Drang nach Osten

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Expulsion of Poles following the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Poles were removed to make place for German colonists as part of a plan to Germanize western Poland. Bundesarchiv R 49 Bild-0131, Aussiedlung von Polen im Wartheland.jpg
Expulsion of Poles following the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Poles were removed to make place for German colonists as part of a plan to Germanize western Poland.

Drang nach Osten (German: [ˈdʁaŋ nax ˈʔɔstn̩] , "Drive to the East", [1] "push eastward", [2] "drive toward the East" [3] or "desire to push East" [4] ) was a term coined in the 19th century to designate German expansion into Slavic lands. [3] The term became a motto of the German nationalist movement in the late 19th century. [5] In some historical discourse, Drang nach Osten combines historical German settlement in Central and Eastern Europe, medieval (12th-13th-century) [6] military expeditions like those of the Teutonic Knights (see Northern Crusades), and Germanisation policies and warfare of modern German states such as those reflecting the Nazi Lebensraum concept. [2] [7]

The presence of German-speaking populations in Central and Eastern Europe is rooted in centuries of history, with the settling in northeastern Europe of Germanic peoples predating even the founding of the Roman Empire. The presence of the independent German states in the region, and later the German Empire and also in other multi-ethnic countries, such as Austria-Hungary, Poland, Imperial Russia, etc., demonstrates the extent and duration of German-speaking settlements.

The Northern Crusades or Baltic Crusades were religious wars undertaken by Catholic Christian military orders and kingdoms, primarily against the pagan Baltic, Finnic and West Slavic peoples around the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, and to a lesser extent also against Orthodox Christian Slavs. The crusades took place mostly in the 12th and 13th centuries and resulted in the subjugation and forced baptism of indigenous peoples.

Germanisation is the spread of the German language, people and culture. It was a central plank of German conservative thinking in the 19th and 20th centuries, during a period when conservatism and Ethno-nationalism went hand-in-hand. In linguistics, Germanisation also occurs when a word from the German language is adopted into a foreign language.


In Poland the term Drang nach Osten was used in describing programs of Germanizing Poland, [1] while in Germany the slogan was part of a wider nationalist approbation of medieval German settlement in the east and of the idea of the "superiority of German culture". [1] The slogan Drang nach Westen ("Drive to the West"), derived from Drang nach Osten, was used to depict an alleged Polish drive westward. [1] [8]

Poland republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

<i><i lang="de" title="German language text">Ostsiedlung</i></i>

Ostsiedlung, in English called the German eastward expansion, was the medieval eastward migration and settlement of Germanic-speaking peoples from the Holy Roman Empire, especially its southern and western portions, into less-populated regions of Central Europe, parts of west Eastern Europe, and the Baltics. The affected area roughly stretched from Estonia in the north all the way to Slovenia in the south and extended into Transylvania, modern-day Romania in the east. In part, Ostsiedlung followed the territorial expansion of the Empire and the Teutonic Order.

The concept of Drang nach Osten was a core element of German nationalism and a major element of Nazi ideology. As Adolf Hitler said on 7 February 1945, "It is eastwards, only and always eastwards, that the veins of our race must expand. It is the direction which Nature herself has decreed for the expansion of the German peoples." [9]

National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party – officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party – in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Origin of the term

The first known use of Drang nach Osten was by the Polish journalist Julian Klaczko in 1849, yet it is debatable whether he invented the term as he used it in form of a citation. [10] Because the term is used almost exclusively in its German form in English, Polish, Russian, Czech and other languages, it has been concluded that the term is of German origin. [10]

Julian Klaczko was a Polish author, proficient in Hebrew, Polish, French, and German.


Phases of German eastward expansion, 700-1400
Before 700
1301-1400 Osadnictwo niemieckie na wschodzie.PNG
Phases of German eastward expansion, 700–1400
  Before 700

Drang nach Osten is connected with the medieval German Ostsiedlung . This "east colonization" referred to the expansion of German culture, language, states, and settlement into eastern and Northern European regions inhabited by Slavs and Balts.

Population growth during the High Middle Ages stimulated movement of peoples from the Rhenish, Flemish, and Saxon territories of the Holy Roman Empire eastwards into the less-populated Baltic region and Poland. These movements were supported by the German nobility, the Slavic kings and dukes, and the medieval Church. The majority of this settlement took place at the expense of Polabian Slavs and pagan Balts (see Northern Crusades).

High Middle Ages period in European history from 1000-1250 CE

The High Middle Ages, or High Medieval Period, was the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until around 1250. The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and were followed by the Late Middle Ages, which ended around 1500.

Rhineland historic region of Germany

The Rhineland is the name used for a loosely defined area of Western Germany along the Rhine, chiefly its middle section.

Flanders Community and region of Belgium

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.

The future state of Prussia, named for the conquered Old Prussians, had its roots largely in these movements. As the Middle Ages came to a close, the Teutonic Knights, who had been invited to northern Poland by Konrad of Masovia, had assimilated and forcibly converted much of the southern Baltic coastlands.

