|Flight and expulsion of Germans during|
and after World War II
|Wartime flight and evacuation|
|Post-war flight and expulsion|
The expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II was part of a series of evacuations and deportations of Germans from Central and Eastern Europe during and after World War II.
During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Czech resistance groups demanded the deportation of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia. The decision to deport the Germans was adopted by the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile which, beginning in 1943, sought the support of the Allies for this proposal. The final agreement for the expulsion of the German population however was not reached until 2 August 1945 at the end of the Potsdam Conference.
In the months following the end of the war, "wild" expulsions happened from May until August 1945. Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš on 28 October 1945 called for the "final solution of the German question" (Czech: konečné řešení německé otázky) which would have to be solved by deportation of the ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia.
The expulsions were carried out by order of local authorities, mostly by groups of armed volunteers. However, in some cases it was initiated or pursued with the assistance of the regular army. Several thousand died violently during the expulsion and more died from hunger and illness as a consequence. The expulsion according to the Potsdam Conference proceeded from 25 January 1946 until October of that year. An estimated 1.6 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone of what would become West Germany. An estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany).
The West German government in 1958 estimated the ethnic German death toll during the expulsion period to be about 270,000, a figure that has been cited in historical literature since then. Recent research by a joint German and Czech commission of historians in 1995 found that the previous demographic estimates of 220,000 to 270,000 deaths to be overstated and based on faulty information, they concluded that the actual death toll was at least 15,000 persons and that it could range up to a maximum of 30,000 dead if one assumes that some deaths were not reported. The Commission statement also said that German records show 18,889 confirmed deaths including 3,411 suicides. Czech records indicated 22,247 deaths including 6,667 unexplained cases or suicides.
The German Church Search Service was able to confirm the deaths of 14,215 persons during the expulsions from Czechoslovakia (6,316 violent deaths, 6,989 in internment camps and 907 in the USSR as forced laborers).
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Harvard professor Archibald Cary Coolidge submitted his report to the American Delegation proposing the separation of the Sudetenland from Bohemia and Moravia (historical lands of the Bohemian Crown), since it appeared unwise to force 3.5 million Germans under Czech rule, in violation of the principle of self-determination. The pro-Nazi Sudeten German Party gained 88% of ethnic German votes in May 1938. Following the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the Occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by Hitler in March 1939, Edvard Beneš set out to convince the Allies during World War II that expulsion was the best solution. Even Czechs who had moderate views towards the Germans agreed with the expulsion without exceptions.
Almost as soon as German troops occupied the Sudetenland in October 1938, Edvard Beneš and later the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile pursued a twofold policy: the restoration of Czechoslovakia to its pre-Munich boundaries and the removal, through a combination of minor border rectifications and population transfer, of the state's German minority to restore the territorial integrity of state. Although the details changed along with British public and official opinion and pressure from Czech resistance groups, the broad goals of the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile remained the same throughout the war.
The pre-war policy of minority protection was now seen as useless and counterproductive (and the minorities themselves were seen as the source of unrest and instability), because it led to the destruction of the democratic régime and the whole Czechoslovak state. Therefore, the Czechoslovak leaders[who?] made a decision to change the multiethnic character of the state to a state of 2 or 3 ethnicities (Czechs, Slovaks and initially also the Ruthenians). This goal was to be reached by the expulsion of the major part of minority members and the successive assimilation of the rest. Because almost all people of German and Magyar ethnicity gained German or Hungarian citizenship during the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the expulsion could be legalized as the banishment (German: Ausweisung) of the foreigners.
On 22 June 1942, after plans for the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans had become known, Wenzel Jaksch (a Sudeten German Social Democrat in exile) wrote a letter to Edvard Beneš protesting the proposed plans.
Initially only a few hundred thousand Sudeten Germans were to be affected, people who were perceived as being disloyal to Czechoslovakia and who, according to Beneš and Czech public opinion, had acted as Hitler's "fifth column." Due to escalation of Nazi atrocities in occupied Czechoslovakia the demands of the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile, Czech resistance groups and also the wide majority of the Czechs for expulsion included more and more Germans, with no individual investigation of inference of guilt on their part, the only exception being 160,000 to 250,000 ethnic German "anti-fascists" and those ethnic Germans crucial for industries who were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia. The Czechs and their government did not want Czechoslovakia to be burdened in future with a sizable German minority.
The idea to expel the ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia was supported by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Britain's Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. In 1942, the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile received the support of the United Kingdom for the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia. In March 1943, President Beneš received Moscow's support. In June 1943, Beneš traveled to Washington, D.C. and obtained from President Franklin D. Roosevelt support for the Czechoslovak government's evolving expulsion plans.
