Expellees—A Problem of a Divided Germany
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Oct 1959, p. 42-54
Siegfried, Dr. Herbert, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
1959 as the United Nations' "World Refugee Year." The refugee question as one of the most serious world problems of our century. The crucial question of refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany following the war and for her future course and development. The number of German expellees and refugees. A definition of those terms. A brief history or background to the current situation. The size of Germany in 1937 and now. The situation with regard to expellees, refugees, and displaced persons. Post-war reconstruction and aid. Effects of the "Basic Law," "Equalization of Burdens," and a "General Law of Expellees and Refugees." A comparison of Germany before and after World War II. The political relationship between the Soviet Union and the two Germanys. The question of "How far can the new Germany be trusted?" or "Is German democracy reliable?" An exploration of those questions. Alternatives to a partitioned Germany. The pursuit of policies of reconciliation, surrender of sovereignty, integration with their neighbours, faithful partnership, and close cooperation with all free countries of the world by the 52 million free Germans.
Date of Original
22 Oct 1959
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An Address by DR. HERBERT SIEGFRIED, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany
Thursday, October 22, 1959
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.

MR. LAWSON: Western Germany has amazed the world by the dramatic resurgence of its economy in the years since the war. But Germany is like a house divided against itself and the residents of its eastern zone, together with whole populations of neighbouring states, are under the domination of a political system they have not freely chosen. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that millions of these unfortunate people have been driven from or escaped from their homes and swarmed into the democratic western zone. The resultant problems and the influence of these immigrants on the political, social and economic life of Western Germany is the subject of the address we are about to hear.

Herbert Siegfried is a Doctor of Jurisprudence and a career diplomat. He commenced his public service in 1929 as an Attaché at the Foreign Office. In 1934 he was appointed Legation Secretary in Cairo, where he remained until 1937 and then returned to the Foreign Office in Berlin. In 1943 he became Consul General in Geneva where he served as Liaison Officer to the Headquarters of the International Red Cross. Following the war he practised law until 1951 when he was appointed Counsellor of the Embassy in Brussels. In 1954 he was appointed Minister to Sweden and in 1956 was promoted to the rank of Ambassador. For the past year he has served in this capacity in Canada.

It is my privilege to present to you the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Herbert Siegfried, who will speak to us on "Expellees--A Problem of a Divided Germany."

Dr. SIEGFRIED: Let me thank you sincerely for the invitation you so kindly extended to me. I deeply appreciate the privilege of being the guest of your distinguished Club.

I noted in your annual report that you have been addressed earlier by the diplomatic representatives of those countries which are particularly close to your overgrowing nation, close by virtue of the fact that the majority of all Canadian families once came from these lands-Great Britain, France, the United States and Ireland.

For the past two hundred years people of German linguistic background have also joined those Canadians. Numbering about eight hundred thousand, including two hundred and fifty thousand postwar immigrants, they constitute at present the third largest ethnic group in Canada. They have become loyal Canadian citizens and I know that they are also making an important contribution to close and friendly relations between our two countries. Bearing all this in mind, I am particularly pleased that you wanted me to appear before The Empire Club of Canada.

I should like to give you today a picture of one problem of the divided Germany which in its size, its details, and consequences is only little known on this side of the Atlantic. I am referring to the problem of "Expellees and Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany". This question is crucial for Germany's situation after the war and for her future course and development. There is also another reason why it seemed quite appropriate to choose this subject as the refugee question is one of the most serious world problems of our century. Recognizing this, the United Nations have proclaimed the present year as "World Refugee Year". Fifty-two nations are taking part in a world-wide effort to increase aid and assistance to those who, due to war, revolution or the partition of states, for political or religious reasons, have had to leave their home-lands. In Europe, in Asia and in Africa, the number of these unfortunate people amounts to almost fifty million!

The question of the German refugees and expellees is, therefore, only a part of a world-wide problem.

I am fully conscious that as far as Europe is concerned, my country bears a great deal of responsibility for the existence of this problem which is the result of the war Hitler started with criminal frivolity. It is, therefore, understandable and willingly accepted by the new Germany that, although the Federal Republic now has the largest number of refugees and expellees of all the countries in the world, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the International Refugee Organization have legally excluded any support to German victims of expulsion and flight.

There are thirteen million German expellees and refugees. What does this figure mean? What is its relation to the total German population, to the German territory? What is the meaning of the terms "expellee" and "refugee"? The answer can only be found in a brief review of the profound changes which have occurred in the structure of Germany since 1945.

