The Ethnic Component of Germany's Ostforschung: The Interwar Years and Beyond By
Over the last century issues of ethnicity, citizenship and statehood have often been at the center of discussions concerning Germany's tumultuous history. Unlike the United States, Germany bases its citizenship predominantly on the legal principal of jus sanguinis meaning by right of birth or ancestry. Thus people who have German parents are automatically granted citizenship no matter where they were born or how long ago their ancestors left Germany, while immigrants who have resided in Germany for several generations are still denied this right. Refugees from the former Soviet Union who can prove German ancestry can gain citizenship immediately, even if their ancestors emigrated three hundred years ago. Often these immigrants, especially from the Asian republics, have only retained rudimentary knowledge of the German language and are ill-prepared to adjust to the highly modernized German society. By contrast, Turkish immigrants who have been working and paying taxes in Germany since the 1950s, cannot gain citizenship. Their children and grandchildren were born in Germany, they were educated in German schools and are often culturally more adjusted to German society than they are to Turkish society. There are few exceptions to this rule but the process and financial cost of becoming a citizen has been prohibitive for most.
. The concept of the ethnic nation (Volk) has its administrative roots in the nineteenth century when German states and municipalities sought to restrict poor relief to their local residents, thus excluding destitute transients from receiving aid. By the time the law on citizenship was passed in 1913 the question of "who was a German" had been heavily influenced by ideology. This law, which still forms the basis for citizenship in Germany today, not only determined that jus sanguinis be the national criteria for citizenship, it also extended this right to all ethnic Germans living abroad and made this right inheritable.
By comparison, the United States and France base their citizenship primarily on the principle jus soli, meaning that those who are born on the national territory (or its colonies) can obtain citizenship. In the United States this principle is taken to its extreme as it grants citizenship even to those who are born within its airspace; for example a person born on an airplane flying overhead can become a U.S. citizen on those grounds. Most European states use a combination of jus sanguinis and jus soli; and in recent years the traditionally liberal state of France has made efforts to restrict immigration. However, it still grants citizenship to far more applicants than Germany does.
Some scholars have argued that Germany needs to review its immigration principles, especially given the fact that Germany has had a negative population growth for several decades now. Henry Ashby Turner, jr. has stated that Germany's immigration politics and popular opinion regarding this issue is based on two myths: the myth that immigration was historically foreign to Germany and the myth of the ethnic nation. Turner calls for the historical profession to enlighten the public and dissolve the myths. He even suggests that the terminology in the basic law (Grundgesetz) be changed from the "German Volk" to the "citizens of the federal republic."
In the past, this view that the nation consists of an ethnically and biologically closed society has had dramatic consequences, because the argument was partly used to justify discrimination against Jewish citizens and foreigners. Even today it affects the way Germany treats its immigrant population, estimated to be around fifteen percent of the population.
Historically the concept that the Volk rather than citizenry makes up the nation, strongly influenced politics, foreign policy and academia. The connection between the historians' guild and foreign policy is particularly evident in Germany's Ostforschung (Eastern Studies) between World War I and World War II. In this research project I will ask: how did German-speaking historians deal with ethnicity during the interwar years and what is the correlation between nationalist ideology, politics and historiography? To what extent was there a continuity or discontinuity in the scholarship after 1945?
As far back as 1871 when Germany was unified as the Second German Empire, the historical discipline was essentially historicist, it emphasized the politics of great men such as Bismarck and absolutely accepted the "primacy of foreign policy." This academic tradition remained until World War I. By war's end many Germans, including most academics, agonized about the new state of affairs and what was in store for the nation and the state. The destruction of the war and the consequent political instability undoubtedly influenced the world view of academics. Politics and historical writings are in this regard inextricably entangled.
The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) was Germany's first democratic attempt but the fact that the system had been imposed by the victors made it unpalatable for many. It was difficult for the German elites to find a tenable cultural orientation for the new state. Otto Hinze wrote at this time that the Western alternative was that "of the victorious powers, who condemned us to defenselessness, to political impotence, to the drudgery of the bare minimum of existence, and thereby also injured our national and moral dignity at its most sensitive points." Therefore the Western alternative was "a moral impossibility" for Germans.
Historians for the most part remained conservative and antagonistic toward the new state, some firmly believed that democracy was a Western concept and consequently un-German. Thus politically most historians aligned themselves with the enemies of the republic or were at best "republicans of the head and not of the heart" (Vernunft-republikaner). According to the conventional view of German scholarship during the Weimar Republic, the "prevailing approach was some variant of a hyper-individualistic historicism, characterized by an almost hypnotic and narrow orientation toward Ranke." Much of the scholarship criticized democracy and the constitution and expressed a strong desire to "revise" the Treaty of Versailles.
