viernes, 29 de julio de 2016

THE REMOVAL OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA'S GERMANS THROUGH EXPULSION AND DISCRIMINATORY LAWS (2)

Czechoslovak volunteers and soldiers carried out the expulsion by removing them from homes and either transporting them by trains and trucks to internment camps or by force-marching them to the border of Allied-occupied Germany at gunpoint. Large numbers died due to starvation, disease, and poor sanitation. Expelled Germans were often ordered to wear white armbands, often labeled with the letter 'n' ('Nemec', or German) to exclude them as criminal subversives (Naimark 2001, 117). 

Over 700,000 refugees were displaced in the initial expulsion plan, and the remainder of the more than 3,000,000 were removed through further expulsion and relegated departure. Most expellees were immediately dropped off at the West German border in Saxony and Bavaria, but tens of thousands languished for years in internment camps like Pohorelice and Novaky for interrogation and circulation before being deported. In a stroke of ironically, many were even interrogated and interned at Theresienstadt, one of the largest transit camps used by the Nazis for the genocide of the Jews and the murder of thousands of Czechs from 1938-45. 

Many foreign observers and primary accounts document stories of Czech police looking the other way as guards physically and sexually abused German women in forced labour camps. Many often called German women 'Nazi whores' and 'pigs'. One account describes the sexual and physical abuse against German civilians as almost unspeakable, writing that 'every time of the day we women were raped and our shirts torn from our bodies.' Many could not endure the labour or the rapes, and committed suicide (Naimark 2001, 119).

Indeed, a number of atrocities occurred during the expulsion. However, nationalist or biased sources tend to greatly exaggerate them, and Czechs insist that their actions either could have been far worse, were more humane than mass execution, or hardly compared to the suffering the Germans inflicted on the Czech people. Although each of these is arguably true, the Czechoslovak government directly pursued the complete destruction of an entire community with diverse political beliefs on ethnic grounds in one of the largest forced refugee movements of the 20th century. 

Recent research by Czech historians into this controversial topic has revealed that the Czech expulsions displaced large numbers of anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi, and even pro-Czech families. When Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in 1938, the German government imprisoned, executed, or expelled thousands of liberal and reactionary politicians and citizens. Many of the remaining anti-Fascist families, including those who returned after Hitler's fall to their homelands, were also expelled by the Czechoslovaks. A number of anti-Fascist Sudeten German militias, such as the Guards of the [Czechoslovak] Republic, proudly extolled their membership in the Czechoslovak nation with the ulteriour goal of inclusive autonomy. Although the government recognised the most famous anti-Fascist resistance personalities, the few anti-Nazi Sudeten Germans who were not expelled were given only partial civil rights and treated as potentially dangerous second-class citizens.

They were not allowed to work in government offices or public administration, write in newspapers, or organise any associations. They could not use public transportation because of the perceived universal danger associated with their ethnicity. They were denied retirement pensions and in many cases their savings were annexed by the state (aktualne.cz). Less than 200,000 'anti-Fascist certificates' were planned altogether for exemptions, but in most cases, many of the few acknowledged anti-Fascist Sudeten Germans were eventually expelled with the rest of the 3,000,000. They were allowed to carry 120 kg of their property with them instead of the 50 kg (at most) afforded to the other expellees; the rest of their property that many families owned for centuries was forfeited to the state (ibid).

Although the vast majority of the more than 3,000,000 German civilians expelled survived, there were numerous cases of death and flagrant ethnic violence that were later greatly excoriated by the Czechoslovak government as excessive. Although many Czechoslovak commanders and officers employed massacre tactics, there was no directly intentional effort by the Czechoslovak government to murder expelled Germans. Nonetheless, many liberal estimates, including those of the West German government, cite as many as 250,000 Sudeten Germans dead as a result of starvation, ethnic cleansing, exhaustion on forced marches, and disease (SBD 1958). Other pundits even place it as high as 270,000 (Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft). Almost certainly, this is inaccurate. 

