Mathias Beer, Dietrich Beyrau, Cornelia Rauh, eds. Deutschsein als Grenzerfahrung: Minderheitenpolitik in Europa zwischen 1914 und 1950. Essen: Klartext, 2009. 353 pp. EUR 32.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-8375-0097-4.
Reviewed by Pascal Maeder (Universität Basel, Historisches Seminar)
Published on H-TGS (February, 2012)
Commissioned by Corinna R. Unger (Jacobs University Bremen)
The last decade has seen a proliferation of works with a transnational perspective on German minorities in early twentieth-century Central and Eastern Europe. Deutschsein als Grenzerfahrung is such a book. It grew out of a conference organized by a research group on the experiences of war in modern history at the University of Tübingen. The volume aims at exploring public policies toward German minorities on the western, southern, and eastern fringes of Germany and Austria between 1914 and 1950; and the experiences of these minorities in those years as a result of these policies. The publication includes a short introduction and seventeen consecutive articles, which are not separated into subsections and follow a more or less geographic and chronological order. The introduction outlines the articles' common themes and compares the many different ways German identities were lived and policed across Central and Eastern Europe in the first part of the twentieth century. The author of the introduction, Dietrich Beyrau, juxtaposes the French "cleansings" (épurations) of the German population in the Alsace (1918/9 and 1945) with the forced migrations of the German population in Poland after 1918 and 1945, discerning a surprising similarity in that the non-native German population was "cleansed" from the Alsace primarily on the basis of their ethnicity. Michael Esch's article situates ethnic cleansings and genocides in history and identifies wars and war-like situations as a central component of the construction of ethnically homogenous nation-states. While he associates such endeavors with both democratic and authoritarian forms of government, in the final section of his article he draws on Alf Lüdtke's concept of self-centeredness (Eigensinn). In doing so, he points toward an ambivalence in ethnic cleansings which, he claims, are being perpetuated not solely in the interest of "high politics" and national fanaticism but also due to more general motives such as greed, material want, or other character traits and group dynamics discussed in this volume’s papers.
A first series of articles focuses on the Alsace and the Palatinate, which the French occupied between 1919 and 1926. As Sabine Könitz shows in her article, the language courses sponsored by the French occupation authorities in the Palatinate raised considerable concern among the German authorities, who feared France's territorial expansion to the Rhine. Yet although the local population initially showed a keen interest in these courses (which strengthened the German officials' fears), enrollment rates quickly dropped when the lack of exposure to French and the minimal contact with French officials made it obvious to the locals that they need not learn French. Christiane Kohser-Speiser in her article draws quite a different picture of the Alsace, where the local German-speaking population increasingly dropped their native language in favor of French, particularly after World War II. The cleansings (épurations) of 1918-20 and 1945 were, according to the author, constitutive of the Alsatians' assimilation into French culture, leading to the departure of 100,000 Germans in the first postwar period and 10,000 Germans in the second. The subsequent two articles neatly demonstrate to what degree French society limited the Alsatians' German identity. On the one hand, Clemens Krüger's article, drawing on oral histories, highlights the humiliations a generation of Alsatians (the malgré nous) lived through due to forced conscription into the German army. However, while this association with Germany was generally considered unacceptable, Cornelia Rauh's fascinating paper illustrates how the broader French public did not completely incriminate the Alsatians' German identity. Examining the French prosecution of those who committed the war crimes of Oradour in 1944, Rauh unveils the twists and turns this case took as it was revealed that some of the perpetrators had been Alsatians who had forcibly been conscripted into the Waffen-SS. In the end, the accused were found guilty and, except for one who was still a convinced Nazi, charged with relatively minor sentences which, shortly thereafter, the French parliament reprieved due to the protests mounted by Alsatian representatives and organizations. Alexa Stiller, too, deals with the Alsace. Her article compares the Nazis' racial and ethnic policies (Volkstumspolitik) put into place in the Alsace with those in other German-occupied countries and regions, such as the Lorraine, Poland, and Slovenia. As she shows, while the German authorities had similar ideological goals, the means they employed varied considerably from region to region. Ingo Haar makes a similar point in his study on racial and ethnic policies in three different occupied Polish regions. There, officials on the ground set into place genocidal policies which differed from each other but later fed into the "General Plan East," designed specifically for the territories conquered in the wake of the campaign against the Soviet Union.
Besides Haar's contribution, seven more articles deal with ethno-national issues in Poland, five of them specifically with Upper Silesia, which the Allied partitioned in 1922 after a plebiscite showed that a majority of the Upper Silesian population wanted to remain part of Germany. In a local study Bernard Linek examines the marginalization of the German population in East Upper Silesia, the part which in 1922 had been turned over to Poland, pointing out the parallels with the marginalization of the Poles in (German) Upper Silesia. Andrzej Michalczyk sheds light on these developments from a micro-history perspective, analyzing processes of inclusion and exclusion through everyday experiences at church masses or community events. Juliane Haubold-Stolle and Peter Polak-Springer both scrutinize the policies German and/or Polish authorities developed to nationalize the local population in Upper Silesia. Hauboud-Stolle finds that a striking similarity between the German and Polish cultural policies between 1922 and 1939 led to competing assimilation programs between the two states. Meanwhile Polak-Springer concludes that the re-nationalization of the Polish "autochthons" (i.e., German-speakers considered to be ethnic Poles) after World War II went hand in hand with the national integration of Poles into a new communist Poland. Richard Kaczmarek looks at the Nazi elites in Upper Silesia, many of whom were locals and proved quite flexible in implementing Nazi racial and ethnic policies. In the last article dealing with Polish/German border regions Krzysztof Stryikowski examines the consequences of the German "racial and ethnic lists" (Volkslisten) in the immediate postwar period in Poland. Not only did Polish officials use these lists for the "triage" of the population (internment, reassimilation programs, and, for the many identified as Germans, deportation); they also drew on the methods and practices used by the Nazis to implement this triage. As Stryikowski suggests, in so doing Polish officials of all political colors were united, regardless of whether they were communists and nationalists.