In 1937, Germany covered an area of 181,000 square miles. 24% of this area was, after the war, put under Russian and Polish administration and is generally referred to as the "Oder-Neisse-territories". Another 24% of the 1937 area constitutes today the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany, the so-called German Democratic Republic where the Soviet Union had introduced a purely Communist puppet regime in 1949. Therefore, only 52% of the original German soil makes up the Federal Republic today.

The Potsdam Agreement of 1945 gave a free hand to the Polish authorities to expel not only the German ethnic minority which had been living in Poland before 1939, but also to expel the entire native German population of the Eastern provinces of Germany conquered by the Red Army and handed over thereafter to Polish administration. These provinces are situated between the line formed by the rivers Oder and Neisse in the West and the pre-war German-Polish frontier in the East. The governments of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Roumania were likewise permitted to expel the German minorities. In the Baltic countries they had had to leave their homes after the Russian annexation in 1939.

The ancestors of all these people had lived in the Eastern areas for 700 years, in the South-Eastern European countries for 200 and more years. The ethnic German minorities beyond the pre-war frontiers amounted to 7.4 million, the indigenous German population of the former Eastern German provinces to 9.6 million. Thus the total figure amounts to today's population of all of Canada. Of these 17 million people only about 12 million arrived between 1945 and 1957 in the Federal Republic and the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany. 2.5 million are missing, have perished, were deported or died of disease and starvation. 2.5 million still live in the countries of expulsion.

The twelve million who arrived West of the Oder-Neisse Line are called expellees. Three million nowadays live in the Soviet Zone. Nine million came to the Federal Republic where another quarter of a million Germans from Eastern areas also joined their families under arrangements made between the Polish and German Red Cross. Therefore, the total number of expellees in West Germany today amounts to 9.3 million uprooted people who when they came brought nothing with them, except what they wore on their backs.

The second category are the refugees. The political, economic, and, last but not least, the psychological situation in the Soviet occupied part of Germany and in East Berlin has been such that since the end of the war 3.3 million German citizens who had been normally residents of that area, have left it and asked for refuge in the Federal Republic. They continue to arrive day after day by the hundreds, sometimes almost a thousand a day. They must cross the borderline illegally and must leave behind them all they own. Their belongings are expropriated and confiscated by the Communist authorities. A regular permit to move westward is practically only granted to elderly people in very exceptional cases.

In addition to the groups of expellees and refugees, I must also mention a third category of homeless people who found themselves in Germany by the millions at the end of the war, the so-called Displaced Persons. They were nationals of all European countries who had been displaced from their homelands by Hitler's slave labour policy. Immediately after the war, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and, later on, the International Refugee Organization took care of them--numbering about eight million in 1945. The majority have been repatriated. But about one million did not wish to return to their homelands and were helped to emigrate to Western Europe or overseas countries. 150,000 of them, however, elected to remain in the Federal Republic. The political development in the Eastern European countries has since contributed to the increase of their number so that by the end of 1958, 230,000 foreign political refugees were living on the soil of West Germany.

Let me say then that today the Federal Republic including West Berlin has a population of 52 million inhabitants of whom 12.9 million, that is almost one quarter, are expellees and refugees. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany has a population of roughly 17 million people of whom 3 million are expellees. The population of the Soviet Zone has since 1945 steadily decreased, simply because people flee from the Communist regime there. The population of West Germany on the other hand has increased by 17 million and her density of population stands today at 539 persons per square mile.

If you remember that the war had ended for Germany in total defeat and collapse, if you recall that more than fifty per cent of her industrial plant was destroyed; that the remainder was idle because of dismantling or lack of raw material; that more than one quarter of housing space, 4.5 million apartments, had disappeared, or had been so heavily damaged that they were unfit for dwelling; that the transport system had been completely disrupted; that there were no food, no raw materials, no medical supplies; that the physical breakdown was matched by a corresponding spiritual and psychological collapse; and that all these troubles were multiplied by the dissolution of all German administrations down to the smallest local level; if you remember all these factors, it may well be asked what was done to master such a situation.

It became possible only because the occupying Western powers recognized very soon that food stuffs, medical supplies and shelter had to be given to the German population and its millions of unwanted guests, and because it was recognized that a minimum of German administration had to be established, a minimum which as time passed was extended step by step until a new German State was established in 1949. The Federal Republic of Germany arose on the territory of the former British, American, and French zones of occupation.

