Andrew DemshukThe Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945-1970

Cambridge University Press, 2012

by Marshall Poe on July 23, 2014

Andrew Demshuk

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[Cross-posted from New Books in History] At the close of the Second World War, the Allies expelled several million Germans from the eastern portion of the former Reich. Thanks to the work of many historians, we know quite a bit about Allied planning for the expulsion, when and how it took place, and the multitude of deaths that occurred as a result of it.

We know much less about what happened to the expellees after the expulsion. Where did they go? What did they do? And, perhaps most interestingly, what did they think about their former Heimat? In The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945-1970 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Andrew Demshuk answers many of these questions and thereby sheds considerable light on post-war German history. He shows that though most of the expellees made good in West Germany, they still thought often about the “lost East.” Not surprisingly given the twists and turns of nostalgia, they created an idealized image of these territories, one without Nazis. Yet they also created a kind of counter-image–equally mythical–of an East thoroughly and irrevocably corrupted by Polish administration. Naturally, the idealized East of the past was far preferable to the (putatively) spoiled East of the present, so most of them had no desire to go back. Simply remembering what supposedly had been was enough to satisfy their homesickness.

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