Volksdeutsche: World War II--Home to the Reich


Figure 1.--Here the townspeople in Wydtkau in East Prussia on the border with Lithuania welcome Lithuanian Volkdutsche following Hitler's order to come 'Home to the Reich'. The arriving Germans were not allowed to seek new homes in the Reich. They were held in dreary camps for extended periods while the SS Office of Race and Settlement Office. assessed their racial characteristics and prepared them ideologically. After this they were not allowed into Germany proper, but used to resettle areas of western Poland which had been cleared of Jews and Poles.

Many Baltic German in the late-19th and early 20th century had emmigrated to Germany. Hitler in 1939 after seizing Poland ordered the remaining Baltic Volksdeutsche "heim ins Reich". Hitler proceeded to negotiate a treaty to bring the Baltic Germans back to the Reich. Stalin did not impede this. This was done before Stalin had yet seized control but had begun to pressure the Baltic republics. Virtually all of Baltic Germans complied. I am not sure if any restructions were placed on what they could bring with them. The architecture of many Baltic cities is all that remains in the Baltic today. The NAZIs as part of the Non-Aggression Pact were handing the Baltic Republics over to Stalin, but did not want to hand over the ethnic Germans. For Stalin the numbers were trifling and he probably saw himself as getting rid of a potential irritant in NAZI-Soviet relations. The Baltic Germans also provided a racially suitable population conviently available to persue German polivies in the East beginning with Germaizing Poland. The Baltic Germans had lived outside of Germany for centuries. Even so, most obeyed the Führer's orders, leaving their homes. Most of the Baltic Germans complied with Hitler's instructions. The NAZIs sent ships to Baltic ports to take on the Baltic Germans. There were about 12,000 repatriated. I'm not sure how families that had inter-married with Estonians were handled. The first group arrived in Danzig from Estonia October 20, 1939. They were held in dreary camps for extended periods while the SS Office of Race and Settlement Office. assessed their racial characteristics and prepared them ideologically. After this they were not allowed into Germany proper, but used to resettle areasc of western Poland. The Volkdeutsche meeting the SS racial standards were assigned areas in occupied Poland. The NAZIs in the Warthegau and other areas of occupied Poland were expelling the Polish population in order to make room for them. Polish farmers were forcibly evicted from their farms with no compensation and the Baltic Germans used to replace them. From there the Baltic Germans were later expelled themselves, this time by the Poles at the end of the War. Most of them finally settled in West Germany. [Bade]

Slogan

The term "Heim Ins Reich" (Home to the Reich) was used before World War II. We note swastica pins with the words "Heim Ins Reich" around it. The pins were worn by Germans and Austrians before the Anschluss (March 12, 1938). “Home to the Reich” was also the slogan of the Sudeten German Home Front of the Sudenten Deutsche Partei (SDP). In both cases it meant not only unifying a population, but there territory as well. “Fuehrer we thank you” was enscribed oninnumerable banners held along the road by Sudenten Germans as the Wehrmacht moved into the territory. The remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anscluss, and the annexation of the Sudentenland were called 'flower wars'. They were enormously popular with the German people, in part because they were accomplished without war.

Countries with Volksdeutsche and Other Ethnic Germans

The Volksdeutsche are German people who emmigrated to East and South Europe, but kept their language and customs. German minorities used to live throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. They were incouraged to emmigrate by Austrian emperors to help secure their control over lands liberated from the Ottoman Turks. Some Russian Tsars incouraged German German immigration to help develop and modernize their vast country. Catherine the Great (herself a German) played a major role here and thus German populations have existed in Russia for several centuries. These German minorities lived in these countries for centuries, dut many did not assimilate or drop the German language. Often they even mainatin separate schools. While the Austrian-Hungarian Empire existed many lived in the political structure of a German-speaking Austrian monarchy, but this changed in 1918-19 with the collapse of the Austrian Empire as well as the loss of German territory. Many Germans found themselves under th control of newly independent countries. When the NAZIs came to power in 1933, the Volksdeutsche proved a useful political issue and a way of justifying German territorial claims. The history and situation of the Volksdeutsche varied idely from country to country. Some like the Sudeten Germans or th Germans in Silesia were indestinguishable from actual Germans. Others like the Volksdeutsch in Russia had developed a desinctive culture. Some even had begun to los the Germn language. We are unsure at this time as to just how the Volk Deutsch dressed dressed, but hope to obtain information on this as we develop additional information on the Volksdeutsche. , The Baltics were countries to be occupied by the Soviets under terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Romania was a point of discension between the NAZIs and Soviets. We are not yet sure about ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union. The Baltic German populations varied in all three Baltic republics as did the historical experience. The Baltic Germans were primarily an urban population. The Germans played a major role in founding cities all along the Baltic. Most important cities were members of the German-based Hanseatic League. Thus Germans dominated or played a major role in most of the major cities at a time that the local population beyond the cities were mostly peasant farmers. The Germans over time acquired large landed estates, reducing the local population to serfs. The Baltic Germans remained even after the Tsarist Empire gradually gained control of the Baltic area up to East Prussia (18th century). German nobels continued to hold many of the great landed estates under Tsarist cinrtol. Many Baltic Germans emmigrated to the prosperous German Empire (late-19th and early-20th century). Here the Tsarist Russification policies were a major factor. The Germans occupied the Baltics during World War I (1914-18). Their plans to crete Baltic sattelite duchies under German nobles were undone by the Allied victory in the West and the Versailles Treaty. We are not sure about emigration trends during the inter-War era after the Baltics had gained their independence. Land reform programs turned over large areas of land to the non-German peasant population in each of the three Baltic republics. >