However, as Winfried Schulze points out, this notion that the historical methodology continued to be historicist is misleading. Although historians were reactionary, they were also highly disillusioned with the Prussian state and the state-centered historicism. Because their faith in the state had been shattered, many historians sought new methods of inquiry. This resulted in a paradigm shift, or rather in a return to an older, pre-historicist paradigm, the völkische conception of history.
Willi Oberkrome, who studied the methodological innovations and the influence of ideology in the German historical sciences (Geschichtswissenschaft) from 1918 to 1945, noted that especially the younger generation of historians moved away from the orthodox imperative of their older colleagues and based their inquiries primarily on what he calls transrational-romantic sources. The concept of the nation as a cultural-linguistic unity had been developed before World War I. Karl Ferdinand Werner, who examined the Nazi's concept of history (Geschichtsbild) and the historical discipline during the Third Reich, points out that Hitler did not have to invent the wheel, he could utilize several of his predecessors. For example, Viktor Hantzsch contributed an article on German migration to the multi-volume Weltgeschichte (world history) which was published in 1907. Here Hantzsch identified Germany's task for the twentieth century to unite Germans of the middle European language region economically and politically and to instill a sense of national identity in them, so that even if they are not members of the Reich that they would feel as members of the Fatherland. For Hantzsch such a feeling of solidarity should eventually develop in Germans across the world and bring about a Greater Germany that would transcend territorial boundaries.
After the devastating defeat of World War I and the humiliating terms of peace, Germany intellectuals responded to the crisis in several ways. They tried to make sense of what had happened and questioned what had gone wrong both internally and externally that could have made such a collapse possible. For many it was a time of soul searching. Some ideas that had been vague before the war were now clearly formulated. In 1935, Karl Alexander von Müller gave the keynote address at the tenth annual conference of the German academy in Munich. In his speech titled "Problems of the Second Reich in light of the Third" he noted that Germans became politically and historically aware before the war but that scholars only faintly apprehended what the purpose of the state and the future of the nation could be. World War I changed all that because the defeat was absolute: the entire state collapsed. From that time on questions regarding the nation or the state could no longer remain ambiguous. They were pressing and needed clear answers.
During the 1920s the national or völkisch movement gained momentum, because it presented a seemingly reasonable answer. The concept that Germans are one people no matter where they live became more widespread and was central to many new institutions. Immediately following the war numerous organizations were founded which sought to encourage völkisch movements at home and abroad. One such organization was the German association for the protection of Germandom in the border regions and abroad (Deutsche Schutzbund für das Grenz- und Auslandsdeutschtum). Representatives of the association raised public awareness regarding Germans abroad. They no longer saw these Germans as foreigners but as fellow citizens who, because of their sacrifices, were entitled to special privileges from the German state. Implicit in this line of reasoning was the hope that maybe the borders of Germany could be expanded eastward, which would make up for some of the land lost with the Versailles Treaty. In the volatile political climate of the Weimar Republic, Germans tried to evaluate their standing in Europe, deal with the humiliation of Versailles, and regain some of Germany's former power. Scholars such as Walter Kuhn and Hermann Aubin argued that the Reich should take a stronger stance regarding its eastern borders.
This does not mean that there was consensus among academics on what course of action needed to be taken. Attitudes were rather diffuse. However, many who were attracted to the völkisch movement tended to have one belief in common: a deep skepticism of modernity which could flare into open animosity. For these scholars the Germans living in eastern and southeastern Europe represented an older agrarian tradition which they considered to be closer to what Germany ought to be. Germans in eastern Europe were largely unaffected by industrialization and urbanization, thus scholars bestowed upon them a "higher ethnic dignity" because they lived a lifestyle that was equated to the Paradise lost.
Scholars interested in German minorities studied their subject from a cultural and territorial point of view, combining the concept of cultural territory (Kulturboden) with that of national territory (Volksboden). German superiority lay at the foundation of these inquiries. Seemingly wherever Germans went they had well functioning established settlements from the jungles of Brazil to the tundras of the far North. Consequently if Germans did well in diverse environments, their successes could not be attributed to geographical location but to hard work, skill and determination.
The German cultural landscape does not result from the interaction of various natural causes, but is the work of people with definite natural abilities, who change nature according to their wills.
Scholars of the inter-war years saw this triumph of the will as a key to German success and they found examples to substantiate this belief from pre-history to the present. They also believed that Germans had a civilizing mission all over the world but especially in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, this sense of missionary obligation ought to compel Germans of all ages, especially the young.
When the young are taught from childhood about the civilizing tasks carried out by our people, when in their maturity they are informed about the German Kulturboden, when this is thoroughly studied at the universities, investigated by scholars, and held aloft by the whole, then a feeling of strength will develop in the nation, which will not merely be intoxicated with its 'gloire' or by cries of 'Hurra', but anchored in the soul of the nation.
For scholars it was self-evident that German Kultur had triumphed in eastern and southeastern Europe, in particular over "primitive Slavdom." It was a small leap to argue that since land cultivated by Germans, no matter where they lived, was Germanized that it was consequently part of the German nation.
