On the train to Berlin she was pillaged once by Russian troops and twice by Poles…Women who resisted were shot dead, she said, and on one occasion she saw a guard take an infant by the legs and crush its skull against a post because the child cried while the guard was raping its mother… Infants were robbed of their swaddling clothes so that they froze to death.
Continuing from: The Early “Wild” Expulsions. One of the great tragedies of the 20th century was the forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from their homes after the end of World War II. The Allies carried out the largest forced population transfer—and perhaps the greatest single movement of people—in human history. A minimum of 12 million and possibly as many as 18.1 million Germans were driven from their homes because of their ethnic background. Probably 2.1 million or more of these German expellees, mostly women and children, died in what was supposed to be an “orderly and humane” expulsion.
The period of the “wild expulsions” had involved massive state-sponsored programs of violence, resulting in a death toll of many hundreds of thousands of Germans. Yet it was an episode that escaped the notice of many Europeans and virtually all Americans. Now the Allies would attempt to administer the expulsions in the orderly and humane manner specified by the Potsdam Agreement. However, the so-called organized expulsions turned out to be no more orderly and humane than the “wild expulsions” had been.
The Organized German Expulsions
International public opinion was generally relieved by the announcement at Potsdam that the Allies were proposing to assume control of the expulsion process. However, many people were taken aback by the number of Germans proposed to be transferred in such a short period of time.
A New York Times editorial noted that the number of Germans who were to be removed from their homes in seven months was
“roughly equal to the number of immigrants arriving in the United States during the last forty years.”
Transfers of this nature had never been attempted in human history.
Negotiations to determine when, how many, and to which destinations expellees would be removed were conducted between representatives of the Polish and Czechoslovak governments and the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. A final agreement was approved on November 20, 1945, by the Allied Control Council (ACC), the occupying countries’ temporary governing body for Germany. The so-called ACC agreement, a skeletal accord less than two pages in length, specified the approximate timing of the expulsions and the number of expellees to be sent to each zone of occupation. The ACC agreement did not create any international machinery for carrying out the transfers or for supervising their execution. In truth, the ACC agreement was an almost meaningless document.
A serious attempt to come to grips with the expulsion problem would be expected to include the appointment of an executive body to conduct and oversee the operation; a description of the means to be used; and the assignment of responsibility for making the necessary preparations for assembly, embarkation, reception, and assimilation of the German expellees. The ACC agreement contained none of these provisions. The primary purpose of the ACC agreement was to reassure an increasingly anxious public that the Allies were finally addressing the expulsion problem, and to deflect further public and media criticism. In this regard, the ACC agreement prevented Robert Murphy from generating an official U.S. protest over the means by which the Poles in particular had been clearing the Recovered Territories of their German population.
The ACC did set up an agency called the Combined Repatriation Executive (CRX) on October 1, 1945. The CRX was designed to impose order on the expulsion process, and it became the closest thing to an international apparatus to cope with the enormous transport challenges the expulsions would involve. The CRX ran into problems when it attempted to determine the start dates for the organized expulsions and the minimum welfare standards to be maintained throughout the operation. The interests of the expelling and receiving countries diverged in both respects, with the expelling countries desiring to both begin the expulsions as soon as possible and retain as much German expellee property as possible.
The organized expulsions rapidly degenerated into a race against time. The expelling governments sought to rid themselves of as many unwanted Germans as possible before the receiving countries called a halt to further transfers. Given the minimal resources dedicated to the expulsion operations, the breakneck pace at which they were conducted, and the expelling countries’ ambivalence over whether the efficient removal of the expellees should take precedence over their collective punishment, it could hardly have been expected that the expulsion process would be “orderly and humane.”
Numerous journalists, military, and government leaders continued to report problems with the expulsion process. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower telegraphed Washington, D.C. on October 18, 1945, to warn of the dangers of the German expulsions:
In Silesia, Polish administration and methods are causing a mass exodus westward of German inhabitants. Germans are being ordered out of their homes and to evacuate New Poland. Many unable to move are placed in camps on meager rations and under poor sanitary conditions. Death and disease rate in camps extremely high.…Methods used by Poles definitely do not conform to Potsdam agreement….Breslau death rate increased tenfold and death rate reported to be 75% of all births. Typhoid, typhus, dysentery, and diphtheria are spreading.
Total number potentially involved in westward movement to Russian zone of Germany from Poland and Czechoslovakia in range of 10 million…No coordinated measures yet taken to direct stream of refugees into specific regions or provide food and shelter…. [There exists] serious danger of epidemic of such great proportion as to menace all Europe, including our troops, and to probability of mass starvation [on an] unprecedented scale.
Eisenhower’s primary concern in sending this telegraph was probably the danger of epidemics in such great proportion as to menace all of Europe, including the Allied troops. Eisenhower had repeatedly stated that he hated the Germans and wanted to be extremely hard on them after the war.