Hitler's Orders

Hitler in 1939 after seizing Poland ordered the remaining Baltic Volksdeutsche "heim ins Reich". The NAZIs as part of the Non-Aggression Pact were handing the Baltic Republics over to Stalin, but did not want to hand over the ethnic Germans. For Stalin the numbers were trifling and he probably saw himself as getting rid of a potential irritant in NAZI-Soviet relations. The Baltic Germans also provided a racially suitable population conviently available to pursue German policies in the East beginning with the need to Germaize Poland.

Negotiating with the Soviets

Hitler acted before Stalin had yet seized control but had begun to pressure the Baltic republics. Hitler proceeded to negotiate a treaty to bring the Baltic Germans back to the Reich. This wasa very different than the approch taken with the Sudenten Germans, but the difference was that Hitler was not yet in control of the Baltic Republics. As early as September the Soviets began forcing treties on the three Baltic republics which would lead to full annexation in 1940. But in 1939-40 Hitler wanted an accomodation with Stalin so he could focus on the West. [Gilbert, p. 277.] Stalin did not impede this. There were, however, disagreements. NAZI teams traveled to the Baltics and haggled with Baltic officials and Soviet NKVD officers who seemed reluctabntvto approve the exit of skilled artisans or were demanding tax payments. There were also issues concerning the liquidation of assetts. [Burleigh, p. 448.]

Compliance

An estimated 0.5 million ethnic Germans were brought home to the Reich. Virtually all of Baltic Germans complied with Hitler's orders. We are not sure about the high level of compliance. It suggest wide-spread support for the NAZIs which was the case in other areas (the Saar, Rhineland, Austria, and the Sudentnland). We do not yet have any detailed information about support for the NAZIs. There could be other issues, such as Baltic treatment of minorities or concern about the consequences of disobeying the orders. The impending Soviet takeover could have been another factor. The architecture of many Baltic cities is all that remains of the centuries-old German presence in the Baltics today. The Baltic Germans had lived outside of Germany for centuries. Even so, most obeyed the Führer's orders, leaving their homes. The NAZIs sent ships to Baltic ports to take on the Baltic Germans complying with the orders. The fact that most lived in the cities, especially the port cities simplified the process. Bringing home the Romanian Germans was more complicated. As the returning ethnic Germans living outside Germany, their German language skills and aherence to German cultural norms varied. The Baltic Germans tended to speak better German than the Germans who returned to the Reich fron Romania. We are not sure how families that had inter-married with the local population were handled. While we are unsure about why so many complied with Hitker's orders, we do know that most were bitterly disappointed with what awaited them when they arrived in the Reich--months and in most cases more than a year in dreary relocation camps. Military-age males were soon drafted.

Propaganda

Goebbels Propaganda machine made a great deal as to how the NAZIs were peacfully solving ethnic problems. German media taled about the 'peaceful rationalizationof ethnic anomalies'. There was also a lot of sentimental, emotional writing andcterms like 'blood rejoining blood' and 'heart speaking to heart'. SS Reichführer Heinrich Himmler took a special interest in this project. He and NAZI poet Hanns Johst met one party of waggons from Volhynia at Przemmsl as they crossed the San (January 1940). Johst is noted for the line, "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun." Nothing could better summrize his poetry.

Property

I am not sure if any restrictions were placed on what they could bring with them. The disposition of their homes, buinesses, and other property which could not be packed up was left to NAZI and Soviet neotiators.

Camps

The first group of Baltic Germans arrived in Danzig from Estonia October 20, 1939. They were held in dreary camps for extended periods while the SS Office of Race and Settlement Office. assessed their racial characteristics and prepared them ideologically. After this they were not allowed into Germany proper, but used to resettle areasc of western Poland.

Settlement

The Volkdeutsche meeting the SS racial standards were assigned areas in occupied Poland. The NAZIs in the Warthegau and other areas of occupied Poland were expelling the Polish population in order to make room for them. Polish farmers were forcibly evicted from their farms with no compensation and the Baltic Germans used to replace them.

Post-war Expulsion

What Hitler tried to do by persuasion in 1939 and 1940, the rest of the Volksdeutsche (as many as 12 million) from countries like Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia fled are simply were expelled and sent to Germany (1945-46). Many fled with the retreatratin Wehrmacht. Most of those who did not wee targted by those who suffered t the hands of the Germans or were expelled by authorities, in some cases brutally. Thus the Baltic Germans expelled themselves or were xpelled by the by the Poles at the end of the War. Most of them finally settled in West Germany. [Bade] Germans in the Soviet Union had a more difficult time. It turned out to be one of history's greatest success stories to have integrated and assimilated that many people in a totally destroyed country.

Sources

Bade, Klaus J. ed. Deutsche im Ausland. Fremde in Deutschland (C.H.Beck Verlag: Munich, 1992).

Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.







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Created: 8:04 AM 6/19/2010
Last updated: 8:59 PM 5/2/2013