|c. 3,252,000 in 1910
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia|
|Bavarian and Austrian dialects
|Related ethnic groups|
|Germans, Czechs, Austrians, Silesians, Poles|
German Bohemians, later known as the Sudeten Germans, were ethnic Germans living in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, which later became an integral part of the state of Czechoslovakia. Before 1945, Czechoslovakia was inhabited by over three million such German Bohemians, comprising about 23 percent of the population of the whole republic and about 29 and a half percent of the population of Bohemia and Moravia. Ethnic Germans had lived in Bohemia, a part of the Holy Roman Empire, since the 14th century (and in some areas from the 12th century or earlier), mostly in the border regions of the so-called Sudetenland. They became known as the Sudeten Germans after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which was a consequence of the First World War. After 1945, most ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, and sent to Germany and Austria.
The area that became known as the Sudetenland possessed huge chemical works and lignite mines, as well as textile, china, and glass factories. The Bohemian border with Bavaria was inhabited primarily by Germans. The Upper Palatine Forest, which extends along the Bavarian frontier and into the poor agricultural areas of southern Bohemia, was an important area of German settlement. Moravia contained patches of "locked" German territory to the north and south. More characteristic were the German language islands: towns inhabited by important German minorities and surrounded by Czechs. German population in the area was highly nationalistic and looked down on Czechs.
Not all ethnic Germans lived in isolated and well-defined areas; for historical reasons, Czechs and Germans mixed in many places and at least a partial knowledge of the second language was quite common. Nevertheless, since the second half of the 19th century, Czechs and Germans created separate cultural, educational, political and economic institutions which kept both groups isolated from each other. This form of separation continued until the end of the Second World War, when the Germans were expelled.
- 1 Names
- 2 Before the First World War
- 3 In the wake of the First World War
- 4 Policies affecting ethnic Germans in the Czechoslovak Republic
- 5 Rise of the Nazi party
- 6 Final crisis in 1938
- 7 Under Nazi rule
- 8 Expulsion and transfer
- 9 Notable German Bohemians
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
In the English language, ethnic Germans that originated in the Kingdom of Bohemia were traditionally referred to as ″German Bohemians″. This appellation utilizes the broad definition of Bohemia, which includes all of the three Bohemian crown lands: Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia. In the German language, it is more common to distinguish between the three lands, hence the prominent terms Deutschböhmen (German Bohemians), Deutschmährer (German Moravians) and Deutschschlesier (German Silesians). Even in German, however, the broader use of ″Bohemian″ is also found.
The term ″Sudeten Germans″ (Sudetendeutsche) came about during rising ethnic nationalism in the early 20th century, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the First World War. It coincided with the rise of another new term, ″the Sudetenland″, which referred only to the parts of the former Kingdom of Bohemia that were inhabited predominately by ethnic Germans. These names were derived from the Sudeten Mountains, which form the northern border of the Czech lands. As these terms were heavily used by the Nazi German regime to push forward the creation of a Greater Germanic Reich, many contemporary Germans avoid them in favor of the traditional names.
Before the First World War
Middle Ages and early modern period
There have been ethnic Germans living in the Bohemian crown lands since the Middle Ages. In the late 12th and in the 13th century the Přemyslid rulers promoted the colonization of certain areas of their lands by German settlers from the adjacent lands of Bavaria, Franconia, Upper Saxony and Austria during the Ostsiedlung migration.
In 1348, the Luxembourg king Charles I, also King of the Romans and Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles IV) from 1355, founded the Charles University in Prague (Alma Mater Carolina), the first in Central Europe, attended by large German student nations, while the language of education was Latin. Czechs made up about 20 percent of the student body at the time of its founding, while the rest was primarily German. A culturally significant example of German Bohemian prose from the Middle Ages is the story Der Ackermann aus Böhmen ("The Ploughman from Bohemia"), written in Early New High German by Johannes von Tepl (c.1350–1414) in Žatec (Saaz), who probably had studied the liberal arts in Prague.