Donald Mackenzie, a New York Daily News correspondent, reported from Berlin:
In the windswept courtyard of the Stettiner Bahnhof, a cohort of German refugees, part of 12,000,000 to 19,000,000 dispossessed in East Prussia and Silesia, sat in groups under a driving rain and told the story of their miserable pilgrimage, during which more than 25% died by the roadside and the remainder were so starved they scarcely had strength to walk.
Filthy, emaciated, and carrying their few remaining possessions wrapped in bits of cloth they shrank away crouching when one approached them in the railway terminal, expecting to be beaten or robbed or worse. That is what they have become accustomed to expect.
A nurse from Stettin, a young, good-looking blond, told how her father had been stabbed to death by Russian soldiers who, after raping her mother and sister, tried to break into her own room. She escaped and hid in a haystack with four other women for four days….
On the train to Berlin she was pillaged once by Russian troops and twice by Poles…Women who resisted were shot dead, she said, and on one occasion she saw a guard take an infant by the legs and crush its skull against a post because the child cried while the guard was raping its mother. An old peasant from Silesia said…victims were robbed of everything they had, even their shoes. Infants were robbed of their swaddling clothes so that they froze to death. All the healthy girls and women, even those 65 years of age were raped in the train and then robbed, the peasant said.
Robert Greer, a Canadian lieutenant, wrote of his visit to Berlin in late 1945:
…In driving about [Berlin] on Sunday morning, we came to the Stettiner Bahnhof. It’s a complete wreck of course, the great arched glassway broken and twisted. I went down to the ground level and looked. There were people. Sitting on bundles of clothes, crouched by handcarts and little wagons were people…they were all exhausted and starved and miserable. You’d see a child sitting on a roll of blankets, a girl of perhaps four or five, and her eyes would be only half open and her head would loll occasionally and her eyes blink slowly as though she were only half alive. Beside her, her mother apparently, a woman with her head on her outstretched arm in the most terrible picture of despair and exhaustion and collapse I’ve seen. You could see in the line of her body all the misery that was possible for her to feel…no home, no husband, no food, no place to go, no one to care, nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing but a piece of the floor of the Stettiner Bahnhof and a night of weary hunger. In another place, another woman, sitting with her head in her hands…my God, how often have I sat like that with my stomach sick within me and felt miserable and helpless and uncaring…yet always I had someone to help, or a bed to rest on and a meal to eat and a place to go. For her there was nothing. Even when you see it it’s impossible to believe. What can you do when you have nothing? Where can you go, what can you do, when you have no strength left and hunger is a sickness in your belly? God it was terrible.
Greer saw no men, only women and children. The people Greer described had survived the expulsions in their eastern homelands, where conditions were often even worse. They were wasted, half-dead people.
Anne O’Hare McCormick, special correspondent to the New York Times, reported from Germany on February 4, 1946:
“[I]t was also agreed at Potsdam that the forced migration should be carried out ‘in a humane and orderly manner.’ Actually, as everyone knows who has seen the awful sights at the reception centers in Berlin and Munich, the exodus takes place under nightmarish conditions, without any international supervision or any pretense of humane treatment. We share responsibility for horrors only comparable to Nazi cruelties….”
On December 8, 1945, Bertrand Russell, writing in the New Leader, protested the German expulsions again:
It was agreed at Potsdam that these expulsions should take place “in a humane and orderly manner,” but this provision has been flouted. At a moment’s notice, women and children are herded into trains, with only one suitcase each, and they are usually robbed on the way of its contents. The journey to Berlin takes many days, during which no food is provided. Many are dead when they reach Berlin; children who die on the way are thrown out of the window. A member of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit describes the Berlin station at which these trains arrive as “Belsen over again—carts taking the dead from the platform, etc.” A large proportion of those ejected from their homes are not put into trains, but are left to make their way westward on foot. Exact statistics of the numbers thus expelled are not available, since only the Russians could provide them. Ernest Bevin’s estimate is 9,000,000. According to a British office now in Berlin, populations are dying, and Berlin hospitals “make the sights of the concentration camps appear normal.”
In Czechoslovakia and Poland, foreign diplomats and media representatives were invited to witness the staged conditions of the initial organized expulsions. The Czechoslovak government was most successful in arranging a suitably reassuring spectacle for the observers. The foreign dignitaries who were present at the initial organized expulsion on January 25, 1946, marveled at the effort Czechoslovak authorities took to ensure the safe passage of the German expellees. A week’s ration of food was immediately issued to each expellee, with an additional three days’ supply of food held in reserve. All passengers were first medically examined by a medical doctor, and the train included a “Red Cross” compartment staffed by German nurses. The Czech commandant overseeing the proceedings confirmed that none of the expellees’ possessions had been confiscated, and those who arrived lacking adequate clothing were provided with what they needed by the Czechoslovaks themselves. A British journalist who witnessed another staged Czechoslovak transport found the scene
“more like the end of a village garden-party than part of a great transfer of population.”
