Hitler's Transfers of Population in Eastern Europe

The children of Polish Jews arriving in London, 1939. Wikipedia Commons

Fresh from his conquest of Poland, Hitler on October 6, 1939, announced to the Reichstag that there would be "a new order of ethnographical conditions, that is to say, a resettlement of nationalities in such a manner that the process ultimately results in the obtaining of better dividing lines." A day later he signed a decree transferring to the Reich all Germans who are "threatened with de-Germanization," and he entrusted to Heinrich Himmler, chief of the Gestapo, the duty of carrying out the resettlement program as Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germandom. So well did Himmler work that by March 1941 all German settlers beyond the Reich's new northeastern border and beyond the Carpathian Mountains, which are considered to be the Reich's strategical southeastern frontier, had been transferred to Germany.

Was this transfer of Germans to the Reich really based on a plan for new ethnographical divisions? The program was a tacit part of the Italo-German Pact of May 22, 1939. Mussolini was eager to clear the provinces of Venezia Tridentina (Bolzano and Trento) of their German-speaking people. He had been unable to Italianize them in the course of 16 years, and the region's industrial capacity and position near the frontier of his new but dreaded ally meant that it was one of vital strategic importance to Italy. The program also figured tacitly in the Russo-German Pact of August 23, 1939. Stalin was glad to free his future border zone of a population which might be disloyal in case of war with Germany. Hitler had always assumed the rôle of "protector" over the German-speaking citizens of the smaller countries in Eastern Europe. As long as he hoped to acquire the territories on which they lived without having to wage a war against the Western Powers, he proclaimed the inseparability of blood and soil. But by April 1939, when he began to realize that Britain might really fight for Poland, he was ready to sacrifice the German outposts in Italy and in future Russian territory in order to gain Italian

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