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Germany

German Expellee Group Drops Controversial Museum Nominee

A German lobby group has bowed to pressure from Poland and withdrawn the nomination of a conservative as a board member of new museum that will show the plight of Germans forced out of eastern Europe after World War II.

The President of the Federation of Expellees from former German territories Erika Steinbach

Steinbach's nomination caused outrage in Poland and a diplomatic spat

Erika Steinbach, the woman in the middle of a stand-off between Germany and Poland, will not be nominated to the board of a new, taxpayer-funded museum, it was announced Wednesday, March 4.

Poland had protested at Steinbach's nomination to join a 13-member board to set up a Berlin museum depicting the ordeal of Germans expelled from eastern Europe after World War II.

The Federation of Expellees said it would not nominate Steinbach, who serves as the group's president and is a controversial figure due to her forceful promotion of the interests of millions of Germans expelled from eastern Europe after the war. The group said it did not want to be accused of jeopardizing the museum project, which Steinbach initiated.

"We want to resolve a blockade that wasn't caused by us," the group said in a statement. "For this reason, and this reason alone, the federation's executive committee has accepted its president's request not to nominate her to the committee (charged with overseeing the museum) for the time being."

Controversial figure seen as a daughter of aggressors

German women and children are forced from their homes at the end of the war

The issue of post-war expulsions has caused much controversy

Poles regard Steinbach as a divisive figure intent on awakening old antipathies, and charge that Steinbach's parents were aggressors because they moved to Gdansk, Poland, after the Nazi takeover.

On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the issue with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at a meeting in Hamburg.

The refugee museum is to occupy one floor of a Berlin office building, near the expellees' office. It includes a library and documentation center.

Steinbach is a federal parliamentarian for Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which enjoys broad support from former expellees and their descendants.

Expellee affair becomes an election issue

Steinbach's withdrawal will come as a relief to Merkel, who was under pressure from fellow conservatives to back Steinbach for the post and from Warsaw to drop her.

But Steinbach's withdrawal could still cause a backlash among some supporters of Merkel's conservatives who have grown annoyed at the chancellor's shift towards more leftist policies and compromises with her Social Democratic (SPD) coalition partners.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Angela Merkel in the Bundestag

Steinmeier has seized on the issue in his campiagn against Merkel's conservatives

Merkel faces a federal election in September. Her SPD challenger, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had seized on the museum row, urging her to make a quick decision.

The subject of the 12.5 million Germans expelled from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia after the Nazi defeat has strained relations between Germany and Poland ever since the war, in which 6 million Poles died.

After the war, Poland's borders were shifted west by international treaty and German communities were forced to leave homes in Poland, Hungary and what was then Czechoslovakia.

Some Poles fear the new museum project would portray the Germans as victims of the war, rather than aggressors.

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