The Czechs argue a far lower number. Exorbitant estimates are either highly biased, lacking in precise research, or in many cases include those who died of natural causes. Some who died were even bilingual Czechs who spoke German, and were not ethnic Sudeten Germans. Recent joint Czech-German research scholarship has determined a range of at least 15-30,000 confirmed dead German civilians as a direct result of the Czech expulsion, exersion, starvation, and physical violence in internment camps, not including those who died of natural causes, infirmity, or disease. At least 6,000 were shot, executed, or beaten to death (Overmans 1994, 2) (Glassheim 2000, 463). The number of 15-30,000 is predictably eschewed by most German scholars and expellee interest groups, at the same time as the Czechs' attempt to downplay the full scope of the atrocities. The actual number of expellees killed will likely never be certain, as both factions are equally rife with exaggeration and cultural-historical bias.

One case, that of Josef Benesch, stands out as particularly representative of the experience of many German prisoners in Czech prison camps that often failed to distinguish between pro-German irredentist, traitors to the nation, and victims of random retributive violence. It should be noted that Benesch was an ethnic Czech (a Germanisation of Beneš) who intermarried with a ethnic German, and was considered a traitor (courtesy David Benes):

"My father, Josef Benes was a political prisoner at Bory Prison in Plzen, Czechoslovakia during 1948 to 1951 when he was fortunate to escape. He was at the time a 28 year old Czech Partisan who fought the Nazis only to see his country turned over to the Communists as a result of the Potsdam/Yalta agreements. They knew he was a anti-communist and was caught and imprisoned. He endured numerous beatings. The guards one day asked the prisoners if "anyone here was a baker." My father raised his hand as he actually was learning the trade at his fathers bakery in Plzen. Such skills were in need at Bory and he was given certain privileges that kept him from being executed. After a few months of baking for the prison staff along with helping to bury those who were either executed or died from malnutrition, a request from the guards to the inmates this time asked if "anyone here was a barber." Wanting to continue to live he raised his hand again. 

One of the guards noted that he said he was a baker previously, and said "now you claim to be a barber too!" The prison guard ordered him to cut another prisoners hair and stated to my father that "if I determine you cannot give this man a good haircut I will shoot you." He never cut a man's hair in his life. Since his life was now dependent on his ability to cut this prisoners hair he did the best he could. The guard did not kill him being satisfied with his new founded skill. This gave him some more privileges which gained him more access to working outside. 

On Mother's Day, when no guards happened to be watching him he made a run for it. By the time they noticed him missing he was about 100 yards away running as fast as he could. They saw him running and started shooting at him. Being springtime the fields behind the prison were wet and muddy. He told me the shots were so close to him that mud from the missed bullets sprayed him. Not knowing which direction to run and find freedom he looked to the sky and told me he saw a cloud in the shape of his mothers face. He ran in that direction and came upon the U.S. Army Zone. The soldiers saw what was happening and returned fire towards the guards chasing him until he was in their protection and safety."

Although it is today generally agreed that the Beneš government punished several ethnic cleansings or murders by Czechoslovak soldiers or civilians (despite the Beneš Decrees that made impromptu expulsions and even violence almost unpunishable), the intense inter-ethnic hatred that resulted from centuries of cultural antipathy and the brutality of the Nazi occupation could not restrain violence performed by individuals and soldiers against German civilians. Soviet observers even reported to the Central Committee in Moscow that the Czechs "don't kill them, but torment them like livestock. The Czechs look at them like cattle" (Murashko and Noskova 1995, 235-7). 

