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Germany's workshop : expellee craft and postwar national rebranding Cairns, Kelly Lynn


This work explores the use of culture to rebrand national identity in postwar West Germany from 1945-1955. It employs the story of Sudeten expellee craftspeople and their resettlement in the American Occupation Zone to demonstrate forced migrant agency, and to address national rebranding from a migrant perspective. It reveals how American and German governments employed the expellee story and their Selbsthilfe (self-help) initiative to bridge the recent Nazi past and sell German goods to global consumers. Rebranding emphasized tradition, Heimat and an idyllic handcraft lifestyle while also promising a future of innovation. Sudeten expellee communities proved exemplary for the task, as symbols of both “tradition” and innovation. In addition, their story of resilience from their lost Heimat to eventual economic prosperity proved useful in both advancing a German victimhood narrative and boasting a successful integration narrative. The American Military Government in occupation sought to manage, resettle and market expellees through export buyer tours, exchange visits and trade fair exhibitions, justifying the allocation of Marshall Plan funds and fostering a strong trade relationship. The expellee craft story became a powerful tool in making a tarnished “Made in Germany” label sellable once again. This study traces expellee musical instrument makers, toy makers and glass blowers, from the loss of their workshops to their conflict with local German communities, to the construction of new homes and the reconstruction of businesses. Taking small-scale craft industry and material culture as its focus, this work adds to and complicates an already rich literature on heavy industry and the German Wirtschaftswunder. As occupation governments dismantled heavy industries, they subsequently promoted skilled handcraft and small-scale manufacturing, granting expellees an opportunity to rebuild and advance their new workshops in enclave settlements. This study links scholarship in the fields of postwar German history, forced migration, and material culture to reveal the power of objects and forced migrant groups to alter the story and even identity of their new West German context.

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