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Steinbach's halfhearted compromise

The Local · 5 Jan 2010, 18:00

Published: 05 Jan 2010 18:00 GMT+01:00

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Following months of rancour and dispute, the Federation of Expellees (BdV) has offered to forgo having its controversial chairwoman Erika Steinbach put on the board of the Foundation for Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation. But what Steinbach is attempting to sell as a noble gesture is in truth nothing more than self-serving political posturing. This is because the BdV has attached conditions to the offer that will hardly be acceptable to the German government. Not only does the BdV want to eliminate governmental approval for nominees to the foundation’s board, but it also wants more than the three seats it already has.

Without a doubt, Steinbach and the BdV have been the driving force behind the creation of the foundation. The planned centre for expellees it will control is meant to remember the fate of those persons forced to leave their homelands across Europe because of the war started by Germany more than seven decades ago. But – just as its name implies – the foundation is intended to facilitate reconciliation as well. Steinbach stands in the way of this regardless if she wants to believe it or not.

The head of the expellees' lobby group and a Christian Democratic parliamentarian, Steinbach certainly is not the evil revanchist she is portrayed to be by the Polish media and some politicians from Germany’s eastern neighbour. In fact, she has even opposed the demands for compensation by a few radical German expellees. However, she has also made inflammatory comments in the past and her quick rejection of the Oder-Neiße border has made her an object of hate in Poland. Even though her image in much of Eastern Europe has become an overly simplified caricature, there can be no reconciliation with her participation at the foundation.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has rejected giving Steinbach a key role for the same good reasons his predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier did. The latest offer from BdV will not change Westerwelle’s mind or that of his party the Free Democrats (FDP). Were the government to give in to the BdV’s demands now it would create the impression that the foundation is simply a project for the expellees, but it’s long since moved beyond that.

The centre for expellees was agreed to only after tortuous talk with Poland. In order to alleviate remaining concerns there, a law was passed attaching the foundation to the German Historical Museum in Berlin. This was to ensure the remembrance of the expulsions of Germans at the end of World War II was not taken out of the context of the uniquely unjust Nazi military aggression responsible for them.

The German government cannot accept any compromise that calls this into question. The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has long considered itself the advocate for German expellees and has signalled its support for the latest Steinbach proposal. Some members of the CDU would like to back it as well. Westerwelle and the FDP have said they’ll consider it, but they aren’t like to go along with it.

In the end it will come down to the chancellor. Up till now she’s merely avoided the issue by pointing out Steinbach hadn’t yet been officially nominated for the foundation by the BdV, postponing any final decision by her cabinet. But now an ultimatum has been put on the table by the expellees: if the government doesn’t agree to its conditions, the group will nominate Steinbach for the foundation.

Story continues below…

At that point Merkel can no longer continue to prevaricate. She’ll have to decide: is the historic reconciliation with Poland and good relations with Germany’s eastern neighbours more important than placating some of her own conservatives? Will she act as chancellor and a stateswoman or a party politician and powerbroker? She cannot be both in this case.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Zeit Online, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

17:36 January 6, 2010 by Henckel
My family was from Rastenburg in East Prussia. They emigrated to the USA in 1879, but if there were any relatives still in Rastenburg in 1945 they were probably expelled. I probably don't have a single relative there now.

It's ironic, too, because I speak English with a heavy Ostpreussische accent that my family has carried down the years even in America.
20:35 January 6, 2010 by Le Monde
Hey Erica

Nazi Raus :)
20:47 January 6, 2010 by Thames
Interesting that the article said that these people were forced to leave their homeland because of a war started by Germany. Only Germans are held to this standard. If we use this standard on other countries most people in the United States should be expelled and sent back to Europe. The Natives did't come to Europe and attack but the Europeans came to America and waged war. Germany certainly had more justification to attack Poland in 1939 than the Europeans to wage war against the Native Americans. War that lasted for over 300 years with the almost complete destruction of the native peoples. The British than should be expellled from Ireland and so on ans so on. Furthermore, millions of these so called expellees were forced out after the war not during it. Certainly the National Socialist perpatrated great crimes in the name of the German people but one crime does not justify another. And what the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic did was also a crime and the suffering of millions of people should not be trivilized just because they happen to be Germans. Poland's refusal to negoitiate with Hitler in 1939 was mostly due to their misguided trust of the French and British governments who left that country to be occupied by Nazis or Communists for over 50 years.

Reconcillation is a two way street. Poland seems to want it to be the German government apologizes and accept the abuse of its citizens and the Poles accept with no mutual acceptance of Polish crimes against Germans before and after WWII.
04:17 January 7, 2010 by 1FCK_1FCK
What's always missing in this debate is the role of Soviet Russia in the carving up of Poland with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Without the Soviets role in this the borders of Poland wouldn't have been pushed so far to the east as to chop off a third of Germany.

Yes Germany caused untold suffering before & during the war, but that doesn't excuse the Soviet role in the refugee tragedy/disaster. But apparently since Hitler negated the M-R Pact by invading the Soviet Union that gives the Soviets a free pass for whatever horrendous atrocities it also committed both before, during & after the war.

The Germans were & are being asked to pay for the sins of both themselves & the Soviets, even though Hitler wasn't the only bad actor in the saga of WW2.
17:48 January 7, 2010 by Henckel
That's right, the Germans are always blamed, never the Soviets. And even today, the post-Soviet government seeks to criminalize anyone who differs with their official version of what happened in 1939-1945.
20:40 January 7, 2010 by dontmentionthewall
Steinbach was born in a house in Poland which had belonged to a Polish family before the Wehrmacht chucked them out (one of them was generously allowed to carry on living in a shed at the end of the garden for the 4 years the Steinbachs lived there!!). Her father was billeted to the house and they were 'vertrieben' with the advance of the Russian army, and the fact that the Polish family wanted their house back from the German Army...

could someone please explain to me how this could possibly be called an unjust action on the part of the polish family who owned the house?

