The Sudetenland: Stolen Suffering

“Sudeten” refers to a mountain range 200 miles long and 20 to 40 miles wide, covering the north of Bohemia and Moravia as well as part of Sudeten Silesia. Germans inhabited this “Czech” territory well before Slavic tribes arrived around 500 AD, although major German settlement in the Sudeten began during the reign of King Premysl Otakar II in the 13th century when the area was largely uninhabited and heavily forested. For centuries, Czechs were but a very small minority here.

Background of the Sudetenland until World War Two

Sudeten German civilians, on the basis of their ethnic identity alone and although they themselves were not personally responsible for the suffering of the Czech people, were held accountable for all wartime Czech suffering by means of collective guilt. Hence, to this day their expulsion and the severe hardships which more than 3,000,000 people endured, the loss of everything they possessed and the vicious cruelty inflicted upon them in one of the largest forced population transfers in history, is viewed by some, including the majority of Czechs, as fully justified and even commendable.

The unique Sudeten and Carpathian German communities have vanished from the earth. The Czech government has never made any admission of guilt for their role in this horrendous, flagrant human rights violation. Indeed, the “Beneš Decrees” that granted immunity to Czech citizens for expelling Germans and confiscating their property without compensation is still on the books, and legally the rape, theft or even murder of a German adult or child is technically legal under the law.

The artificially built Second Czechoslovak “Republic” was abetted by foreign assistance, support and endorsements which it received despite the xenophobic Benes Decrees which substituted the once harmonious coexistence of the Czech, German, Slovak and Hungarian people with brutality, denial of basic human rights, theft and murder. Benes was determined that his Czechoslovakia should not only keep its pre-war borders, but rid itself of its German minority, and after coming to power following the war, it did that with immense greed. Greed was the strongest motive for all of the expulsions.

Benes constructed his decrees as early as 1940 during his exile, suggesting the expulsion of all ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia and the confiscation of their property, a cold, merciless solution fully supported by both the Allies and the Soviets. The murder and expulsions began in earnest when the Benes “reslovakization” programs started in 1945. Women, children and old people paid the price.

All of the pent up rage at the war, the world or simply one’s personal misfortunes was directed at these civilian non-combatants in a gruesome, genocidal mix of punishments. Already, in May of 1945, Czech paramilitaries, army units and gangs of local vigilantes violently drove hundreds of thousands of Germans from their homes and across the borders of devastated and occupied Germany and Austria, torturing and murdering many in what Czechs refer to as the “wild transfer.” The Czechoslovak army played a central role in the horrors. General Zdeněk Novák issued an order to “deport all Germans from territory within the historical borders” citing the “Ten Commandments for Czechoslovak Soldiers in the Border Regions” which directed soldiers that “The Germans have remained our irreconcilable enemies. Do not cease to hate the Germans... Behave towards Germans like a victor... Be harsh to the Germans... German women and the Hitler Youth also bear the blame for the crimes of the Germans. Deal with them too in an uncompromising way.”

On March 28, 1946, the provisional Czech government formally mandated that all German civilians were to be collectively presumed guilty and stripped of their citizenship and their property. This included the most barbarous persecution and oppression of minorities humanly imaginable: rape, deportations, expulsions, internments, kangaroo courts, confiscation of property and the use forced labor camps. Over three and a half million Sudeten Germans were brutally expelled from their homes and farms. Even very old people much too frail to travel were evicted and forced into an early death. Benes and company applied this ruthless policy to ethnic Hungarians as well.

The still valid Benes decree #115 of May 8, 1946 declared all deeds against Germans, down to the rape and murder of children, were “justified acts of retribution” that could not be prosecuted. This led to unfathomable and sadistic abuses by anyone with a penchant for lust, murder, revenge or theft.

The only exceptions from expulsion were 244,000 ethnic German “anti-fascists” and other ethnic Germans absolutely crucial for industries stolen from Germans. They were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia and were worked as slaves for their Czech masters, but only as long as needed. In 1946, an estimated 1.3 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone of future West Germany and estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone, later East Germany.

