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Evacuation of East Prussia
The Evacuation of East Prussia refers to the events that took place in East Prussia, especially the evacuation of German population from that area as well as from other Prussian lands in 1944 and 1945. Some have claimed that it was a case of ethnic cleansing, or even genocide, and they use the term "Prussian Holocaust" to describe these events.
The evacuation started under the threat of Soviet invasion. Evacuation was performed both by sea and by land. Both routes were perilous. Land columns were often target of bomb raids, while sea have seen numerous sinking of refugee ships by Soviet and British navy, most notable being the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff by Alexander Marinesko.
Entering Soviet troops often treated German population brutally. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Lev Kopelev, during their Soviet military service, had objected to the brutal treatment of German civilians of East Prussia. Lev Kopelev wrote about the events in East Prussia in the autobiographic trilogy To Be Preserved Forever (Хранить вечно, Khranit Venchno).
The Soviet army initiated an offensive into East Prussia on October 1944, but after two weeks it was temporarily driven back. After that, the German Ministry of Propaganda reported that war crimes had taken place in East Prussian villages, in particular in Nemmersdorf (now Mayakovskoye, Kaliningrad) and Goldap. According to the German side, all the inhabitants of those villages were horrifically murdered.
This version of events was widely disseminated by German propaganda to increase the motivation of German soldiers in their efforts to stop the Red Army. However, the main result was eruption of panic amongst the German civilians. Fleeing from the advancing Soviet forces, the German refugees trudged in columns through snow at -25°C, while Soviet aircraft raided them. Possibly, more than 2 million people in the eastern provinces of Germany (East Prussia, West Prussia, Pomerania) died, many of frost and starvation, but many were killed by Soviet forces.
Since the times of Imperial Russia, Russians associated Prussia with militarism. In the Soviet Union 'Prussian militarism and reaction' was presented as the cause of the First World War. Allegedly, Soviet propaganda put the blame for the Second World War on "Prussian militarism" as well.
Since many Soviet soldiers had lost close family and friends at the hands of the Germans (16,900,000 Soviet civilians died in World War II, more than in any other country and nearly three times more than the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust), there was a desire to take reprisals on the Germans. Cases of shooting unarmed prisoners of war and German civilians were known even from cases at Soviet military tribunals. Also, when Soviet troops moved into Prussia, a significant number of enslaved Ostarbeiter ("Eastern workers") were freed, and knowledge of those workers' suffering certainly did not improve the attitude of Soviet soldiers towards Prussians.
The name of Nemmersdorf is presented as a symbol of the war crimes of the Red Army in Germany during the WWII. Others consider it a symbol of propaganda aimed at shifting the attention away from Nazi crimes, equalizing the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in terms of war crimes.
- Pursuit of Nazi collaborators
- Expulsion of Germans after World War II
- Federation of Expellees
- A Terrible Revenge
- The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent 1945-2002 - William I. Hitchcock - 2003 - ISBN 0385497989
- A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950 - Alfred-Maurice de Zayas - 1994 - ISBN 0312121598
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