USC Upstate Sociology Professor To Accept Human Rights Award

December 4, 2009 at 11:49 am

Dr. Brigitte Neary, associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Upstate, will travel to Stuttgart, Germany to accept a human rights award on December 12 for her research and publications dealing with the expulsion of 15 million Germans from east central Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

The award is known as the Menschenrechtspreis der Volksgruppe der Donauschwaben, or Human Rights Award of the Ethnic German Danube Suevians. The organization presenting the award, Volksgruppe der Donauschwaben, is one of several groups in Germany that endeavor to direct attention to the plight of Germans expelled from their homes and homelands in East Central Europe, and forced to bear horrific suffering and death in what some scholars are now calling ethnic cleansing.

Neary’s research was compiled in two books, Voices of Loss and Courage: German Women Recount Their Expulsion from East Central Europe, 1944-1950 and Frauen und Vertreibung. They focused specifically on the women and young girls who were forced from their homelands in East Prussia, Pomerania, East Brandenburg, Silesia, Sudetenland, in the Hungarian plains, in the Balkan mountains of Yugoslavia and Romania.

As socio-historical research projects, her books contribute to a growing body of scholarship on the wounds of women in both war and peace and focuses attention on ethnic cleansing that was sanctioned overtly or tacitly by the victors of WWII, including the Russians, Poles, Serbs, British and Americans.

The project is also “a memorial to the women who were stigmatized because they were German,” says Neary, a difficult position to be in when the world equated all Germans as Nazi enemies. “Germans,” she says, “are aware if they evoke victim status they typically evoke strong reactions.”

“Women were responsible for everyone at this time, including the elderly, the very young, and the sick” says Neary, “because most of the men were gone, drafted, killed or missing in action.” The 40 women she interviewed for her two books were between the ages of six and 24 during the years between 1944 and 1950. They were “glad finally to be given a voice” and to share their stories of survival despite loss of shelter, starvation, systematic plundering, rape, torture and murder.

The issue of ethnic cleansing is a personal one for Dr. Neary, born in West Germany after her parents had experienced the upheaval of expulsion from their homelands — her father from Yugoslavia and her mother from Breslau Silesia.

“I grew up with the consequences of the displacement, initially experiencing absolute deprivation,” says Neary. “The shadow of the tremendous loss to my parents lingered on and was like a concrete presence in our lives.”

Her research and interviews were conducted from 1998-2001 and again in 2006-2007 and included visits to the Office for Expellee Affairs, a department of the German government located in Bonn.

Dr. Alfred de Zayas of The Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, and the 2007 recipient of this award, writes, “Professor Neary has done ground-breaking work on women’s issues and has demonstrated academic courage in addressing the hitherto neglected history of the expulsion of millions of German civilians from their home at the end of World War II. In so doing she has on both sides of the Atlantic illuminated the sociological, psychological, historical, and legal aspects of this form of ethnic cleansing. …The work of Dr. Neary should contribute to a realization that all forms of ethnic cleansing are fundamentally wrong, and that the inhumanities of the expulsions of innocent Germans [from] 1944-50 should be taught in all high schools and universities – not only in Germany and Austria, but also in the United States and Canada.”

Professor Neary teaches Introduction to Sociology, Women and Armed Conflict, Displaced Persons, Sociological Theory, and Social Change at the University of South Carolina Upstate. For further information she can be reached by calling (864) 503-5834 or by email at