As cultural commonality was extended to include territory, bringing ethnic Germans into the national fold became a necessity. Such ambitions, albeit only expressed by some, would in the end call for aggression. What started out as an intensified interest in ethnic matters evolved into territorial demands that were entangled with nationalistic ideals. The association for the advancement of the study of national and cultural territory (Stiftung für Volks- und Kulturbodenforschung) defined the national territory as those settlements containing an ethnically homogenous population, which clearly included large areas of the Czech Republic and Poland. Many academic conferences and symposiums were financed by the ministry of the interior and they were the foundation of most grand ethnographic projects of the 1920s and 1930s.
From the early 1920s on ethnic Germans became increasingly important to scholars. After Versailles there had to be a distinction between the "cultural nation" (Kulturnation) and the "state-nation" (Staatsnation) and the traditional methodologies were inadequate. Now that the Staatsnation had been destroyed, territorially confined, financially penalized and morally held responsible for World War I, there was little solace to be found there. However, the Kulturnation offered exciting possibilities among them studying the German nation and its cultural heritage without having to deal with the state's recent history. Studying Germans abroad meant, however, that new methods had to be mastered in order to carry out empirical research which was now in a regional context and had a cultural focus. Consequently ethnography (Volkskunde) and linguistics were consulted, as was the study of settlements (Siedlungsforschung) and regional social and economic history.
According to James van Horn Melton, this new "folk history" (Volksgeschichte) had a similar focus as the early Annales scholarship, albeit it has been given far less attention. "Like Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, folk historians were preoccupied with the study of peasant landholding patterns, demography, kinship, and popular culture." While their methodologies may have been similar, their politics were certainly not. Bloch and Febvre opposed fascism, while folk history originated on the far right of the political spectrum and identified with the pan-German movement that renounced the Versailles Treaty.
The outspoken conservatism of Volkskundler attracted the National Socialists. During the 1930s the party generally supported Volksgeschichte, even though the vast majority did not join the party. Prior to 1933 not one full professor had been a party member, nonetheless few lost their jobs or resigned because of conflicts of conscience. There was enough ideological agreement that the Nazis did not feel threatened and allowed conservative historians to remain. This does not mean that the Nazis were tolerant, nor that they succeeded in turning the discipline into one of its propaganda machines.
Although much research was state sponsored during the interwar years, historians apparently were not forced to publish in concert with state ideology. According to Werner the historical discipline was not coerced or forcibly aligned (Gleichschaltung) but that various individuals who expressed imperialist or racist views did so out of a conviction in "extreme ideals." Scholars may not have been compelled to publish works in line with Nazi ideology but frequently the views they expressed were in turn used by Nazi functionaries to their own purposes. Historians may not necessarily have been complicit in Nazi efforts but for the most part historians did not speak out against the regime. Instead of outward resistance many scholars increasingly kept to themselves and underwent what has been characterized as an inward exile.
Michael Burleigh agrees that there was little academic resistance to the Nazis but he articulates this failure in stronger terms. For him the "politicization and instrumentalization of a scholarly discipline under the Nazi regime" is clearly a deficit of "intellectual endeavor."
The experts did not challenge existing stereotypes and misconceptions; they worked within their boundaries and reified them through empirical 'evidence.' Dissident voices were silenced by authoritarian scholar-managers who policed the politics of their subordinates without government prompting. Anti-democratic professional structures served at once to perpetuate misconceptions and to facilitate government control. The politicians and bureaucrats had the measure of academic power-brokers.
According to Burleigh, academics who were involved in Ostforschung were not a lunatic fringe but part of the educated élite. Ministers and state secretaries based their decisions on the expertise of these scholars. For example, Hermann Aubin, one of the most prominent scholars of the 1930s, was sympathetic to the Nazis. In 1939 he wrote, "We must make use of our experience, which we have developed over many long years of effort. Scholarship cannot simply wait until it is called upon, but must make itself heard." Academics frequently cooperated with the government because they saw it as a means to legitimize their work. When the relationship between a scholar and the regime soured it was less because of resistance but rather "the result of political miscalculation, a naïve unawareness of the priority of ideology over scholarly exactitude or, more simply, a matter of being outmaneuvered by more practised political operators."
Managers at the SS (Schutzstaffel) recognized that the conquest of Eastern Europe could be facilitated through research institutes, which not only provided a useable rhetoric but also supplied statistical and cartographical locations of people. "Deportations, resettlements, repatriations, and mass murder were not sudden visitations from on high [...] but the result of the exact, modern, 'scientific' encompassing of persons with card indexes, card-sorting machines, charts, graphs, maps and diagrams." Ostforschung thus provided the regime with an ideological excuse and a scientific foundation to carry out its goals.
