Rutgers University, USA
E-Mail: bry8 [at] history-rutgers.edu
"Solving the Resettlers Problem”: Creating Heimat in the German Democratic Republic
My dissertation investigates resettlers, or expellees as they were called in West Germany, in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and subsequent German Democratic Republic (GDR). By 1950, resettlers made up approximately 22.3 % of the East German population. Thus, resettlers were central to Soviet and SED policies in both the SBZ and GDR. Already towards the end of the SBZ and in the early years of the GDR, Soviet and SED officials claimed they had solved the “resettler problem”, the issue of housing and integrating resettlers. Yet archival materials show that resettlers continued to pose problems, and opportunities, for the budding socialist state.
On one hand, resettlers could threaten the state, if they did not feel solidarity with the socialist cause. On the other hand, resettlers could help strengthen the GDR by participating in the labor force and becoming good, proper socialists. In order to help integrate resettlers and appeal to a sense of their belonging in the German, socialist project, the SED mobilized the use of Heimat. Continuously, SED functionaries promised resettlers that they would create a new Heimat for them in the GDR. In my dissertation, I ask: Why was solving the “resettlers problem” so important to politicians in the SBZ and subsequent GDR? After 1949, what role did creating Heimat and solving the “resettlers problem” play in the quest to form a new state and argue for the legitimacy of the GDR as a sovereign entity? To what extent did a focus on Heimat facilitate or hinder the integration of ethnic Germans, especially as a focus on a German national identity conflicted with supposed socialist anti-nationalism? To answer these questions, my dissertation will focus on ethnic Germans in both the SBZ and GDR and will trace the changes, continuities, and contradictions in the discourse—as well as the policies—surrounding resettlers. I argue that the “resettlers problem” was central to the creation of the GDR, and became all the more so as it became ever clearer that Germany would become a divided nation. This divide led to rising anxieties, as the Soviets and GDR officials attempted to claim status as the more egalitarian—and legitimate—Germany after the Third Reich.