Expellees push museum plan despite opposition
8 August 2005, BERLIN - Germans who remember their expulsion from eastern Europe after the Second World War held firm Saturday to their plans for a museum in Berlin to document such experiences, although Germany's interior minister warned them against it.
8 August 2005
BERLIN - Germans who remember their expulsion from eastern Europe after the Second World War held firm Saturday to their plans for a museum in Berlin to document such experiences, although Germany's interior minister warned them against it.
There has been fierce criticism in Poland and the Czech Republic of the proposed 'Centre Against Expulsions' amid fears that it will be revisionist, although promoters say it will study all of Europe's ethnic conflicts.
At the Berlin congress of the Expellees Federation (BdV), Minister Otto Schily rejected an "isolated German creation". He said the plan for a memorial was "in principle worthy of support" but only if it was carried out as a European project, not a German one.
But Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and keynote speaker Jose Ayala Lasso, who is U.N. high commissioner for human rights, expressly supported the project.
Merkel also called for a national memorial day to be instituted in Germany to remember the victims of expulsion.
BdV Chairwoman Erika Steinbach told delegates she was sticking to her plan to build the centre in Berlin and document in it the fates of more than 15 million ethnic Germans forced out of eastern Europe as well as expulsions of other peoples in modern history.
"All victims of genocide and expulsion demand a place in historical memory," said Steinbach, who is a federal member of parliament for the CDU. Such a place ought to be provided "here in the German capital".
Eastern Europeans have discounted as unconvincing the German movement's bid to reposition itself as an opponent of all ethnic expulsions. The congress this year in Berlin has the motto, "Condemn Expulsions Worldwide".
The expellee movement in turn has viewed with profound suspicion a multi-ethnic 'European Network for Remembrance and Solidarity' jointly established by Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to conduct neutral historical research on expulsions.
Interior Minister Schily praised the Warsaw-based network, saying a European memorial was the only way to avoid feuding.
The fierceness of opposition in Poland and the Czech Republic to the expellee plans may have surprised some.
"But we cannot just ignore it, even when it is sometimes polemically exaggerated," he told the expellee gathering.
There were whistles and jeers when Schily said he welcomed another proposal by former Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek to set up a "centre of reconciliation" in the Polish city of Wroclaw.
Addressing the expellees' continued resentment at losing land and possessions in eastern Europe six decades ago, Schily said their confiscation without compensation had been illegal.
"Expulsion cannot be justified by the crimes of a regime of terror," he said in reference to the view that the deportations were a punishment on the Germans for starting the Second World War.
He said history could not however be undone. Germany had renounced its claims to the former ethnic German areas and its government would not raise compensation claims "either today or in the future".
Both Merkel and Schily condemned plans by a radical expellee group, the Preussische Treuhand (Prussian Trust), to pursue claims in European courts.
Merkel also told the congress she supported continued resettlement in Germany of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia and would not terminate their rights of entry.
Before the meeting began, Steinbach called for federal funding for the expellees' Berlin Centre.
She told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that if the Christian Democrats really wanted the centre, then they must fund it if they win power at next month's general election as widely expected.
She criticized the European Network for Remembrance, saying it represented only four nations and failed to represent Baltic states and the states of the former Yugoslavia.
Subject: German news