Sudetenland History


Figure 1.--Here Czech refugees fleeing from the NAZIs seek shelter in Prague. The press caption read, "Sudetenland Refugees Pour into Prague: This photo shows a scene in one of the hastily equipped shelters here where refugees from the troubled Sudeten German areas are being cared for. As rumpors of German troop movements spread along the frontier, refugees continue to piyr unto the Czrch capital." The photo was dated September 26, 1938, a few days before the Germans sized the Sudetenland. .

The Sudetenland was a microchosim of the struggle between Germans and Slavs over Eastern and Central Europe. Both Czechs and Germans have been living in Bohemia and Moravia for centuries. Bohemia amd Moravia were settled by Celtic Germanic tribes known as the the Boii, the Marcomanni, and the Quadi. The Celts were the major European group dominating Europe north of Greece and Rome. Subsequently a the Czechs, a Slav tribe, invaded the central regions of Bohemia and Moravia. Bohemian dukes in the 12th and 13th centuries invited Germans to help settle their lands. Modern concepts of nationalism had not yet developed. The territories known as the the Bohemian Crown (Bohemia and Moravia), including the Sudetenland inhabited by Germans, in 1526 were acquired by the Habsburgs. After World War I, the 6.7 million Czechs mostly in Bohemia and Moravia demanded a state of their own. The Sudeten Germans for the most part wanted to be part of Germny. The peace conference at St. Germain in 1919, however, left the Sudetenland as part of the new independent Czecheslovakia. The situation in the Sudetenland changed in the 1930s with the coming of the worldwide Depression in 1929. The Sudetenland was heavily industrialized. There was massive unemployment as a result of the depression. German's who had lost their jobs in the Depression began to think that they might be better off in Germany. Then Hitler and the NAZIs seized power in Germany in 1933. Unemployed workers were susceptible to the anti-semitic, anti-Czechoslovakia, pro-German rhetoric of the NAZIs. Local leader Konrad Henlen founded the Sudetendeutsche Partei (Sudeten German NAZI Party). Along with with discriminatory actions of local Czechoslovakian officials incidents provoked by the local NAZIS brought about the Munich crisis of 1938. Czecheslovakia was protected by treaties with Britain and France. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. The Czechs and the Soviets were not invited. The Munich Conference took place September, 29, 1938. In the face of Hitler's war threats however, Britain and France failed to honor their promise of military assistance and abandoned the Czechs to the NAZIs. The Sudentland was annexed by the Reich as the Reichsgau Sudetenland. The German annexation of the Sudntland and control of Czechoslovakia was a disater for the Czechs. Many Sudeten Germans, estatic that they were finally within the Reich behaved terrible toward their Czech neighbors. The NAZIs proceeded to begin to Germanize the population. Only the defeat of NAZI Germany in World war II prevntd this. The World War II and post-War history of Czecheslovakia is highly controversial. Millions of living in the Sudetenland and other Eastern European countries suffered teribly after the War. Their suffering has not been widely reported in the considerable historical record of refugees and displaced people. Many Germans harbor bitter attitudes toward the Czechs bcause of the way that they and their parents wre treated. It seems to be hard for people who since more than 60 years only heard one side of the story, namely how terrible the German annexation of Czechoslovakia was for the Czechs, and how badly the Sudeten Germans were behaving.

Ancient History

Bohemia amd Moravia were settled by Celtic Germanic tribes known as the the Boii, the Marcomanni, and the Quadi. The Celts were the major European group dominating Europe north of Greece and Rome. Subsequently a the Czechs, a Slav tribe, invaded the central regions of Bohemia and Moravia,

Middle Ages

Bohemian dukes in the 12th and 13th centuries invited Germans to help settle their lands. Modern concepts of nationalism had not yet developed. It was still common in Europe for feudal lords to rule peole of different cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. These Bohemian dukes as well as soverigns in other areas of Europe saw German farmers, miners, craftsmen, merchants, and artists as useful to settle their lands and increase productivity. The Sudetenland was a mountainous area that was relatively unsettled. These Germans played a major role in the economic and cultural life of Bohemia and Moravia. It was Germans who established the famous Bohemian glass industry, and also the health spas at Karlsbad and Marienbad. Germans were prominent in art and culture throughout the region. Many historic churches and buildings were built by German architects.

Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire was an empire only in name and it was not Roman, but German. It was in fact a loose association of German principalities which came to be dominated by Austria and the Hapsburg dynasty, although the Emperor himself was chosen by electors--the princes of Germany. Bohemia and Moravia with large non-German populations, were part of the Holy Roman Empire. Emporers such as Charles IV and Rudolf II ruled from Prague, the capital of Bohemia. Charles IV founded the first German university in Prague in 1348.

