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German life in the regions covered here is now largely confined to the past. In 1918, the multi-ethnic empires were dissolved and new countries were established in their place. They saw themselves as nation states, bound to the principle of ethnic homogeneity. The rights of minorities were guaranteed only to a limited extent. Ethnic Germans were among those affected by this situation. The Germans of the Soviet Union additionally had to adapt to Communism.

After the National Socialists seized power in the German Empire in 1933, the Germans living in central and eastern Europe found themselves caught up in the Nazi policy of expansion. Between 1939 and 1941, German minorities living in the 'Soviet sphere of influence' were collectively removed by the German authorities and resettled, mostly in German-occupied Poland. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviet leadership ordered that Germans living in the European parts of the USSR be deported to regions east of the Ural Mountains.

In 1945, during the last months of the Second World War, masses of Germans fled from the Red Army and its allies. Many Germans who remained in the countries concerned were expelled soon after the end of the war, as were those in Germany's former eastern provinces. This affected ethnic Germans native to Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and, to a certain extent, Hungary. Romania did not expel the German minority, but deported many of its members to work in the Soviet Union. Some of the Germans who had managed to stay in their homelands emigrated to Germany in the 1950s. Now, in the 21st century, only tiny German minorities are left in their former centres in many cases, only individuals.

The refugees, expellees and post-war emigrants have returned to where their forefathers set out from, up to 800 years ago. They have brought with them dialects and customs, family traditions and artefacts, as well as an understanding of the countries from which they came, thus enriching the cultural heritage of all Germans.

The impressive legacy of towns and villages, buildings and works of art left by ethnic Germans in central and eastern Europe, along with their contributions to language and material culture, are all part of a shared European heritage. The responsibility of caring for it in a united Europe falls equally on the shoulders of the Germans and those who live in these countries today.