At the age of five, Georg Kleine, along with his mother and siblings, was among the Germans forced to leave their homeland.
Kleine, associate dean of the Honors College, is a survivor of the ethnic cleansing of the East Germans, which took place after World War II. In the Marshall Center on Tuesday, Kleine shared his experience of the forced expulsion of the Germans in 1945, a part of history that few have heard of because not many writings about it exist.
The lecture “Ethnic Cleansing of the Germans: From Perpetrators to Victims” was organized by international studies students Marco Mizrahi and Leatitia Foiret in order to share with USF a piece of history they say few people know about.
“I have been here (USF) for some 36 years now, and this is the first time that there was ever an opportunity to speak about this topic,” Kleine said. “I find it particularly moving and significant that two students from Israel would put on this lecture tonight.”
Mizrahi said in the years after World War II, 12 million Germans living in Eastern Europe and the Balkan States were expelled from their homes and moved west by the Red Army and the Polish people. They were moved from their homelands, which they inhabited for 700 years.
Kleine, said he was fortunate because he lived to tell his story. However, that does not mean that his life and the lives of his family were not affected by this forced expulsion from his home.
Kleine said their expulsion was part of Stalin’s punishment of Germany after the war and was caused by the need for the Poles to have a place to live.
Kleine said his mother was affected mentally because for two years after their expulsion, she did not know the whereabouts of his father, a district officer of his hometown who had been taken captive by the Red Army.
“She basically came away with a mental condition that made her unfit to be a mother for the rest of her lifetime,” Kleine said.
For three years, the Red Army held his father captive in Siberia. His mother, due to her mental distress and inability to take care of her children, put Kleine and his siblings in an orphanage where they remained until their father was released.
Foiret said the East Germans were brutally mistreated and many died from exhaustion, starvation and physical abuse. She said many women were raped, while others suffered from the deliberate killings of their unborn babies.
“The Americans and the British knew full well at the Potsdam conference that this form of ethnic cleansing was going on at this very moment,” Kleine said. “They made some reference to the fact that the expulsion of the Germans should be undertaken under humane conditions.”
Mizrahi said from 1939 to 1950, 3.1 million East German were killed. About 2.2 million were killed by the expulsions, while the remaining million were killed by the Nazi regime during Hitler’s reign of power and conquering of the ethnic Germans’ territories.
Earl Conteh-Morgan, an international studies professor, said the ethnic cleansing of the Germans is attributed to pragmatic and retaliatory genocide.
“Genocide is the most heinous of all the different aspects of collective political violence because there are no rules in genocide,” Conteh-Morgan said.