Because Ostforschung was used to justify eastward expansion, it was charged as being the handmaiden of Hitler and after 1945 it had to be rehabilitated. Volksgeschichte, the most innovative methodological current of the interwar years, had been deeply discredited for its political complicity and scholars who had been accused of Nazi affiliation could now hardly be considered cutting edge. As the leadership changed hands, those who had been least compromised by the Nazis became dominant figures in the discipline, namely Friedrich Meinecke, Gerhard Ritter, and Hans Rothfels, who because of their historicist leaning had rejected Volksgeschichte. Once again the paradigm shift was rather a return to an older paradigm; this time a return to political, diplomatic and intellectual history. "This paradox helps to explain why, in the short run at least, the defeat of Germany in 1945 did more to restore the hallowed traditions of German historicism than it did to revise them." Besides this methodological shift, the German historical profession remained nonetheless conservative and some have argued that after the war there was more of a continuation than a discontinuation. For example, in what became the Federal Republic (West Germany), most historians who held positions under the Nazis kept their jobs after 1945. Even those twenty-four professors who were suspended because they had been incriminated were by and large readmitted into the discipline in the 1950s. On the other hand, the vast majority of those who had been exiled under the Nazi administration, failed to return after the war.
Although some historians attempted to analyze what had happened, there was no drastic break, no Stunde Null (hour zero), no slate wiped clean. Several historians publicly expressed their anguish over what had happened during the war, but as Stefan Berger noted, "much of the alleged critical stock-taking was little more than a rhetorical smoke-screen of lament, behind which the same old national apologias, somewhat toned down in volume, could and did continue. No national vacuum emerged in the immediate post-war years, neither in historiography nor in the public debate at large." According to Berger, there was initially no effort made to examine the role historians played under the National Socialists. Gerhard Ritter, President of the Association of German Historians founded in 1948, considered "efforts at belated self-accusation or self-justification" to be superfluous. "Continuity as far as possible, revisionism as far as necessary-that was the guiding principle of post-war German historians."
One noticeable change did, however, take place. In light of the recent imperialist disaster, historians could no longer condone a Germanocentric approach. After the war German historians tried hard to get Germany back into the European fold and scholarship at that point showed considerable pan-European tendencies. In the late 1950s this "Europeanization of German history was of crucial importance for the reemergence of social history." In 1958 the Arbeitskreis für moderne Sozialgeschichte was created in Heidelberg, which was to play a key role in Germany's postwar social history. The majority of historians responsible for the Arbeitskreis were linked to the Volksgeschichte of the interwar years. The term Volksgeschichte was discontinued and instead replaced by Strukturgeschichte (structural history). The change was more than cosmetic. It also entailed a marked shift in the attitude toward modernity. The peasants were no longer romanticized and industrialization was no longer seen as the demise of society. The Volk was no longer the focus of the inquiry, instead it was replaced by the concept of the "mature industrial society." This shift also made the transformation from a Germanocentric view to a philo-European one easier.
Theodor Schieder, who is considered to be one of the towering intellects of the time, had practiced Volkskunde in the interwar years. After 1945 he adopted a structural approach to history but remained fundamentally interested in political history. After World War II, Schieder trained hundreds of students, among them Hans-Ulrich Wehler. Schieder's approach eventually led the way to "social history of politics" which later became associated with the Bielefeld school. This historiographical overview demonstrates a clear connection between politics, ideology and historical paradigms. The political conditions after World War I, led many historians to move away from historicism to embrace Volksgeschichte. After World War II, Volksgeschichte had to be adjusted and during the 1950s historicism again predominated. However, in the 1960s and 1970s many scholars of the historicist school retired and the discipline moved in the direction of historical social science. Methodologically this new paradigm was built on the foundations of Volksgeschichte, even though it was no longer anti-modern and prescribed to a European rather than a German vision. The paper will now examine how the historical discipline impacted the way in which the history of the Germans in southeastern Europe was written.
In southeastern Europe problems surrounding ethnicity and nationalism have been evident since the concept of the nation-state had become influential in the early nineteenth century. In this historically multi-ethnic region ethnic relationships were particularly strained during both world wars, when different ethnic groups which had co-existed under one administration now fought on opposite sides. Yugoslavia, which became a state after World War I, was the most complicated of the interwar states because it contained the largest and most varied number of pre-1918 units.
From the Austrian half of the late Habsburg Empire, Yugoslavia inherited Slovenia and Dalmatia; from the Hungarian half, the formerly quasi-autonomous subkingdom of Croatia-Slavonia and the explicitly Hungarian districts of the Vojvodina; and from the joint Austro-Hungarian administration, the province of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Macedonia and the Sanjak of Novibazar had been Ottoman imperial territories until the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Finally, there also entered into the new Yugoslavia the hitherto independent kingdoms of Montenegro and Serbia.
Ethnic conflicts were thus latent in the new Yugoslav state and by the eve of World War II ethnic differences remained unreconciled. Yugoslavia is particularly pertinent to this study because it contained a sizable German minority, the Danube Swabians (Donauschwaben) who were almost entirely expelled after World War II. It is particularly instructive to examine the role Nazi ideology played in the events leading up to expulsion.
