Peace, Vengeance and the Expulsion and Dispalcement of Germans After WW II
To the victors go the spoils, as the saying goes. But what are the spoils? Is vengeance, along with history a part of the package?
Is vengeance ever justified? Can vengeance ever be a deliberate political statement so as to assure history doesn’t repeat itself? If democracies exact vengeance can be turn a blind eye when tyrannical and oppressive regimes do the same?
These are many questions but there are no easy answers.
Events in the Middle East to Africa to Asia make these questions are germane and relevant.
It was one of many ugly episodes in 1945. On a summer day in Horní Moštenice, a small town in central Czechoslovakia, 265 people, including 120 women and seventy-four children, were dragged from a train, shot in the neck, and buried in a mass grave that had been dug beside the local railway station. It was a common enough scene in Central and Eastern Europe during World War II, when Nazi extermination policies threatened entire ethnic groups. But despite the similarity of means and ends, the massacre in Horní Moštenice was different. For one thing, it occurred on June 18, after the war in Europe had officially ended. Moreover, the perpetrators were Czechoslovak troops, and their victims were Germans who had been a presence in the region for centuries.
“Better enjoy the war—the peace will be terrible” went a popular joke during the Third Reich. While, after 1945, almost all Germans presented themselves as the true victims of the Nazi regime, the peace was perhaps most brutal for the more than 12 millionVolksdeutsche: German speakers living outside the borders of the Reich. The vast majority of the Volksdeutsche in Eastern Europe had greeted Hitler’s conquests as a form of national “liberation.” They benefited materially from the plunder of their Jewish, Czech and Polish neighbors, and even if they sometimes resented their loss of autonomy (as when Germans from the Reich secured choice jobs and property during the Nazi occupation), they rarely protested. After the Nazi defeat, theVolksdeutsche fled or were expelled to the West, and were stripped of their citizenship, homes and property in what R.M. Douglas calls “the largest forced population transfer—and perhaps the greatest single movement of peoples—in human history.” Douglas amply demonstrates that these population transfers, which were to be carried out in an “orderly and humane” manner according to the language of the Allies’ 1945 Potsdam Agreement, counted as neither. Instead, he writes, they were nothing less than a “massive state-sponsored carnival of violence, resulting in a death toll that on the most conservative of estimates must have reached six figures.”