The reality of the organized expulsions from Czechoslovakia was not nearly as favorable as the staged transports indicated. A very large number of German expellees were transported while suffering from infectious diseases contracted in the camps. The Red Army repeatedly complained that the trains from Czechoslovakia were consistently dispatched with insufficient food rations for the journey. The trains were often supplied with unusable, incompatible, or obsolete wagons, making it impossible to transport expellees’ baggage. Official reports spoke of systematic pillage of expellees by both military and civilian personnel, and local authorities continued unauthorized expulsions under the guise of “voluntary transfers.” Productive individuals were also held in Czechoslovakia in violation of the requirement that families not be separated. The number of able-bodied and skilled workers included in the expulsions was extremely low.
Poland was not nearly as successful in convincing foreign observers that her organized expulsions were orderly and humane. Expulsions from the Recovered Territories in Poland to the British zone of Germany had been given the designation of “Operation Swallow.” A correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, who met a transport from Poland on March 3, 1946, found that 250 of the expellees were so seriously ill as to require immediate hospitalization; two of the expellees were dead on arrival. The correspondent stated,
“In later transports the figures have been higher.”
A considerable portion of the expellees from Poland had eaten no food for up to a week. The women bore marks of systematic maltreatment over a long period, with the scars of physical and sexual abuse much in evidence. A British medical officer who examined the German expellees determined that
“most of the women had been violated, among them a girl of 10 and another of 16.”
Reports of systematic maltreatment of the German expellees from Poland began to flood in from Allied reception centers. Of 4,100 expellees on three Swallow trains, 524 were admitted directly to the hospital. The camp commandant reported that most of the women in these transports were multiple rape victims, as were some of the children.
A British army colonel who met a Polish expellee train in April 1946 reported that nearly all the passengers had been “severely ill-treated,” exhibiting
“deep scars in the skull bone, fingers crippled by ill-treatment, fractures of the ribs which were more or less healed, and partly large [sic] bloodshot spots on their backs and their legs. The latter was also seen with women.”
The British also reported that the Polish authorities consistently failed to provide rations for the expellees during their journey or for the day of their arrival in Germany, as their agreement with CRX obligated them to do.
After only two months of the Polish organized expulsions, the operation had become so chaotic that officials in the reception areas had begun to press for its immediate suspension. Officials in London noted the deplorable condition in which the expellees were arriving was an observable fact with which British authorities in the reception areas were struggling to cope. However, British representatives on CRX did not seek to restrict the intake of expellees to a level that could be accommodated, since such a policy would have prolonged the transfer operation into the indefinite future. Instead, CRX officials agreed to a Polish request at the end of April 1946 to increase the daily rate of transfers from 5,000 to 8,000. This decision eliminated the prospect of imposing a degree of control over the conditions under which the expulsions took place. The result was a perpetual crisis atmosphere, with increased suffering and higher mortality among the German expellees from the Recovered Territories.
The problem of overcrowding of the camps, the trains, and the reception areas was prevalent throughout Operation Swallow’s year-long existence. The expulsions from Poland hardly ever followed an orderly pattern. Soviet and Polish employers were often reluctant to part with their cheap or free German labor, and would often hide their German workers so that they would not be expelled according to plan. A more common problem was Germans who showed up at assembly camps ahead of schedule. Sometimes these Germans were forced to the camps by local Polish authorities or militia units who took matters into their own hands and cleared their districts of Germans. Other Germans, lacking ration cards or means of support, showed up at assembly camps as their only alternative to starvation. Just as often, though, Germans who had already resigned themselves to leaving Poland decided that the sooner they arrived in postwar Germany the better.
The assembly camps themselves were no safe haven for the German expellees. The British ambassador who visited an assembly camp at Szczecin in October 1946 stated,
“Since I have been promoted to Ambassador I have smelt many nasty smells, but nothing to equal the immense and over-powering stench of this camp.”
The ambassador advised the camp commandant that this assembly camp at Szczecin should be closed down, fumigated, and repaired.
The assembly camps became centers of hunger and disease, and the resulting mortality was on a significant scale. During the month of January 1947 alone, 52 inmates at the Gumieńce camp in Szczecin died “mainly through undernourishment but [in] one or two cases…also through frost-bite.” Ninety-five inmates died of disease in one month at the Dantesque facility at Świdwin, which lacked water, heat, bedding, intact roofs, and medical supplies. Nearly 3,500 cases of illness were reported in this camp during the same month.
 New York Times, Dec. 16, 1945.
 Douglas, R. M., Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 124-125.
 Ibid., pp. 125-127.
 Ibid., pp. 159-161.
 De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 2nd edition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 115.
 Bacque, James, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, 2nd edition, Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2007, pp. 25-26.
 Congressional Record, Dec. 4, 1945, p. 11554, and New York Daily News, Oct. 8, 1945.
 Bacque, James, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, 2nd edition, Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2007, pp. 94-95.
 Ibid., p. 95.
 New York Times, Monday, Feb. 4, 1946, “Abroad: As UNO Prepares to Settle in this Neighborhood.”
 De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977, p. 109.
 Douglas, R. M., Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 166-167.
 Ibid., pp. 188-189.
 Ibid., pp. 167-168.
 Ibid., pp. 168-169.
 Ibid., pp. 171, 174.
 Ibid., pp. 174-176.
 Ibid., pp. 178-179.
 Ibid., p. 179.