Volksdeutsche: World War II Home to the Reich--Compliance

Figure 1.-- The Province of Posen was a historic areas contested by Germans and Poles. the area of Poland Prussia obtained as part of the Partition of Poland (18th century). It was located south of East Prussia. After the Napoleonic Wars it was awarded to Prussia as part of the Grand Duchy of Posen by the Congress of Vienna (1815). The Poles rose up as part of the Revolutions of 1848 and after the Prussians syppresed them the territory was administered as a Prussian province. AfterWorld War I, the Germans as part of the Versailles Treaty settlement ceded the most of the province to the newly established Polish Republic (1919). Here some of the Baltic Germans as part of the Home to the Reich effort arrive in Posen from a transit camp (1940). Thos was part of the NAZI effort to permanently Gemanize Posen. Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 137-051843.

An estimated 0.5 million ethnic Germans were brought home to the Reich. There was no effort to bring ethnic Germans home from Western Europe (Belgium had a small German speaking area), Axis ally (Hungary), or the German occupied areas (Czechislovakia and Poland). Some were broughtback from Italy. And quite a large number were repatriated from Soviet occupied Poland (Volhynia, Galicia , 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.

Baltic Germans

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 and the eastern Poland, and the Soviet Union. 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.

Italian Germans

Italy received the German-populated South Tyrol from Austria in the World War I peace settlment. They were given some ciltural concessions. Mussolini was concerned that Hitler might demand its return, but in preparation for the Anschlss, he Germans insured him they would not.After the omset of World War II, Germany and Italy negotiated the South Tyrol Option Agreement (Option in Südtirol) (1939). The ethnic Germans (pzioni in Alto Adige) in South Tyrol and three communes in the province of Belluno were given the 'option' of returning to the Reich or remaining in the Tyrol and compling with Italian regulations forcibly integrating them into mainstream Italian culture and thus losing their German language and cultural heritage. Some 83,000 people or over 80 percent moveed to Germany (1939-43).

Polish Germans

Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Polan and partitioned the country. The disposition of ethnic Germans varied. The ethnic Germans in western Poland stayed where they were and many cooperated ith the NAZIs in Germanuzing the provinces. The General Government (central Poland an Warsaw) was used by the NAZIs as what they saw as a dumping ground for Jews and Poles. Some 33,000 ethnic Germans returned home to the Reich. We are not sure why this was done as the area was eventually to be Germanized as part of Generalplan Ost. It may have been a temporary security matter. The Soviets occupied eastern Poland (Volhynia and Galicia and allowed some 128,000 ethnic Germans to return to the Reich (1939-40).

Romanian Germans

Ethnic Germans lived throughout Romania, including the areas seized by the Soviet Union and transferred to Hungary. The ethnic Germans ordered 'Back to the Reich' were the ones in the provinces seized by the Soviet Union: Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Volhynia (1940). Hungary was an old World War I ally and increasingly part of the NAZI orbit. Getting the ethnic Germans out of the area seized by Stalin proved to be a relatively easy operation. Romania would, however, prove to seriously test the relationship betweem Hitler and Stalin. The NAZI-Soviet Pact did not defintively srttled the division of Europe. One of the problems was the Balkans. Stalin saw the area as part of his zone of control. Hitler had a special interest in Romania--the Ploiesti oil fields. The weakest chink in the NAZI war machine was pretoleum. Germany had no significant petroleum resources. The NAZIs launched a synthetic petroleum industry, but Ploesti was their only major source of natural petroleum--except Soviet deliveries under the terms of the Non-Agression Pact. Thus Soviet pressure on Romania was a matter of great concern.

Soviet Germans

We are not yet sure about ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union. The largest group were the Voga Germans meaning that they were living deep in the Soviet Union and not in border areas. We do not know if German negotiators raised the issue and pressed it. It is likely tht Stalin saw them as insurance of German compliance with the terms of the Agreement, but we have not yet found an specific references to them in Soviet sources. One source suggests that 250,000 ethic Germans were resettled from he Soviet Union. We can not yet confirm this. With the onset of Barbarossa, the Soviet Germans the NKVD could get their hands on were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia by Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (August 28, 1941). The Wehrmcht managed to overun areas in the west with Volksdeutsche before the NKVD could deport them. Many died during the deportment andlack of prepared facilitis for them when they reached Siberia and Central Asia. The Soviet Germans who were found to be suitable for physical work (males from 15 to 55 and women from 16 to 45) were mobilised for forced labor. They were organized into Working columns and held in prison-like conditions. Some were held with prison immtes or in actial prison camps. Hundres of thousands died or were incapacitated as a result of the harsh conditions of their internment. There is no exact accounting.

Yugoslav Germans

One source suggests that some 36,000 Germans returned to the Reich from Yugoslavia after the German occpation (April 1941). Yugoslav Germans were called Swabians. We do not yet have much informtion in what happened in Yugoslavia. A secion of occupied Serbia was set up for ethnic Germans--the Banat. This becme an autonomous German-administered region. We are not sure if this was voluntary or not. I may have been a security measure. Most of those who remained in Yugoslabia left with the retreating Whermacht (September-Octobr 1944).


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Created: 1:37 AM 5/3/2013
Last updated: 1:37 AM 5/3/2013