Invited but Unwanted? Migrants from the East in Germany, 1890–1990

  • Karen Schönwälder
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


Over the centuries, thousands of Germans have migrated from the territories between the rivers Rhine and Elbe to regions further east. This migration has been a focus not only of historiographical but also of political controversy. Migration, however, was not a one-way movement. If, historically, the flow was overwhelmingly from west to east, in the modern period the picture has become more complex, and migration from Central and Eastern Europe to the German lands has formed a central feature of German history in the past century. Many inhabitants of present-day Germany are descendants of such migrants from the east or have themselves migrated from east to west. Their ancestors may, in the late nineteenth century, have left their villages in the border regions of Prussia and the tsarist empire to work in the industrial and mining centres further west. Decades later, others had to leave their homes in East Prussia or Silesia as a consequence of the Second World War. More recently, millions of East and Central Europeans have sought a better life in Germany, where some of them were welcomed as ‘fellow Germans’ while others were at least temporarily accepted as new ‘guest workers’. This chapter will, first, outline the major features of the migratory movements in the last one hundred years, concentrating on labour migration. It will then turn to a discussion of how those migrants from the east were received in the German states: invited but unwanted?


Migrant Labourer Foreign Worker Democratic Liberal Party German State Guest Worker 
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© Karen Schönwälder 1999

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  • Karen Schönwälder

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