Ethnic Germans (German: Deutschstämmige, historically also Volksdeutsche), also collectively referred to as the German diaspora, are those who are considered, by themselves or others, to be of German origin ethnically, not necessarily born or living within the present-day Federal Republic of Germany, holding its citizenship or speaking the German language.
Ethnic Germans are a largely West Germanic ethnic group, with minor West Slavic roots due to assimilated Sorbs, Obotrites and other Slavs, as well as Celtic roots in Southern Germany and Baltic in the formerly Prussian areas. Germans are closely related to other Germanic peoples such as the Dutch, English, Norwegians, Swedish, Danish, Faroese, Icelanders, Flemish, Frisians, Swiss Germans, Liechtensteiners, and Luxembourgers.
In English usage, but less often in German, the term may be used for assimilated descendants of German emigrants. The traditional American English language practice has been to refer to the ethnic Germans of a given country by combining the country or region name (or its adjective) with "Germans"; for example, "Brazilian Germans" was at least traditionally used (see below) to refer to ethnic Germans living in Brazil. In the past, this practice broke down when referring to countries that no longer existed ("Kingdom of Hungary" Germans) or regions that transcended national boundaries (thus "Black Sea Germans"), "Alsatian Germans" and "Baltic Germans".
However, the modern trend is to emphasize the status as citizens of the new country and to invert the order of the compound expression. According to this system, one uses the word "German" as an adjective, not a noun. For example, German Americans are called German Americans but never "U.S. Germans" or "American Germans". For several decades, many ethnic German groups preferred to call themselves in a way that emphasized that they were assimilated members of the society of their new country.
German ethnicity is historically related to the persistence of speaking the German language Sprachraum. Thus, Swiss Germans still held strong ties with and sympathies towards Germany during World War I, although they had separated from the Holy Roman Empire between the 13th and 17th century.
The first attempts to create a consciousness of the "Austrian nation" took place during the Napoleonic Wars (at which time "Austrian" identity included non-German-speaking subjects of the Austrian Empire). This was revived in the 1930s during Dollfuss' Austro-Fascist period, but without much success. Many German-speaking Austrians considered themselves ethnic Germans until after World War II (see German Austria). Since the end of World War II, Austrians have increasingly come to see themselves as a nation distinct from the German nation. In 1987 only 6 percent of the Austrians still identified themselves as "Germans".
Volksdeutsche "ethnic Germans" is a historical term which arose in the early 20th century to describe ethnic Germans living outside of the German Empire, although many had been in other areas for centuries. This is in contrast to Imperial Germans (Reichsdeutsche), German citizens living within Germany. This is the loosest meaning of the term, which was used mainly during the Weimar Republic. In a stricter sense, Volksdeutsch came to mean ethnic Germans living abroad but without German citizenship, i.e., the juxtaposition with Reichsdeutsch was sharpened to denote difference in citizenship as well as residence.
Auslandsdeutsche (adj. auslandsdeutsch) is a concept that connotes German citizens living abroad, or alternatively ethnic Germans entering Germany from abroad. Today, this means citizen of Germany living more or less permanently in another country (including long-term academic exchange lecturers and the like), who are allowed to vote in the Republic's elections, but who usually do not pay taxes to Germany. In a looser but still valid sense, and in general discourse, the word is frequently used in lieu of the ideologically tainted term Volksdeutsche, denoting persons living abroad without German citizenship but defining themselves as Germans (culturally or ethnically speaking).
Ethnic Germans are an important minority group in many countries. (See Germans, German language, and German as a minority language for more extensive numbers and a better sense of where Germans maintain German culture and have official recognition.) The following sections briefly detail the historical and present distribution of ethnic Germans by region, but generally exclude modern expatriates, who have a presence in the United States, Scandinavia and major urban areas worldwide. See Groups at bottom for a list of all ethnic German groups, or continue for a summary by region.
They are a considerable part of the population in:
Notable communities of ethnic Germans exist in:
In Italy there are two main groups, the main one being at least 300,000 ethnic Germans in Bolzano-Bozen, formerly part of the County of Tyrol before the 1919 dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their dialect is Austro-Bavarian German.
There also exist smaller, unique populations of Germans who arrived so long ago that their dialect retains many archaic features heard nowhere else:
Smaller German-speaking communities exist also in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region: the Carinthians in the Canale Valley (municipalities of Tarvisio, Malborghetto Valbruna and Pontebba) and the Zahren and Timau Germans in Carnia.
Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein each have a German-speaking majority, though their populations do not identify themselves as "German" per se. In Austria, the German identification has increasingly become sensitive. In addition, an estimated 112,000 German nationals (i.e., citizens of Germany) live in Switzerland; another 110,000 live in Austria.
In France, Alsace and the Moselle département were originally German-speaking, but territorial transfers resulting from various wars have made them part of France. Given the French emphasis on speaking French and stressing national identification, assimilation in these areas has reduced use of the Alsatian dialect. The German-speaking population is estimated at 1,500,000, plus another 40,000 for ethnic Luxembourgers.
In Belgium, there is an ethnic German minority. It is the majority in its region of 71,000 inhabitants. Ethnologue puts the national total of German speakers at 150,000, not including Limburgisch and Luxembourgish).
Though their language (Luxembourgish) is closely related to the German language, Luxembourgers do not consider themselves ethnic Germans. In a 1941 referendum held in Luxembourg by ethnic German residents, more than 90% proclaimed themselves Luxembourgish by nationality, mother tongue and ethnicity.
In Denmark, the part of Schleswig that is now South Jutland County (or Northern Schleswig) is inhabited by about 12,000–20,000 ethnic Germans  They speak mainly Standard German and the South Jutlandic. A few speak the Schleswigsch dialect of Low Saxon.
In the United Kingdom, there exists a German-Briton ethnic group of around 300,000. Some are descended from nineteenth century immigrants. Others are 20th century immigrants and their descendants: Jews who fled Germany in the 1930s (and are unlikely to identify first as ethnic Germans), and World War II prisoners of war held in Great Britain who decided to stay there. Others arrived as spouses of British soldiers from post-war marriages in Germany, when British were occupying forces. Many of the more recent immigrants have settled in the London & South East part of the United Kingdom, in particular, Richmond (South West London).
The British Royal Family are partially descended from German monarchs.
From celtic times the early Germans settled from the Baltic all the way to the black sea until the great migrations of the 6-7th century AD. Germans migrated again eastwards during the medieval period Ostsiedlung until the Expulsion of Germans after World War II, many areas in Central and Eastern Europe had an ethnic German population. In the middle ages, Germans were invited to migrate to Poland and the central and eastern regions of the Holy Roman Empire and also the then Kingdom of Hungary following the Mongol invasions of the 12th century and then once again during the late 17th century after the Austrian-ottoman wars to set up farms and re-populate the eastern regions of the Austrian Empire and Balkans.
The Nazi government termed such ethnic Germans Volksdeutsche, regardless of how long they had been residents of other countries. Now they would be considered Auslandsdeutsche). After WWII, in reaction to the Nazi concepts, eastern European nations such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia expelled ethnic Germans from their territories, as did the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
There were significant ethnic German populations in such areas as Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine at one time. As recently as 1990, there were one million standard German speakers and 100,000 Plautdietsch speakers in Kazakhstan alone, and 38,000, 40,000 and 101,057 standard German speakers in Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, respectively.
There were reportedly 500,000 ethnic Germans in Poland in 1998. Recent official figures show 147,000 (as of 2002). Of the 745,421 Germans in Romania in 1930, only about 60,000 remain. In Hungary the situation is quite similar, with only about 220,000. There are up to one million Germans in the former Soviet Union, mostly in a band from southwestern Russia and the Volga valley, through Omsk and Altai Krai (597,212 Germans in Russia, 2002 Russian census) to Kazakhstan (353,441 Germans in Kazakhstan, 1999 Kazakhstan census). Germany admitted approximately 1.63 million ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union between 1990 and 1999.
These Auslandsdeutsche, as they are now generally known, have been streaming out of the former Eastern Bloc since the early 1990s. For example, many ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union have taken advantage of the German Law of return, a policy which grants citizenship to all those who can prove to be a refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or the spouse or descendant of such a person. This exodus has occurred despite the fact that many of the ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union were highly assimilated and speak little or no German.
Before World War II, some 30% of the population in the Czech lands was ethnic German, and in the border regions and certain other areas were even in the majority. There are about 40,000 Germans in the Czech Republic (number of Czechs who have at least partly German ancestry probably runs into hundreds of thousands). Their number has been consistently decreasing since World War II. According to the 2001 census there remain 13 municipalities and settlements in the Czech Republic with more than 10% Germans.
