German-Polish Migration: The Elusive Search for a German Nation-State

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1992


This article examines past and present migrations to Germany from the perspective of nation-state formation. Much of modern German history has been characterized by repeated (and failed) attempts to establish and sustain a strong, independent nation-state like France or Britain. But each attempt, including the recent reunification, has forced Germany to absorb large numbers of non-Germans either as a result of 1) expanding borders and annexations and/or 2) the appeal and labor needs of a robust economy. Focusing on the many experiences with the Polish minority (ranging from the eighteenth century to the present), this essay suggests that Germans have never discovered an acceptable and workable approach for dealing with large non-German minorities in the German nation-state. Rather, different regimes at different times have vacillated between an exclusive approach founded on nationalist principles and practices and an inclusive one founded on liberal principles and practices. In the current migration crisis, brought on by the raising of the Iron Curtain, both approaches, despite the contradictions between them, are being employed to determine who should and should not be permitted to immigrate to the "new" Germany. The confusion over the two approaches produces not only a confused immigration policy, but also reflects deep-seated confusion over the definition of the new German state and identity of the newly united German nation.




SAGE Publications Inc.

Publication Information

The International Migration Review