Ethnic Cleansing 1945 - 1948

Monday, March 22, 2010 7:30 pm - 7:30 pm EDT

Poster: Ethnic Cleansing 1945 - 1948 Poster (PDF)

Alfred de Zayas (Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations)

Discussants: Dieter Buse (Laurentian University) and Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach (University of Waterloo)

Pursuant to the 1945 Nürnberg indictment and 1946 judgment the forced deportation of civilians for purposes of demographic manipulation and/or forced labour constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Several Nazi officials were found guilty of having perpetrated these crimes. At the same time as the Nuremberg Trials were conducted, more than 14 million Germans were expelled from their homes in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, East Brandenburg - territories that were part of the defeated German Reich, from Bohemia and Moravia, from Hungary and Yugoslavia. Nearly two million ethnic Germans were deported to forced labour in the Soviet Union as "reparations in kind". The Statistisches Bundesamt in Wiesbaden and subsequent scientific demographers have estimated that more than two million ethnic Germans perished as a result of their expulsion, either as victims of lethal violence or as a consequence of exposure, hunger and disease. In his 1946 book entitled "Our Threatened Values" Victor Gollancz appealed to a general sense of justice and morality: "If the conscience of mankind ever again becomes sensitive, these expulsions will be remembered to the undying shame of all who committed or connived at them ... The Germans were expelled, not just with an absence of over-nice consideration, but with the very maximum of brutality." Alas, the expulsion of the Germans was given scant press coverage and was seldom discussed or even mentioned in history books. The first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso, in a statement to the German expellees assembled at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt am Main on 28 May 1995 stated: "I submit that if in the years following the Second World War the States had reflected more on the implications of the enforced flight and the expulsion of the Germans, today's demographic catastrophes, particularly those referred to as 'ethnic cleansing', would, perhaps, not have occurred to the same extent." Unfortunately there were no "lessons learned" from the expulsion of the Germans. In 1992 the UN General Assembly called the policy of Ethnic Cleansing in the former Yugoslavia "a form of genocide". The ICJ and the ICTY similarly found that the massacre of Srebranica constituted genocide. How many massacres of ethnic Germans 1945-48 reached the threshold of genocide or crimes against humanity? Several professors of public international law have raised this issue and insisted that International Law and human rights law cannot be applied à la carte. The UN General Assembly has affirmed the right to truth. The German expellees and their descendants have at least this right.

Alfred de Zayas is author of the books Nemesis at Potsdam and A Terrible Revenge. These books will be available for purchase after the lecture. For reviews see:

Alfred de Zayas is a retired senior lawyer with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a retired Secretary of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He was the Gordon McKay Brown Chair in International Law at the University of British Columbia in 2003. He has published books on the expulsion of Germans after World War II, has written a handbook on the case-law of the Human Rights Committee, and is a published poet and translator of poetry.

Dieter Buse is Professor emiritus of History. Among his books are The Regions of Germany and Our Grandfather’s Axe: From Krumbeck to Canada by way of Poland and Russia, 1756-1961. He was also the co-editor of  Modern Germany: An Encyclopedia of History, People and Culture, 1871-1990.

Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach teaches history at the University of Waterloo and is a member of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies. He is the author of Niederschlesien 1942-1949. Alliierte Diplomatie und Nachkriegswirklichkeit.