After the Second World War, Germans fled or were expelled not only from state territories in Eastern Europe where until 1939 they had formed a minority population, but also from the eastern territories of the German Reich lost in the War. Those expellees who settled in the Federal Republic and engaged in political activity were the subject of close surveillance by the Eastern European socialist states. Most persons under observation were former residents of Poland and Czechoslovakia. In both these countries, relationships between the majority population and the German minority during the interwar years had been problematic. During the Second World War, both Poles and Czechs had suffered from the crimes committed by the National Socialists, in which local ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) had also been involved. These negative experiences, combined with the territorial claims by expellee organisations in the Federal Republic, exacerbated the poor image of Germans in these two countries. Ideology and mistrust therefore heavily influenced the perception of ‘the enemy’ during the Cold War.
A conference on the subject will be hosted in July 2021 in Oldenburg by the Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe (Bundesinstitut für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa, BKGE). It will explore surveillance by Eastern European socialist states (Poland, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) of expellee organisations and institutions established in the Federal Republic, from the end of the 1940s onwards. Following the conference, selected papers will be published in a thematic issue of the Journal für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa (JKGE) / Journal for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe.
The focus will be on the methods used to collect and exploit the information gathered about expellee organisations and their officials, by tapping into the intelligence services of the commissioning governments. We are interested in certain central questions:
- What can be discovered about the ways in which agents were recruited, embedded and trained, and how their information was used?
- How thorough and accurate was the factual information presented in the expert reports produced? Did the agents structure their work according to prescribed party ideology and their ‘concept of the enemy’, or did they adopt more subtle approaches? Who compiled the reports, and how much knowledge did they have of the structure of the organisations and of the expellee communities?
- How were decisions made about how to use the information gathered? Did conflicts arise among the authorities about how to evaluate and make use of the collected documentation?
- What was the significance of any exchanges of such information between the communist states, and what part was played by the GDR, the East Germany State within the socialist bloc, with its own evacuees, the so-called Umsiedler.
- What new information can be gained from research into the sources identified above, and how does it contribute to expanding our understanding of the history of expellee associations in the Federal Republic?
We should also seek to understand what importance the top politicians and leaders in the Eastern European states attached to the reports they were receiving about the expellee organisations from their security services, and how this affected their political decisions. The state-controlled media in some socialist countries used the claims from the expellee organisations as propaganda material in order to foster fear of the Germans among their own populations. To what extent did the political leaders really feel threatened by these claims?
In this context, questions also arise about the changes that occurred between 1949 and 1989: how, for example, did the countries of Eastern Europe react to the gradually decreasing significance of the expellee organisations, and to conflict within the expellee communities? What was the effect of political upheavals and realignments, such as Willy Brandt’s Social-Liberal coalition and its ‘new policy towards the East [Neue Ostpolitik]’ from 1969, and the CDU-FDP coalition government from 1982?
Heike Amos’s pioneering study, published in 2011, explored the subject from the point of view of the GDR. Notwithstanding the specific role played by the GDR and its relationship to its Umsiedler population, it suggests a number of topics for investigation and comparative study. There are, however, no comprehensive studies available yet about other Eastern European countries.
The conference and the planned special thematic issue of the journal aim to tackle this research desideratum and to contribute to a greater understanding of how expellee communities in the Federal Republic were observed and perceived in the states of Eastern Europe. We are looking for country-specific and case studies exploring the ways in which security services carried out observation of the expellee associations (which had formed themselves into so-called Landsmannschaften, according to their regions of origin), and of their cultural and research institutions. We welcome work on associated bodies, such as interior and/or foreign ministries, and on the ways in which the expellee organisations were perceived in dissident groups and/or emigré circles, and how they were presented in the media. We also hope for comparative studies on the ways in which surveillance activities by the countries of Eastern Europe may themselves have been the subject of observation by the German Federal Intelligence Service. Furthermore, we invite conceptual reflections on how to deal with the surviving security service records (cf. Kührer-Wielach/Nowotnick, 2018; Großbölting/Kittel 2019). In addition, the surveillance of expellee associations in Austria may be a subject of comparative interest.
Please submit an abstract, in German or in English (max. 2500 characters, incl. spaces) presenting the (unpublished) paper you wish to present. Send by email, with a short biographical note, to Dr. Stefan Lehr (firstname.lastname@example.org). The submission deadline is 31 January 2021. The conference is planned for 1 & 2 July 2021 at the BKGE in Oldenburg. Because of the Corona pandemic, the event is being planned as either a hybrid event, with both live and online attendance, or fully online – the decision on format will be published by mid-April.
The reports selected for publication in the related journal issue JKGE 3 (2022) must be submitted, in German or in English, by 1 November 2021 (max. 50,000 characters, incl. spaces). They will be subjected to double blind peer review to ensure high quality.