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The Protestant Churches and Eastern Europe (October 15, 1965)

In a controversial 1965 memorandum entitled “The Plight of Refugees and the Relationship of the German People to their Eastern Neighbors,” the leaders of the Protestant Churches (which, at the time, were still organized in a single body in which both German states were represented), called for a critical examination of West Germany’s Ostpolitik and made indirect demands for recognition of the Oder-Neisse line (and, hence, Poland’s postwar borders).

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The Plight of Refugees and the Relationship of the German People to their Eastern Neighbors

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VI. Germany's Eastern Borders as a Political Responsibility

A review of international legal and theological-ethical issues has shown that the question of Germany's eastern borders cannot be solved by absolute arguments from law and ethics, or by means of a theology of creation and history. These issues can only offer us a kind of assistance in making decisions that the German people and their neighbors cannot avoid. We are dealing with political decisions that must be based on a reasonable assessment of the situation, and made in careful cooperation leading to a lasting order of peace among nations. The legal, ethical, and theological considerations presented in this memorandum, reflections that must also find their way into political action, are meant to bring a new movement into the political conceptions of the German people, and to offer our neighbors in the east a dialogue on a new level.

This dialogue deals concretely with questions regarding the extent of exiled peoples' right to return to their homelands, and Germany's right to the return of severed territories. It is unavoidable that both questions be posed within the relevant political and historical context of today. In the case of the German people and their eastern neighbors, a tenable future order of peace can only be achieved under the sign of a new beginning. The current situation of almost total alienation and mutual fear and hatred must be replaced by reconciliation, which is also possible between peoples of different nations. For the sake of world peace and a new European order, the peoples involved are obligated to exercise the utmost effort in discussing and settling the questions at stake in a manner that gives due consideration to both points of view.

With respect to these questions, the political leadership of the Federal Republic of Germany has demonstrated a more hesitant attitude, repeatedly pleading its own juridical point of view. There were, it must be conceded, important domestic political reasons for this caution. The subordination of one-fourth of the German state's former territory under a foreign administration, and the expulsion of the resident population placed such high demands on the national discipline of the entire people that the danger of a nationalistic radicalization was not easily dismissible. That such a radicalization has failed to materialize so far is a very remarkable feature of postwar German history. The German people can only make the sacrifice expected of them if they think historically, and, in doing so, bow to the insight of a higher necessity. But this insight can only ripen gradually. At the international level, there was also good reason for the hesitant treatment of Germany's eastern territories on the part of those responsible for policy in the Federal Republic of Germany. The federal government can operate under the assumption of the German Reich's continued existence within the borders of 1937, as guaranteed by international law in the Western world. A premature, definitive recognition of the decisions made in the Potsdam Protocol of 1945 is regarded as a politically unwise abandonment of valuable principles and objects for future peace negotiations.

At the same time, this hesitant attitude expresses a correct principle: that the occupation of the Eastern territories, which took place in the context of war negotiations, and the transfer of their administration to another state cannot simply be turned into a one-sided annexation – insupportable both politically and under international law – and that the injustice of the expulsion cannot be covered over by silence. These controversial questions and all the territorial changes require a mutual determination by treaty. The value of these agreements is dependent upon a mutual belief in their necessity and mutual approval for the desired new beginning. At this point, it also becomes clear that the negative concept “renunciation” is an altogether inadequate way of designating the German contribution to any peace agreement meant to lay the foundation for a new partnership between nations. If a future settlement of territorial questions is meant to stabilize the relationship between the peoples involved, then it must be the result of a real dialogue and the expression of a will for reconciliation.

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