The Danube Swabians represent one of several groups who were resettled in Europe during the twentieth century. It has been estimated that during and after World War II around thirty million Europeans were forcibly resettled. About half of these were moved at gun-point by the Nazis and constitute the reorganization of Poland and the Soviet Union. Massive uprooting of people, however, dates back to the end of World War I and the collapse of three multi-ethnic empires: the Habsburg Empire, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. As new nation-states were created from these empires, minorities were moved about in order to accommodate new territorial boundaries. Rogers Brubaker has termed this trend "ethnic unmixing." In the case of the former Austria-Hungary an estimated seven million Germans instantaneously became minorities in 1919. Of the one and a half million Danube Swabians who had been administered by the Hungarian half of the empire, about half a million remained under Hungarian jurisdiction while half a million each fell to Romania and Yugoslavia. The disintegrating Russian and Ottoman empires experienced immediate ethnic unmixing; in contrast many Germans of the former Hungarian Empire remained. Mass migration in southeastern Europe, however, was merely postponed. It would take place after World War II. When it did, the Danube Swabians were proportionately the most severely affected.
Most of the scholars who have tried to understand the demise of the Danube Swabians have focused on the events surrounding the war itself. The Danube Swabians had the highest civilian casualty rate of any German group and as such are seen as victims who bore the brunt of retaliation against Germans. The bearing Ostpolitik had on Nazi policy has generally been documented and the fact that academia was severely discredited after World War II attests to this fact. Germany's Ostpolitik clearly had an ethnic component which justified eastward expansion on the grounds that Germans had a civilizing mission and that the nation's territory must be expanded to encompass German minorities living in Eastern Europe. However, prior to the 1980s few historians and ethnologist have questioned how responsible German scholars were in contributing to the rise of German nationalism abroad, which ultimately had catastrophic consequences for ethnic Germans in eastern and southeastern Europe. Nazi functionaries frequently used the work of academics, therefore the way in which issues such as ethnology were treated in academia was more than a heuristic exercise, more than the shaping of a historiography. It also had a bearing on historical events because it contributed to people's self-concept and consequently influenced their actions.
Arguably the way in which scholars studied German enclaves in southeastern Europe was politically motivated and not necessarily reflective of how these German minorities viewed themselves in their predominantly multi-ethnic environment. This discrepancy seems to be the case regarding ethnic identity: while ethnologists and historians stressed how rooted in the German culture these minorities were, many Germans in southeastern Europe actually took pride in the fact that they were able to coexist as an integral part with other cultures.
In the interwar years ethnologists predominantly categorized German groups in southeastern Europe according to national-linguistic criteria. Their studies focused on continuity and on how the German language and culture was retained. From this point of view Germans lived as minorities in German-speaking enclaves in the midst of a foreign environment henceforth the study came to be known as Sprachinselforschung, which means the study of linguistic islands.
Walter Kuhn, pioneer in the field, published his book Deutsche Sprachinselforschung in 1934 and became professor of Volkskunde (ethnology) in Breslau two years later. Kuhn elaborated on the metaphor of the island by depicting it as being in the midst of a violent ocean. The foreign nations (Volkstum) represent the ocean which threatens the existence of these German islands. Furthermore, Kuhn considered these islands as a territorial extension of the Volksboden or national territory.
Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann, a fellow ethnologist, openly criticized this approach, as laying the foundation not only for a flawed but dangerous methodology. The view that Germans in Southeast Europe were separated from the German nation and surrounded by a foreign Volkstum does not reflect the intercultural exchange that existed. These Germans shared a common existence with their Serb and Magyar neighbors with whom they interacted on a daily basis. Serbs often worked on German farms and Germans frequently sent their children to Magyar schools. All the farmers participated in the country fairs, where they displayed their farm equipment and their animals. They also met one another each week at the market. In the town of Szekszárd where the population was approximately half German and half Magyar, the church service on Sunday would be held alternately, one week in German and the other week in Magyar.
Sprachinselforschung overemphasized one aspect of culture-language-and consequently implied that the Germans abroad had greater cultural connection to Germany than the communities in which they existed. However, the Danube Swabians were not isolated minority groups whose primary ties were with Germany. On the contrary, they lived in open and fluid societies in which people did not necessarily group together along ethnic lines. They also distinguish themselves along religious and occupational lines, thus the Swabians from the Banat identified as Catholics together with the Bulgarian and Magyar minorities in distinction to the Orthodox Romanians and Serbs. As farmers or day laborers they shared similar life experiences and economic interests. The fact that some of them were German speaking is not sufficient to understand their communal life or their identity. Danube Swabians did not live as isolated islands. Living next to one another and with one another was more predominant than living against one another.