For centuries, German Bohemians played important roles in the economy and politics of the Bohemian lands. For example, forest glass production was a common industry among German Bohemians. Though they were living beyond the medieval Kingdom of Germany, an independent German Bohemian awareness, however, was not widespread and for a long time it played no decisive role in everyday life. Individuals were usually seen as Bohemians, Moravians, Silesians, and most importantly, subjects of the reigning monarch or the Holy Roman Empire. Defining events later in German Bohemian history were the Hussite Wars, and the occupation of Bohemia by the Czech Brethren, the Thirty Years’ War, during which the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were severely affected, forwarding the immigration of further German settlers.
After the death of King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia in the 1526 Battle of Mohács, the Habsburg archduke Ferdinand of Austria had become King of Bohemia and the country became a constituent state of the Habsburg Monarchy. With the rise of the Habsburgs in Bohemia after the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, the old Bohemian nobility became virtually meaningless. Increasingly, the Bohemian crown lands were ruled from the Austrian capital Vienna, which favored the dominance of both the German language and German culture. On the other hand, the 18th century Silesian Wars of King Frederick II of Prussia against Austria, resulting in the loss of this traditionally Bohemian crown land, weakened Germans in the remaining parts of the Bohemian kingdom. As the 19th century arrived, resistance to the German domination began to develop among the Czech population.
The 19th century onward
After the revolutions of 1848, and the rise of ethnic nationalism, nervousness about ethnic tensions within the Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted in a prevailing equality between Czechs and German Bohemians. Each ethnicity, in regions in which they were the majority, tried to retain sovereignty over their own affairs. Czechs and Germans generally maintained separate schools, churches, and public institutions. Nevertheless, despite this separation, it was not uncommon for Germans to understand some Czech, or for Czechs to speak some German. Cities like Prague, however, saw more mixing between the ethnicities, and also had large populations of Jews. Jews in Bohemia often spoke German, in addition to or without Yiddish. The famed writer Franz Kafka exemplifies the diversity of Bohemia, being a German-speaking Prague-based Jew, whose last name is of Czech origin.
In 1867, the equality of Austrian citizens of all ethnicities was guaranteed by the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which enshrined the principles of constitutional monarchy. This agreement established the Dual Monarchy, and gave the Hungarians sovereignty over their own affairs. The preservation of German cultural dominance throughout Cisleithania had proven difficult, and now, it seemed, it was utterly impossible.
With this agreement, desire for an autonomous Czech sub-division of the Empire was mounting. Both German Bohemians and Czechs were hoping for a constitutional solution to these demands, and yet, Czech nationalist views remained a constant part of the Bohemian political sphere. Whereas previously Czechs had feared Germanization, the Germans now worried about Czechization.
A symbol of these rising tensions was the fate of Charles University, at this time called Charles-Ferdinand University. Czech students at the university had become increasingly perturbed by the sole use of the German language for instruction. During the revolution of 1848, both Germans and Czechs fought to make the Czech language one of the university’s official languages. This right was won, and the university became bilingual. Due to demographic changes in the 19th century, especially German Bohemian emigration to the United States, Prague ceased to have a German-language majority by around 1860. By 1863, 22 lecture courses were held in Czech, the remainder (out of 187) in German. In 1864, some Germans suggested the creation of a separate Czech university. Czech professors rejected this because they did not wish to lose the continuity of university traditions.
The Czechs, however, were still not satisfied with bilingual status and proposed creating two separate constituent colleges, one for the Germans, and one for the Czechs. The Germans vetoed this proposal and called for a full split of the University. After long negotiations the university was divided into a German Charles-Ferdinand University and a Czech Charles-Ferdinand University. The Cisleithanian Imperial Council prepared an act of parliament, and the emperor granted royal assent on 28 February 1882.
In 1907, the Cisleithanian Imperial Council was, for the first time, elected by universal male suffrage. As part of this process, new constituency boundaries had to be drawn throughout the Empire. Electoral officials were very careful to clearly demarcate areas as either German or Czech, assuring that there would be no conflict as to which ethnicity had a majority in a constituency. Nevertheless, this did not settle tensions among Czechs, who wanted to govern themselves from Prague.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand came up with a plan known as the United States of Greater Austria in 1909. In this plan, German Bohemia, as it was to be called, was going to be separated from the Czech areas around it. This would create ethnically homogenous and self-governing provinces, where ethnic conflict would hopefully not arise. Nevertheless, it would not work out that way. The Archduke was assassinated, and the First World War destroyed all hope of a redrawn Cisleithania.