Czechoslovak military officers organised mass killings of German civilians. Vojtěch Černý, Karol Ctibor Pazura, and Bedřich Pokorný ordered soldiers and militias to force ethnic Germans on death marches, and even to dig their own mass graves before being shot by firing squads without being prompted by resistance (Radio Praha #2). Sudeten Germans as young as 12 and 15 who were accused of escaping from internment camps were hanged or shot. Over 750 civilians were executed at Postoloprty after preparing their own graves (Radio Praha #1). Many civilians and soldiers attacked or killed German civilians at random, in some cases even stringing them by their heels onto trees and dousing them with gasoline before burning them to death (AHI). One of the worst atrocities of the expulsion was the so-called Brno March (called the 'Brünn death march' by Germans). 

The large German minority around the Moravian capital of Brno was escorted out of their homes with only an hour to prepare whatever they could carry before being marched over 50km to the border of Austria. Over 20,000 civilian families were marched by soldiers with almost no water, food, or medicine. Many were relegated to defecate or urinate whilst they walked because they could not leave the line. Those who dissented were disciplined with rifle butts and even whips. Bodies of the dead and infirm reportedly lay on the sides of the road (BBC Jolyon). Over 800 people died due to starvation, exersion, or dehydration (Beneš 2002, 209). Other scholars cite 1,700 dead in the Czech prison camps and at Brno (Glassheim 2000, 470). Many German nationalists exaggerate this dead and claim as many as 20,000, but this has thus far been disproven. 

Many Czechs respond to the 'death march' by saying that the number dead primarily consisted of the old and infirm, and was a result of the lack of food that equally affected the Czechs themselves. Another atrocity during the expulsions was the so-called Usti Massacre in August 1945, in which Sudeten German civilians were forced to wear white armbands and were marched to a bridge by the Elbe river. Soldiers lined several families up against the edge and hurled them over the side after they were all shot, including according to some sources an infant. Other inter-ethnic violence against Sudeten German civilians occurred across the country. Some first-hand sources cite unarmed Germans being shot in groups of 30 or 40 at a time before being interred in mass graves, as corroborated with the reputable BBC (Wheeler).

The Carpathian Germans in the Slovak region of Czechoslovakia suffered as well, dropping from 147,501 to only 5,200. The expulsion of Germans in Slovakia was comparatively gentler. Nonetheless, Slovaks emphasised that more than 5,400 local Carpathian Germans had joined the SS, an unusually high number for a small civilian population, meaning that expulsions were justified. At the same time, the Slovaks tend to dismiss Slovakia's large support for far-right Fascism and the Third Reich before 1944. 

Ironically, Heinrich Himmler hoped to evacuate and expel all of the Carpathian Germans to escape the Soviets in 1945, but it was too late and it was the Czechoslovaks who completed the expulsion (Lumans 1982, 290). At least 4,000 German civilians in Slovakia were expelled to the east for foced labor, and by some estimates 13,000 of these died in transit, unreported by the Czech government today because they died under Soviet authority (Zentrum gegen Vertreibung). Slovaks also settled along with the Czechs in formerly-German depopulated areas. 60,257 moved to Bohemia. At least 40,000 Hungarians were expelled from Slovakia to Hungary, targeted under the Beneš Decrees along with the German minority as second-class citizens because of generalised stereotypes associated with their ethnicities (Migration Citizenship Education). In some cases, Carpathian Germans were targeted by rogue Czechoslovak soldiers. Karol Ctibor Pazura ordered the execution of nearly 300 unarmed German prisoners who dug their own graves, the youngest victim being seven months old (Carpathian German Homepage). Most Carpathian Germans fled to Germany, were captured by the Red Army, or were expelled along with the Sudeten Germans by the Czechoslovak government.

The occurrences of suicide were so widespread as a result of the Czechoslovak expulsion programme that many observers of the Red Army reported daily discoveries of entire families dressed in their Sunday's finest before performing suicide together. General Sirov, who helped orchestrate the expulsions, wrote his report to NKVD head Lavrentij Beria that some 5,000 German civilians, mostly elderly and children, 'with their futures ruined and having no hope for anything better...ended their lives by suicide, cutting their wrists,' with 71 Germans found on 8 June alone (Naimark 2001, 117). Czech sources report some 5,558 suicides among ethnic Germans in 1946 alone (Kucera 1992, 24).

