International Migration By Ethnic Germans Research Paper

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In the late 1930s and early 1940s, members of ethnic German minorities living in Central and Eastern Europe were in part resettled in Germany at the request of the Nazi government, and in part deported from the European area of the Soviet Union to the Asian area, as a consequence of Stalinist policies. Altogether, this affected at least 2,000,000 people. Between 1945 and 1948 the post-war expulsion of 12,000,000 Germans led to the largest state-organized ethnic cleansing in the history of the twentieth century. German citizens as well as ethnic Germans from other Central and Eastern European states were deported from their traditional areas of settlement, taken mainly to the British, the Soviet and the US occupation zones within Germany. After 1950 the West German government decided to facilitate immigration for members of the remaining ethnic German minorities living in the communist countries of Europe. Officially they were called resettlers (Aussiedler). In total, some 4,000,000 people arrived as ethnically privileged migrants to Germany between 1950 and 1999. There are similar immigration regulations for members of co-ethnic diasporas in Israel, in Greece, and in several Central and Eastern European countries. This research paper analyzes the ethnic German expellees and resettlers, their regions of origin, the most important periods of the partly voluntary, but mostly involuntary, migration, the magnitude of these migration flows, as well as the legal regulations and their political context.

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1. Historical Overview

From the fourteenth to the eighteenth century hundreds of thousands of German settlers migrated from the southern and western parts of Germany to Central and Eastern Europe. This included in part the conquest and colonization of territories, e.g., by Teutonic Knights. In other cases German settlers were recruited by local rulers. Still others left their homelands for political or religious reasons.

With the founding of nation states on an ethnic basis, the majority of ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe became members of a German diaspora. In 1871, with the creation of the second German Empire, some 12,000,000 German speaking people (both ethnic Germans and Jews) remained citizens of the Habsburg and tsarist empires. After 1918, notable German-speaking minorities lived in France, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, as well as in Italy and in the Soviet Union. Even during the inter-war period the future of the ethnic German diasporas became a key issue of German domestic politics, and later also a foreign policy issue. The German government and the ruling elites promoted two ethnopolitical solutions: the revision of borders in order to include territories with ethnic German populations, and the resettlement of ethnic Germans from their historical areas of settlement, sometimes portrayed as necessary ‘evacuation.’ Nazi Germany realized both: in 1940 through the annexation of areas of compact German settlement (Austria, parts of Bohemia and Moravia, Danzig, western Poland and Alsace-Lorraine); and between 1939 and 1944 through the ‘transfer’ of between 625,000 and 650,000 ethnic Germans living outside territories annexed to, or occupied by, Germany in 1938 and 1939. This forced resettlement affected ethnic Germans from the Baltic countries; from Polish territories that later became parts of Ukraine (Volhynia, Bucovina); from Crimea (today also part of Ukraine); from the Caucasus; from Romania (Bessarabia, Dobrudja); from Slovenia (Gottschee); and from Northern Italy (South Tyrol Alto Adige; see Table 1).

International Migration By Ethnic Germans Research Paper

In 1941, some 1,400,000 ethnic Germans living in the Volga region and in other parts of the USSR, alongside many other ethnic groups, became victims of Stalinist policies. They were deported mainly to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan because of alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany, or at least sympathies for the German invasion of the USSR. And, unlike other deported groups, ethnic Germans were not allowed to return to their traditional settlement areas in the European area of Russia.

2. Post-War Expellees And Their Resettlement In The Allied Zones Of Occupation

At the end of World War II, German refugees came in large numbers from what were until then the eastern provinces of Germany and formerly annexed territories, to the territory of present day Germany. Between 1945 and 1948, an even larger number of people—12,000,000 in all—were expelled from former German provinces annexed to Poland and the USSR, from other parts of Poland, as well as from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia (see Table 1). The victorious Allied powers had allowed Poland and Czechoslovakia to deport all members of their ethnic German minorities. During 1945 and 1946, Hungary and Yugoslavia carried out similar measures. To a larger public this was explained as retaliation and collective punishment for Nazi and war crimes, but the ethnic cleansing was also made to ensure that no relevant groups of people with German citizenship or of German origin would remain in East-Central Europe. The underlying rationale was that this would prevent, once and for all, any further interethnic conflicts or future territorial claims by Germany vis-a-vis its eastern neighbors.