This is not to downplay the real tension that existed in the interwar years, when nationalist sentiments were on the rise across all of Europe. By the time Nazi rhetoric infiltrated the Balkans, nationalism had become a divisive force in the region. The Danube Swabians played an important role because they "were not just another minority in the grip of ethnically different host nations, but organic parts of Germandom, one of the largest, most respected and feared community of peoples in the western world."
G. C. Paikert, who served in the Hungarian Ministry of Education in Budapest from 1934-1944, was responsible for the schooling of national minorities during these years. In his book about the Danube Swabians and Hitler's impact on their patterns, he notes that up until World War I the host countries seemed to benefit from the Danube Swabians, who made lasting cultural and economic contributions. "As to their overall record in their adopted Heimat [homeland], there can be no doubt that until the coming of the Hitler era the bulk of it was constructive."
In the case of the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia, they committed two grievous errors: the had a negative attitude toward the Yugoslav state and they embraced Nazism. The former came in response to Serb chauvinism and coercive assimilation practices. Prior to World War I, the Serbs and Germans were both minorities under Hungarian administration. This relationship, however, drastically changed when the Yugoslav state was formed and the Germans were suddenly a minority within a Serb-dominated state. In the early 1920s the Swabians suffered several legal setbacks. Their property rights were curtailed, German schools were nationalized, German political parties outlawed and cultural associations declared illegal.
These crackdowns by the Serb government served to strengthen cohesion among the Swabians. The city of Neusatz became the center for Germans of the former southern Hungary. Here the daily newspaper Deutsches Volksblatt was published and the cultural association, the Schwäbisch-Deutsche Kulturbund was founded in 1920. The Kulturbund was active for four years and had 55,000 members in 128 villages in the Vojvodina and Syrmia before it was declared illegal in 1924. The Germans in the Vojvodina had provided for the education of their children, which was a common feature among migrant Germans, but in 1922 all schools were nationalized and the Swabians thus lost control over the education of their children. The same year Dr. Ludwig Kremling and Dr. Stefan Kraft founded the Deutsche Partei (German Party) which became illegal by 1929. In addition to these struggles over minority rights, the region experienced an economic crisis in the early 1930s. Thus the quality of life deteriorated for many Danube Swabians.
After the German Reich and the Yugoslav government had improved their relations in the mid 1930s, political conditions improved for the German minority in Yugoslavia. In 1931 a compromise had been reached regarding German schooling. However, it was too late to quiet the discontent among the younger generation. Disillusioned by their economic and political condition and the setbacks they had suffered during the previous decade, the younger Swabians were increasingly susceptible to Pan-German rhetoric. By the mid 1930s the Volksgruppe experienced an internal crisis. The younger generation, which came to be known as the Erneuerer (renewers), wanted allegiance to the Reich. The older generations had been raised under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and saw a political allegiance with Germany as dangerous. By 1938 this split made unified political actions impossible. The two factions attempted a reconciliation but the rift widened once Nazi ideology infiltrated the Kulturbund and NSDAP organizations took over at the beginning of the war. The Erneuerer were encouraged by the annexation of Austria and pushed the older generation aside.
Initially the younger generation had reacted in response to their deteriorating conditions but their activities increasingly invited reprisals. Through their anti-Yugoslav attitudes they gave the Yugoslav state an excuse to take further discrimination measures. Actions that had been an effect now became cause for future actions. "Ultimately there formed a vicious circle of hopelessly alienated relationships with the host country, in an age already explosive with both revolutionary new isms and reactionary intolerance."
While about one third of the Danube Swabians embraced Nazi ideology, the rhetoric of German superiority was not uniformly accepted. The churches in the Vojvodina resisted because the Nazis' exclusionary rhetoric could not be reconciled with their theology. Pastors held sermons in which they denounced race-hatred as anti-Christian. Catholics were frequently the target of Nazi hate-rhetoric and consequently some of them were particularly outspoken. Adam Berenz, a Catholic clergyman, published the newspaper Die Donau (the Danube) from 1934 until its publication was halted by the Hungarian government in 1944. During this decade Berenz wrote over eighty articles against race-ideological propaganda and the activities of the Erneuerer (renewers) who were aligned with the Nazis. The literature of resistance is thus part of the historiography and suggests that the doctrines emanating from the Reich did not go unchallenged.
Some of these attitudes of racial superiority made their way East, especially when party officials traveled to the German enclaves in the Vojvodina in an effort to establish and promote party organizations. It has been noted that during the 1930s there was an increased presence of representatives from Germany in the Vojvodina. Often these officials were invited to festivities such as the anniversary of the founding of a particular village. In the 1930s, many communities that had been established during the 1780s, celebrated their 150th anniversary and invited Germans from the Reich to join in the celebration. German functionaries thus did become more visible in these communities. Marching bands paraded down main street and the Danube Swabians celebrated their success not with their Serb and Magyar neighbors but with non-resident Germans. This could not have been a reassuring sight for Serbs who at the same time were subjected to increasing Panslav rhetoric. Johannes Weidenheim, a Danube Swabian from the Batschka, reflected on these practices and concluded that this growing presence of Germany was disturbing the balance in the villages and was sowing nasty seeds of animosity. This increased Nazi presence intensified tensions with Slavic and Hungarian neighbors who watched the intrusion with suspicion. Coexistence in multi-ethnic communities was thus effectively undermined by Germans from the Reich.
