Historical Eastern Germany

From Academic Kids

Historic Eastern Germany or Ex-German Eastern Territories are the historical Eastern German provinces or regions which had large settled German communities east of the Oder and Neisse rivers before World War II and had been part of an united Germany nation for several generations. It is not about the region in Germany of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) which in the English speaking world was often called "East Germany".


Before World War II there were large settled German communities east of the Oder-Neisse rivers, which were included as part of the first modern politically unified Germany, created in 1871. From that time until the end of World War II in 1945, anywhere in Germany east of Berlin was described as east Germany. Before unification they would not normally have been referred to collectively but instead by the names of the principalities or Hanseatic port names.

The former territories to the east of the Oder-Neisse rivers included East Brandenburg, Silesia, East Prussia, West Prussia, Pomerania, and, until the end of World War I, Posen.

At the end of World War II, the lands east of the Oder-Neisse rivers were removed from German jurisdiction and placed into the jurisdiction of other countries. Much of the German-speaking population that had not already been evacuated by German authorities or fled from the advancing Red Army in the winter of 1944-1945 was expelled, without compensation, from these areas when the borders were moved. According to the Federation of Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen in German), 15 million Germans were displaced from their homes and over 2 million people were killed or died during the process. These numbers, however, are disputed.

Since 1945, referring to lands over which there was a transfer of jurisdiction as "east Germany" has had political connotations, which means that any article which discusses this issue is likely to be contentious. The contention has been somewhat dissipated over the last twenty years by three related phenomena:

  • The passage of time means that there are fewer and fewer people alive who have firsthand experience of these regions under German jurisdiction.
  • Until the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, the official German government position on the status of areas vacated by settled German communities east of the Oder-Neisse rivers was that the areas were "temporarily under Polish [or Soviet] administration." To facilitate wide international acceptance of German re-unification in 1990, the German political establishment recognised the "facts on the ground" and accepted clauses in the Treaty on the Final Settlement whereby Germany renounced all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse line. This allowed the treaty to be negotiated quickly and for German unification to go ahead quickly, which was seen as a priority by most of the German political establishment of the time.
  • The eastern expansion of the European Union (EU) means that, within a few years, any German who wishes to live east of the Oder-Neisse rivers inside the EU will have the legal right to do so, although they will have to pay market prices to rent or purchase property.

The problem with the status of settled German communities east of the Oder-Neisse rivers was that in 1945 the concluding document of the Potsdam Conference was not a legally binding treaty, but a memorandum. It regulated the issue of the eastern German border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final regulations concerning Germany were subject to a separate peace treaty. This treaty was signed in 1990, with the "Treaty on the Final Settlement". This meant that for 45 years, people on both sides of the border (and the issue) could not be sure that the settlement reached in 1945 would not be changed at some future date.

In the course of the German reunification process, Chancellor Kohl accepted the perpetual loss of the territories where Polish and Russian people now lived and who had no reason for leaving. This caused some outrage (and possibly cost some votes), especially among the Expellees who had hoped to get the land back. Many Poles were concerned about a possible revival of their 1939 trauma through a second German invasion, this time with the Germans buying all their land, which was cheaply available at the time. This happened on a smaller scale than many expected, and since the Baltic Sea coast in Poland has become popular with German tourists, Germans are now often welcome guests. The so-called "homesickness-tourism" which was often perceived as quite aggressive well into the 1990s has now the tendency to be viewed as a good-natured nostalgia tour rather than a source of anger and desire for reconquest of the lost territories.


The news media in the non-German speaking world have continued to use the term "(former) East Germany" to describe the five states that make up the old GDR region of the reunited Germany. They have done this because of the need to have a short label which their viewers and readers understand when describing the economic and social problem which have beset the region since 1990.

Many Germans, often from families expelled from historical eastern Germany, use the term "eastern Germany" or "east Germany" to refer the area east of Berlin which had large settled German-speaking communities before World War II including those east of the Oder-Neisse rivers. The same people refer to the area from Berlin to the Elbe river, or possibly slightly further west, as "middle Germany" (Mitteldeutschland). Some governmental institutions in Germany, like the state of Saxony, still use the term middle Germany when referring to their territory. This can cause confusion when translated into English because, in English since 1945, "East Germany" has referred exclusively the area of Germany of the former GDR and the 5 states which make up the same region today.

See also


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