History

History of deportations from lands incorporated into the Third Reich

Introduction

Deportations from lands incorporated into the Third Reich concerned about 400,000 people resettled to the General Government and about 300,000 further resettled people. This second variant of forced migration was called suppression [Verdraengung] of Poles i.e. squeezing them into poorer living conditions and smaller households. The areas with the poorest possible soil was often selected to squeeze Polish people into reserve-like areas.

This was one of the greatest German crimes of WW2. It was kept in silence for many years, and thus did not find its way into the historical consciousness of Poles. There are numerous reasons for this. In the first decades of communist rule in Poland, the deportations were covered by historiographic silence, or marginalised. This was because these crimes were inseparable from the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and the alliance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during the years 1939 – 1941. It was one of the secret protocols of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact that stipulated that Russia would let about 500,000 ethnic German people leave the soviet influence zone and would allow them to migrate to the Reich. Nazi propaganda called this process the “return to the homeland” [Heim ins Reich]. Germans directed the stream of their kins to areas incorporated into the Reich, mostly to Warthegau. To make space for them, the Nazi authorities decided to resettle hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to the General Government; plundering of Polish property was to pave the way for German settlement. It was precisely the Hitler-Stalin pact, a taboo subject for communist historiography that was the primary cause, the first link in a chain of events leading directly to the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of resettled Poles.

Yet another reason for resettlements from western Poland which was covered by the dust of history was that the victims mostly included those social groups who did not enjoy high popularity in historic writing of the People’s Republic of Poland. The Germans started their resettlements with those who they found most politically dangerous i.e. members of Polish social and political organisations, participants of the Wielkopolska Uprising, Polish officials, teachers, police officers i.e. the broadly understood elites of the 2nd Republic of Poland. Property was another criterion. The Germans were mostly interested in those whose property might be attractive for the Volksdeutsche coming from the East. Therefore, land and factory owners, merchants, rich farmers and freelancers were the first to be resettled. And this is probably the second reason why deportations of Polish citizens from lands incorporated into the Third Reich were so marginal in the historical narrations about WW2 created in the communist era, when displaying German crimes and German dangers was a significant element of the “historical policy” of the times. All the social classes from which most of the victims stemmed, land owners, bourgeoisie, lower-middle class, kulaks, did not deserve much attention in the PRL era.

But there is yet another, still valid reason for our loss of memory. The history of deportations, the subject of this very website, has been overshadowed in both Polish and European historical awareness by the most gruesome Nazi crimes: the death camps and holocaust, i.e. the extermination of European Jews. This is not sensible, as it needs to be borne in mind that resettling Poles from their houses in Wielkopolska, Łódź, Pomorze, northern Mazowsze and Silesia regions was an element of the same policy and a means in achieving the same goals that the Nazis had in mind when they started creating ghettos and murdering Jews. The same people were the organisers. Adolf Eichmann, SS officer, a high-ranking official of the Reich Committee for Reinforcement of the German Nation, is well-known as the organizer of the Holocaust. But he also organised deportations of Polish citizens, a kind of experimental space for the Nazis. Point 9 of Eichmann’s indictment in Jerusalem in 1961 concerned deportations of half-a-million Polish citizens. There is a memorial from October 1939 in documents of the Reich Committee for Reinforcement of the German Nation pointing to the need of “freeing” General Government cities from Jews to make space for Poles “removed” from Warthegau. There are also other interrelations between the two crimes, even though we must stress that their scale remains incomparable, as is the burden they placed on European history. These are the stages of the same, rapidly radicalising, national policy of the Nazis, the ultimate goal of which included German colonisation of Central and Eastern Europe and murdering millions of Slavic people, including Poles. These were planned in a several variations of the so-called Generalplan Ost.

Remembrance of a Europe torn by nationalistic conflicts, of mass deportations that were supposed to destroy many centuries of co-existence and co-operation between various European nations, of respect shown to the victims: all this should demonstrate today’s reconciliation of the nations on our continent and make a significant contribution to the debate about the future of this Community.