In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the new authorities in eastern Europe embarked on one of the greatest acts of ethnic cleansing in history. German families and communities across the region were rounded up, dispossessed, robbed and finally expelled from their countries. It is estimated that up to three million Germans were shunted out of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in this way. Up to nine million were likewise expelled from East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia when these German territories were awarded to Poland after the war. Perhaps another two million were ejected from Yugoslavia, Romania, and other parts of eastern Europe.
These expulsions were almost always accompanied by cruelty and extreme hardship. In the early days, whole communities were given just an hour to gather their belongings before being rounded up and force-marched to the border. Along the way they were beaten, raped and robbed – often repeatedly – before being