This famous photograph, above right, which many of us have seen, shows train cars crammed full of Germans expelled from their homes, and was originally described by the government as: “Freight trains full of refugees, 1946. Crowded freight train bound for the Ruhr region. Background, double-decker train to Lübeck.” The bombed-out Hamburg RR Station looms behind. This photo was later cropped, retouched and widely distributed in 1981 with the caption: (Nazi) “transports into ghettos and extermination camps.” On the left, Sudeten Germans, some branded with paint, being expelled.

Thousands of German civilians were interned in concentration camps where they were murdered by poisoning, intentional starvation and unchecked disease. 2,061 such camps existed in Czechoslovakia. In the Mährisch-Ostrau camp around 350 people were tortured to death by early July 1945.

Foreign observations and primary accounts document are rife with tales of Czech police looking the other way as guards physically and sexually abused German women in forced labor camps, often to such a brutal extent that thousands of women committed suicide. Even Soviet observers at the time reported to the Central Committee in Moscow that the Czechs “don’t kill them, but torment them like livestock. The Czechs look at the Germans like cattle”

German civilians thrown into Czech concentration camps ranged in age from 4 to 80 and were crammed together in tents or shacks and slowly starved to death. It is thought that approximately 10,000 people died in Bohemian and Moravian camps and prisons from 1945 to 1948 from murder, epidemics, starvation and general abuse. One such notorious concentration camps at the once German town of Budweis was commanded in the years 1945-6 by Václav Hrneček who later fled Czechoslovakia and went to Bavaria where he was recognized by former German inmates of the camp and brought to trial before an American Court of the Allied High Commission for Germany. He received an eight year sentence for his criminal and cruel camp, a virtual center of sadism. Similar conditions were found in the internment camp near Kolín, where internees were raped, beaten and killed. According to a some estimates, approximately 10,000 people died in Bohemian and Moravian camps and prisons from 1945 to 1948.

Some people were crammed in freight cars and shipped out, such as the cramped, thirsty transport of Sudeten Germans from Troppau in Czech Silesia that arrived in Berlin in August, 1945. After 18 hellish days of travel, only 1,350 out of 4,250 women, children and old people were still alive.

Many were forced to walk out. Reduced to skin and bones, refugees were starving on the roadsides, with women, children and babies dead in the ditches. Those Germans who made it alive to a bombed-out, starving and already over-strained West Germany were regarded at times as unwanted foreigners. They had to struggle to fit in and were lucky to get even menial jobs.       Read Account

Likewise, local Carpathian Germans either fled or were killed in death camps such as Svaljava. 700 people from Theresiental were taken for slave labor in Siberia, the last ones not being freed until 1969. At the end of 1946, after “evacuation,” about 24,000 ethnic Germans still remained alive in Slovakia. Although most overt violence against German civilians in Slovakia ended in the late 1940s, the years of discrimination resulted in a quick and disparate assimilation.

The fugures of Sudeten German deaths as a result of the ethnic cleansing process range from a ridiculously low Czech (together with modern apologetic German) estimates of 15,000, which blurs the issue by distorting the true count, to the traditional standard figure of 270,000 (i.e. figure from the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft) which stood for almost half a century. Likewise, figures from the Brünn death march alone range an older figure of 20,000 to an unrealistic low today of 800. Of the several thousands who died in the process of ethnic cleansing, some sources state that 16,000 alone were documented as dying from direct violent deaths and 6,000 from “suicides” during the expulsion, with thousands more died from hunger and illness as a consequence. Like Allied bombing mortality figures, they are consistently being revised downward and never readjusted as higher.

The Germanic villagers living for centuries along the sections of ancient salt routes through the present day Czech Republic were all rounded up and either murdered or exiled, their homes and farms brazenly stolen. The place names of German villages and cities in these areas were all changed, and their histories subsequently stolen, erased or rewritten. An example is the farming village of BoemishRoerhren, a centuries-old resting and watering place for salt trade horses going from Passau to Prachatitz to exchange salt for wheat and barley. The village was laid out facing the morning sun against the mountain. The Germans were brutally expelled in 1944 at sunrise.

