Between the “Old” and the “New” Homeland. The Emotional Integration of Sudeten German Expellees After 1945
As a consequence of World War II, around 12 million Germans fled or were expelled from former German provinces and East-Central European states. Among this group, which was highly heterogeneous in terms of class, age, and cultural and religious background, were approximately 3 million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia. Despite their “cold” reception by local Germans, most of the so-called homeland expellees (Heimatvertriebene) were considered “well-integrated” into the socio-economic structures by the end of the 1960s in both West and East Germany. However, due to different political systems, expellees’ possibilities for collective self-representation in the two German states differed. What they had in common was a variety of emotions, ranging from grief at the loss of homeland and hatred for those responsible to homesickness and nostalgia, from a sense of injustice to pride in their origins and their socioeconomic achievements in the new context.
Based on archival documents, periodicals, and other media, ego-documents as well as oral history interviews with Sudeten Germans who lived in the former FRG and GDR, the project focuses on the feeling of ambivalence between the sense of belonging to the community of the old homeland on the one hand, and to the new society on the other. Emotion-theoretical and emotion-historical concepts such as affective belonging and emotional communities (Barbara Rosenwein) offer useful tools to explore this ambivalence. While differentiating between the historical emotions of expellees and their later accounts and memories, the research findings demonstrate how expellees’ individual and collective emotions changed over time. Moreover, they show that there were more similarities in the ways expellees in West and East Germany dealt with their emotions in the private sphere than has been presented by scholars to date.
This project builds on the research carried out as part of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft research initiative The Challenges of Migration, Integration and Exclusion and the international conference Representations of Migration and Emotions of Exclusion, held at the Center for the History of Emotions in March 2019. The follow-up volume Migrant Emotions: Inclusion and Exclusion in Transnational Spaces (co-edited with Sonia Cancian and Peter Leese) was accepted for publication by Liverpool University Press in 2022.