The last all-German census of 1946 listed 5,800,000 expellees in the three western zones of occupation, and 3,600,000 expellees in the Soviet zone. Further expulsions in the years 1947 and 1948 and the migration of expellees from the Soviet zone to the Western zones led to a situation in which some 7,900,000 expellees were already living in West Germany—mostly in the British and American zones by 1950—and another 3,600,000 in East Germany (DDR) (Lemberg and Edding 1959). During the same period Austria absorbed some 430,000 ethnic German expellees (see Table 1).

By the beginning of the 1950s, some 12,000,000 German citizens and persons of German origin from former German provinces and from East-Central Europe had been resettled to East and West Germany as well as to Austria, which was also occupied by the Allies of World War II (see Table 1; see also Benz 1995, Stanek 1985). A further 500,000 people who originally came from regions with German residents were not expelled, because they had either left the area before 1944 to 1945, were still serving in the German army, or were already prisoners of war in Allied camps in 1944 or 1945. Later these quasi-expellees, for whom return to their old homelands had become impossible, were given the same legal status as those actually expelled, at least in West Germany. This gave them, among other benefits, a legal claim to compensation payments for lost possessions and property (Lastenausgleich).

Of the 12,500,000 expellees and quasi-expellees of the years 1945 to 1949, more than half (56 percent) were from former Eastern provinces of Germany (now parts of Poland and Russia); 24 percent from Czechoslovakia as re-established in 1945; and 8 percent from Danzig and territories of inter-war Poland (see Table 1). In relation to population size there were more involuntary migrants in East Germany (DDR)— 3,600,000 or almost 19 percent of the total population—than in West Germany (FRG)—7,900,000 or 16 percent of the total population—while the proportion of German expellees in Austria was small by comparison, at 400,000, or 7 percent of the total population.

The influx of German expellees and their integration were in no way free from conflicts, for they were unwanted in many places. In the integration of this group and its later acceptance by German post-war society the recognizably involuntary nature of the expulsion played as big a role as the fact that they were Germans by ethnic origin or by citizenship (Frantzioch 1987).

3. German Resettlers And The Legal Basis Of Their Absorption In (West) Germany

From 1950 to 1987 the immigration of ethnic Germans from East-Central and Eastern Europe to Germany continued at a low level (see Fig. 1). Until 1987, some 1,400,000 ethnic German immigrants were registered in West Germany. Only thereafter did a clear increase begin. Between 1988 and 1999 a further 2,600,000 arrived. The (West) German Constitution (Grundgesetz) of 1949 defined as citizens not only former citizens of Nazi and inter-war Germany but also all ethnic Germans who had found refuge on German territory within the boundaries existing in 1937. Since the 1950s, an extensive interpretation included other ethnic Germans still living in Central and Eastern Europe as potential citizens. The first legal basis of the ethnically privileged immigration of these potential citizens to Germany was the Federal Law concerning Refugees and Expellees (Bundesfluchtlingsund Vertriebenengesetz). This Law of 1953 regulated the admission and absorption of former German citizens and ethnic Germans, who, after the completion of the general expulsion measures left those of Germany’s (former) Eastern provinces currently under foreign jurisdiction (Danzig, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, or China). The original regulation was aimed at persons whose situation was comparable with that of the expellees of 1945 to 1948. In 1957, ethnic German immigrants were officially called resettlers (Aussiedler) for the first time and were given the same status and access to benefits as post-war expellees. In this context the concept of ethnic origin was clarified: ‘Somebody is a member of the German nation, who has professed his (her) Germanness in his (her) homeland,’ the law stated. Beside this declaration, so-called objective features were brought into play in order to distinguish ethnic Germans from other persons. Ethnic Germans were defined by descent, language and cultural or ethnic orientation. All those fulfilling the criteria and living in the aforementioned countries were (and some still are) entitled to claim German resettler status and to be admitted as privileged immigrants. The publicly declared moral and political justification for this admission to Germany were repressive measures against members of ethnic German minorities (e.g., deportation, suppression of the German language, political and economic discrimination, etc.) at least in part legitimized as retaliation measures for Nazi and German war crimes. But the fact that, until 1989 and 1990, all ethnic Germans of Central and Eastern Europe lived under communist rule was used as an additional argument in their favor.