The final three articles deal with German minorities in Romania, Hungary, and South Tyrol. In his excellent essay, Mathias Beer provides an overview of the situation for the various German-language groups in post-1945 Romania, which, in marked contrast to most other German minority groups in Central and Eastern Europe, continued to exist until the exodus of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Beer explains this exception with reference to three factors: Romania's collaboration with Nazi Germany until August 1944; the heavy-handed approach of the Soviet Union toward Romania (including territorial disputes); and Romanian policymakers’ stronger focus on class than ethnicity in establishing the postwar Communist regime. Nobert Spannenberg aptly illustrates this last point by presenting the case of Hungary, where land reforms were clearly ethnicized and led to the removal of German and other minority groups from the country. Finally Hans Heiss discusses South Tyrol, which, despite the incorporation of the Saarland (1935), Austria, and the "Sudetenland" (1938) into Nazi Germany, remained part of Italy until its occupation by the German army in 1943. In the time between Tyrol’s annexation in 1918/19 and 1943, Italian officials attempted to assimilate the German minority, especially after the fascist take-over in 1922, when the authorities Italianized public life and prohibited German-language schooling. Italy's close association with Nazi Germany, especially after the signing of the Hitler-Mussolini Pact in 1939, led to little change. In fact, to the dismay of the local German population, the pact failed to incorporate South Tyrol into the German state. Instead it envisaged the resettlement of the South Tyrolean population to German-occupied Poland which, by and large, failed to materialize.
By bringing together seventeen articles, the volume as a whole provides rich examples of the way German minorities in Central and Eastern Europe lived through the dramatic events of the first part of the twentieth century. The publication's intent is also clear: to demonstrate that the nationalization processes of that period were inherently based on racial and ethnic assumptions that led to assimilation in the best case and to death in the worst case. Showing how the implementation of racialized and ethnicized national policies varied from region to region is clearly the greatest achievement of this book. However, there is no new insight to be gained from this finding. The publication could have benefited from two stronger conceptual inputs. For one, it could have been framed in distinct parts, subdividing the papers into sections dealing specifically with policies or day-to-day experiences. Secondly, a more exhaustive introduction or a final synthesis would have strengthened the analytical value of the book. There are plenty of episodes and events discussed in these papers that would allow for an in-depth comparative analysis. The juxtaposition of developments in the Alsace and Upper Silesia at first glance surely provides some striking similarities. But what did it mean when, in the aftermath of wars, Germans were cleansed from a territory? Did these Germans retreat with German troops, or did they flee from the enemy armies? Did they leave because they saw no future in a future French or Polish state, or were they forcibly removed? In this regard, the épurations in the Alsace were of quite different nature than the intricate population shifts (and eliminations) in the east; therefore they deserved a closer look. One would also have wished for a broader view beyond Central and Eastern Europe. The book's geographic scope remains within the standard spectrum of most publications on this topic, even though the stories of German minority groups in the Americas or elsewhere could give us a better understanding of the possbile ways German identities might be lived (or not). In which regards, for example, was the assimilation of the German-language groups in the Alsace different from assimilation processes in the United States or Canada? During and after World War I the assimilation of Germans in Canada took a great leap: German names (including cities) were dropped or Anglicized, and German schooling was discouraged. A more global view could help identify and contextualize the regionally specific European experiences. Nevertheless, readers who are particularly interested in the ethno-national conflicts unfolding in the Alsace and Upper Silesia in the first part of the twentieth century will find a series of articles in this book with ample information and illustrations on German life in multi-ethnic or non-German contexts.
. Among the most important (edited) works employing a transnational perspective are: Detlev Brandes, ed., Erzwungene Trennung: Vertreibungen und Aussiedlungen in und aus der Tschechoslowakei 1938-1947 im Vergleich mit Polen, Ungarn und Jugoslawien (Essen: Klartext, 1999); Philipp Ther and Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1949 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Ulf Brunnbauer, ed., Definitionsmacht, Utopie, Vergeltung: 'Ethnische Säuberung' im östlichen Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: LIT, 2006); Anja Kruke, ed., Zwangsmigration und Vertreibung: Europa im 20. Jahrhundert (Bonn: Dietz, 2006); Mathias Beer, ed., Auf dem Weg zum ethnisch reinen Nationalstaat? Europa in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Attempto, 2007); Ralph Melville, Jiri Pesek and Claus Scharf, eds., Zwangsmigrationen im mittleren und östlichen Europa: Völkerrecht – Konzeptionen – Praxis 1938-1950 (Mainz: von Zabern, 2007); and Adrian von Arburg and Martin Schulze Wessel, eds., Zwangsumsiedlung und neue Gesellschaft in Ostmitteleuropa nach 1945 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2008).
for the time
(internment, reassimilation programs, and, for the many identified as Germans, deportation)
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Pascal Maeder. Review of Beer, Mathias; Beyrau, Dietrich; Rauh, Cornelia, eds., Deutschsein als Grenzerfahrung: Minderheitenpolitik in Europa zwischen 1914 und 1950.
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