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EU Suddenly Opposes "Right of Return" By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 26, 2004

The "right of return" has been of interest in much of the world press in recent weeks, but this time - for a change - it is NOT the supposed "right" of Palestinians to return to Israel's lands. The newest debate over the right of return concerns that of ethnic Germans, at least 15 million of whom were expelled from their homelands at the end of World War II. These have suddenly become a matter of interest (see for example the Wall Street Journal's "War Echo: Ousted by Poland in 1945, Germans Want Homes Back," Aug 11, 04) for the simple reason that many of the countries who expelled German refugees after World War II have become or are becoming full members of the EU.  

There has arisen a wave of attempts by ethnic Germans expelled by these countries to use EU institutions to recover property or receive compensation, and in some cases possibly even to return to their former homes. Their chances of success are negligible. That is because the EU, led by Germany itself in this matter, is unalterably opposed to any "right or return" for ethnic Germans. Yes, the same EU insists that "Palestinian refugees" have an inalienable right to return to Israeli lands do not think ethnic German refugees have such a right.

Before World War II, there was a large Diaspora of ethnic Germans throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Many were from families who had migrated in as far back as the Middle Ages or even earlier. They lived in Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic countries, Hungary, and the Balkans. In some areas they had come in when the countries were absorbed into the Habsburg Empire or freed from Ottoman domination. They had entered as merchants, literate civil servants, shop owners, mercenaries, missionaries, or other things. Most were urbanized and constituted almost the only skilled non-agricultural craftsmen in the towns of underdeveloped countries. They often dominated the guilds. In one of history's many delicious ironies, German Christians often migrated to the towns and villages of Central and Eastern Europe alongside Germanized Jews and they often worked in the same trades.

The period between the two world wars saw the radicalization and Nazification of many of these Germans. The best-known story is that of the Sudeten Germans, who played a role in the annihilation of Czechoslovakia. When Hitler signaled them that the time was right, the Sudetens launched pogroms, terror atrocities, and armed uprisings against Czechoslovakia, all in the name of "self-determination," but in reality to provide an excuse for Nazi aggression. Pretending to be "oppressed" and "occupied" by democratic Czechoslovakia (sound familiar, Middle East fans?), their "plight" was the fig leaf for Fascist aggression by Germany. History would later largely replay the story, when the "Palestinians" would be Sudetenized, and their "plight" would become the cover for the aggression by Arab Fascist states against Israel.

Less well known are the similar tales of insurrection and sedition by the German minorities in the rest of Europe before World War II.  While not all ethnic Germans openly supported and aided Hitler, enough did. After the War, most ethnic Germans were expelled at bayonet point from the countries in which they had lived for generations, and the refugees were "repatriated" to West Germany (and in smaller measure to Austria).  Stalin expelled large numbers of Russia's Germans to Siberia and other points east.

Altogether, it is estimated that 15 million ethnic Germans were evicted from the non-German states of Central and Eastern Europe, about three quarters of these just coming from Czechoslovakia and Poland. (Ethnic Japanese were at the same time expelled from Manchuria and Korea, for essentially the same reasons.) The German refugees were absorbed and resettled by Germany, mainly by West Germany, and without a dime in aid from the UNRWA, the UN's refugee agency that has ladled out cash to Palestinians for decades. Like the Palestinians, these ethnic Germans had become refugees due to a war of aggression launched by their ethnic compatriots, a war in which they found themselves on the losing side. Unlike most Palestinian "refugees,” who became "refugees" by fleeing battle zones at the command of Arab militia chiefs in the Israeli War of Independence, these Germans became refugees because they were driven out by force by their host countries AFTER World War II had been ended. The Germans left behind large amounts of property, whereas almost all the Palestinian "refugees" had been impoverished sharecroppers for Arab Feudalist aristocrats, with little or any property left behind.

More important is the fact that Germany and Austria have renounced the rights of any of these ethnic German refugees to return to their previous homelands and even to receive any compensation from those countries in any form. To the contrary, Germany (but not Austria) has paid out reparations to the very same countries who evicted these German refugees. True, many of the ethnic German refugees were innocent bystanders, who had never been Nazis and had never abused anyone.

But the German government and the Eurocrats say: Tough. These German refugees were just a few more millions out of the untold millions of victims of Germany's own crimes, and they simply had to go on with their lives without handouts. Their "compensation" would consist of their resettlement in a free, democratic, and prosperous capitalist Germany. It was a Germany that passed its own Law of Return that allows all ethnic Germans to receive citizenship therein. The same Eurocrats and media pundits who denounce Israel as "racist" because it has a Law of Return granting automatic citizenship to Jews requesting it have never had any problem with the similar German "racist" law. Meanwhile, there has been intense resistance in Europe even to commemorating the plight of ethnic German refugees.

There is a lesson in all this for 2004. Those ethnic Germans actually had far more of a legitimate claim for compensation and recovery of property than any "Palestinian" claiming to be a "refugee" does.   Palestinians played exactly the same role as Sudeten Germans played, and calls for a Palestinian "right to self-determination" echo similar calls for the Sudeten Germans from the 1930s.  Both sets of calls are little more than a figleaf for fascist aggression against a democracy. 

Like the Tory Loyalists who fled the infant United States, the ethnic German refugees were never thought to be entitled to any compensation from the states they fled nor from which they were driven. Not only did they get no compensation from the countries evicting them (neither did the Tory Loyalist refugees expelled from the US), but Germany itself paid compensation to the countries expelling these ethnic Germans, countries that had fallen victims to Nazi aggression. The very same world leaders and media commentators who insist Israel must compensate "Palestinians" and allow them to "return" to Israeli lands, the lands of that same Israel that has been the victim of Arab aggression and Fascism for almost six decades, cannot understand why these "Palestinian refugees" should become as much of a non-issue as are the ethnic German refugees from the late 1940s.

So what is the real reason the Euroclowns have no interest in any "right of return" for ethnic Germans, but demand one for "Palestinians"?


Granting such a right to ethnic Germans would not result in the demise of Israel, so the Europeans have no interest in it.

Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.

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