In the wake of the First World War
The end of World War I, in 1918, brought about the breakup of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire into its historical components, one of them being Bohemian kingdom, forming the western part of newly created Czechoslovakia. Czech politicians insisted on the traditional boundaries of the Bohemian Crown, according to Uti possidetis juris. This meant that the new Czech state would have defensible mountain boundaries with Germany, but also that the highly industrialized settlement areas of three million ethnic Germans would be separated from Austria and come under Czech control.
The late-war Austrian minister president, Ernst Seidler von Feuchtenegg, wanted to divide Bohemia by setting up administrative counties (Verwaltungskreisen) based on the nationality of the population. On 26 September 1918, his successor, minister president Max Hussarek von Heinlein, offered the Czechs wide-ranging autonomy within Imperial and Royal Austria. This came too late, however, because exiled Czechs had already achieved the status of an ally in the United States during the First World War and as a result of the Triple Entente, and the imperial and royal government in Vienna was no longer considered a serious power by the victors of the war.
Province of German Bohemia
On 14 October, Raphael Pacher succeeded, together with the social democrat, Josef Seliger, to unite all German parties and members of parliament in Bohemia and Moravia into a coalition. In preparation for the foundation of the Republic of German Bohemia, this coalition, chaired by Packer, appointed a committee of twelve members. One day after the proclamation of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, on 29 October 1918, the Province of German Bohemia was formed with its capital in Reichenberg. Its first governor was Raphael Pacher, who transferred his office on 5 November to Rudolf Lodgman von Auen.
The Province of German Bohemia comprised a contiguous region in North and West Bohemia that stretched from the Egerland to the Braunau region along the border with the German Empire. In South Bohemia the administrative unit of Böhmerwaldgau emerged, which was to be part of Upper Austria. German Bohemia in the Eagle Mountains and in the area of Landskron merged with the so-called "Province of the Sudetenland" (which had radically different borders than the later understanding of the term). The Bohemian district of Neubistritz was incorporated into Znaim and was thus supposed to be administered by Lower Austria. The judiciary for German Bohemia was based in Reichenberg; Vienna was responsible for the other German regions. On 22 November 1918 the Province of German Bohemia proclaimed itself part of the state of German Austria. On the same day the territory of German Austria was defined by the Act of the "Provisional National Assembly" (Provisorische Nationalversammlung), this assembly including German Bohemian and German Moravian members of the former Cisleithanian Imperial Council.
In addition to the establishment of the state's governmental organisation, higher authorities were also created. For example, the Finance Ministry, the Department of Agriculture and the Higher Regional Court of Reichenberg as well as a general post office and railway administration.
For geographical reasons, however, a territorial solution would only have been possible if these regions, together with Austria, had been annexed by Germany.
After the Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR) was proclaimed on 28 October 1918, the German Bohemians, claiming the right to self-determination according to the 10th of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, demanded that their homeland areas remain with the Austrian State, which by then had been reduced to the Republic of German Austria. The German Bohemians relied on peaceful opposition to the occupation of their homeland by the Czech military, a process that started on 31 October 1918 and was completed on 28 January 1919. Fighting took place sporadically, resulting in the deaths of a few dozen Germans and Czechs.
On 4 March 1919, almost the entire ethnic German population peacefully demonstrated for their right to self-determination. These demonstrations were accompanied by a one-day general strike. The German Social Democratic Workers Party in the Czechoslovak Republic, which was the largest party at the time, was responsible for the demonstration initiative, but it was also supported by other bourgeois German parties. These mass demonstrations were put down by the Czech military, involving 54 deaths and 84 wounded.
The Treaty of St Germain of 10 September 1919 made clear that German Bohemia would not become part of the new Austrian republic. Instead, it would become part of Czechoslovakia. This new Czechoslovak state regarded ethnic Germans as an ethnic minority. Nevertheless, some 90 percent lived in territories in which they represented 90 percent or more of the population.
