Historically Mined Terrain

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - The League of Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen, BdV) opened its annual national "Homeland Day" commemorations this year with new demands and strong attacks against several east European neighboring countries. BdV President, Erika Steinbach, demands that the German government finally declare a national day of commemoration for the "victims of expulsion" and includes BdV functionaries in delegations on trips to foreign countries. Steinbach, a parliamentarian in the German Bundestag, also claims that the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia had "diligently continued to function, even without Hitler." Steinbach directed invectives also at the annual Moscow anniversary celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany and announced her league's new memorial activities. Her statements, which set the tone for the local "Homeland Day" commemoration events throughout the next month across Germany were made last Saturday at a BdV ceremony in Berlin. This ceremony was greeted with messages of welcome from German President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Even Without Hitler

In the course of her speech last Saturday at the "Homeland Day" ceremony in Berlin, BdV President Erika Steinbach (CDU) alleged that even after the victory over the Nazi regime, methods of "terror" were still being applied in east and southeast Europe. Steinbach, using a formulation insinuating a similarity between the Allies and the formerly occupied nations to the German criminals running the concentration camps, was referring to Nazi concentration camp buildings being used to house German deportation candidates but also to imprison Nazi war criminals. "Buchenwald and Theresienstadt continued diligently to function even without Hitler," she said.[1] The BdV president, who is currently spokesperson for questions of human rights and humanitarian aid and a member of the presidium of the CDU/CSU Bundestag's parliamentary group, had claimed already on the occasion of the 2008 "Homeland Day" that, "even after the war" the countries, overrun by the Nazis in east and southeast Europe, had remained "a gigantic region of slaveholders."[2] This year, in reference to the presence of western politicians at the annual Russian May 9 celebrations of the anniversary of the liberation from the Nazi reign of terror, Steinbach declared that she has "no understanding for democratic politicians participating at the annual victory day parade in Moscow." Hitler and Stalin, she says, had, after all, been "cronies," who, "at first divided the loot among themselves, until one pounced on the other."[3] Therefore, there is nothing to celebrate in Russia on May 9.

"Roots of Deportation"

Following invectives against several neighboring countries, Steinbach announced in her speech that in the near future, the BdV would express its interpretation of history via various activities of its own. For example, October 25, the BdV's Centre against Expulsions Foundation is planning to open a new exhibition in the German Bundestag which will be incorporated with the two preceding projects to become a "trilogy" to be presented, beginning in March 2012, in Berlin's Palace of the Crown Prince.[4] All three exhibits focus on a timeframe extending from the origins of "Germandom" in east and southeast Europe to the integration of the displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Germany. With this approach, claims Steinbach, "the historical context of the expulsions cannot be set, shortsightedly and ahistorically, at the beginning of the Second World War,"[5] because the "roots of expulsion" extend back to the "middle of the 19th Century." This is the period of the Habsburg Empire, when the Czech speaking minority, in the region of what is today the Czech Republic, began to resist their oppression and - similar to in Poland, which, at the time, had been divided under the rules of Prussia, Austria and Russia - formed a national movement seeking independence from the German speaking rulers. Steinbach quotes the late SPD politician, Peter Glotz: "whoever wants to fight expulsion (...) must bring the whole chain of causes to light."

Shape Together

According to Steinbach, several east and southeast European governments have, in the meantime, admitted their guilt or at least expressed their regrets about the relocation of the Germans. This is the case for example of Hungary (german-foreign-policy.com reported [6]) and of Slovakia and Rumania. February 12, 1991 the Slovakian parliament passed a declaration proclaiming that they are "aware that, with the evacuation and subsequent expulsion of German citizens, Slovakia" lost an "ethnic group that for centuries had significantly contributed to the cultural diversity of our country." The Carpathian Germans had been resettled after the war because they had extensively collaborated with the Nazis and had participated in the destruction of Czechoslovakia. Without even making an oblique reference to this fact, the parliament's declaration announces: "today, from Slovakia, we extend our hand in friendship to all of you witnesses of discord, expellees and your descendents. (...) Let us work together to shape the old homeland."[7] According to Steinbach, Rumania's foreign minister had issued a similar statement at a meeting of resettled Rumanian Germans and "paid his respects to the victims of communist injustice," referring to the resettled German-speaking minority. Similar declarations, affirmed Steinbach, have been received from Baltic countries as well as from some of Yugoslavia's successor states.

Not Only Business Delegations

"Only a few states in Europe," Steinbach continued, referring to Poland and the Czech Republic, "are still refusing to cooperate." That is why "German policy" must now apply pressure. She "appeals to the German government," on its future trips abroad, "not to include only business delegations," but "also representatives of the expellees."[8] This is "particularly necessary, when it involves historically mined terrain." It is not difficult to recognize that Steinbach is thinking particularly of future trips to Warsaw or Prague. Concluding, Steinbach called for finally declaring a national day of commemoration for the "victims of expulsion." This is exactly what the German Bundestag had commissioned the federal government to do last February. The date still under consideration is August 5, the anniversary of the adoption in 1950 of the "Charter of the German Homeland Expellees." The "Charter" claims that the "expellees" were "those hardest hit by the suffering of that period," that their fate is "a global problem, whose solution demands the highest ethical responsibility and commitment to enormous efforts."

National Display of the Flag

This year's "Homeland Day," inaugurated by the BdV and its president at last Saturday's event, will be commemorated throughout the country. Numerous BdV regional, district and community organizations will hold public events to commemorate the flight and resettlement of many Germans from east and southeast Europe. The invectives and demands expressed by the BdV president have set the tone for these events, taking place all over Germany throughout the next few weeks. For last Saturday's inaugural ceremony, the German Minister of the Interior ordered that the German flag be flown on all federal government administrative and other official buildings as well as on all its auxiliary facilities. Regional and local events commemorating "Homeland Day" are usually organized in close cooperation with representatives at the respective state levels - with the presence of regional ministers as well as community personalities.

Further information concerning BdV policies and its member organizations can be found at: An Educational Venue, Days of Aggression, German Settlements in the East, Lying in Wait and History à la Carte.

[1] Wahrheit und Dialog - Schlüssel zur Verständigung. Rede der Präsidentin Erika Steinbach MdB zum Tag der Heimat in Berlin, 27. August 2011
[2] "Erinnern und Verstehen". Tag der Heimat 2008. Rede der Präsidentin Erika Steinbach MdB am 6. September 2008. See also Sklavenhalter
[3] Wahrheit und Dialog - Schlüssel zur Verständigung. Rede der Präsidentin Erika Steinbach MdB zum Tag der Heimat in Berlin, 27. August 2011
[4] zu den beiden ersten Ausstellungen ("Erzwungene Wege", "Die Gerufenen") s. The Culprits' Perspective and German Settlements in the East
[5] Wahrheit und Dialog - Schlüssel zur Verständigung. Rede der Präsidentin Erika Steinbach MdB zum Tag der Heimat in Berlin, 27. August 2011
[6] see also A Special Relationship and The German Ethnic Model (I)
[7], [8] Wahrheit und Dialog - Schlüssel zur Verständigung. Rede der Präsidentin Erika Steinbach MdB zum Tag der Heimat in Berlin, 27. August 2011