The Impossible Border

The Impossible Border: Germany and the East, 1914–1922

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    The Impossible Border
    Book Description:

    Between 1914 and 1922, millions of Europeans left their homes as a result of war, postwar settlements, and revolution. After 1918, the immense movement of people across Germany's eastern border posed a sharp challenge to the new Weimar Republic. Ethnic Germans flooded over the border from the new Polish state, Russian émigrés poured into the German capital, and East European Jews sought protection in Germany from the upheaval in their homelands. Nor was the movement in one direction only: German Freikorps sought to found a soldiers' colony in Latvia, and a group of German socialists planned to settle in a Soviet factory town.

    In The Impossible Border, Annemarie H. Sammartino explores these waves of migration and their consequences for Germany. Migration became a flashpoint for such controversies as the relative importance of ethnic and cultural belonging, the interaction of nationalism and political ideologies, and whether or not Germany could serve as a place of refuge for those seeking asylum. Sammartino shows the significance of migration for understanding the difficulties confronting the Weimar Republic and the growing appeal of political extremism.

    Sammartino demonstrates that the moderation of the state in confronting migration was not merely by default, but also by design. However, the ability of a republican nation-state to control its borders became a barometer for its overall success or failure. Meanwhile, debates about migration were a forum for political extremists to develop increasingly radical understandings of the relationship between the state, its citizens, and its frontiers. The widespread conviction that the democratic republic could not control its "impossible" Eastern borders fostered the ideologies of those on the radical right who sought to resolve the issue by force and for all time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7119-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Crisis of Sovereignty
    (pp. 1-17)

    Under attack at the end of 1922 for his supposed leniency toward foreigners in Germany, Carl Severing, the Social Democratic Prussian minister of the interior, sought to explain why his border-control policies had failed:

    It seems to me that, from a world-historical perspective, we are confronting a migratory movement that comes from the East, set in motion in part through the construction of the border states [Poland and the Baltics] and oriented toward the West. In this migration, Germany serves as the bridge from East to West. The Eastern Jews are the primary group—not in terms of numbers but...

  6. 1. “German Brothers”: War and Migration
    (pp. 18-44)

    On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia, and a week of public demonstrations—both for and against the war—culminated in hundreds of thousands of Germans’ marching to the palace of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the center of Berlin. The demonstration reached its emotional climax when the kaiser came to the balcony to speak to the crowd and proclaimed, “I no longer recognize parties or confessions. Today we are all German brothers, and only German brothers.”¹ But which Germans did he mean? In the enthusiasm of the moment, most Germans in the crowd were probably not asking this...

  7. 2. “Now We Were the Border”: The Freikorps Baltic Campaign
    (pp. 45-70)

    With the German defeat and revolution in November 1918, the self-confident empire that had laid claim to the Baltics was nothing more than a memory. Taking its place was a fledgling state barely able to exert control over the population living within its own shrunken borders, much less assume responsibility for the dreams of Baltic colonization that had tantalized nationalists several months earlier. The expansionist dreams fueled by the war were unattainable by the new republic, but the German Freikorps continued to fight in the Baltics through 1919, nominally invited by the Latvian state and with the tacit acceptance of...

  8. 3. Socialist Pioneers on the Soviet Frontier: Ansiedlung Ost
    (pp. 71-95)

    In hisMoskau1920, Alfons Goldschmidt reported on his recent visit to Soviet Russia. With respect to the train ride to Moscow, Goldschmidt observed, “It smells sweet like spring . . . and there is ever more forest, forest, forest. No land in the world has so much forest as Russia.”¹ His impressions of Moscow itself were even more positive: “There is still much elegance in Moscow, and still the proletariat rule. . . . The proletariat rules the city with its own police and its own work regulations.”² The city was overflowing with red—red banners, red flags, and...

  9. 4. “We Who Suffered Most”: The Immigration of Germans from Poland
    (pp. 96-119)

    As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to hand over the provinces of Posen and West Prussia (Westpreussen) to Poland. A realignment of population accompanied this realignment of territory, and by the end of 1921, between 500,000 and 750,000 Germans (or between one-half and two-thirds of the German population) in the newly Polish provinces of Poznań and Pomorze had left for Germany.¹ German authorities confronted them with a mix of trepidation and resignation. The response of Germany to the immigration of Germans from Poland is a story of the country’s coming to terms with the metaphorical...

  10. 5. “A Flooding of the Reich with Foreigners”: The Frustrations of Border Control
    (pp. 120-137)

    The first total war and the first world revolution created a European refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. John Hope Simpson estimates that as a result of this crisis 9.5 million refugees wandered the European continent.¹ Of these, 1.5 million refugees settled temporarily or permanently on German soil in the few years between the end of World War I and the onset of the hyperinflation in 1923 that effectively ended the flood of refugees into Germany. This immigration began during the war, as ethnic Germans fled to Germany as a result of a combination of wartime chaos and the tsar’s repressive...

  11. 6. Anti-Bolshevism and the Bolshevik Prisoners of War
    (pp. 138-155)

    In the months after World War I, terror of a Bolshevik invasion and infestation held Germany in its grip. Erich Köhrer, an official with the German mission in Latvia and Estonia, wrote, “Death comes from the East, ruin rages towards Europe. As once cholera came from Asia, so, too, the Bolshevik plague, which now threatens the West, is a fully Asiatic phenomenon; and it is certainly no coincidence that thousands of Tartars and Chinese are to be found among the troops that the Soviet government has unleashed against Europe.”¹ In a pamphlet entitled “Die Asiatisierung Europas,” Paul Schiemann stated that...

  12. 7. “A Firm Inner Connection to Germany”: Naturalization Policy
    (pp. 156-170)

    In 1922, Aron Genkin applied for German citizenship. Genkin was a Jewish Ukrainian doctor who wanted to become a German citizen so he could be licensed to work as a doctor in Germany and thus better support his fiancée, a German war widow, and her three children. He initially submitted his naturalization application in Thuringia, which approved it and sent it to the otherLänderfor approval, as was required by the citizenship law of 1913. The Bavarians advised the Thuringians that they did not intend to support Genkin’s naturalization because he belonged to an “alien nation that is foreign...

  13. 8. Tolerance and Its Limits: Russians, Jews, and Asylum
    (pp. 171-194)

    In the Weimar Republic, Germans argued about whether belonging was determined by ethnicity, parentage, or culture, but the fundamental belief that belonging to the German state was a function of German identity was undisputed. During this period, the number of “useful” foreigners, such as those imported to work on the eastern estates, shrank as a result of German economic difficulties and territorial losses. Furthermore, the sense of the collective victimization of the German nation and the individual suffering of its citizens mobilized xenophobic and anti-Semitic sentiment. In this climate of insecurity and hostility, the massive immigration from Eastern Europe during...

  14. Conclusion: The Legacy of Crisis
    (pp. 195-206)

    Although 1922 marked the conclusion of the critical era charted in this book, in the end none of the questions about the meaning, location, or practicality of the borders of Germany were settled. With the inflation and the currency stabilization, many of the migrants living on German soil moved on to more hospitable countries or returned to their lands of origin. In the following years, unease about migrants and, in particular, anxieties regarding theOstjuden,were a steady drumbeat in the German press. Even as Gustav Stresemann pursued a policy of appeasement with the West, as chancellor he directed an...

  15. Appendix: Maps
    (pp. 207-210)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-232)