In 1921, the population of multi-ethnic Czechoslovakia comprised 6.6 million Czechs, 3.2 million Germans, two million Slovaks, 0.7 million Hungarians, half a million Ruthenians (Rusyns), 300,000 Jews, and 100,000 Poles, as well as Gypsies, Croats and other ethnic groups. German-speakers represented one-third of the population of the Czech lands, and about 23.4 percent of the population of the whole republic (13.6 million). The Sudetenland possessed huge chemical works and lignite mines, as well as textile, china, and glass factories. To the west, a triangle of historic ethnic German settlement surrounding the town Eger was the most active area for pan-German nationalism. The Upper Palatinate Forest, an area primarily populated by Germans, extended along the Bavarian frontier to the poor agricultural areas of southern Bohemia.
Moravia contained many patches of ethnic German settlement in the north and south. Most typical in these areas were German "language islands", towns inhabited by ethnic Germans, but surrounded by rural Czechs. Extreme German nationalism was never prevalent in these areas. German nationalism in the coal-mining region of southern Silesia, which was 40.5% German, was restrained by fear of competition from industry in the German Reich.
Not all ethnic Germans lived in isolated and well-defined areas; because of historical development, Czechs and Germans were mixed in many places, and many of each group had at least partial knowledge of second languages. Nevertheless, since the second half of the 19th century, Czechs and Germans had created separate cultural, educational, political and economic institutions which were kept (by both sides) isolated from each other. This form of separation increased after the First World War, and culminated during the Second World War.
Policies affecting ethnic Germans in the Czechoslovak Republic
Early policies of the Czechoslovak government, intended to correct social injustice and effect a moderate redistribution of wealth, had fallen more heavily on the German population than on other citizens. In 1919, the government confiscated one-fifth of each individual's holdings in paper currency.
The Land Control Act brought the expropriation of vast estates, many belonging to German-speaking nobility or large estate owners. Land was allotted primarily to Czech peasants, often landless, who constituted the majority of the agricultural population. Only 4.5 percent of all land allotted by January 1937 was received by ethnic Germans, whose protests were expressed in countless petitions.
According to the 1920 constitution, German minority rights were to be protected; their educational and cultural institutions were to be preserved in proportion to the population.Czech soldiers, policemen and bureaucrats were stationed in areas formerly inhabited only by Germans.
The historian Katrin Bock wrote: "A lot of the Germans felt that the new constitution didn't fulfill what the Czechs had promised in Paris, because they thought there were not enough minority rights in it. (But they did gradually get used to being Czechoslovak citizens.) They took part in the first elections of 1920, and six years later in 1926 the first German was a minister (Robert Mayr-Harting and Franz Spina) and the first German party was part of the government (German Christian Social People's Party and Farmers' League), so they just got used to feeling themselves as Czechoslovak citizens."
Minority laws were most often applied to create new Czech schools in German districts, sometimes only for civil servants who had relocated to the area. Government contracts in the area were frequently carried out by Czech companies. The use of the Czech language in the German-speaking regions was actively promoted, which led, among other incidents, to a "sign war" between the Czech Hikers Club (KČT) and local Germans in the Krkonoše. German-speakers, owing to numerous subsidized local theatres, were required to open them to the Czech-speaking minority one night a week.
Sudeten German industry, highly dependent on foreign trade and having close financial links with Germany, suffered badly during the Depression, particularly when banks in Germany failed in 1931. Czechs, whose industry was concentrated on the production of essential domestic items, suffered less. By the mid-1930s, unemployment in the Sudetenland was at about five times the level of the Czech-speaking areas. Tensions between the two groups resulted.
Relations between Czechs and Germans suffered further when Sudeten Germans were forced to turn to the Czechoslovak government and the small loans bank (Živnostenská banka) for assistance. These authorities often made the hiring of Czechs in proportion to their numbers in the population a condition for aid. Czech workmen, dispatched by the government to engage in public works projects and border fortification in Sudeten German territories, were resented by local populations.