The leading idea of reconstruction was the endeavour to reawaken the old civic spirit based on moral values and to appeal to the responsibility of the individual. The unfortunate ones who had lost everything had to be helped by a tremendous common effort. Yet private property was to be respected, no government controlled welfare state was to be created. In spite of the national catastrophe, the State had to be kept subservient to the citizen who, by his free decision, his individual action, and by the exercise of free competition, was to produce a maximum of progress and recovery for the good of the entire community. All this was only possible by giving complete political and economic equality to the millions of refugees and expellees in order to re-individualize them and to make them share the life of the community as if they had always been a part of it.

Guided by these considerations, the Germans went to work, gradually taking over more and more responsibility and getting along after a few years without any foreign aid.

First came the repair and rebuilding of homes and industries. Simultaneously the gaps had to be closed in the economic and social structure: gaps created by the unnatural splitting up of so highly an integrated country as Germany. Fiscal and economic tasks of unheard of scope had to be faced in order to help the expellees and refugees, to provide work for them and to give them an equal chance. As quickly as possible their position had to be changed from that of a recipient of public welfare to that of a taxpayer contributing to the community.

But in the first three years after the war the economic condition in Germany was such that vast numbers of the refugees and expellees, who naturally had been channelled to rural areas, were unemployed, and suffered from overcrowding and bad housing and were largely dependent on the activities of the various national and international welfare agencies. Particularly the international relief operations are most gratefully remembered in Germany for their assistance proved vital in keeping millions of Germans at least alive.

A great and radical economic operation changed the whole situation decisively for the better, the currency reform of 1948. By one painful stroke it recreated sound German money. At the same time the Marshall Plan aid helped a great deal to boost economic activity. The German authorities abolished all trade restraints and regulations and step by step introduced the free economy.

On the political plan, the Basic Law, our new German constitution, was enacted. As far as the expellees and refugees were concerned it confirmed their legal equality.

Most important, however, both from the economic and political point of view, was the "Equalization of Burdens Law". This law aimed at nothing less than a completely new distribution of wealth among the German people in order to distribute equally the burden of the war all of them had lost together. All private property, business, capital, savings accounts, mortgages, etc. were charged up to fifty per cent of their value as assessed in June 1948. This charge bears interest and the capital charge plus the interest serves to pay a compensation for the losses of property suffered by the expellees and by those local residents in the Federal Republic who through the bombing lost their property. The capital charge plus interest is to be amortized by equal annuities to be paid until 1979. This "Equalization of Burdens" is a unique levy on capital without destroying private property! The payments are of course in addition to normal taxes.

"A "General Law on Expellees and Refugees" replacing various provincial laws of former years complemented in 1953 the legislation in favour of expellees and refugees. The main problem resulted from the lack of housing and employment opportunities for many years. By 1957 more than 4 million new dwelling units were built. The expellees have been allocated 950,000 of these homes. With an annual rate of house construction of 500,000 units there still is today a. heavy backlog. And new refugees arrive every day. Thus many hundred thousands of newly built apartments are over-crowded and there are still 2,091 camps with 333,000 homeless people. Plans have been worked out to close these camps by 1963.

In areas with a very high percentage of expellees new industries were created providing employment. Since 1945 the Federal Republic financed employment places for more than 51/z million employable expellees and refugees. Nevertheless, whilst employment has been provided for many million people, integration has not been fully achieved for about half of them. A large number of expellees are naturally suffering from a loss of their former social position. About 10,000 have set up small or medium sized industrial firms with the help of their unbroken initiative and of credits out of public funds.

The most difficult group to be settled is the farmers, as the Federal Republic offers very little agricultural land to absorb them and it has only been possible to re-establish some 85,000 of about 300,000 peasant families.

Immediately after the war there was a widespread wish to emigrate. However, since emigration always depends on the intake capacity and the will of the receiving country, and since the Federal Republic has made great efforts to meet the needs of the expellees and refugees, this trend has now been largely reduced. But for those whose freely taken decision it has been to emigrate, the Federal Republic made large financial contributions to defray their transport costs. The average emigration rate per year amounted to 60,000 people of whom 40% were expellees and refugees.

