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Pan-Germanism, one of the ethnically-charged political movements of the 19th century for unity of the German-speaking peoples of Europe. Some radical German immigrants in America also sought a union with their German "brothers" back in Europe.



Pan-Germanism's origins began long ago in the early 1800's following the Napoleonic Wars. The Wars started by Napoleon launched a massive new movement that was born in France during the French Revolution, Nationalism. Nationalism during the 1800's was a death toll for the rulers. Many ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe had been divided for centuries, ruled over by the old Monarchies of the Romanovs and the Habsburgs. Germans, for the most part, were a loose and disunited people since the Reformation when the Holy Roman Empire was shattered into a patchwork of states. The people, mostly young reformers, sought to unite all the German-speaking and ethnic-German (Volksdeutschen) people.

Prussia, Austria and Nationalism

By the 1860's, Prussia and Austria were the two nations moving in on modern-day Germany. The Austrian empire was often criticized though by Germans living within and outside the empire alike for its multi-ethnic base. Prussia, under Otto von Bismarck, would end up riding on the back of Nationalism to unite all of modern-day Germany. The German Empire would be finished in 1871 following the crowning of William I. The problem was that many ethnic Germans still lived outside of the new empire. These groups would use Pan-Germanism to try and push unity with the Fatherland. Regions like Austria and the Sudetenland would become the center of controversy.

Austrians themselves began to resent their own Empire. Being the descendents of the Bavarians who conquered the region as well as speaking German, many Western Austrians supported a separation from the Habsburg Empire and unity with the German Empire.

Post WW1 developments

Following World War I, German influence over Eastern Europe was crushed. Germany was humiliated and Austria was shattered. The creation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the expansion of Romania would end up separating the German folk, once united under the two empires of Austria and Germany. After WW1, many of the Slavic states were prejudiced against the German minorities, especially in formerly Habsburg-controlled lands. Alligations of racism and oppression were made. After he seized power in Germany, Adolf Hitler began a radical policy of exploiting Pan-Germanism. The Sudetenland, a crest-shaped region on the western fringe of the modern-day Czech Republic, was the centre of controversy. The region was in majority a German land that was given to Czechoslovakia as a buffer-zone from any future German aggression. Adolf Hitler used the "oppression" of the Germans in Eastern Europe to justify invasion. In early 1938, Austria, with a German population of over 90% of the country, was subsuquently annexed by Germany. In late 1938, the Sudetenland issue was debated at the Munich Conference. The region, with nearly 3 million Germans living in it, was given to Hitler's Germany after an overwhelming vote.

By the height of World War II, Austrians, Sudetens, Alsatians, Transyvanian Germans, and Baltic Germans were all under the control of Nazi Germany. Though it was good for some, it was bad for others. The Nazis began relocating and re-settling Germans throughout Europe based upon their own plans, regardless of what the Eastern European Germans might have wanted.

Post WW2 and Death of Pan-Germanism

World War 2 was the death of Pan-Germanism, much like how World War 1 was the death of Pan-Slavism. The Germans in Eastern Europe were expelled brutally, Germany was levelled to ashes, and the idea of German unity struck fear into Germans themselves. The scale of the Germans' defeat was unprecedented. The notions of Nationalism and Pan-Germanism became feared because they had been used so destructively by the Nazis for racist and expansionist goals. There is a possibility that if Pan-Germanism were to rise again, future totalitarian regimes could also use it for their own gains. It is for this reason that many Germans themselves fear the idea of a united "Volksdeutschen". Today, there are still sizable populations of Germans outside Austria and Germany in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. Many of these groups of Germans, mostly in Eastern Europe, have sought citizenship in Germany since the collapse of the Communist bloc. Still today, the idea of a unified Germany and Austria strikes memories of Nazism. The very fact that Austro-German unity would stir forgotten and fearful memories that most Germans on both sides would rather not remember, forestalls any such union in the foreseeable future.

Alldeutscher Verbund (1893)

see also:

Ethnic nationalism
Romantic nationalism
Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45