German nationalist sentiment ran high during the early years of the republic (their representatives wished and tried to join Austria, Germany or at least obtain as much autonomy rights as possible). The constitution of 1920 was drafted without Sudeten German representation, and the group declined to participate in the election of the president. Sudeten German political parties pursued an "obstructionist" (or negativist) policy in the Czechoslovak parliament. In 1926, however, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann of Germany, adopting a policy of rapprochement with the West, advised the Sudeten Germans to cooperate actively with the Czechoslovak government. In consequence, most Sudeten German parties (including the German Agrarian Party, the German Social Democratic Party, and the German Christian Socialist People's Party) changed their policy from negativism to activism, and several German politicians accepted cabinet posts.
At a party conference in Teplitz/Teplice in 1919, the provincial social democratic parties of Bohemia, Moravia and Sudeten-Silesia united to form the Deutsche Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (DSAP). They elected Josef Seliger as chairman. After Seliger's untimely death in 1920, Ludwig Czech became party chairman, who was succeeded in 1938 by Wenzel Jaksch.
Already in 1936 Jaksch, together with Hans Schütz of the German Christian Social People's Party (Deutsche Christlich-Soziale Volkspartei) and Gustav Hacker of the Bund der Landwirte (Farmer's Federation), formed the movement of the Jungaktivisten (Young Activists). They sought agreement with the Czechoslovak government on a policy that could withstand the Nazi onslaught from within and from outside Czechoslovakia. At simultaneous mass rallies in Tetschen-Bodenbach/Děčín, Saaz/Žatec and Olešnice v Orlických horách/Gießhübl im Adlergebirge on April 26, 1936, they demanded equal opportunities in civil service for Germans, financial assistance for German businesses, official acceptance of the German language for public servants in the Sudetenland, and measures to reduce unemployment in the "Sudetenland". (At the time, one in three was unemployed in the "Sudetenland" compared to one in five in the rest of the country.) Improving the quality of life of the Sudeten Germans was not the only motivation of the Jungaktivists. For Jaksch and his social democratic compatriots, it was a question of survival after a possible Nazi takeover. Of some 80,000 social democrats in Czechoslovakia, only about 5,000 managed to flee the Nazis. The rest were incarcerated and many of them executed. Many of those who survived Nazi persecution were later expelled together with other ethnic Germans on the basis of the so-called Beneš decrees.
By 1929 only a small number of Sudeten German deputies, most of them members of the German National Party (propertied classes) and the German National Socialist Workers' Party (Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei), remained in opposition to the Czechoslovak government. Nationalist sentiment flourished, however, among Sudeten German youths, who were organized in a variety of organizations, such as the older Deutsche Turnverband and Schutzvereine, the Kameradschaftsbund, the Nazi Volkssport (1929), and the Bereitschaft.
Rise of the Nazi party
The Sudeten German nationalists, particularly the Nazis, expanded their activities during the Depression years. On 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The Czechoslovak government prepared to suppress the Sudeten Nazi Party. In the Autumn of 1933, the Sudeten Nazis dissolved their organization, and the German Nationals were pressured to do likewise. The government expelled German Nationals and Sudeten Nazis from local government positions. The Sudeten German population was indignant, especially in nationalist strongholds like Egerland.
On 1 October 1933, Konrad Henlein with his deputy Karl Hermann Frank, aided by other members of the Kameradschaftsbund, a youth organization of mystical orientation, created a new political organization. The Sudeten German Home Front (Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront) professed loyalty to the Czechoslovak state but championed decentralization. It absorbed most former German Nationals and Sudeten Nazis.
In 1935 the Sudeten German Home Front became the Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei) (SdP) and embarked on an active propaganda campaign. In the May election, the SdP won more than 60% of the Sudeten German vote. The German Agrarians, Christian Socialists, and Social Democrats each lost approximately one-half of their following. The SdP became the fulcrum of German nationalist forces. The party represented itself as striving for a just settlement of Sudeten German claims within the framework of Czechoslovak democracy. Henlein, however, maintained secret contact with Nazi Germany and received material aid from Berlin. The SdP endorsed the idea of a Führer and mimicked Nazi methods with banners, slogans, and uniformed troops. Concessions offered by the Czechoslovak government, including the installation of exclusively Sudeten German officials in Sudeten German areas and possible participation of the SdP in the cabinet, were rejected. By 1937 most SdP leaders supported Hitler's pan-German objectives.
