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PostFate of Sudeten Germans after WWII (Nigel Jones, -UK, 01/17/19 4:39 am)
Paul Pitlick's post on the history of the Sudeten Germans (January 16th) is completely correct, except that his figure of 16,000 deaths during their forced expulsion after 1945 is probably too low.
According to my friend the historian Giles MacDonogh's 2007 book After the Reich, a quarter of a million Sudeten Germans died. That figure may be too high, but it is beyond doubt that a high proportion of the three million Sudeten Germans perished, along with their ethnic German compatriots expelled from Poland, the Baltic states, Silesia and Rumania. MacDonogh claims the total death toll to be three million.
While these are shocking figures, it should be remembered that after the bestialities of the Nazis during WWII in eastern Europe, a sort of rough justice revenge was inevitable and fell on communities who may have been individually innocent, but who did collectively mainly support Hitler's Reich.
Regarding the Sudeten Germans specifically, as Paul says, they composed the second largest ethnic group in the newly created state of Czechoslovakia in 1919 after the Czechs themselves. There were three million of them, or around 18% of the total national population. They were largely clustered in an arc around the western frontiers of the state, mainly in rural villages, but including such cities as Eger and Marienbad. There was also a sizeable German population in the capital Prague.
It is important to remember that the Sudetens had never been part of Germany, but until 1918 had been subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In the 1920s they formed their own political parties, Social Democrats and Nationalist, advocating greater autonomy within Czechoslovakia.
With the rise to power of Hitler's Nazis in neighbouring Germany, the Sudeten National party became more and more extreme. Led by Konrad Henlein and the fanatical Karl Frank, they were soon acting under Hitler's direct orders, and making ever more extreme demands that they knew the Czechs could never accept.
Hitler had a special animus against the Czechs arising from his own childhood in Austria, when his schools were split between ethnic Austrian Germans and Czechs. His deliberate ramping up of largely fictitious Sudeten grievances led to the crisis in autumn 1938 which culminated in the Munich conference, the ceding of the Sudetenland to his Reich, and six months later to the forced Nazi occupation of the ethnically Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia and the creation of a puppet Slovak state under the Nazi Catholic priest Joseph Tiso.
The Nazi occupation of the Czech lands was brutal in the extreme, and Henlein and Frank were among the SS officials who enforced it. The most notorious episode followed the assassination in Prague of the ruthless Reinhard Heydrich, "Protector" of Bohemia and Moravia, in 1942 by Czech and Slovak agents trained and parachuted in by Britain. As is well known, the village of Lidice (falsely suspected of harbouring the assassins) was literally wiped from the face of the earth by the SS in revenge. Of the 340 villagers, all the men were shot, while the women and children were sent to concentration camps. Only 153 women and 17 children survived the war. Hitler had originally demanded that 30,000 Czechs be exterminated, but this figure was reduced when it was pointed out to him that it would adversely affect Czech industrial production for the Reich. Nevertheless, up to 2,000 Czechs were executed in reprisal for Heydrich's death alone.
Revenge after the war was only to be expected. The Czech pre-war President, Edvard Benes, returning from exile in Britain, ordered the total expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. Upwards of two and a half million of them were expelled to West Germany, where they chiefly settled in Bavaria. For many years their associations were a significant force in German politics, demanding a return to their homes and/or compensation, but as they became absorbed in the general German population these demands dwindled.
The Sudeten villages remained largely empty into the 1960s until they were repopulated by the Czechs. I am unaware of whether there are current moves afoot for any return of the Sudetens' descendants to their ancestral homes .
Of the two original Nazi Sudeten leaders, Henlein committed suicide in an Allied Internment camp, while Frank was publicly executed in Prague. There is a gruesome film of his hanging on YouTube. It was well deserved.
I append a link to a review I wrote of After the Reich. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3664526/How-three-million-Germans-died-after-VE-Day.html
JE comments: Excellent overview, Nigel; thanks. You sum up the situation perfectly in your MacDonogh review: "This unhappy story has long been cloaked in silence since telling it suited no one." The suffering of millions of Germans after the war is a profound case study into collective guilt. Is it ever justifiable to punish the many for the crimes of the few? Time and again, history gives its sad answer: yes.