The Yalta Conference really did create more problems than the Big Three could have ever imagined (see previous post). In fact, we’re still picking up the pieces of a shattered Europe today. Politically, we may be uniting and drawing closer to each other but culturally and (especially) historically there are still many matters and events that divide the Old Continent.
History is the receptacle of all knowledge that comes to form a group identity. But what if that group wishes to change its identity? Then it changes its history or at least attempts to change history. Commentators, historians and sociologists are both concerned and fascinated with Erika Steinbach‘s fervent claims for a Centre for Expulsions to be built in Berlin commemorating the Germans who were removed from their homes and made to re-settle west of the Odra River.
Nobody claims that these people should not be remembered. The problem is that there is a peculiar lack of perspective, proportion and dignity in the whole affair. Steinbach, much to the annoyance of (literally) millions of Poles as well as many other nationalities in this region fails to see the fact that the Poles also suffered through forced evictions from their homes in the former Eastern Territories. In fact, many historians claim that the ‘eastern’ expulsions were more terrifying, brutal and often more bloody than the western ones (although this is besides the point). What is particular painful for Polish people is the fact that the Poles – not the Germans – were the primary victims of the war (as it was the German Army which invaded Poland and not the other way around).
Steinbach is set on re-writing history, or rather playing with historical relativism. Her argument is that these German expellees should also be remembered and she has spent many years playing the ‘poor German expellee’ card which of course has endeared her to many people. At the same time, her failure to commemorate the millions that suffered east of the Odra is indicative of her stance on the matter.
Historical relativism is the key term here. One cannot simply ‘leave out’ important chapters of history in order to discuss another. Officials have been imploring Steinbach to create a Centre for Expulsions that would commemorate all the peoples of Europe who were forced to leave their homes. There is a long history of expulsions and forced migrations in European history which includes mosts of the continent’s nations as well as the Jews of Ashkenaz. By focusing on the German ‘problem’ and German suffering Steinbach is conveniently avoiding the majority of Europe’s post-war expellees who were predominantly Polish.
Furthermore, the idea of building the centre in Berlin is more than just a little comical. Why not Wrocław or Gdańsk? In the context of history, the centre is a stark example of arrogant manipulation. In light of German-Polish relations, the centre is damaging. In the face of European unification and cooperation the centre is simply an abomination.