On the eve of World War II the party had a significant hold on the region. After the German army occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, Berlin upstepped nazification efforts. The Swabian leadership in Croatia and Serbia were now one hundred percent Nazi and they received orders directly from Berlin. The Swabians were reorganized "along the Nazi patterns of the Reich, complete with Arbeitsdienst (Labor Service), Frauenschaften (Women's Division), Deutsche Jugend (German Youth, that is Hitler Youth) and all the rest of the customary Nazi formulae." Germans also received orders to report to the Waffen-SS for military duty.
The Danube Swabians ultimately sided with the German occupiers instead of the Serb partisan resisters and this allegiance in the end turned out fatal. As Paikert has pointed out, the Danube Swabians had lived in the region for two hundred years, first under Austrian and then under Hungarian rule. They had been under Yugoslav sovereignty for only two decades and had legitimate grievances against that state for violating their minority rights which had been granted under the Convention on Minorities Rights by international, binding agreements. "To expect the Swabians to side with Yugoslavia against their German brethren would be to expect too much, even if Nazi indoctrination and propaganda had not been as intensive as they were by that time." That of course is not to excuse any atrocities that took place during the war, of which all sides are apparently guilty.
During German occupation the Serbs resorted to guerrilla warfare. By 1944 the tide turned and Tito's Partisans regained control over Yugoslavia. On November 21, 1944 Tito's AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Council of the Yugoslav People's Liberation) declared all Germans as stateless and outlaws, stripping them of citizenship and confiscating their property. The liquidation of Yugoslavia's German minority was complete. For Tito it was of no consequence what the political background of the individuals were, if they were ultra-Nazis or apolitical persons. With one stroke he rid the state of a potentially formidable bourgeois class, repatriated the most fertile land and the most valuable properties. Because many Swabians had been compromised during the occupation, he had popular support.
Since most of the German men had already been drafted, the majority of Swabians who bore the brunt of these measures were women, children and the elderly. Those who could not leave on time were interned in concentration camps. "In Rudolfgrad along, of the 33,000 Swabian internees almost 10,000, including women and children, that is nearly one-third, died between October 1945 and March 1948." Thousands of interns were shipped to the Soviet Union for forced labor. Until the concentration camps in Yugoslavia were dissolved, nearly 70,000 Swabians died. Another 28,000 died as a result of the war, which brings the total for Swabians in Yugoslavia to 98,000 roughly 20 percent of the population. These losses left deep scars on the psyches of the survivors.
The Danube Swabians were, of course, not the only victims of the war; they were but one of many expellee groups. At the end of the war Germans from all over eastern Europe, including Russia and Poland, fled before the encroaching Russian army. The suffering was immense for millions of Europeans and life would not regain a semblance of normalcy for several more years. These dramatic experiences also impacted the scholarship.
After World War II the study of Germans from eastern and southeastern Europe diversified significantly and extended beyond academia. The trends of the main stream scholarship has been discussed earlier. However, the literature that has been published by the expellees themselves has a sub-current of its own. By this time nearly fifteen million Germans had become expellees and much of the literature centers around these formidable experiences. In the case of the Danube Swabians, West-German government agencies and Danube Swabian organizations have extensively documented the atrocities Tito's Partisans committed against the German minority in Yugoslavia. In a four volume series of several thousand pages about 80% of the Danube Swabians are accounted for, including information about where, when and how they died as well as who the survivors were and where they relocated to. The series also contains recollections from survivors.
Many of these publications were partly financed by the state, partly by the various local organizations and several were exclusively financed by the individual authors. After the war it seemed most pressing to compile as much information as fast as possible, consequently there was little discourse on how the historical and anthropological disciplines may be restructured or how the collected data ought to be analyzed. Some of the works published in the 1950s are hauntingly reminiscent of the attitudes prevalent during the 1930s.
The majority of the expellee leadership in the immediate post-war years was markedly conservative. In the 1950s the West German government under Adenauer made efforts to unite the various expellee organizations under one umbrella organization. Theodor Oberländer, who headed the ministry for the expellees (Bundesvertriebenenministerium), had a strong fascist past and had been a member of the Nazi party. This ministry supported expellee organizations and their publications which were quite influential in the decade following the war. By 1958 expellee organizations published over 350 periodicals and became an important expression of post-war culture. Expellees made significant financial contributions to these organizations as long as they had hope of returning to their former homes. In the early years they even had their own party, the BHE (Block der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten), which had notable support during the early 1950s. Their aim was to secure equal citizen rights for ethnic Germans, a fair distribution of the war burden and full integration of ethnic Germans into Germany and Europe. By the early 1960s most of them had resigned themselves to the fact that they would not be able to return and at that point few even desired to give up the material security they had found in Germany. Consequently expellee publications dropped.
The fact that the government would appoint a former Nazi to coordinate refugee organizations and that in the decade following the war much of the popular literature remained conservative is indicative of a larger phenomenon. While there was much confusion and considerable soul-searching in the postwar years, there was also a lot of continuation. Coming to terms with Germany's recent past was difficult and for many people the most important thing was to get through the initial pain and get on with life. Some were not ready or willing to acknowledge Germany's responsibility for the war and continued to look for the blame elsewhere.
For example, Josef Senz, a survivor and chairman of the work study group of Danube Swabian teachers, showed unambiguous antagonism against Hungarians and Slavs. In his book Die Donauschwaben und ihre Nachbarn (Freilassing, 1959), Senz did not reflect on the Nazis' involvement in the war nor did he consider that ethnic groups in southeastern Europe hated Germans because of what Germany had done during the war. Instead he was puzzled about where the hatred of Germans was coming from and characterized the Magyars as driven by a fear based on delusion (aus irrigen Wahnvorstellungen zehrenden Angst). For Senz nationalism was always brought on by others and by weaving in religious themes he further removed himself from accountability. In this case the focus on the self and the lack of reflection about Germany's guilt was a national trend that also resonates in the literature on ethnicity. Senz was extreme in some of his early writings and does not reflect the general tone of the scholarship but it is noteworthy that his work was not edited before publication. In his later works Senz carried a much more conciliatory tone.
Other authors were considerably more empathetic in trying to understand the point of view of the other ethnic groups. Johann Weidenheim saw cultural differences without designating national superiority or inferiority to either group. In his book Die Donauschwaben--Bild eines Kolonistenvolkes which he co-authored with A. K. Gauß in 1961, he represents German contribution without overemphasizing it. Weidenheim thus seems to be kin to those who were willing to abandon a German-centric vision for a pan-European one. Weidenheim was not alone in these efforts to overcome the estrangement between Germans and their eastern neighbors.
A desire for conciliation was apparent as early as 1950 when the representatives of the expellees formulated the expellee charter (Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen). In this charter, they renounced any efforts of revenge or retaliation. This highly publicized political statement was widely recognized as the first of its kind in West Germany. "The Charta was the first important document of peace in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany." It again reflects the pan-European tendencies that were also evident in the academic writings at that time.
Germany's efforts to come to terms with its past and to redefine its role in Europe have also found expression in recent books about the Danube Swabians. For example, the exhibition catalog Die Donauschwaben: Deutsche Siedlung in Südosteuropa published by the Innenministerium (department of the interior) in Baden-Württemberg makes use of several statistics and stresses that cooperation among these multi-ethnic communities used to be the norm. As Konrad G. Gündisch states in the introduction, the purpose of the book was to show the suffering and achievements of the Danube Swabians but also to document the coexistence with other communities in order to "contribute to an appreciation of a common European history and the understanding between the nations of the East and West."
In retrospect, the postwar scholarship has been diverse and includes a wide range of approaches, from statistical analysis and demographics to diary accounts of survivors. Some of this literature, including numerous recollections published by the authors themselves, clearly exists outside of mainstream academia. Nonetheless some generalizations can be inferred from this multiplicity. German history and historiography in the twentieth century cannot be separated from the cataclysmic events of the two world wars. After World War I some historians tried to move away from the historicist tradition and sought new meaning in the ethnic nation. The underlying völkisch ideology in turn was utilized for political and expansionist purposes. The consequences were disastrous and after World War II scholars again made an effort to distance themselves from the troublesome paradigm. Yet while some of these major trends are evident, older currents and undercurrents remained and existed simultaneously. Scholars simply could not wipe the slate entirely clean. They continued to fall back on older methodologies, even though they altered them and made them more suitable for the times. Thus in the postwar historiography conservative elements were retained while some innovative elements were incorporated. The desire to once again be a part of the European community, necessitated a change of focus and this turn away from a national agenda was also reflected in the expellee literature.
In recent years efforts have been made to overcome national identities and prepare Europeans for a truly European Community. This has proven difficult; indeed there seems to be evidence that many Europeans cling all the more tenaciously to regional identities. Even as some have declared that the era of the nation-state is over, it is not clear that internationalism can take its place. Ethnicity as a means of group identification is likely to remain important at least in the immediate future. This of course lends itself to be used by those who seek to consolidate political or territorial power. Even today ethnic identity is being mobilized for nationalistic purposes in Europe. The recent civil war in Yugoslavia stands as a stark reminder that this chapter is not yet concluded. It also shows that history is still being manipulated to serve political or territorial ambitions. As such historians are not merely passive observers who record the history of their people. Instead they actively participate in the making of that history, and they do so in more ways than one.
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