Flight and expulsion

Flight and expulsion in Europe as consequences of fascism

The flight and expulsion of Germans from the eastern territories of the the German Reich as well as of German minorities in Eastern and Central Europe forms one of the final chapters of the Second World War and was at the same time the result of the post-war territorial order negotiated between the Allied victorious powers.

The flight and expulsion of Germans in the years 1944 to 1947 took place against the background of the lost World War II and as a consequence of the disenfranchisement, murder, deportation and mass extermination of the Jewish population and other population groups in Eastern Europe carried out by the Germans in the occupied territories.

After the Red Army advanced into German Reich territory in 1944 and the Soviet Army took revenge for the atrocities committed by the Germans in the Soviet Union, the flight of Germans began in the winter of 1944/45.

Refugee treks with women, children as well as old and sick people moved on foot in the snow and cold from East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania towards the West. Many froze to death or starved to death on the way or were overrun by the Russian army or killed by low-flying air raids. From East Prussia, a huge stream of refugees crossed the frozen Haff. Many collapsed and drowned. Nevertheless, half a million people managed to escape from East Prussia. Refugees from the Baltic States, from East and West Prussia, from Silesia, Danzig and Pomerania tried to escape on cargo ships across the Baltic Sea. Despite attacks on the ships, 2.5 million thus reached safety.


At the same time, the German population was expelled from the territories previously occupied and settled by the Germans in Poland, the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. In addition to targeted actions, there where wild expulsions, executions, rapes unleashed the hatred of the people who had suffered for years under the exploitation and racial policies of the Nazi regime.

The legal basis for the expulsions was the Potsdam Agreement which the heads of government of England, the USA and the Soviet Union had signed in August 1945.

At Potsdam, the three winning allies agreed that members of the German population from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary should be transferred to Germany “in an orderly and humane manner.”

A total of 12 to 14 million Germans from the German eastern territories had to leave their homes as refugees and expellees. About 4 million found a new home in the Soviet occupation zone and 8 million moved to the western occupation zones, especially to Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Nordrhein-Westfalen and Bavaria.

The refugees and displaced persons were mostly not welcome. There was hardship and a lack of food, clothing and housing. Exclusion and economic decline determined their lives in the post-war years.

Only with the beginning of the economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) did the situation of the refugees and displaced persons improve.


Flight and expulsion are often used synonymously in linguistic usage, creating a uniform image of refugees and displaced persons, which does not correspond to historical reality. A distinction must therefore be made between the two groups and can be demonstrated using the example of individual life stories.

Furthermore, it is important to show exactly what the reasons for flight and expulsion were, from which areas people fled, in which way the flight took place, what people were threatened by during their flight and how and where people found a new home after their flight, how they were received there, what difficulties they had to deal with and whether and how they were integrated into German post-war society.

To this day, the political and ethical evaluation of the expulsion in Germany is the subject of controversial discussions.

Undisputed as causes are politics, war, ethnic, racial and religious reasons.

And this brings us to the refugee movements of our time from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Africa, etc.