International Migration By Ethnic Germans Research Paper

Ethnic German immigrants (Aussiedler) became German citizens immediately upon arrival in Germany. They could also make use of a series of benefits designed to facilitate their integration: the claim to a council apartment; free German language courses and courses of vocational training, as well as professional retraining; and a claim to transfer payments for which most foreign immigrants would not be eligible—e.g., public pensions even for those ethnic German immigrants who did not contribute to German pension insurance (Heinelt and Lohmann 1992).

The origins of the considerable material support for ethnic German immigrants lay in the material compensation for persons who had lost or left behind all their property in Germany’s former Eastern provinces, originally introduced after 1945. This can hardly justify the benefits accorded to Aussiedler of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They do not come from regions once belonging to pre-war Germany. And since 1990 the post-communist countries of origin no longer force them to give up real estate or other possessions. Now, the existing measures only serve the purpose of integrating the Aussiedler into German society as quickly as possible.

Until 1988 the chance to emigrate was offered to ethnic Germans mainly on the basis of bilateral agreements between West Germany and the governments of Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. The migration was voluntary to a greater extent than the expulsions of the years 1945 to 1949, and usually only occurred when members of the ethnic German diaspora made a corresponding application. Against this background the analytical distinction between expellees (Vertriebene; 1945 to 1949) and resettlers (Aussiedler; since 1950) makes sense, although the latter term was only introduced in 1957. Nevertheless, members of the German minorities living in Poland, Romania, and the former USSR were discriminated against in many cases—not only before, but also after 1950. Large parts of the West German public interpreted the Aussiedlers’ decisions to emigrate both as a response to political and social discrimination at home and as a clear profession of Germanness and belief in the political system of the FRG. Rarely was the emigration of Aussiedler primarily seen as an economically-motivated decision (Bethlehem 1982, Delfs 1993).

4. Areas Of Origin And Periods Of Immigration

From the beginning of the 1950s and until the 1980s, Central and Eastern Europe’s communist regimes limited the freedom of movement of their ethnic German citizens almost to the same extent as that of citizens belonging to the ethnic majority. The borders were well guarded. Leaving the state without authorization was treated as a crime. Only privileged people received a passport valid for international travel to Western countries. After the end of the organized post-war expulsion there were, for a while, only a few cases of family unification. In 1950, 47,000 ethnic immigrants came to West Germany; in 1952, only 5,000. During the following Cold War period (1953 to 1987) on average 37,000 Aussiedler per year came to Germany. The annual fluctuations mirrored, on the one hand, periods of domestic political liberalization or crisis in the countries of origin—during the second half of the 1950s in Poland, 1967 to 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and after 1986 in the USSR—and, on the other hand, the communist regimes of Poland and Romania also used concessions on exit permits for Aussiedler as ‘leverage’ in order to improve their political relations with the FRG and to receive economic or financial aid. At the same time, the political elites of these two sending countries hoped that the still existing ethnic minorities would be weakened and finally disappear through emigration. This all played a role in the mid-1950s when some 250,000 persons of German and mixed ethnic background were allowed to leave Poland in the direction of West Germany. It was also true for the period before and after the conclusion of a Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag) between Bonn and Warsaw. In 1970 the number of ethnic Germans who were allowed to leave was almost five times higher than 1968 and 1969 combined. During the 1970s, Poland received substantial financial support in return. In the case of Romania, Germany even agreed on a fee per ethnic German migrant (Munz and Ohliger 1998).

Between 1950 and 1987 almost two-thirds (62 percent) of all ethnic German immigrants came from Poland (848,000) and a further 15 percent from Romania (206,000). Although there also was a strong German minority in the Soviet Union, in that period, only 110,000 persons (8 percent of the Aussiedler) were able to emigrate from that country (see Fig. 1). Despite this emigration, the greater part of the still existent German minorities continued to live in their traditional areas of settlement—Upper Silesia, Transylvania, Banat—or in regions into which they were deported during World War II—in particular Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rescinding of administrative travel restrictions in East-Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the number of ethnic German immigrants rose considerably. In 1988, 203,000 Aussiedler came to Germany, almost three times as many as in the previous year. And in 1990, the influx of Aussiedler reached its highest mark ever, at 397,000 persons. From 1988 to 1999 a total of 2,600,000 Aussiedler migrated to Germany. In this phase, the post-Soviet successor states—namely Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan—became the most important regions of origin (1,775,000 Aussiedler, or 69 percent). The second largest group was the ethnic German immigrants from Poland (574,000 or 22 percent over the same period). Those from Romania ranged third (219,000 or 8 percent).

