from love/hate to tolerance, our politicians would have no choice but to obey us. Charles M. Barber. Professor of History. Northeastern Illinois University. ...

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