After the Partitions of Poland by the Kingdom of Prussia, Austria, and the Russian Empire in the late 18th century, Prussia gained much of western Poland. The Prussians, and later the Germans, engaged in a policy of Germanization in Polish territories. Russia and Sweden eventually conquered the lands taken by the Teutonic Knights in Estonia and Livonia.

Drang nach Osten in German discourse

The term became a centerpiece of the program of the German nationalist movement in 1891, with the founding of the Alldeutschen Verbandes, in the words: „Der alte Drang nach dem Osten soll wiederbelebt werden“ ("The old Drang nach Osten must be revived"). [11] Nazi Germany employed the slogan in calling the Czechs a "Slav bulwark against the Drang nach Osten" in the 1938 Sudeten crisis . [3]

Despite Drang nach Osten policies, population movement took place in the opposite direction also, as people from rural low-developed areas in the East were attracted by the prospering industrial areas of Western Germany. This phenomenon became known by the German term Ostflucht , literally the flight from the East.

Drang nach Westen

A new Drang nach Osten was called for by German nationalists to oppose a Polish Drang nach Westen ("thrust toward the West"). [1] [8] World War I had ended with the Treaty of Versailles, by which most or parts of the Imperial German provinces of Posen, West Prussia, and Upper Silesia were given to reconstituted Poland; the West Prussian city of Danzig became the Free City of Danzig. The Polish paper Wprost used both Drang nach Osten and Drang nach Westen in August 2002 to title stories about German RWE company taking over Polish STOEN and Polish migration into eastern Germany, respectively. [12]

Drang nach Westen is also the ironic title of a chapter in Eric Joseph Goldberg's book Struggle for Empire, used to point out the "missing" eastward ambitions of Louis the German who instead expanded his kingdom to the West. [13]

German colonists near Kamianets-Podilskyi
, Poland (Russian Partition) in the end of the 19th century Greim-Drang nach osten.jpg
German colonists near Kamianets-Podilskyi , Poland (Russian Partition) in the end of the 19th century

With the development of romantic nationalism in the 19th century, Polish and Russian intellectuals began referring to the German Ostsiedlung as Drang nach Osten. The German Empire and Austria-Hungary attempted to expand their power eastward; Germany by gaining influence in the declining Ottoman Empire (the Eastern Question) and Austria-Hungary through the acquisition of territory in the Balkans (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Lebensraum concept of Nazi Germany

Adolf Hitler, dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933–1945, called for a Drang nach Osten to acquire territory for German colonists at the expense of central and eastern European nations ( Lebensraum ). The term by then had gained enough currency to appear in foreign newspapers without explanation. [14] His eastern campaigns during World War II were initially successful with the conquests of Poland, the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and much of European Russia by the Wehrmacht ; Generalplan Ost was designed to eliminate the native Slavic peoples from these lands and replace them with Germans. [15] The Wehrbauer , or soldier-peasants, would settle in a fortified line to prevent civilization arising beyond and threatening Germany. [16]

This was greatly hindered by the lack of German people who actually desired to settle in the east, let alone act as Teutonic Knights there. [17] Settlements actually established during the war did not receive colonists from the Altreich , but in the main part East European Germans resettled from Soviet "spheres of interest" according to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, [18] and such Poles as deemed Germanizable by Nazis. [19] However, the Soviet Union began to reverse the German conquests by 1943, and Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies in 1945.

Expulsion of Germans from the East after World War II

Most of the demographic and cultural outcome of the Ostsiedlung was terminated after World War II. The expulsion of Germans after World War II east of the Oder-Neisse line in 1945–48 on the basis of decisions of the Potsdam Conference were later justified by their beneficiaries as a rollback of the Drang nach Osten. "Historical Eastern Germany", which historically was the land of the Baltic people called Old Prussians who had been colonised and assimilated by German Drang Nach Osten, was split between Poland, Russia, and Lithuania (a Baltic country) and repopulated with settlers of the respective ethnicities. The Oder-Neisse line has been accepted to be the eastern German boundary by all post-war German states (East and West Germany, as well as reunited Germany) [20] [ better source needed ], reneging on all plans to (re-)expand into or (re-)settle territories beyond this line. The Old Prussians were conquered by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century, and gradually assimilated over the following centuries; the Old Prussian language was extinct by the 17th or early 18th century. Henry Cord Meyer, in his book "Drang nach Osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-Concept in German–Slavic Relations, 1849–1990" claims that the slogan Drang nach Osten [21] originated in the Slavic world, and it also was more widely used than in Germany. [21]

See also

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  20. Oder–Neisse line#Schengen Agreement
  21. 1 2 Hnet Review of Henry Cord Meyer. Drang nach Osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-Concept in German–Slavic Relations, 1849–1990. Bern: Peter Lang, 1996. 142 pp. Notes and index. $29.95 (paper), ISBN   978-3-906755-93-9. Reviewed by Douglas Selvage , Yale University.