German in terms of people. Defined ethnically, is a historical term from the 20th century. The words ‘volk’ and ‘volkische’ conveyed in Nazi thinking the meanings of folk and race while adding the sense of superior civilization and blood.
These terms were used by Nazis to define nationality in terms of ethnicity rather than citizenship and thus included Germans living beyond the borders of the Reich.
During the Nazi years, they used the term Volksdeutsche to refer to foreign-born Germans living in countries newly occupied by Germany and who applied for German citizenship. Prior to World War II, more than ten million ethnic Germans lived in Central and Eastern Europe. They constituted an important minority far into Russia.
In 1931, prior to its rise to power, the Nazi party established the Auslandsorganisation der NSDAP – Foreign Organisation of the Nazi Party – which task was to disseminate Nazi propaganda among the ethnic German minorities living outside Germany. These were the Volksdeutsche. In 1936, the government set up the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle – Ethnic Germans’ Welfare Office – commonly known as VoMi, under the jurisdiction of the SS as the liaison bureau.
In 1936 the Nazis set up an office to act as a contact for the Volksdeutsche.
One of Himmler’s goals was centralizing control over the myriad of groups and individuals inside the Reich promoting the Volksdeutsche cause. Himmler did not initiate the process but rather discovered it in progress and directed it to its conclusion and to his advantage. His principal instrument in this effort was an office from outside the SS, a Nazi party organ, the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle, translated as the Ethnic German Liaison Office.
Before and during World War II, some Volksdeutsche, in countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, actively supported the Nazis. During the social and economic tensions of the Great Depression, some had begun to feel aggrieved with their minority status. They participated in espionage, sabotage and other means in their countries of origin.
In Yugoslavia, the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen was formed. It was conspicuous in its operations against the Resistance partisans and among the population. About 300,000 Volksdeutsche from the Nazi-conquered lands and the satellite countries joined the Waffen-SS, the majority conscripted involuntarily. In Hungary, for instance, some 100,000 ethnic Germans volunteered for service in it. After the initial rush of Volksdeutsche to join, voluntary enlistments tapered off, and the new unit did not reach division size. Therefore, in August 1941, the SS discarded the voluntary approach, and after a favourable judgement from the SS court in Belgrade, imposed a mandatory military obligation on all Volksdeutsche in Serbia-Banat, the first of its kind for non-Reich Germans.
Among the indigenous populations in the Nazi-occupied lands, Volksdeutsche became a term of ignominy.
During the early days of the second world war a small number of Americans of German origin returned to Germany; generally they were immigrants or children of immigrants, rather than descendants of migrations more distant in time. Some of these enlisted and fought in the German army.