Chutzpah I think the word is...
01:11 January 8, 2010 by Le Monde

"The Germans were & are being asked to pay for the sins of both themselves & the Soviets, even though Hitler wasn't the only bad actor in the saga of WW2. "

Yeap. You are absolutely right. Everyone is now forgetting about Himmler and all those Germans from Eastern Prussia who gave such massive support for Nazis.

The biggest Irony is that those Prussian terrirtories, that now belong once again to Poland (so called Recovery Territories), were used to Nazi strongholds.

What can i say? There was indeed a happy end after all.
15:28 January 11, 2010 by Rittervon
My family came from Eger/ Cheb Czech. No Czechs from there until after the war. And my father still pays the price for that mentally ever since. Because he is still having nightmares from his childhood and the expulsion I am still being hurt by that injustice. My father was just a young child of 8 when he was put on a train. He witnessed his friends and neighbors being killed and mistreated during the expulsion. Now not only does he pay the price for what was done so does my daughter and I, my wife, my mother, my brothers also. We all live with it even though my father moved to the USA in 1961 and we were all born here.

And Germany sets up funds to help ones they hurt, Germany apologizes for the wrongs they committed. It's always Germany Germany GERMANY. Why doesn't anyone else ever have to apologize? All I hear is that everything against Germany was justified. How many beat downs can one take? In a marriage both husband and wife end up apologizing if they want the marriage to work. I think someone else needs to apologize a little also!

Heinz USA
16:33 January 11, 2010 by Henckel
@ Rittervon: That's right, it's always Germany that has to apologize. I've mentioned before that my immediate family emigrated from East Prussia in 1879, but undoubtedly any remaining relatives in 1945 would have been expelled, just like your family. The Ostprrussische accent with which I speak today is probably no longer a party of the living language in my great-great-grandfather's birthplace.

Regarding the Sudetenland, Anton Herrgesell (1820-1886) was born in Engelberg (I don't know the Czech name) but emigrated in 1866. He settled in Ludington, Michigan USA in 1871 and was owner of a tavern and inn until his death in 1886. His children were elderly residents of the USA when the expulsions occurred. Undoubtedly, any remaining relatives of theirs were expelled from Engelberg
17:50 January 12, 2010 by danceswithgoats
I don't recommend starting wars and then losing them. The Germans reaped the whirlwind they created. By the end of WWII there were no tears to be shed for expelled Germans. This is the story of vanquished peoples throughout history.
22:51 January 13, 2010 by Thames
The town that Steinbach was born in was part of Prussia/Germany from 1772 until 1919 so it is very possible that the Poles who lived there before her family

forced out Germans. Many Germans were invited by the Polish nobility to settle in lands east of the Oder as far back as the 13th century.

And for those who claim that Germans got what they deserved for starting the war lets not forget that Poland after 1919 by force took territory from the Czech from Lithuania, Germany and Ukraine. Poland also explored plans with France to invade Germany in the early 1930's. So using that logic the Poles got what they deserved when the Germany Army beat them in 18 days. The fact is this type of ethnic cleansing is not just no matter what nation conducts it. To place all the blame on Germany is naive a best or the result of excessive nationalism.
23:38 January 15, 2010 by wxman
@Thames earlier remark,regarding North America. Over the last 20 years, there have been numerous archeological discoveries in Washington state, New Mexico and in the Appalachians where primative civilizations predating the Asian "native Americans" have been discovered. Analysis of human bone remains and other artifacts indicate these to be tall European-like peoples. Perhaps the return of the Europeans in 1000 AD with the Vikings, and, more importantly, the Spanish in the 15th Century, simply signaled the recapture of their own home territories. I'm not joking; check it out.
00:36 January 16, 2010 by Thames

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I shall have to research this.
02:16 January 19, 2010 by Kelvin2006
Polish Prusy Krolewskie with Malbork called sometimes in Germany West Prussia was occupied by Prussian state from 1772 till 1919 when it come back to Polish state. The territory planted with German speaking settler become predominantly Polish. Polish Army lost 1939 campaign being attacked from west and east by Germany and Russia. However never destroyed with national government won over Germany in 1945. Germany didnt learn lesson of 1914-1918: harassing Europe and world with aggression never pays, especially with etermination and mass murder of millions of people. Allied states decided in 1945 that Germany or rater Prussia must pay for its crimes: Prussia was dissolved and ceded much of her territory to Poland. German speaking population was deported to territory between Rhein and Elbe.
10:44 February 1, 2010 by LMB222
I am touched by the post of Rittervon. It is so biased that it hurts. I don't know how many years must pass to make certain people see certain facts. This "injustice" of expulsion is bes seen in the light of this simple fact: in this general area the support for NSDAP (the nazi party) was especially high - see here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NSDAP_Wahl_1933.png .

You are absolutely right! It's not only the fault of GERMANY, it's especially the fault of East Prussians and Sudeten/Schlesien Germans, those were the guys who so eagerly voted for NSDAP. Look at the map, and check out what was the support for nazis in more civilized parts of the country.

As for "no Czechs" in Eger in the words of "Hans USA":

"1930 - 31,406 inhabitants, of whom 3,493 (11%) were Czech."

Now don't get me wrong, it was obviously a German (ethnically) town, but ca. 10% is far from "none". Where I was born there were 20% of Germans before the WW2, and their presence was very much felt.

PS I'm not Czech.
23:25 July 21, 2010 by BarbT
The US forced Japanese Americans to leave/give up their homes and businesses and live in internment camps, many in desert areas. How long has it taken for the US to apologize? How many of those properties and businesses were restored to their owners?
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