On 13 March 1938, the Third Reich annexed Austria, a "union" known as the Anschluss. Immediately thereafter many Sudeten Germans threw their support behind Henlein. On 22 March, the German Agrarian Party, led by Gustav Hacker, fused with the SdP. German Christian Socialists in Czechoslovakia suspended their activities on 24 March; their deputies and senators entered the SdP parliamentary club. Only the Social Democrats continued to champion democratic freedom. The masses, however, supported the SdP.
Czechoslovak Chamber of Deputies 1920–1935
The table below shows the number of seats German parties and German–Hungarian lists gained in the Czechoslovak Chamber of Deputies between 1920 and 1935.
|Party or List||Seats 1920||Seats 1925||Seats 1929||Seats 1935||Votes 1935|
|Sudeten German Party||-||-||-||44||1.256.010|
|German National Party||-||10||7||-||-|
|German National Socialist Workers Party||15||17||8||-||-|
|German Social Democratic Workers Party||31||17||21||11||300.406|
|German Christian Social People's Party||7||13||14||6||163.666|
|German Union of Farmers||11||24||-||5||142.775|
|Hungarian Parties and Sudeten German Electoral Bloc||9||4||9||9||292.847|
|United German Parties||6||-||16||-||-|
|Total (out of 300 seats)||79||85||75||75|
- Hungarian Parties and Sudeten German Electoral Bloc (1935): German Democratic Liberal Party, German Industrialist Party, Party of German Nation, Sudeten German Land Union, German Workers Party, Zips German Party, Provincial Christian Social Party, Hungarian National Party
Final crisis in 1938
Konrad Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938 and was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government. In the Carlsbad Decrees, issued on 24 April, the SdP demanded complete autonomy for the Sudetenland and freedom to profess Nazi ideology. If Henlein's demands had been granted, the Sudetenland would have been in a position to align itself with Nazi Germany.
As the political situation worsened, the security in Sudetenland deteriorated. The region became the site of small-scale clashes between young SdP followers (equipped with arms smuggled from Germany) and police and border forces. In some places the regular army was called in to pacify the situation. Nazi German Propaganda accused the Czech government and Czechs of atrocities on innocent Germans. The Czech public started to prepare for an inevitable war (for example, training with gas masks).
On 20 May, Czechoslovakia initiated a so-called "partial mobilization" (literally "special military precaution") in response to rumours of German troop movements. The army moved into position on the border. Western powers tried to calm down the situation and forced the government of Czechoslovakia to comply with most of the Carlsbad Decrees. However the SdP, instructed to push towards war, escalated the situation with more protests and violence.
With the help of special Nazi forces, the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps (paramilitary groups trained in Germany by SS-instructors) took over some border areas and committed many crimes: they killed more than 110 Czechs (mostly soldiers and policemen) and kidnapped over 2,020 Czechoslovak citizens (including German anti-fascists), taking them to Nazi Germany.
In August, UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent Lord Runciman, a faithful appeaser, to Czechoslovakia to see if he could obtain a settlement between the Czechoslovak government and the Germans in the Sudetenland. His mission failed because the Sudeten German Party refused all conciliating proposals (on Hitler's command).
Runciman reported the following to the British government regarding Czech policy towards the German minority in the preceding decades.:
|“||Czech officials and Czech police, speaking little or no German, were appointed in large numbers to purely German districts; Czech agricultural colonists were encouraged to settle on land confiscated under the Land Reform in the middle of German populations; for the children of these Czech invaders Czech schools were built on a large scale; there is a very general belief that Czech firms were favoured as against German firms in the allocation of State contracts and that the State provided work and relief for Czechs more readily than for Germans. I believe these complaints to be in the main justified. Even as late as the time of my Mission, I could find no readiness on the part of the Czechoslovak Government to remedy them on anything like an adequate scale... the feeling among the Sudeten Germans until about three or four years ago was one of hopelessness. But the rise of Nazi Germany gave them new hope. I regard their turning for help towards their kinsmen and their eventual desire to join the Reich as a natural development in the circumstances.||”|
Britain and France then forced the Czechoslovak government to cede the Sudetenland to Germany on 21 September. The Munich Agreement (signed September 29 by Britain, France, Germany and Italy and negotiated without Czechoslovak participation) only confirmed the decision and the negotiated details. Under pressure from its Western allies, the Czechoslovak government was forced to accept Munich Agreement ceding a German-defined maximalist extension of Sudetenland to Germany including among other things the Škoda works near Pilsen, Czechoslovakia’s primary armaments factory.