The 230,000 foreign refugees in the Federal Republic were transferred to German responsibility in 1950. In a special law on the legal status of homeless foreigners they were given practically all but the political rights, and they enjoy treatment, including credit facilities and social security benefits, which is far more liberal than the one the international convention on refugees offers.

The financial effort made by the German taxpayer to cover the expenses of all these integration programs amounts for German nationals to more than 42 billion D-Marks; for foreign refugees until 1958 3.1 billion D-Marks increasing by 60 million D-Marks each year.

For credit facilities a special bank has floated loans on the German capital market to an amount of 885 million D-Mark handling 760,000 individual credit cases.

I am afraid I have given you a great many facts and figures but it seemed the only way to make it clear that compared with 1939 the situation of Germany in the present world has completely changed. It would be thoroughly misleading to identify the Germany of today in size, structure and mentality with the former Reich.

Before the war Germany was to a large degree self-sufficient. After the loss of the vast agricultural Eastern provinces the now overpopulated West would perish by starvation if it had not reconstructed an efficient industry as the basis for exports essential to its survival. Much of the recent economic recovery in West Germany is explained by the fact that the people who had suffered so much hunger and despair during and after the war strove with unparalleled energy to overcome this misery. The millions of expellees and refugees especially have contributed to this achievement by working hard for their own re-establishment. It .can be doubted whether this development was foreseen when in Potsdam the Western Allies also agreed to the evacuation of East Germany. The present prosperity admittedly has not only fortunate aspects, as such keen competition in world trade often creates uneasiness even between political friends. Nevertheless, one must bear in mind that this prosperity is the best protection against Communist infiltration from the East; that if it came to an end masses of unemployed could easily be ready to believe in extremist doctrines. This happened in Germany during the world economic crisis in 1929-30 when Communists and Nazis were the strongest vote-getters and Hitler finally overran the moderate parties.

With its purely accidental configuration, the Federal Republic is as yet a state without an established political tradition or as the London Times once put it an "economic society in search of a nation". The leading political idea of the Federal Republic is based on the aspect and the firm hope of national reunification. As nobody denies that this nation exists and is only artificially divided and that every nation has a right of self-determination, the majority of the people on both sides of the Iron Curtain are conscious that this basic right can never be abandoned. Thirteen million expellees and refugees in the Federal Republic and almost the whole population of the Communist ruled Soviet Zone, who suffer most by this division, are the stronghold for the idea of reunification which is shared by all political parties. It is significant that a special "Party of the Expellees and Expropriated" has practically disappeared after the last general election two years ago and only continues to work on the provincial level. Most voters had preferred to join the great parties for the purpose of a more effective struggle for their particular goals. All the more these parties are bound not to neglect the reunification aim of the whole German nation.

As to their lost homes the expellees have adopted in a charter of August 1950 a clear position and solemnly declared: "We, the expellees, renounce all thought of revenge and retaliation". The charter also says: "The Almighty God himself placed men in their native land. To separate a man from his native land by force means to kill his soul. We have suffered and experienced this fate. We therefore feel competent to demand that the right to a homeland be recognized and be realized as one of the basic rights of man, granted to him by the grace of God."

This statement is still valid and there is not the slightest symptom of revanchism in the Federal Republic as the Eastern propaganda sometimes tries to make believe. It is, however, quite another question whether a democratic government could formally renounce such territories where Germans have settled for 700 years. This problem can only be solved by a peace treaty with due regard to self-etermination for the whole German nation. It can be predicted that the tension in Central Europe and with regard to Berlin would come to an end.

The Soviet Zone is not a state but a Soviet protectorate which is intensely disliked by its population. Only in June and July last 23,000 people fled to West Germany and in July 49.8% were less than 25 years old! It is completely certain that free elections would lead to reunification.

This really is the crucial point of peace making. If the Soviet Union, as it threatens, would make a separate peace treaty with the so-called German Democratic Republic it would not remove the remnants of the last war but, on the contrary, create permanent resentment in the hearts of the divided nation of 70 million people. Here I should like to quote General Eisenhower as published in the New York Times in October 1952: "Two hundred years tell a simple but sensational story about Russia's relation with Europe. One of the easiest ways to measure Russian pressure on Europe is to measure the distances between the Russian frontier and the European Center Berlin. In 1750 it was 1,200 miles, in 1800 750 miles and 1815 only 200 miles. Today Berlin is practically included into the borderline." May I ask you to realize that a separate peace treaty with the East German regime would establish the frontier of the satellite empire even West of Berlin, not far from the Rhine and thus seriously endanger Western Europe. No international arrangement could save West Berlin from being absorbed sooner or later.