Austria and the Hapsburgs

Austria was one of the great powers of Europe. The Austrians with help from the Poles and other uropeans turned the Turks back from the gates of Vienna. Austria under the Habsburg dynasty were at the center of European history for nearly 700 years. At times Austria under the Habsburgs was the most powerful force in Europe, espically with the Spanish crown was joined to the family's other European holdings under Charles V.

Bohemian Crown and the Sudetenland

The territories known as the the Bohemian Crown (Bohemia and Moravia), including the Sudetenland inhabited by Germans, in 1526 were acquired by the Habsburgs. They had been for centuries part of the Holy Roman Empire, but in 1526 were actually acquired by the Habsburgs. The Sudetenland thus since the 16th century has been associate with Austria and the Habsburg monarchy. Sudeten Silesia was acquired more recently, as a result of the peace treaty ending the Seven Years War in 1763. Since the dukes of Bohemia began attracing German settlers in the 12th century, Germans and Czechs lived together in relative hamony. The relationship was not without conflicts, the most notable was the 15th century Hussite wars in the 15th century. These conflicts generalyy involved religious and social issues rather than ethnic differences. Contact between the Czech and German communities varied in the Sudetenland. In many areas there were separate villages in which there were limited contacts between the two ethnic groups. Some areas of the Sudetenland were much more haevily German than other areas. The southern region of Moravia, for example, was virtually indistinguishable from neighboring Austria.

Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars followed the wars associated with the French Revolution. The Napoleoic Wars extended over 20 years and included a number of distinct campaigns. The First Coalition Wars (1792-97) including the Italian campaign can be associated with the French Revolution. The important campaign of the Napoleonic Wars are Egypt (1798-1801), Second Coalition (1798-1801), Third Coalition (1805), Fourth Coalition (1806-07), Fifth Coalition (1809), the Peninsular War, (1808-14), Invasion of Russia (1812), Germany (1813), Invasion of France (1814), and the 100 days campaign (1815). The map of Europe was redrawn by Napoleon, but after his defeat, Bohemia and Moravia reverted to Austria and the Habsburgs.

German Conferation (1815-66)

After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the European powers guided by Austrian Foreign Minister Count Meternich restoted the powers of the old dynasties throughout Europe, but with some signoficant changes. The Holy Roman Empire was replaced by the German Confederation which included much of the lands of the Empire. Prussia and Austria were the two most important members of the Confederation. The history of the Confederation was one of a struggle between Prussia and Austria for the soul of Germany. At first Austria was the dominant force within the Confederation, but after 1848, Prussia guided by Count Otto von Bismarck gradually gained strength. As a result of the revolutions of 1848, the first German parliament which met in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt. The Sudeten Germans were among those who elected members of the Bismarck did not, however, trust the Parliament and moved to unite Germany under the Prussian Crown.

Austro-Prussian War (1866)

The Austro-Prussian War is normally not awarded great attention in European histories. The War lasted only a few weeks, but the outcome was of immense repercussions. The Prussian defeat of Austria was so total that the question of which country was the domoinate force in Germny was settled with finality. Prussia was to dominate Germany. Bismarck was able to fashion a "soft" peace with Austria. (His inability to do the same with France after the Franco-Prussia War (1870-71) was to eventually lead to the destruction of the German Empire he fashioned.) The arrangement was that Prussia would dominate Germany. Austia would be excluded from Germany, but allowed to keep its non-German possessions which included Bohemia and Moravia with the Sudetenland and its German population. The Habsburgs in 1867 refashioned their domains as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Austro-Hungarian Empire

Until the rise of Czech nationalism arised, Germans and Czechs got along very well. They liked the same music. Bohemian brass bands were famous throughout Germany. There were many shared foods. The German-speaking Habsburgs ruled the country, but there never was any war between the two groups. As a matter of fact thousands of Czechs and Slovaks moved to the imperial capital, Vienna, to make a living. The Vienna telephone book even today is full of names like Jelinek, Novotny, and Svoboda. They are now all solid Austrians, speaking their Viennese dialect. One question that do not yet have information about is the Austro-Hungarian educational system, especially the language of instruction. We would be very interested in any insights and information readers might have on the Austro-Hungarian education system. We know that Austrian authorities in 1882 divided the University of Prague into a German and a Czech part. A HBC reader writes, "I don't know much about the educational system and the language of instruction during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I assume that the German language was favored as much as possible, but I think that in areas where the majority of the population was non-German (Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovenian, Ruthenian, Serbian, etc.) children were being taught in their mother's tongue. Of course, it was an advantage to learn German at that time and many did. The Czech composer Antonin Dvorak learned it and the very nationalistic writer Josef Jungmann (1773-1847) who wrote a Czech-German dictionary and "History of the Bohemian language". He meant by "Bohemian" Czech. He possibly was of German descent, going by his family name." [Stueck]

