Organised persecution of ethnic Germans
The Organised persecution of ethnic Germans refers to systematic activity against groups of ethnic Germans based on their ethnicity.
Historically, this has been due to two causes: the German population were considered, whether factually or not, linked with German nationalist regimes such as those of Imperial Germany or the Nazis. This was the case in the World War I era persecution of Germans in the United States, and also in Eastern and Central Europe following the end of World War II. While many victims of these persecutions did not, in fact, have any connection to those regimes, cooperation between German minority organisations and Nazi regime did occur, as the example of Selbstschutz shows, which is still used as a pretense of hostilities against those who did not take part in such organisations. After World War II, many such Volksdeutsche were killed or driven from their homes in acts of vengeance, others in ethnic cleansing of territories prior to populating them with citizens of the annexing country. In other cases (e.g. in the case of the formerly large German-speaking populations of Russia, Estonia, or the Transylvanian (Siebenbürgen) German minority in Rumania and the Balkans) such persecution was a crime committed against innocent communities who had played no part in the Third Reich.
German populations have also been persecuted because they were perceived as lacking proper ties to the country in which they lived — this includes the persecution of ethnic German Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite communities in the United States, and of Tyrolean Germans in the province of South Tyrol. In the case of the South Tyrol, these hostilities hit the historically German population of an Austrian territory which had been annexed by Italy after World War I.
The debate sometimes encompasses the persecution of citizens of German descent in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia during World War I and World War II.
Persecution of ethnic Germans was much the same in Australia as it was in the United States during World War I. Many were interned for the duration of the war and others faced hostility from their fellow citizens. To avoid persecution and/or to demonstrate that they commit themselves to their new home, many Germans changed their names into anglicised or Francophone variants.
In Canada, thousands of German born Canadians were interned in detention camps during World War I and World War II and subjected to forced labour. Many Ukrainians and other Central and Eastern Europeans were also detained during World War I as were Japanese and Italian-Canadians during World War II.
In the summer of 1945 there were a number of incidents and localised massacres of the German population.
The following examples are described in a study done by the European University Institute in Florence:
- In the Přerov incident, 71 men, 120 women and 74 children were killed.
- 30,000 Germans were forced to leave their homes in Brno for labour camps near Austria. It is estimated that several hundred died in the death march.
- Estimates of killed in the Ústí massacre range from 30 - 50 to 600 - 700 civilians. Some women and children were thrown off the bridge into the Elbe River and shot.
Law No. 115 of 1946 (see Beneš decrees) providees: "Any act committed between September 30, 1938 and October 28, 1945, the object of which was to aid the struggle for liberty of the Czechs and Slovaks or which represented just reprisals for actions of the occupation forces and their accomplices, is not illegal, even when such acts may otherwise be punishable by law."
As a consequence all atrocities committed during the expulsion of Germans were made legal, and since the law is still in effect no perpetrator has ever faced charges for his or her crimes during the expulsion.
See also: History of South Tyrol.
After the end of World War I, the German-speaking southern part of Tyrol was included in the new boundaries of Italy. Following the rise of the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini, the ethnic Germans of this enclave faced growing persecution. Their names, and the names of the towns and places in the area, were forcibly changed to Italian. In addition, Mussolini engaged in a vigorous campaign to resettle ethnic Italians into the region. Many Tyroleans fled to Germany during this time, and the matter of this province became a source of friction between Hitler and Mussolini.
After the end of World War II, the organised persecution of Germans in South Tyrol came to an end, although ethnic strife continued for decades.
German POWs in Norway were forced to clear minefields and then walk over them, leading to the death and mutilation of hundreds of prisoners.
In the dying days of World War II and during the occupation of Germany, Soviet forces invaded German villages and raped German women en masse. It is believed by historian Antony Beevor that "a 'high proportion' of at least 15 million women who lived in the Soviet zone or were expelled from Germany's eastern provinces were raped." Several thousand women committed suicide. On the final day of hostilities, 900 women in one village just east of Berlin took their children and drowned them in the river (followed by their own suicides) as soon as they heard the Russian guns coming. In all, only about 4,000 Soviet soldiers were ever punished for atrocities. (See also Soviet war crimes)
Germans were demonized in the press well before World War I, e.g. when the Kaiserliche Marine started to challenge the Royal Navy, but particularly around 1912 and during World War I. Anti-German sentiment was so intense that the British Royal Family (which was of German origin) was advised by the government to change its name, resulting in the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha becoming the House of Windsor. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was a grandson of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and the nephew of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, German-Americans were the most visible non-Anglophone group in the United States. Pennsylvania was the most Germanic state but German-language schools and German-language media were common throughout the Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states. Numerous incidents of hostility against these groups took place during the 19th century, but were largely non-systematic.
A source of particular tension was the presence of pacifist Mennonite and Amish communities, which spoke (and speak) a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch. Although most Germans were not Mennonites, this reinforced the popular view that Germans did not consider themselves part of America.
The portrayal of Germany as "The Hun" in British pro-war propaganda inflamed existing tensions. The situation came to a crisis with America's entry into the war in 1917. Anti-German rioting was widespread. Many German-language periodicals, which had numbered in the hundreds, ceased operation (many were destroyed). These towns were primarily in the Midwestern region of the United States. Many German-Americans translated their names or altered them to resemble English names (a trend which had begun in the 19th century, e.g. Gustave Whitehead). By the time the U.S. troops returned from Europe, the German community had ceased to be a major force in American culture, or was no longer perceived as German (see Groucho Marx).
When in France during World War I, members of Yale University had learned about the German song Die Wacht am Rhein and were apparently shocked to discover the fact that Yale's traditional song "Bright College Years" had been written to the "splendid tune" of Karl Wilhelm. Suddenly hating this melody, Yale Alumni sang "Bright College Years" to the tune of the Marseillaise instead, and after the war the German melody was banned for some time until it was reinstated in 1920.
Largely for this reason, although some persecution of ethnic Germans did occur during World War II, it was not widespread. Most of the German-American population no longer identified themselves as German, nor were they identified with the Nazis in the popular mind. Despite this, the US government interned as dangerous nearly 11,000 persons of German ancestry. Only enemy aliens were supposed to be interned, but family members, many of them American citizens, often joined them in the camps.
- Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950)
- World War II evacuation and expulsion
- Expulsion of Germans from Romania after World War II
- Regained Territories
- Federation of Expellees
- Evacuation of East Prussia
- Various terms used for Germans
- Memories of World War II in the Czech Lands: the expulsion of Sudeten Germans by Brian Kenety, Radio Praha, 2005-04-14.
- The Expulsion of 'German' Communities from Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, European University Institute, Florense. HEC No. 2004/1
- Legal opinion on Benes decrees
- Berlin - The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor
- Old Yale: The Birth, Near-Demise, and Comeback of "Bright College Years" by Judith Ann Schiff, Yale Alumni Magazine December 1999.
- WWII Violations of German American Civil Liberties by the US Government
- NY Times book review of Other Losses by historian Stephen Ambrose
- History News Network Bacque and Fisher respond to Ambrose
- Totenbuch der Donauschwaben History of Communist Yugoslavian persecution and genocide of ethnic German minority and collection of names of the missing and dead.
- de Zayas Homepage Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Professor and author who has studied the German expulsions and persecutions extensively and written books on the topic.
- A Legacy of Dead German Children Ten thousand German children under five died in Danish camps
- Danish Study Says German Children Abused
- A modest proposal, Time magazine, 1941
- Morgenthau's Hope, Time magazine 1945