1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Berlin Close to New "Center of Expulsion"

DW staff / AFP (nda)August 1, 2005

Controversial plans to build a memorial center in Berlin to the millions of people forced to move during and after World War II are well advanced, the head of a German expellee association said.

BdV's Erika Steinbach says plans for the new memorial are "advanced"Image: AP

"We are very advanced," the president of the German Expellees Federation (BdV), Erika Steinbach, said in an interview in the Monday edition of the Volkszeitung newspaper. The federation is on the point of acquiring a property in the German capital, she told the daily.

While the memorial center will not be near the Holocaust Memorial, opened in May in the heart of the capital, it "should be in a central location," she said.

At least 12 million Germans were displaced at the end of the war, either fleeing the advancing Soviet army, or later expelled from eastern European countries when the fighting stopped.

But the idea of building a "Center of Expulsion" in Berlin has angered Poland and the Czech Republic, who also had many of their citizens forcibly moved during and after the war.

The plans have been supported by Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), whose leader Angela Merkel is tipped by opinion polls to become chancellor in general elections in September. Steinbach herself is a CDU member of parliament.

CDU's Merkel in favor of memorial

Angela Merkel
Angela MerkelImage: AP

"The questions of (historical) responsibility have been completely resolved," Merkel said in an interview due to be broadcast Sunday on Germany's ARD television. "But I think with 12 million people concerned, it is important to show this aspect of history."

Germany's current Social Democrat and Greens coalition government has criticized plans to build a memorial in Berlin, and has supported efforts to launch a foundation linking Germany, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

Schröder said he believes the project -- which is supported by several prominent left-wing intellectuals in Germany -- would be better off housed in another central European country. The center, he believes, should be "Europeanized."

Schröder keen on alternative, European location

Bundestag Gerhard Schröder Jobgipfel
Gerhard SchröderImage: AP

Schröder has repeatedly asked the BdV to reconsider whether Berlin really is the right place for the memorial, saying that, by housing the center in Berlin, Germans would run the risk of being at the forefront of the expulsion debate and the historic reasons why millions were expelled from their homes during the 20th century could become blurred.

Although millions were expelled from their homelands during the last century as the continent's boundaries were re-drawn time and time again through war, it is the 15 million ethnic Germans who were expelled from former Nazi-occupied territories at the end of World War II who draw the most attention.

Supporters keen on German link in expulsion debate

Steinbach, however, argues that the German capital is the perfect home for the center while the association's vice president, Peter Glotz, has argued that it is now acceptable to rethink the traditional line on the expulsion of ethnic Germans following the war.

SPD-Politiker und Medienwissenschaftler Peter Glotz
Peter GlotzImage: AP

Glotz has said that while the forced exit of Germans from the Sudeten lands in the present-day Czech Republic clearly had its roots in the atrocities committed by Germany under Adolf Hitler, it is now becoming "acceptable" to also admit what happened to German expellees was unjust.

But the plans to house the center in Berlin have several critics other than Gerhard Schröder, including Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass, who himself grew up in Danzig, now in present day Poland, and the president of the German Parliament Wolfgang Thierse.

Neighboring countries fearful of Berlin home

Along with Polish and Czech intellectuals, who oppose giving the center a Berlin home, they say granting the BdV's wishes could re-ignite nationalist ideas in Germany.

According to them, a more European-focused center should be created. And various non-German cities including the formerly German Breslau, now Wroclaw in Poland, or the city of Görlitz-Zgorzelec on the German-Polish border have been suggested as possible sites.

There have also been calls from prominent Czech officials that the center should be built in the Czech Republic.