Journal Issue: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte

Contemporary Church History Quarterly 

Volume 18, Number 4 (December 2012)

Journal Issue: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Volume 25, no. 1 (2012) “Expellees and the Church–A New Debate?”

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

The latest issue of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History, Volume 25, number 1, 2012, in which all the articles except one are in German, is entitled “Expellees and the Church – a new Debate?” In fact, the material covered deals only with one area, the territory of the re-constituted post-war Poland, and only one short time period, namely 1945-1949. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin insisted that the frontiers of Poland, both east and west, should be redrawn a hundred miles or more to the west. This settlement gave to Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine large areas formerly Polish, while in the west the border was fixed at the Oder-Neisse rivers, so that in turn most of Silesia and Pomerania became part of the new Poland. The inhabitants were not consulted. In the east, many Polish residents faced compulsory Russification, or feared living under continuing Stalinist dictatorship, so were expelled more or less involuntarily to central or western Poland.  In the west, the German residents, approximately two million in all, were expelled, and sent westwards to German-held territory, then still under Allied military occupation. They were to be joined by another approximately two million Sudentenlanders from the Czech Republic, which was a deliberate if harsh move to prevent the possibility of a repetition of the 1938 disruptions. In all these cases, the victims sought the help of the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, to relieve their sufferings, or if possible to reverse the political decisions imposed on them. How the churches, both Polish and German, responded to these appeals is the subject of the two major contributions to this issue, one by Piotr Madajczyk on the Polish Catholic Church and the expellees from eastern Poland, and the other by Robert Zurek on the German Catholic bishops’ declarations about the compulsory expulsions of the Germans and the fateful changes in the German-Polish frontier.

The only contribution in English is by Ainslie Hepburn, of Brighton, Sussex, who provides a heart-warming description of the work for peace and reconciliation of a German-Jewish refugee, Herbert Sulzbach. He had fled to England in the 1930s but was later employed as an Interpreter Officer at a PoW camp in north England after 1945, where senior German officers were given a re-education course before they could be repatriated. His services would seem to have been wholly beneficial and much appreciated. But the argument would have been strengthened if the author had made some comparisons to similar re-education efforts, as, for instance, those at Norton Camp in Nottinghamshire, about which Jurgen Moltmann wrote so positively in his autobiography, A Broad Place.