The Federation of Expellees (German: Bund der Vertriebenen; BdV) is a non-profit organization formed in West Germany on 27 October 1957 to represent the interests of German nationals of all ethnicities and foreign ethnic Germans and their families (usually naturalised as German nationals after 1949) who either fled their homes in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, or were forcibly expelled following World War II.
Since 2014 the president of the Federation has been Bernd Fabritius, a Christian Social Union in Bavaria politician.
Main article: Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950)
It is estimated that in the aftermath of World War II between 13 and 16 million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from parts of Central and Eastern Europe, including the former eastern territories of Germany (parts of present-day Poland), the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia (mostly from the Vojvodina region), the Kaliningrad Oblast of (now) Russia, hitherto USSR (in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War) and prior to this, the northern part of East Prussia, Lithuania, Romania and other East European countries.
The Charter of the German Expellees (German: Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen) of 5 August 1950, announced their belief in requiring that "the right to the homeland is recognized and carried out as one of the fundamental rights of mankind given by God", while renouncing revenge and retaliation in the face of the "unending suffering" (unendliche Leid) of the previous decade, and supporting the unified effort to rebuild Germany and Europe.
The charter has been criticised for avoiding mentioning Nazi atrocities of Second World War and Germans who were forced to emigrate due to Nazi repressions. Critics argue that the Charter presents the history of German people as starting from the expulsions, while ignoring events like the Holocaust.
Professor Micha Brumlik pointed out that one third of signatories were former devoted Nazis and many actively helped in realisation of Hitler's goals.
Ralph Giordano wrote in Hamburger Abendblatt "the Charter doesn't contain a word about Hitler, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Not to mention any sign of apologies for the suffering of the murdered people", "avoids mentioning the reasons for expulsions" and called the document "example of German art of crowding out the truth (...) The fact that the charter completely ignores the reasons for the expulsions deprives it of any value".
Between 1953, when the Federal Expellee Law was passed, and 1991, the West German government passed several laws dealing with German expellees. The most notable of these is the "Law of Return" which granted German citizenship to any ethnic German. Several additions were later made to these laws.
The German Law of Return declared refugee status to be inheritable. According to the Federal Expellee Law, "the spouse and the descendants" of an expellee are to be treated as if they were expellees themselves, regardless of whether they had been personally displaced. The Federation of Expellees has steadily lobbied to preserve the inheritability clause.
The Federation of Expellees was formed on 27 October 1957 in West Germany. Before its founding, the Bund der Heimatvertriebenen (League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights), formed in 1950, represented the interests of displaced German expellees. Intriguingly, in its first few years, the league was more successful in West Germany than in East Germany.
Previous West German governments, especially those led by the Christian Democratic Union, had shown more rhetorical support for the territorial claims made on behalf of German refugees and expellees. Although the Social Democrats showed strong support for the expellees, especially under Kurt Schumacher and Erich Ollenhauer, Social Democrats in more recent decades have generally been less supportive – and it was under Willy Brandt that West Germany recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the eastern German border with Poland under his policy of Ostpolitik. In reality, accepting the internationally recognized boundary made it more possible for eastern Germans to visit their lost homelands.
In 1989–1990 the West German government realized they had an opportunity to reunify the Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet created German Democratic Republic. But they believed that if this were to be achieved, it had to be done quickly. One of the potential complications was the claim to the historical eastern territories of Germany; unless this was renounced, some foreign governments might not agree to German reunification. The West German government under the CDU accepted the 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany (Two Plus Four Agreement), which officially re-established the sovereignty of both German states. A condition of this agreement was that Germany accept the post-World War II frontiers. Upon reunification in 1990, the constitution was amended to state that Germany's territory had reached its full extent. Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. Once the five "reestablished federal states" in the east had been united with the west, the Basic Law was amended again to show that there were no other parts of Germany, which existed outside of the unified territory, that had not acceded.
In 2000 the Federation of Expellees also initiated the formation of the Center Against Expulsions (German: Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen). Chairwoman of this Center is Erika Steinbach, who headed it together with former SPD politician Prof. Dr. Peter Glotz (died 2005).
Recently Erika Steinbach, the chair of the Federation of Expellees, has rejected any compensation claims. The vice president of the Federation Rudi Pawelka is however a chairman of the supervisory board of the Prussian Trust.
A European organisation for expellees has been formed: EUFV. Headquarters is Trieste, Italy.
The expellees are organized in 21 regional associations (Landsmannschaften), according to the areas of origin of its members, 16 state organizations (Landesverbände) according to their current residence, and 5 associate member organizations. It is the single representative federation for the approximately 15 million Germans who after fleeing, being expelled, evacuated or emigrating, found refuge in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Federation claims to have 1.3 million members (including non-displaced persons), and to be a political force of some influence in Germany. This figure was disputed in January 2010 by the German news service DDP, which reported an actual membership of 550,000. According to Erika Steinbach only 100,000 of the members contribute financially.
The federation helps its members to integrate into German society. Many of the members assist the societies of their place of birth.
From 1959 to 1964, the first president of the Federation was Hans Krüger, a former Nazi judge and activist. After the war Krüger was a West German politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was a member of parliament from 1957 to 1965, served as Federal Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and War Victims for 4 months in 1963–64 in the First Cabinet of Ludwig Erhard. He stepped down from cabinet and other positions in 1964 amid controversy about his war-time background. Krüger was succeeded as president by Wenzel Jaksch in 1964 who held the position until his untimely death in 1966.
When in government, both CDU and SPD have tended to favor improved relations with Central and Eastern Europe, even when this conflicts with the interests of the displaced people. The issue of the eastern border and the return of the Heimatvertriebene to their ancestral homes are matters which the current German government, German constitutional arrangements and German treaty obligations have virtually closed.
The refugees' claims were unanimously rejected by the affected countries and became a source of mistrust between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. These governments argue that the expulsion of Germans and related border changes were not enacted by the Polish or Czech governments, but rather were ordered by the Potsdam Conference, where a Polish delegation of politicians and experts had presented a justification for a western Polish border following the Oder-Neisse Line. Furthermore, the nationalization of private property by Poland's former communist government did not apply only to Germans but was enforced on all people, regardless of ethnic background. A further complication is that many of the current Polish population in historical eastern Germany are themselves expellees (or descendants of expellees) who, totaling 1.6 million, were driven from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union and were forced to leave their homes and property behind as well.
Some German-speakers had been settled in occupied Poland after 1939 by the Nazis. Treating these ex-colonists as expellees under German law, Erika Steinbach included, adds to the controversy. However, the vast majority of expelled Germans were descended from families who had lived in Eastern Europe for many centuries, while the majority of German colonists in Nazi-occupied Poland were Baltic and other East European Germans themselves displaced by the Nazi-Soviet population transfers.
The Federation has been accused by the GDR and Poland of having Nazi roots. A recent study confirmed that 13 members of the first council of the Federation had a Nazi past.
The Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that during BdV meetings in 2003, publications using hate-language to describe Poles butchering Germans were available for sale, as were recordings of Waffen SS marches on compact discs, including those glorifying the Invasion of Poland. Also, far right groups openly distributed their materials at BdV meetings. While the BdV officially denied responsibility for this, no steps were taken to address the concerns raised.
In February 2009, the Polish newspaper Polska wrote that over one third of the Federation top officials were former Nazi activists, and based this on an article published by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2006. The German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that Der Spiegel said this not in respect to the Federation of Expellees, but in respect to a predecessor organization that was dissolved in 1957.