R. Gerald Hughes Unfinished Business from Potsdam: Britain, West Germany, and the Oder-Neisse Line, 1945-1962



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The expellee power base was increasingly to be found on the Right. For a time their own party, the BHE, was represented in the Bundestag. The British control commission for Germany noted in 1950 that:

The dangers which [the BHE] brings with it are also obvious from its composition. As a body, the refuges naturally feel the lack of social equality, a sense of being uprooted, and nostalgia for their home lands – hence a certain tendency to accept opportunistic compromises and to fly to extremes, especially to that of conservative nationalism. Besides the possibility that this party may increase its representation, the fact also has to be borne in mind that, given a fairly equal distribution of power, it might come to tip the scales between the SPD and [the CDU].77

The BHE, having won 27 seats in the federal election of 1953, joined Adenauer’s coalition. That it failed to win seats in 1957 by failing to win more than 5% of the vote was not evidence for the loss of the expellees’ interest in the Oder-Neisse territories, but of their turn to the major political parties.78 The CDU/ CSU attracted their votes owing to their satisfaction with Adenauer’s eastern policy.79 Although the expellees gradually lost the desire to return home, opposition to the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line barely diminished between 1953 and 1957. Not until the 1960s could any West German government risk recognizing the line, as Table I shows.

FRG population response to the question 'Do you believe we should reconcile ourselves to the present Polish frontier - the Oder-Neisse line - or not?' (1951 to 1969).80

1951

1956

1962

1964

1967

1969

Yes %

8

9

26

22

47

51

No %

80

73

50

59

34

32

No opinion %

12

18

24

19

19

17


TJO the table prints properly in New York twelve point
The decline between 1951 and 1956 in the numbers opposed to recognition of the Oder-Neisse line is reflected in the results of the federal elections of 1953 and 1957. Thus, in 1953, the BHE scraped into the Bundestag with 5.9% of the vote: it failed in 1957, winning only 4.6% of the vote.81 After 1957, the expellees enjoyed the patronage of the federal government, which provoked Poland and Czechoslovakia to protest repeatedly to Britain.82 The expellees’ political assimilation was not trouble free. Oberländer was forced to resign from Adenauer’s administration in May 1960 when his Nazi past and his activities in wartime Lvov came to light. Unfettered by office, he was able to state unequivocally that there could be no détente with the East:

There is no coexistence between the free and the unfree world. Khrushchev described it himself as international class struggle. Some in the West, and in particular part of the rootless intelligentsia, believed in the possibility of leftist coexistence. It is one of the most dangerous utopian ideas of our time that the East-West conflict can be solved by an approximation and later a merging of both blocs and systems.83

Similarly, the first minister for All-German Affairs, the expellee leader Jakob Kaiser, declared in a speech at the Deutsche Heimat in Osten Exposition in November 1950: ‘The Potsdam solution is not a German, not a Polish, not even a Russian solution; it is a Bolshevik solution. What we need is a European solution.’84 Ruling out dialogue with the Communist bloc precluded agreement on the status of the Oder-Neisse line. The overlapping functions of prominent West German politicians, for example the expellee leader and CDU transport minister Hans-Christoph Seebohm (who ‘year in, year out’ made ‘inflammatory speeches about Germany’s lost provinces’85), allowed the Soviets to arouse fear among East Europeans and suspicion among the Western allies.86

When advantageous, the West German state utilised the language of the Potsdam agreement for its own ends. Article IX (b) implied that the territorial settlement was only provisional as the Polish frontier was set ‘pending a final peace settlement’. Article XIII, which dealt with the expulsions, ‘recognise[d] that the transfer … of German[s] … will have to be undertaken … although these transfers ‘should be effected in an orderly and humane manner.’87 The brutal nature of the expulsions meant that German expellee leaders claimed that these expulsions had contravened the Atlantic Charter of August 1941. The West German government backed the expellees’ demand to be allowed to return to their former homes in areas both east of the Oder-Neisse line and outside the boundaries set by the treaty of Versailles. Von Brentano stated that ‘this right to their native soil is an expression of the right of self-determination of the free nations. We wish to recognize this right of self-determination for others, and shall always claim it passionately for ourselves.’88 This concept, termed Recht auf Heimat (‘Right to the Homeland’) by the West Germans, although bound to be resisted by East Europeans as Drang nach Osten by stealth, was seen as fundamental by policy makers in Bonn. Von Brentano stated in 1956:

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