Until 1989 and 1990 members of ethnic German minorities from East-Central and Eastern Europe were not able to freely leave their home countries, but were allowed free entry to West Germany, and almost automatically became German citizens. The application for Aussiedler status could be made during a short-term visit to Germany, or even after illegal entry. Fast and unbureaucratic naturalization allowed ethnic Germans under such conditions an immediate stay in the country of their forefathers. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain, Germany became a lot more restrictive. Since 1990 members of ethnic German minorities have had to apply in their country of origin for Aussiedler status and for a special entry permit to be issued by the relevant German consulate. The ‘Germanness’ of the applicants is now checked in advance. These new regulations immediately led to a much smaller influx of ethnic immigrants (221,000 people in 1991), and to a backlog of applications to be processed. In 1992 an annual quota for the admission of Aussiedler was established. Until 1999, the size of this quota was 220,000 persons per year, and in 2000 it was reduced to 110,000. On top of this, in 1996, the German administration introduced a language test, in which potential Aussiedler have to prove their proficiency in German. This led to a further reduction of the inflow: in 1994, 222,000 Aussiedler were given permission to enter Germany, by 1999 the number was only 105,000 (see Fig. 1). Another reason for this reduction is the pace of administrative procedures and individual decisions to actually migrate. In 1999, some 400,000 applications for Aussiedler status were pending. Another 180,000 ethnic Germans had already acquired Aussiedler status, i.e., the right to immigrate and become a German citizen, but have not exercised this right so far.

5. Reduction And Foreseeable End To The Immigration Of Ethnic Germans

The immigration of ethnic Germans to Germany has been declining since 1990. There are several reasons for this decline. Since 1993 the unconditional right to immigrate to Germany has existed only for ethnic Germans living in the successor states of the Soviet Union. The regulation by which ethnic Germans must prove their linguistic competence also has a restrictive effect on the influx of Aussiedler, because people with poor or no knowledge of German are denied privileged access to Germany. In the years 1996 to 1998, some 50 percent of all applicants passed the mandatory language test. The remaining 50 percent have no right to repeat the test. However, some of those who fail the test later come to Germany as family members (i.e., spouses, parents, children, or children-in-law) of someone who successfully claimed Aussiedler status. Unlike those who pass the test, their spouses, their children, the other accompanying family members remain foreign nationals. They are not entitled to a number of integration measures, and they have no immediate access to the German labor market.

An end to the ethnically-privileged immigration into Germany is forseeable. In 1992 the so-called ‘Law concerning late consequences of World War II’ (Kriegsfolgenbereinigungsgesetz) limited the options of future applications for Aussiedler status and subsequent entry into Germany to ethnic Germans born before 1993. This regulation will become important after the year 2010, when people born in 1993 and later reach the age of 18. This younger generation of ethnic Germans will have no independent claim to Aussiedler status, though some of them will still be able to immigrate legally into Germany within the framework of family unification.

Between 1950 and 1999 a total of 4,000,000 Aussiedler came to Germany. Most of them were from the Soviet Union and its successor states (1,800,000) and from Poland (1,400,000). The potential for a further influx of Aussiedler is not exactly foreseeable, but it is limited. There are almost no ethnic Germans still living in the successor states of Yugoslavia, in the Czech Republic, and in Slovakia. In Romania, the great wave of emigration (1989 to 1992) reduced the German minority population to a core of older people, no longer willing to emigrate (approximately 60,000 in 1999). Estimates say that there are 500,000 to 800,000 people in Poland who see themselves as ethnic Germans, in particular those living in Silesia. Many of them have already received permission to immigrate as Aussiedler, but have not yet exercised this right. Others migrated but did not settle in Germany permanently and returned to Poland as dual citizens. A considerable number successfully regained German citizenship without emigrating. For this reason the number of people in Poland with both German and Polish citizenship has grown (to approximately 275,000 in 1999). In the successor states of the USSR, the remaining number of ethnic Germans and people of mixed origin with at least some German ancestry is estimated at 500,000 to 1,000,000. In the face of the crises of economic transformation as well as political and ethnic conflicts, one can expect that many of them will either have declared themselves as Germans already, or will do so in future, in order to keep open the option of later emigration to Germany or to profit from public funds earmarked by Germany for the support of ethnic Germans in the Eastern diasporas.


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