New Book On German Expellees in Postwar Germany and Canada

Pascal Maeder: Forging a New Heimat: Expellees in Post-War West Germany and Canada. V&R unipress GmbH, 2011. ISBN: 978-3-89971-805-8
Referring to the six million Germans that were transferred from Central and Eastern Europe to East and West Germany, the process of expulsion has commonly been divided into three archetypical forms. The flight of five million people who sought refuge from the Soviet armies, vigilante deportations during the months immediately after the defeat of German troops, and systematic removals of the remaining German population until 1955. Yet one group of people connected to the expellees but being parted from the land was also expelled from their homes although they always have been left out of figures and numbers when it comes to the topic of the expulsion of the Germans. In his study, Pascal Maeder expands the spectrum of the expulsion process to men and women that were neither captured, forced into labour camps nor in exile when they experienced their “expulsion” in absentia. But having lost their homes in the aftermath of World War II they too became German expellees. The book sheds a broader light on the expulsion and includes facets experienced by German men and women who at the time of their expulsion were not present in their homes in Central and Eastern Europe, but instead lived through their expulsion experience in exile or in prisoner-of-war camps.
Maeder’s concept asks for the nature of identity and nationality because at the root of the expulsion there is always ethnic nationalism. In the introduction Maeder explains the historic events of World War II that caused six million Germans to leave their homes in Central and Eastern Europe. Before the war tore Europe apart there were important historical developments that led into the European traditional idea of nationalism. Maeder summarizes three vast strands of scholarships which examine more closely the nexus between nationalism and expulsion. First of all, they are placing the expulsions into a pan-European decade of forced population movements, war, and dictatorships that did not spare human life in pursuit of their national objectives. Secondly, as a result oft the Versailles peace treaty system former minority groups formed new nation states. A population exchange to ‘unmix’ multi-ethnic nation states was considered a success and led to the international acceptance for policies as seen in Churchill’s comment in 1944: “There will be no mixture to cause endless trouble […] a clean sweep will be made.” Thirdly, there was the emergence of ethnic nationalism in the 19th century popularized by the American and French revolutions. The ‘National Idea’ rapidly became synonymous with the creation of ethnically and/or racially homogeneous nation states that came along with modern technological advances as citizenship, democracy and welfare.
Comparative exploration of the lives of expellees in West Germany and Canada allows an assessment of the widely acclaimed successful integration of expellees in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Meader focuses on the transnational character of migrant identities with their complex social construction and the interplay between the agency of people and the social realm they came to live in. The study sticks to Anthony Richmond’s multivariate systems model of international migration where immigrants must be classified as a reactive migrant group pushed by a high level of socio-political constrains. On this basis Maeder argues that, following Richmond, nationalism brought about both the expulsions of the Germans from Central and Eastern Europe and their integration into a new nation state. In their quest for personal security, expellees as knowledgeable agents inevitably reproduced elements of the nationalism which led to their expulsion and so enabled them to act upon their existence and produce and re-produce societies. Therefore, based on a set of socially constructed criteria the dynamic of nationalism leads individuals and population groups either to adopt a national identity or, if they can not partake or feel excluded from a national community, to move and re-negotiate a national identity outside the territory.
The clear structure of the book makes it easy to follow Maeder’s questions and answers. Written in five chapters, each chapter is divided into three parts where the first part describes the situation of the expellees in Europe, the second part shows in contrast the expellee’s life in Canada during the same period of time, ‘Beyond the Sea’ as Maeder calls it in the first chapter. In the third part of each chapter a brief conclusion sums up the essential issues and results.
In the first chapter he outlines the various facets of the expulsion as described above, followed by the immediate consequences for the persons involved. As Maeder states, it is obvious that the difference between the two groups of expellees is on the one hand an isolated experience in Canada, and on the other hand a mass phenomenon in occupied Germany. The second chapter focuses on the living conditions in occupied Germany and the attempts expellees made to get away from misery and death. Despite of greatest efforts, the vast majority of expellees in occupied Germany was unable to move overseas. Maeder therefore examines the forces and mindsets on each side of the Atlantic which pushed expellees to organize aid and immigration. Chapter three investigates how and where many expellees moved within West Germany or to Canada during the ‘migration boom’ of the early 1950s and the motives expellees had to move once again. In chapter four Maeder discusses the political mobilization and organization of expellees after the settling process in both Germany and Canada. In Germany, expellee leaders enjoyed national prominence and headed a wide network of political, professional, and socio-cultural organizations with a membership of two million people. Unlike the German expellees only a handful of Canadian expellees built small organizations with limited political ambitions. The last chapter details the main argument of the study and elucidates how and what type of national identities expellees negotiated during the course of their settlement in Germany and Canada. Maeder describes how expellees generated discourses that allowed them to express their ethno-cultural and social heritage in the modern world.
To the question of how expellees in Canada fared compared to their counterparts in West Germany, Maeder gives solidly researched answers that are leading even a reader without background information of post-war developments into a social and political discussion and stimulates further interest in the topic. Readers more knowledgeable about German history will be provided with supplementary knowledge. Adding to the history of German expellees, surely the Federation of Expellees itself will gain knowledge from Forging a new Heimat.
Christina Barwich, Kassel