The situation in Slovakia was different from that in the Czech lands, in that the number of Germans was considerably lower and that the Germans from Slovakia were almost completely evacuated to German states as the Soviet army was moving west through Slovakia, and only the fraction of them that returned to Slovakia after the end of the war was deported together with the Germans from the Czech lands.
Many representatives of expelees organizations support the erection of bilingual signs in all formerly German speaking territory as a visible sign of the bilingual linguistic and cultural heritage of the region. The erection of bilingual signs is permitted if a minority constitutes 10% of the population.
Prior to World War II, approximately 1.5 million Danube Swabians lived in Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia. Today the German minority in Hungary have minority rights, organisations, schools and local councils but spontaneous assimilation is well under way. Many of the deportees visited their old homes after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990.
The remaining German minority in Poland (152,897 people, who were registered in the 2002 census) enjoys minority rights according to Polish minority law. There are German speakers throughout Poland, and most of the Germans live in the Opole Voivodship in Silesia. Bilingual signs are posted in some towns of the region. In addition, there are bilingual schools and German can be used instead of Polish in dealings with officials in several towns.
During the long decline of the Roman Empire and the ensuing great migrations German tribes such as the Vandals (who sacked Rome) migrated into North Africa and set up settlements and kingdoms, possibly as far south as modern Mauritania.
Germany was not as involved in colonizing Africa as were other major European powers of the 20th century (principally because Germany was not a unified country prior to 1871), and lost its overseas colonies, including German East Africa and German South-West Africa after World War I. Similarly to those in Latin America, the Germans in Africa tended to isolate themselves and be more self-sufficient than other Europeans. In Namibia there are 30,000 ethnic Germans, though it is estimated that only a third of those retain the language. Most German-speakers live in the capital, Windhoek, and in smaller towns such as Swakopmund and Lüderitz, where German architecture is highly visible.
In South Africa, a number of Afrikaners and Boers are of partial German ancestry, being the descendants of German immigrants who intermarried with Dutch settlers and adopted Afrikaans as their mother tongue. Professor JA Heese in his book Die Herkoms van die Afrikaner (The Origins of Afrikaners) claims the modern Afrikaners (who total around 3.5 million) have 34.4% German heritage.
Like North America, Australia has received a significant number of ethnic German immigrants from Germany and elsewhere. Numbers vary depending on who is counted, but moderate criteria give an estimate of 750,000 (4% of the population). The first wave of German immigration to Australia began in 1838, with the arrival of Prussian Lutheran settlers in South Australia (see German settlement in Australia). After the Second World War, Australia received a large influx of displaced ethnic Germans. In the 1950s and 1960s, German immigration continued as part of a large post-war wave of European immigration to Australia.
New Zealand has received modest, but steady, ethnic German immigration from the mid-19th century. Today the number of New Zealanders with German ancestry is estimated to be approximately 200,000 (5% of the population). Many German New Zealanders anglicized their names during the 20th century due to the negative perception of Germans fostered by World War I and World War II. New Zealanders of German descent include the late former Prime Minister David Lange, whose family name was pronounced /ˈlɒŋi/ long-ee).
During the Meiji era (1868–1912), many Germans came to work in Japan as advisors to the new government. Despite Japan's isolationism and geographic distance, there have been a few Germans in Japan, since Germany's and Japan's fairly parallel modernization made Germans ideal O-yatoi gaikokujin.
Smaller numbers of ethnic Germans settled in former Asian territories of Malaysia (British), Indonesia (Dutch) and the Philippines (American) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Indonesia, some of them became well-known figures in history, such as C.G.C. Reinwardt (founder and first director of Bogor Botanical Garden), Walter Spies (German of Russian origin, who became the artist that made Bali known to the world), and Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (owner of big plantation in south of Bandung and dubbed "Humboldt of the East" because of his ethno-geographical notes).
Communist East Germany had relations with Uganda and Vietnam, but in these cases population movement went mostly to, not from, Germany. After the German reunification, a large percentage of "guest workers" from Communist nations sent to East Germany returned to their home countries.
Note that many of these groups have since migrated elsewhere. This list simply gives the region with which they are associated, and does not include the Germans from countries with German as an official national language, which are:
In general, it also omits some collective terms in common use defined by political border changes where this is antithetical to the current structure. Such terms include:
In the Americas, one can divide the groups by current nation of residence:
…or by ethnic or religious criteria:
In Africa, Oceania, and East Asia
Three similar terms:
Other articles detailing the distribution of German language or people: