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April 16, 2014

The little known fate of the Sudeten Germans

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 4:21 pm

I am expanding on a comment written on my blog by one of my regular readers.  This quote is from the comment:  “The Sudeten Germans were robbed, persecuted and occasionally murdered by the Prague regime before the Munich Agreement. After the war, the Sudeten Germans were raped, murdered and hideously tortured in large numbers. Then all the survivors were expelled from the country.”

You don’t hear much about the suffering of the Sudeten Germans, although the Munich Agreement is frequently mentioned on comedy shows on TV, as jokes are made about Hitler taking all of Czechoslovakia after he was given the Sudentenland, following World War II.  (The word Sudeten will not go through the wordpress spell checker. This goes to show you how little is known about the Sudeten Germans.)

Fortress at Terezin with Sudeten mountains in the backgroun

Fortress at Terezin with Sudeten mountains in the background

Before I went to the Czech Republic several years ago, I did a lot of research on the subject and wrote about it on my website.  The following information is from my website

Theresienstadt (now called Terezin) was right on the dividing line between the Sudetenland and the remaining part of Czechoslovakia, with the demarcation line being immediately alongside the town’s fortifications, shown in the photo above. When the Sudetenland was given to the Germans in the Munich agreement, there were 25,000 Jews living there, who fled across the border into the town of Theresienstadt; some of them took temporary refuge in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt.

Eduard Benes, who replaced Masaryk as president of Czechoslovakia in 1935, had been opposed to the Germans in World War I. During the period between wars, Benes was a strong supporter of the League of Nations and was active in trying to prevent Germany from regaining military power. As an opponent of Fascism, Benes had complained to the League of Nations many times when Hitler began to violate the terms of the Versailles Treaty by rearming and placing troops in the Rhineland on the border between France and Germany.

The Munich “appeasement” of Hitler was intended to prevent another world war, but soon afterwards, Hitler demanded the resignation of Benes, his unrelenting opponent, who was agitating against the German takeover of the Sudetenland. In an effort to maintain peace, Benes resigned and went to England where he set up a Czech government in exile.

On March 14, 1939, following the resignation of Benes, Slovakia declared itself an independent state under the rule of Father Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest and a Nazi supporter. On the following day, the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia and took over the rest of the country without a fight. The states of Bohemia and Moravia, which had been dominated by the Germans for centuries under the Holy Roman Empire, became a German Protectorate. The Czech town of Terezin became once again a German town, and the name was changed back to the original name of Theresienstadt.

Great Britain, France and Italy assumed responsibility for the conflict in Czechoslovakia since they had signed the Treaty of Versailles which ended the war and stripped the Germans and Austrians of a big chunk of their former territories. Czechoslovakia had become a country as a result of that treaty. America also fought on the side of the Allies in World War I, but did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles because it included the League of Nations, which the American Congress voted not to join.

Austria-Hungary and Germany both signed an Armistice based on the Fourteen Points proposed by Woodrow Wilson, the American President during the war years. One of the key points was self-determination which meant that all ethnic groups had the right to determine the country in which they would live. This point of Wilson’s Fourteen Points was violated by the Treaty of Versailles when half a million Poles and a million Hungarians, along with three and a half million ethnic Germans became citizens of the new country of Czechoslovakia, which was dominated by the Czechs.

In answer to Hitler’s complaints, the British formed a commission to study the problem. This resulted in the Munich agreement, signed on Sept. 30, 1938 between Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, in which the borderland known as the Sudetenland, with its predominantly German population, was given to Germany. There were also 45,000 Jews living in the Sudetenland who were handed over to Hitler as a result of the Munich appeasement.

The Sudetenland had formerly been part of the Austrian Empire but by 1938, Austria was part of the new Greater German Reich created by Hitler in the Anschluss with Austria. The unification of Germany and Austria had been expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles, but the Allies did not protest this violation of the treaty. The Czech government did not have a say in the Munich agreement, since the country of Czechoslovakia was not in existence before the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

The Czechs fought as partisans against the Fascists in World War II, even sending men from England into Czechoslovakia by parachute to assassinate a top Nazi, SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. According to Ben G. Frank in his book entitled “A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe,” over 50% of the Czech partisans were Jews.

After Slovakia split off into an independent country, it became an ally of the German Fascists. The rest of the small states in Czechoslovakia were taken over by Poland and Hungary to bring their former citizens back into their respective countries in accordance with Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Hungary became a Fascist ally of Germany, but there was still an ongoing dispute between Germany and Poland over the territory which Germany had lost to Poland after World War I. Germany had been divided into two parts, separated by the Polish Corridor which was created to give the Poles access to the port of Danzig.

Once again, Hitler used the excuse that ethnic Germans were being mistreated and discriminated against when he invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 after efforts to resolve the problem peacefully had failed. Allegedly, 58,000 ethic Germans had been killed since April 1939 when the Germans first started trying to negotiate for a right-of-way across the Polish Corridor. Without a highway or railroad through the Corridor, the Germans could only access the eastern part of Germany by boat.

At the heart of the dispute between Germany and Poland was the free city of Gdansk, formerly the German city of Danzig, with its 100% German population, which was taken from the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles. Another bone of contention was the industrial section of Silesia which was given to Poland after World War I. In a self-determination vote, the people of Silesia had voted to become part of Germany, but this was ignored by the League of Nations, even though this was one of Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Although war had been avoided in the conflict between the Germans and the Czechs, this time there was no “appeasement” of Hitler. Great Britain and France, after signing an agreement to protect Poland in case of an attack by Germany, were forced to declare war on Germany and World War II began two days after the first shots were fired on September 1, 1939.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Czechoslovakia again became an independent country and all the ethnic Germans, except for the few who could prove that they were anti-Fascist during the war, were expelled from their homes and sent into war-torn Germany, many of them dying along the way from hunger and exhaustion. The Czechs and the Jews exacted their revenge by attacking these refugees as they fled to Germany. Many of the refugees had to live for as long as 18 years in the former Nazi concentration camps, such as Dachau, until they could find new jobs and homes, as Germany was slowly rebuilt.

As soon as a typhus epidemic at Theresienstadt was brought under control, the prisoners were released and the Small Fortress became a prison for German Nazis from 1945 to 1948.