In the immediate period following the Second World War the Western occupation zones of Germany received eight million ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe. Initially these newcomers were lumped in Western German discourse under the term 'refugees'. Yet, within less than a decade, the term 'expellees' emerged as a more popular denotation. Scholarship has offered two explanations for this semantic change, emphasising the political influence of both the Allies and the 'expellee' leadership. This article presents a complementary reason for this discursive shift. We argue that 'expellees' marked the symbolic weight that the ethnic Germans offered as expulsion victims in order to balance out German guilt for Nazi crimes.