Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review of Millions Cried...No One Listened

I have now watched five of the six disks in Millions Cried...No One Listened which is a documentary series produced by Ann Morrison on the mistreatment and expulsion of ethnic Germans in East Central Europe in the immediate years after World War II. Most of the series consists of interviews of Donauschwaben survivors from the Banat and Batschka in what was Yugoslavia. There are also some interviews with Donauschwaben from Hungary as well as ethnic Germans from Zipser and the Sudetenland in what was Czechoslovakia, and some representatives from East Prussia and other areas. On the whole, however, the series is largely titled towards the story of the Donauschwaben in Yugoslavia and to a lesser extent the ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. I personally would have liked to have seen more on Germans from Pomerania, Upper Silesia, Siebenburgen, and of course the various regions of the USSR. But, it is of course impossible to cover the persecution and expulsion of all the ethnic German communities in the region in a little over six hours.

The  interviews represent very good primary sources dealing with the plight of the ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. I have become increasingly more cognizant of the importance of oral sources and the severe limitations of government archives in recent years. Certainly in terms of explaining the experiences of individuals subjected to ethnic cleansing and internment in concentration camps, oral sources are generally superior to archival records in expressing the truth. The accord reached at Potsdam by the US, UK, and USSR for instance describes the mass expulsion of 14 million ethnic Germans from their homes during this time as an "orderly and humane" transfer. The reality of the expulsions were neither orderly or humane something that comes through clearly in the interviews.

The structure and organization of the documentary, however, suffers from an attempt to cover all the expulsions in one grand narrative divided by chronology rather then breaking them up into chapters based upon the fate of Germans in each individual territory. A lot of the documentary is repetitive and the organization of these interviews into a single coherent narrative is marred by trying to cover multiple areas at once. In particular the switching back and forth between survivors from Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and other areas is somewhat confusing. Since the series has six disks it would have better in my opinion to separate the stories of the various German communities by country. That is devote one disk to Yugoslavia, one disk to Czechoslovakia, and one disk to Hungary. The eastern areas of Germany itself, Poland, Romania, and especially the USSR are distinctly underrepresented particularly in comparison with the very large number of interviews of Donauschwaben from the Yugoslav Batschka and Banat. I suspect this has to do largely with the source base available to the film maker.

This, however, in no way detracts from the excellent nature of the interviews themselves as an invaluable source of information. The story of the ethnic Germans from Yugoslavia and their brutal mistreatment by Tito's government in the years immediately after World War II has received little coverage and is an important component of the modern history of the Balkans. This documentary lets the survivors themselves tell that story.

If there are to be more films in this series made I would strongly recommend that the very large Russian-German communities that have arrived in Germany in the last couple of decades from Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Central Asia be interviewed about their experiences in the USSR. There is one interview with a Volga German on the first disk. But, in the subsequent disks the fate of one and half million Russian Germans including the over 200,000 forcibly repatriated back to the USSR during 1945 and 1946 is almost completely neglected. Obviously not everything can be covered in a single project and the fate of ethnic Germans in East Central Europe and the USSR is a huge topic. Nevertheless, the documentary series itself makes claims to covering a much grander narrative than just the persecution of the Donauschwaben.

Despite these minor structural criticisms, Ann Morrison is to be highly commended for the hard work she did in conducting these interviews and making them all available in an easy to view format. While many German communities such as those in the USSR, Romania, and Poland are largely lacking from this first collection, it does do an excellent job of covering Yugoslavia. Hungary and Czechoslovakia are covered less thoroughly.  I definitely recommend the film as an excellent collection of oral primary source material on the history of ethnic Germans in East Central Europe. There is nothing comparable out there in terms of the breadth and depth of the interviews, particularly for the Donauschwaben from Yugoslavia.

No comments: