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Expulsion of Poles following the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The Poles are removed to make place for German colonists as part of a plan to Germanize western Poland.

Drang nach Osten (German for "yearning for the East",[1] "thrust toward the East",[2] "push eastward",[3] "drive toward the East"[4] or "desire to push East"[5]) was a term coined in the 19th century to designate German expansion into Slavic lands.[4] The term became a motto of the German nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century.[6] In some historical discourses, "Drang nach Osten" combines historical German settlement in Central and Eastern Europe, medieval military expeditions like the ones of the Teutonic Knights, and Germanisation policies and warfare of Modern Age German states like the Nazi Lebensraum concept.[3][7] It was one of the core elements of German nationalism and part of Nazi ideology; as Adolf Hitler said on 7 February 1944: 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. [8]

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.[9] 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.[9]


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).

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").[10] Nazi Germany employed the slogan in calling the Czechs a "Slav bulwark against the Drang nach Osten" in the 1938 Sudeten crisis.[4]

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").[2][11] 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]

Drang nach Osten in Polish and Panslavic discourse

According to Henry Cord Meyer, in his book "Drang nach Osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-Concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849-1990" the slogan "Drang nach Osten"[14] most likely originated in the Slavic world, where it also was more widely used than in Germany: "its main area of circulation has been the Slavic world. Indeed, most German scholars have rejected the slogan as mere Panslav (or later, Soviet) agitation against Germany." It was "a mainstay in Soviet bloc historiography--and propaganda. [...] Even if the concept has found broad acceptance in Slavic historiography since World War II, this does not mean that it is factually accurate. The phrase is most often used to suggest a basic continuity in German history from the eleventh century to the present; it is closely linked to Slavic stereotypes of the German national character."[14]

German colonists near Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine 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.[15] 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.[16] The Wehrbauer, or soldier-peasants, would settle in a fortified line to prevent civilization arising beyond and threatening Germany.[17]

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.[18] 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,[19] and such Poles as deemed Germanizable by Nazis.[20] 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 massive expulsion of German populations 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 gradually accepted to be the eastern German boundary by all post-war German states (East and West Germany as well as reunited Germany), dropping all plans of (re-)expansion into or (re-)settlement of 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.

See also


  1. Pim den Boer, Peter Bugge, Ole Wæver, Kevin Wilson, W. J. van der Dussen, Ole Waever, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, The history of the idea of Europe, 1995, p. 93, ISBN 0-415-12415-8, ISBN 978-0-415-12415-7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ulrich Best, Transgression as a Rule: German-Polish cross-border cooperation, border discouse and EU-enlargement, 2008, p. 58, ISBN 3-8258-0654-5, ISBN 978-3-8258-0654-5
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jerzy Jan Lerski, Piotr Wróbel, Richard J. Kozicki, Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966–1945, 1996, p. 118, ISBN 0-313-26007-9, ISBN 978-0-313-26007-0
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Edmund Jan Osmańczyk, Anthony Mango, Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, 2003, p. 579, ISBN 0-415-93921-6, ISBN 978-0-415-93921-8
  5. Marcin Zaborowski, Germany, Poland and Europe, p. 32
  6. W. Wippermann, Der "deutsche Drang nach Osten": Ideologie und Wirklichkeit eines politischen Schlagwortes, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1981, p. 87
  7. Ingo Haar, Historiker im Nationalsozialismus, p. 17
  8. Hitler, a chronology of his life and time Milan Hauner, Macmillian, 1983, p. 197
  9. 9.0 9.1 Andreas Lawaty, Hubert Orłowski, Deutsche und Polen: Geschichte, Kultur, Politik, 2003, p. 34, ISBN 3-406-49436-6, ISBN 978-3-406-49436-9
  10. Wippermann, 1981, p. 87
  11. Bascom Barry Hayes, Bismarck and Mitteleuropa, 1994, p. 17, ISBN 0-8386-3512-1, ISBN 978-0-8386-3512-4
  12. Paul Reuber, Anke Strüver, Günter Wolkersdorfer, Politische Geographien Europas - Annäherungen an ein umstrittenes Konstrukt: Annäherungen an ein umstrittenes Konstrukt, 2005, ISBN 3-8258-6523-1, ISBN 978-3-8258-6523-8
  13. Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817-876, pp. 233ff, 2006, ISBN 0-8014-3890-X, 9780801438905
  14. 14.0 14.1 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.
  15. Carlson, p. 233.
  17. Robert Cecil, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology p. 190 ISBN 0-396-06577-5
  18. Robert Cecil, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology p. 191 ISBN 0-396-06577-5
  19. Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web pp. 206–9, ISBN 0-679-77663-X
  20. Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, p. 543 ISBN 0-393-02030-4
  • Carlson, Harold G.; John Richie Schultz (October 1937). "Loan-Words from German". American Speech, Vol. 12, No. 3. pp. 232–234. Digital object identifier:10.2307/452436. JSTOR 452436. 

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