As a result, Bohemia and Moravia lost about 38 percent of their combined area, as well as about 3.25 million Germans and approximately 250,000 Czechs to Germany.
Under Nazi rule
Some 250,000 Germans remained on the Czech side of the border, which later became part of the Reich by the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia under German governors and the German Army. Almost all the Germans in these Czech territories were subsequently granted German citizenship, while most of the Germans in Slovakia obtained citizenship of the Slovak state.
With the establishment of German rule, hundreds of thousands of Czechs who (under the policy of Czechification) had moved into the Sudetenland after 1919 left the area, some willingly. They were, however, permitted to take away their possessions and to legally sell their houses and land. A few, however, remained.
In elections held on 4 December 1938, 97.32% of the adult population in Sudetenland voted for the NSDAP (most of the rest were Czechs who were allowed to vote as well). About half a million Sudeten Germans joined the Nazi Party, which amounted to 17.34% of the German population in the Sudetenland (the average in Nazi Germany was 7.85%). Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as in the Nazi oppressive machinery such as the Gestapo. The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank, the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.
During World War II, German men in Slovakia usually served in the Slovak army, but more than 7,000 were members of paramilitary squads (Freiwillige Schutzstaffeln) and almost 2,000 volunteers joined the Waffen-SS. After the beginning of the Slovak National Uprising in late 1944, most of the young Germans in Slovakia were drafted in the German army, either with the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS. The very young and elderly were organized in Heimatschutz, an equivalent of the Volkssturm in Germany. The Nazis ordered some of them to take action against the partisans; others participated in deportation of Slovak Jews. The Nazis evacuated about 120,000 Germans (mostly women and children) to the Sudetenland and the Protectorate.
Expulsion and transfer
In the aftermath of WWII, when the Czechoslovak state was restored, the government expelled the majority of ethnic Germans (about 3 million altogether), in the belief that their behavior had been a major cause of the war and subsequent destruction. In the months directly following the end of the war, "wild" expulsions happened from May till August 1945. Several Czechoslovak statesmen encouraged such expulsions with polemical speeches. Generally local authorities ordered the expulsions, which armed volunteers carried out. In some cases the regular army initiated or assisted such expulsions. Several thousand Germans were murdered during the expulsion, and many more died from hunger and illness as a consequence of becoming refugees.
The regular transfer of ethnic nationals among nations, authorized according the Potsdam Conference, proceeded from 25 January 1946 till October 1946. An estimated 1.6 million "ethnic Germans" (most of them also had Czech ancestors; and even Czechs, who spoke mainly German over the last years), were deported from Czechoslovakia to the American zone of what would become West Germany. An estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany). Estimates of casualties related to this expulsion range between 20,000 and 200,000 people, depending on source. Casualties included primarily violent deaths and suicides, rapes, deaths in internment camps and natural causes.
Even the German-speaking Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague could not escape expulsion. The remaining faculty, students, and administrators fled to Munich in Bavaria, where they established the Collegium Carolinum, a research institute for the study of the Bohemian lands.
The Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft claims to represent the German refugees from the former Czechoslovak Republic, but its conservative positions were and are discussed very controversially among the refugees themselves, with many choosing not to associate with the organization. In the 2001 census, 39,106 people in the Czech Republic claimed German ancestry. In theory, with the accession of the Czech Republic, refugee Sudeten Germans and their descendants (or for that matter, also Germans with no previous link to the Czech lands) could have moved back there without needing the Czech government's permission - but in practice such a move did not materialize in any significant numbers.
Notable German Bohemians
- Occupation of Czechoslovakia
- Beneš decrees
- Sudeten German Homeland Association
- History of Czechoslovakia (1918–1938)
- Ethnic minorities in Czechoslovakia
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Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice československé II. Země moravskoslezská. Prague. 1935.
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