World War I (1914-18)

World War I was actually a largely European war. What made the war so important were the huge casualties caused no only by the duration, but the introduction of new weapns, including poison gas and rapid advances in the lethality of weapons. A whole generation of European men was largely killed in the fighting. The consequences were enormous. Empires and ruling families fell. Long held social systems collapsed. The Bollshevivks seized power in Russia. New countries based on nationality were created in Eastern Europe out of the old empires. The breakup of the Austro-Hungarian multi-national possessions was especially significant. Czeecheslovakia was one of the new states created. The national hatreds that were spawned errupted in an even more destructive war 20 years later.

Czecheslovakia (1918-38)

The country of Czecheslovakia created in the World War I peace settlement is viewed very differently by people from different countries. Americans and British as well as the French vuew the country as a gallant outpost of democracy in Eastern Europe that was bandoned by the Allies to the horrors of NAZI Germany. To many Germans Czecheslovakia was a state created by the Allies without legal justification that trampled the rights of ethnic minorities. This was the issue that the NAZI propaganda machine enthusiastically joined. The Republic of Czecheslovakia was proclamaed on October 18, 1918, even before the end of World War I. The country was created by Czechs and Slovaks. The Sudeten Germans who did not to be part of the new country played virtually no role in the country's creation. The 6.7 million Czechs mostly in Bohemia and Moravia demanded a state of their own. The Sudeten Germans responded to the right of self-determination expressed in American President Woodrow Wilson 14 Points expressed a desire to join Austria. Many Austrians in turn wnted to unite with Germany. Sudeten Germans were disappointed at finding themselves a minority in the new Czecheslovakia. Domonstraions followed. Several different peace conferences were needed to end World War I with the various members of the Central Powers. The best known Conference was the Versailles Peace Conference to create a peace treary with Germany. The St. Germain Peace Conference created the treaty ending the war with Austria (as a successor state to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) because the Empire no longer existed (September 1919). Czecheslovakia was a very ethnically diverse country. The Czechs had a very narrow majirity in an ethnically diverse country. The new country of Czecheslovakia was composed of: 6.7 million Czechs, 3.1 million Germans, 2.0 million Slovaks, 0.7 million Hungarians, 0.5 million Ruthenians, 0.3 million Jews, and 0.1 million Poles. Czecheslovakia was also once of the few real demiocracies that emerged in Eastern Europe. >Czech treatment of the ethnic minorities is a matter of considerable controversy. Sudeten Germans maintain that they were abused by Czech officials. The situation in the Sudetenland changed in the 1930s with the coming of the worldwide Depression in 1929. The Sudetenland was heavily industrialized. There was massive unemployment as a result of the depression. German's who had lost their jobs in the Depression began to think that they might be better off in Germany. Then Hitler and the NAZIs seized power in Germany in 1933. Unemployed workers were susceptible to the anti-semitic, anti-Czechoslovakia, pro-German rhetoric of the NAZIs. Local leader Konrad Henlen founded the Sudetendeutsche Partei (Sudeten German NAZI Party). Along with with discriminatory actions of local Czechoslovakian officials incidents provoked by the local NAZIS brought about the Munich crisis of 1938. The NAZI media publicized largely manufactured new stories of how the Czechs were mistreating Sudenten Germans. These reputed incidents were emphazsized in news reels, radio, and newspapers in gorry detail. The NAZIs aided the Sudetendeutsche Partei and secrectly created and armed the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps (the Sudeten German Freecorps). The Freekorps caused numerous incidents and created so much unrest that on the May 20, 1938 the Czech Army mobilized to restore order. The NAZIs on September 12, 1938 held a huge rally at Nuremburg. Hitler made his famous Sudetenland speech, were he insisted that Sudetenland should be part of Germany or they would invade Czechoslovakia.