By the end of the expulsion campaigns, the Sudeten German community had been destroyed. As the popular nationalist Jan Masaryk, son of the great founding president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk, positively noted, the nation was lastly 'finished with the Germans of Czechoslovakia...There is no possible way to get us to live under the same umbrella again' (Naimark 2001, 122). 

Of 3,149,800 Germans in Czechoslovakia (28.8%), only 159,938 remained (1.8%). At least 700,000 had been forcibly expelled in the initial expulsion phase in forced marches, with the remainder fleeing and being subsequently expelled by 1950. The Carpathian German community almost disappeared, falling from 135,408 (7%) to 5,200 (0.1%). Simply because of stereotypical associations with a dictator who inflicted flagrant suffering on the Czech people, an entire ethnic group was targeted for removal in one of the largest forced refugee communities of the 20th century, including most anti-Fascists. Today, there are approximately 39,106 Germans and 14,672 Hungarians in the independent Czech Republic (0.4%), and 5,405 Carpathian Germans in Slovakia (Eberhardt 2003, 150-155) (Štatistický úrad SRN). A huge number of the few remaining Germans left Communist Czechoslovakia for wealthier West Germany from 1950-1990 due to economic and political reasons.

Today, the issue of the Czechoslovak expulsion of Hungarians and Germans remains a tremendously tense political and cultural conflict in Germany, Austria, and the divided Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia, which expelled a far less dramatic population than 3,000,000 like the Czechs did, has been able to blame the Czech regime or the Red Army. The Slovak Republic has formally apologised for the expulsions, although it has refused to offer any financial restitution or compensation. 

There are a number of Carpathian German representative groups and newspapers that have even been acknowledged by government and city officials, such as the Support Committee of Evangelical Lutheran German Slovakians, the Support Federation for Carpathian German Catholics, the Carpathian German Association, and the Karpatenblatt newspaper. However, the Hungarian minority claims to suffer continously intense discrimination as part of a 1,000-year-old ethnic tension. Very little commemoration has been afforded to their experience with Slovak expulsion. At least officially, the Hungarian language and all other minority languages are partly criminalised in government and political circles, punishable by up to a €5000 fine (Economist). 

Hungarian nationalists like the powerful far-right Jobbik Party in Hungary irascibly accuse the Slovak government of demoting the hated Hungarian minority to second-class status. Even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban described the expulsion of Hungarian civilians as 'another shameful event in the 20th century where Hungarians were on the painful, losing side.' The Slovak government insists that they are merely trying to streamline administration and assimilate the Hungarians. Nonetheless, their story of expulsion by Czechoslovakia is arguably less commemorated than the Germans.

There are a number of international and local expellee interest groups emanating from diaspora communities, particularly in Germany, Canada, and the United States. These organisations actively emphasize the history of expulsions in their frequent assemblies and cultural gatherings at universities, college campuses, local clubs, and in newspapers. In February of 2010, hundreds of scholars, survivors, researchers, donators, human rights representatives, and even diplomats and figures from the United Nations gathered for the first international assembly commemorating the expulsion of Germans at the Community College of Meramec in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Called "The Forgotten Genocide," the two-day conference included a large art gallery, press interviews, roundtable academic discussions, survivors' recollections, and dozens of speakers from diverse fields and motivations. Several speakers and survivors, particularly Rudolf Püschel, reflected on the removal of the German minourity from Czechoslovakia and discussed the lack of commemoration today (see speech video below). The Institute for Research of Expelled Germans was also represented, delivering a speech on the destroyed Volga German community. The unique event even caught the attention of newspapers and forums in Poland and Germany, with both critical and positive commentary.

http://www.expelledgermans.org/


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