August 5, 2021

Germany opens a little-known chapter in its history

BERLIN LETTER

Over seventy years. This is the time it took for the history of some twelve million Germans driven out of eastern Europe between 1944 and 1948 to have its museum in the heart of Berlin.

Called “Documentation Center – Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation”, this 6,000 square meter space near Potsdamer Platz, which welcomed its first visitors on Wednesday 23 June, does not only tell a little-known chapter in the history of the 20th century.e century. The controversies that accompanied its chaotic genesis also testify to the ambivalent place occupied by these millions of expelled in the memory of the Second World War.

President contested

The idea of ​​creating such a museum dates back to 1999. We owe it to Erika Steinbach, then Christian Democrat MP (CDU) and president of the Federation of Expelled (BdV), created in 1958 to defend the memory and interests of the Germans having had to leave their homes located in the eastern territories of the Reich, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Balkans at the end of the war.

From the start, the project was controversial. Known for having opposed, after the reunification of 1990, the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as the final border between Germany and Poland, the elected conservative is accused of wanting to overshadow the responsibility of the ‘Germany in the crimes of the Second World War by highlighting the suffering of its nationals expelled from Central and Eastern Europe during the defeat of the IIIe Reich.

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Despite the presence at his side of Peter Klotz, former Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and himself from the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938, Erika Steinbach did not obtain the support of the Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), who does not want such a place of remembrance in Berlin.

The rest of her career will convince her detractors of the time that they were right to be wary: after vigorously opposing Angela Merkel’s welcome policy during the 2015 refugee crisis, the MP ended up by quit the CDU and the Bundestag in 2017. Since then, she has chaired the Desiderius-Erasmus Foundation, close to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The election of Angela Merkel at the end of 2005 changed the situation. A few months after the inauguration of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the new Chancellor said she was in favor of a “Visible sign” be found in Berlin to recall the fate of the displaced populations at the end of the war. However, it ensures that this task does not fall exclusively on the Federation of Expellees and its disputed president.

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