Inter-War Era (1930s-30s)


Munich Conference (September 1938)

Czecheslovakia was protected by treaties with Britain and France. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. The Czechs and the Soviets were not invited. The Munich Conference took place September, 29, 1938. In the face of Hitler's war threats however, Britain and France failed to honor their promise of military assistance and abandoned the Czechs to the NAZIs. In the Munich Agreement ("Münchner Abkommen") Brirtain and France acceded to Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland. Prime Minister Chamberlin returned to London and proclaimed that he had achieved "Peace in our times". In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe. Hitler if he had stopped at the Sudentenland would have probably been regarded by Germans as one of the greatest leaders in German history. The Munich Crisis was a critical turn of events. The Sudentenland was vital to the Czechs as it constituted a natural barrier without which, the defense of Czecheslovakia was impossible. The NAZIs proceeded in violation of his pledge to dismember the rest of Czecheslovakia in 1939 while the British and French looked on during the months leading up to World War II. The industrial economy of Czechlovakia, especially the Skoda Arms complex proved to be an important asset to the NAZI war economy. There were also uranium minds with all that could have meant. Perhaps even more importantly, the Munich convinced Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that the Western democracies were unrelaiable allies which would lead to the the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact which gave Hitler the green light for Worls War II. Some historians have argued that Munich and the sacrifice of Poland gave Britain and France time to prepare for the War. If it had not been for Munich, for example, Britain would have entered the War with biplanes as front-line fighters and without its coastal radar system.

NAZI Germany (1938-45)

The Sudentland was annexed by the Reich as the Reichsgau Sudetenland. The German annexation of the Sudntland and control of Czechoslovakia was a disater for the Czechs. Many Sudeten Germans, estatic that they were finally within the Reich behaved terrible toward their Czech neighbors. The NAZIs proceeded to begin to Germanize the population. Some Czechs were forcibly removed, although this was not persued anywhere to the extent that the NAZIs proceeded with the Germaninization of areas annexed from Poland. Perhaps this was because the Sudetenland was already heavily German. If the Germans had won the War, the Germinization of the Sudetenland would have ineviatably been conducted on a much wider scope. Many younger Czechs were forcibly conscripted recruited for slave labor in Germany. Conditions were terrible and many died. Some high class Germans were evacuated to Czechoslovakia beginning in 1943 because of the Allied bombing. These Germans were referred to as "Nation-guests". It was not permitted to call them Germans. The Czech people were required to take them in, give them a room, and feed them. They also served as informants for the Gestapo.

Post-World War II Expulsions

The Sudetenland was restored to a revived Czecheslovakia in 1945 after World War II and the Sudeten Germans who had lived there for centuries forcibly expelled to Germany. The Czechs in 1945 expelled all Germans, about 3.5 million people. I'm not positve just how German nationality was determined. For many it was obvious, they spoke German or had German names. Also there must have been records from Austrian, Czech, or German authorities in which individuals registered or were classified as one nationlity or the other. There must have been quite a number of people with both German and Czech/Slovak ancetors. A HBC reader writes, "That also is an interesting subject: Who is German and who is Czech? In general people knew exactly what they were. Decisive was the language they grew up with. But there were many people who simply made a choice, especially of mixed German-Czech ancestry. Often when the son hated his father who was German (or Czech) he would want to belong to his mother's nationality. That explains why some of the leaders of the Sudetendeutsche Landmannschaften have outspoken Czech names and some of the Czech nationalists German ones. Remember Klement Gottwald (long-time GDR leader) and the present Czech foreign minister Vaclav Klaus. By the way, the president of Slovakia is Rudolf Schuster. The president of Austria is Thomas Klestil, a Czech name. They do not seem to get away from each other. The German name of the old Bohemian city Ceske Budjovice is Budweis. The beer they have been brewing since the Middle Ages was Budweiser. The Czech name of Pilsen is Plzen. Pilsner beer is well-known, Pilsner Urquell world-famous. The Czech still use the German brandname Urquell. It is tragic and sometimes ironic the way things have been going there. I am afraid as long as people are alive who experienced World War II in that region (Germans and Czechs) the old hatred and controversy will remain." [Stueck] This expulsion was not only a blow for the Sudeten Germans themselves, but also for Czecheslovakia as a nation. Entire, once prosporous towns and farms became desolate, until the Czechs moved into the vacancies. Reliable estimates suggest that 0.5 million Sudeten Germans perished, many died of starvation, but thousands were murdered, including women and children. In Brno hundreds were set afire and burned on the city square. Europeans were not moved by German suffering after what they had experienced at the hands of the Germans duing the war. There always will be: "Yes, but look what they have done!" But don't tell that to the victims.

Current Situation

After the fall of Communism, the Slovaks decided to form their own state. Czecheslovakia was thus divided between the Czech Republic an Slovakia. All of the former Sudentenland is today part of the Czech Republic. German tourists visit the lands of thir ancesstors, but few Germans can be found in Czecheslovakia.

Sources

Author unknown. "History of the Sudetenland".

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, Jun 23, 2003.







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Created: June 23, 2003
Last updated: 3:56 AM 9/9/2015