The “European Boundaries” of the East Prussian Expellees in West Germany, 1948-1955

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Abstract. During the final year of the Second World War, and in its immediate aftermath, around two million people fled or were expelled from Germany’s then easternmost province, East Prussia. In 1945, East Prussia was divided between Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. Especially in the Russian area, the newly-formed Oblast Kaliningrad, the German population continued to suffer long after the war had ended, which — as a result of traditional notions of anti-Slavism that were fully exploited during the Nazi era — these people mainly traced back to the new Russian administration. This paper explores how the East Prussians’ perceptions of ‘the East’ — its people, its culture — came to permeate the West-German political debate during the first post-war decade. It argues that their perceptions of Europe’s eastern boundaries were thrusted onto the main political stage by the newly-emerging west-German state under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, even though the National Socialist foundations of these views were recognised early on. In West-Germany’s search for Western allies, East Prussians’ crude victim narrative (and that of those from other former eastern-German provinces) offered an opportunity. By giving a platform to the East Prussian expellee community and addressing the sentiments of their lost Heimat, West-German politicians could present themselves as guarantors of ‘European’ values, as such distancing itself from the Slavic East. In doing so, various forms of (national) identity construction occurred that resulted in a greater West-German collective identity as evidenced by East Prussian news-outlets.

Keywords: East Prussia, the “other”, post-war, West-Germany, boundaries, expellees, anti- Slavism, National Socialism, lost Heimat.

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