You have certainly heard that the Soviet Union pretends not to object to German reunification if the Germans themselves come to an acceptable agreement, and some of you may be puzzled to understand why the Federal Republic is obviously opposed to this procedure. Let me quote Secretary of State Herter who recently told the delegates of the German Democratic Republic in Geneva: "The regime which you represent is neither democratic nor republican nor German." This is true and it is therefore hopeless to come to an agreement about reunification with this regime, unless on a Communist pattern and by surrender of democracy. The only practical result of direct negotiations would therefore be the recognition of a so far contested second German government which ostentiously would make reunification more difficult than ever before. But let me dispel on this occasion the wide-spread mis-conception abroad that the Federal government also refuses non-political contacts with the Soviet Zone. On the contrary, West Germany is open for trade and to all visitors from this region who are allowed to circulate where they want and are not supervised. On the other side, the Communist regime imposes all sorts of permits, supervision and currency control.

And now let me come to one last and often heard question: "How far can the new Germany be trusted?", in other words: Is German democracy reliable? Gentlemen, every sensible German understands that after the misdeeds of the Nazi period in the past this question does arise. But I believe that the time has come to admit that Hitler came to power because in his time democracy in Germany was weak; and that democracy was weak because it was born in the hour of defeat and not supported, but in many respects discriminated against, by the old democracies and for both reasons could not become popular. This cannot happen again because this time--after some hesitation--the old democracies were wise enough to make their former enemy their ally of today and tomorrow for the common cause of defence against any potential foe of democracy. For this reason, Germany has also got rid of her historical dilemma to defend her territory on two unprotected frontiers in East and West. The Federal Republic has buried her old rivalries with France and has voluntarily and consciously integrated herself into the Western defence system. One quarter of the population has suffered expulsion and political persecution by a totalitarian system and the young German democracy knows that further Communist expansion can only be stopped and her own future be protected by an unbroken solidarity with the Western democracies.

The Soviet Bloc does not have such a problem of solidarity and, in this respect, is obviously superior.

If the West were to accept the division of Germany as final, the East would absorb, in addition to the 24% of former German territory put under Russian and Polish administration, the 24% of the Communist-ruled central zone of Germany, where self-determination is withheld from 17 million Germans, notwithstanding the fact that this basic right is granted today as a matter of course and with strong Soviet approval to all emancipated former colonial nations.

It is no secret that a number of people prefer the partition of Germany to any other alternative because they fear the strength of a united Germany. Well, I hope you agree with me that this way of thinking is not adequate to the present dangerous situation. No country, except the United States and the Soviet Union, today has the capacity for independent action. While a reunified Germany in this age of nuclear powers no longer can, in the framework of a European or wider security system, ever become a threat she would, by virtue of her geographic position alone, always be essential to the West.

Germany badly needs to be trusted and the German people have during the last 15 years striven hard to gain this trust.

Those 17 million Germans who are not free have unremittingly resisted all Communist threats and blandishments. The 52 million free Germans have steadfastly pursued a policy of reconciliation, surrender of sovereignty, of integration with their neighbours, of faithful partnership and closest cooperation with all free countries of the world.

The German people fully trust that no sacrifices will be made without compensation during the forthcoming negotiations which all of us ardently hope will bring us closer to an era of lasting peace in a prosperous world.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. B. McGeachy.

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Expellees—A Problem of a Divided Germany

1959 as the United Nations' "World Refugee Year." The refugee question as one of the most serious world problems of our century. The crucial question of refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany following the war and for her future course and development. The number of German expellees and refugees. A definition of those terms. A brief history or background to the current situation. The size of Germany in 1937 and now. The situation with regard to expellees, refugees, and displaced persons. Post-war reconstruction and aid. Effects of the "Basic Law," "Equalization of Burdens," and a "General Law of Expellees and Refugees." A comparison of Germany before and after World War II. The political relationship between the Soviet Union and the two Germanys. The question of "How far can the new Germany be trusted?" or "Is German democracy reliable?" An exploration of those questions. Alternatives to a partitioned Germany. The pursuit of policies of reconciliation, surrender of sovereignty, integration with their neighbours, faithful partnership, and close cooperation with all free countries of the world by the 52 million free Germans.