In 1945 Budweis, now “Ceské Budejovice,” the entire ethnic German population living in the city was forced to assemble. Some were murdered outright, and the rest were forced into exile under horrible conditions, leaving their homes, farms and businesses behind. Today, Budweis is part of the present day Czech Republic with its German heritage rewritten as Czech.

Even small hamlets were cleansed of their German histories. For well over 700 years, German-speaking people had inhabited Zuckmantel, the birthplace of Franz Schubert’s mother Maria Vietz (1756-1812) until the very last remnants of them were cruelly driven out at the end of World War Two between December and January of 1946. Their new Czech masters almost overnight, by gun point, issued the following directive upon banishing them: that the inhabitants must leave their houses “completely furnished; curtains, carpets, lamps, bed linen... with beds to be freshly made for 2 persons per home. The luggage may not be packed in carpets and coats.... Certified luggage for a person : 30 kg and 10 kg hand baggage. All else is to be left in the home!”

These citizens were never repaid for the theft of their homes and properties. Zuckmantel (now “Zlate Hory”) was the home of Schubert’s father, Franz Theodor Schubert. He moved in 1783 from German-speaking Neudorf near Mährisch-Schönberg in the Sudetenland to Vienna. There were also were genocidal expulsions here after war’s end.       Original Place Names

The ethnic and cultural face of the whole land was changed, even in the smallest of villages and the most remote hilltop hamlets. For example, the German population was expelled and replaced by Poles on the rugged northern Silesian side of the Riesenberg mountain range and by Czechs on the southern Bohemian side. The brutal ethnic cleansing program innocuously termed a “population exchange” led to a decline of the cultural landscape, and in many large parts of the mountains, the meadows went to seed, settlements vanished and hundreds of traditional mountain houses, chapels and monuments decayed or were destroyed because they were German in origin.

“Liberec will never again be Reichenberg. We will clear Liberec of the German enemies, and we will do it so thoroughly that not the smallest place will remain where the German seed could grow once more. We shall expel all the Germans, we shall confiscate their property, we shall de-nationalize not only the town but the whole area. so that the victorious spirit of Slavdom shall permeate the country from the frontier range to the interior. The government is determined to settle the question of the Germans uncompromisingly and unflinchingly. We are aware that, in the West, various reactionary protectors of the Germans are at work. But the government will not be misled or softened by any pressure, any campaigns, any libellous attacks. It is for us a decisive and encouraging fact that the Soviet Union stands by us in the question of transferring the Germans, and that Marshal Stalin himself has the greatest possible understanding for our endeavors to get rid of the Germans. We will not allow even some hundreds of thousands of Germans to remain in this country. We do not want any Germans along our north-western frontier, we want Czechoslovakia to form one integrally Slav territory with Poland and the Soviet Union.” Kopecky, the Stalinist Minister of Propaganda in the Czech cabinet, stated in a speech at Reichenberg (now “Liberec”) on July 25, 1945. And, Jan Masaryk, son of Czech founding president Tomáš Masaryk, boasted that the Czech nation was finally “over with the Germans of Czechoslovakia... There is no possible way to get us to live under the same umbrella again.”

Gablonz an der Neiße in northern Bohemia was the second largest town of the Reichenberg Region and it had for centuries a large German majority, mainly glass blowers and glass workers. After the Czech decree that all property belonging to the “German Race” be confiscated without compensation, many of the Germans who were expelled from Gablonz (now “Jablonec”) migrated near to the old Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren where they founded the township of Neugablonz.

That some Czechs, in the same manner as some Poles, Yugoslavians and others who in this manner acquired German properties, have literally buried evidence of their own complicity in the ethnic killings and expulsions while demanding blood money from the German government for themselves as restitution and reparations, is unconscionable. Regardless of whether ‘only’ 20,000 were killed in the expulsions or 250,000, the fact remains that Czechoslovaks ultimately destroyed an entire ethnic community of more than 3,000,000 civilians which, by standards involving any other ethnic group other than Germans, would constitute genocide. Budweiss and Gablonz, above.

The Brünn Death March


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