Federation of Expellees

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The Bund der Vertriebenen (BdV) (German for "Federation of Expellees") is a non-profit organization formed to represent the interests of Germans displaced from their homes in Historical Eastern Germany and other parts of Eastern Europe by the expulsion of Germans after World War II. ("Heimatvertriebene": "Homeland expellees").

It represents the diaspora of, today, approximately 15 million German citizens with roots in Eastern Europe, particularly in those regions of Historical Eastern Germany that after World War II were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union, but also the ethnic Germans who were transferred from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and other countries. The federation is currently headed by the CDU politician Erika Steinbach.


German laws concerning the Expellees

Between 1953 and 1991 the West German government passed several laws dealing with expelled civilians. Most notable of these laws is the "Law of Return" which granted West German citizenship to any ethnic German. Several additions were made to these laws.

The centerpiece of the ethnic German expellee law is the inheritability of the refugee status. According to Bundesvertriebenengesetz [1] (http://bundesrecht.juris.de/bundesrecht/bvfg/index.html) Par. 7/2, "the spouse and the descendants" of an expellee are to be treated as if they were expellees themselves, regardless whether they have been personally displaced. Although there never were refugee camps set up in Germany, this legal status is only paralleled by the situation of Palestinian refugees in UNRWA camps.

The Federation of Expellees has however steadily lobbied to preserve the inheritability clause, as a change might deeply effect its ability to recruit from the post-WWII generations. Expellee status also includes Germans who had only gone to their new homeland with the military occupation.

Recent developments

Under previous governments, especially those led by the CDU, the West German government had shown more rhetorical support for the refugeed and expelled Germans. Social Democratic governments have traditionally been less supportive — and it was under Willy Brandt that West Germany recognized the Oder-Neisse line as part of his Ostpolitik.

In the early 1990s the German political establishment realised that they had an opportunity to remove the division between West Germany and East Germany. However it was believed that if this historic opportunity was to be realised it had to be done quickly. One of the potential complications were the lands of historical eastern Germany, because unless these were renounced some foreign powers might not agree to German unification. The German political establishment agreed to the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany (Two Plus Four Agreement) which officially reestablished the sovereignity of both German states, one condition of which, was that Germany accept the post World War II frontiers. In 1991 to facilitate German re-unification and to reassure other countries, the FRG made some changes to the "basic law" (German constitution). Article 146 was amended so that Article 23 of the current constitution could be used for reunification. Then once the five "reestablished federal states" in East Germany had joined, the Basic Law was amended again to indicate that there were no other parts of Germany, which existed outside of the unified territory, that had not acceded.

Support for the aims of the Federation of Expellees within the German electorate remains low, and when in charge of government, both CDU and SPD have tended to favor improved relations with Central and Eastern Europe even when this conflicts with the interests of the displaced. The issue of the Eastern border of Germany, and of return of the Heimatvertriebene to their ancestral homes is an issue which the current German government, German constitutional arrangements, and German treaty obligations have closed.

However, with the enlargement of the European Union, the organisations of expellees have gained new hopes of recognition of private German property rights in the former German territories in present-day of Poland and the Czech Republic. They have insisted that Poland and the Czech Republic must respect human rights and also compensate German victims before being allowed to become members of the European Union. Also the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in 2002 in the European Parliament that the Czech Republic and Slovakia should repeal the Benes decrees before being allowed into the European Union. The claim was supported by the Bavarian government and Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, as well as the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. In 2003, Liechtenstein refused to sign the enlargement of the Common European Economic Space, because the Czech Republic did not withdraw the Benes decrees and compensate the royal family of Liectenstein for their property in Bohemia, which was confiscated after the war. None of these efforts led to any significant result. In 2004 the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia became members of the European Union and European institutions generally choose future-oriented approach.

Claims were unanimously rejected by the affected countries and became a source of mistrust between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republics. While Expellees recall their property and speak of human rights, Poles remind that they were never compensated for alleged damages caused by German government during World War II. They further argue that the Polish government didn't enact the German expulsion and border shift, but it was instead ordered by the Potsdam conference. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the majority of the current Polish population in historical eastern Germany are expellees (or descendants of expellees) themselves'. They were moved from territories annexed by the USSR and left their homes and property behind. However, if German expellees have only a tiny chance of regaining their property, Polish ones have no such prospect whatsoever.

The Federation of Expellees have also, in 2000, initiated the formation of the Center Against Forced Migration (Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen),. The representatives of the center are Erika Steinbach and Prof. Dr. Peter Glotz.

Recently, the federation sued the German journalist Gabriele Lesser for alleged defamations. The questioned article was published September 19, 2003, in the daily Kieler Nachrichten.


The expellees are organized in 21 regional associations (Landsmannschaften) according to the areas of origin of its members, 16 state organizations (Landesverbände) according to their current residence, and 5 associate member organizations. It is the single representative federation for the approximately 15 million Germans which after fleeing, being expelled, evacuated or emigrated, found refuge in the Federal Republic of Germany. The organizations have approximately 2 million members, and is a political force of some influence in Germany.

The current president of the federation is the German politician Erika Steinbach (CDU), who also is a member of the German parliament.

The Federation helps members to integrate into German society. Many of the members assist the societies of their place of birth.

Charter of the Ethnic German Expellees

The Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen (Charter of the Ethnic German Expellees) of August 5, 1950 announced their belief in requiring that "the right to the homeland is recognized and carried out as one of the fundamental rights of mankind given by God", while renouncing revenge and retaliation in the face of the "infinite wrong" ("unendliche Leid") of the previous decade, and supporting the unified effort to rebuild Germany and Europe.


Member organizations



  • Landesverband Baden-Württemberg
  • Landesverband Bayern
  • Landesverband Berlin
  • Landesverband Brandenburg
  • Landesverband Bremen
  • Landesverband Hamburg
  • Landesverband Hessen
  • Landesverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
  • Landesverband Niedersachsen
  • Landesverband Nordrhein-Westfalen
  • Landesverband Rheinland-Pfalz
  • Landesverband Saar
  • Landesverband Sachsen / Schlesische Lausitz
  • Landesverband Sachsen-Anhalt
  • Landesverband Schleswig-Holstein
  • Landesverband Thüringen

See also

Further reading

  • Casualty of War: A Childhood Remembered (Eastern European Studies, 18) Luisa Lang Owen and Charles M. Barber, Texas A&M University Press (http://www.tamu.edu/upress/), January, 2003, hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 1585442127

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