During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, especially after the Nazis' reprisal for the assassination of Heydrich, most of the Czech resistance groups demanded the final solution of the German question which would have to be solved by transfer or expulsion. These demands were adopted by the Government-in-Exile which, beginning in 1943, sought the support of the Allies for this proposal. The April 1945 Košice Program, which outlined the postwar political settlement of Czechoslovakia, stipulated for the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians from the country. The final agreement for the transfer of the German minority however was not reached until 2 August 1945 at the end of Potsdam Conference.
The drafter of article XIII of the Potsdam Communique concerning the expulsions, Sir Geoffrey Harrison, wrote on 31 July 1945 to Sir John Troutbeck, head of the German Department at the Foreign Office: "The Sub-Committee met three times, taking as a basis of discussion a draft which I circulated ... Sobolov took the view that the Polish and Czechoslovak wish to expel their German populations was the fulfilment of an historic mission which the Soviet Government were unwilling to try to impede....Cannon and I naturally strongly opposed this view. We made it clear that we did not like the idea of mass transfers anyway. As, however, we could not prevent them, we wished to ensure that they were carried out in as orderly and humane manner as possible..."(FO 371/46811, published in facsimile in A. de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, pp. 232–34).
Developing a clear picture of the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia is difficult because of the chaotic conditions that existed at the end of the war. There was no stable central government and record-keeping was non-existent. Many of the events that occurred during the period were spontaneous and local rather than being the result of coordinated policy directives from a central government. Among these spontaneous events was the removal and detention of the Sudeten Germans which was triggered by the strong anti-German sentiment at the grass-roots level and organized by local officials.
According to the Schieder commission, records of food rationing coupons show approximately 3,070,899 inhabitants of occupied Sudetenland in January 1945, which included Czechs or other non-Germans. In addition, most of the roughly 100,000 Carpathian Germans from Slovakia were evacuated on Himmler's orders to the Bohemia-Moravia region just before the end of the war. During April and May 1945, an estimated 1.6 million Germans from Polish Silesia fled the advancing Soviet forces and became refugees in Bohemia-Moravia. Thus according to German estimates there were 4.5 million German civilians present in Bohemia-Moravia in May 1945.
From London and Moscow, Czech and Slovak political agents in exile followed an advancing Soviet army pursuing German forces westward, to reach the territory of the first former Czechoslovak Republic. Beneš proclaimed the programme of the newly appointed Czechoslovak government on 5 April 1945, in the northeastern city of Košice, which included oppression and persecution of the non-Czech and non-Slovak populations of the partially restored Czechoslovak Republic. After the proclamation of the Košice program, the German and Hungarian population living in the reborn Czechoslovak state were subjected to various forms of court procedures, citizenship revocations, property confiscation, condemnation to forced labour camps, and appointment of government managers to German and Hungarian owned businesses and farms, referred to euphemistically as "reslovakization."
Western Czechoslovakia was liberated by U.S. forces under General Patton. General Zdeněk Novák, head of the Prague military command "Alex", issued an order to "deport all Germans from territory within the historical borders."
A pamphlet issued on 5 June 1945 titled "Ten Commandments for Czechoslovak Soldiers in the Border Regions" 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 15 June, a government decree directed the army to implement measures to apprehend Nazi criminals and carry out the transfer of the German population. On 27 July, the Ministry of National Defence issued a secret order[which?] directing the transfer should be carried out on as large a scale as possible, and as expeditiously as possible to present the Western powers with a fait accompli.
Between 1945 and 1948, a series of Czechoslovak government decrees, edicts, laws and statutes were proclaimed by the president of the republic, the Prague-based Czechoslovak Parliament, the Slovak National Council (Parliament) in Bratislava and by the Board of Slovak Commissioners (an appendage of the Czechoslovak government in Bratislava).
After the revocation of Munich Agreement had been publicly announced in the British Parliament in August 1942, the British government gave its consent to the transfer of German population from the Czech Crown Lands. President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt joined the relocation policy in June 1943. Moscow gave its consent by a declaration on June 5, 1943. The transfer was internationally approved at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.
Potsdam Agreement: XIII. Orderly Transfers of German Populations.
"The Conference reached the following agreement on the removal of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary:— The three Governments (The United States, Great Britain and Soviet Union), having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner."
The conclusions of the Potsdam Conference were confirmed by its signatory states in 1996. The US government, said: "The decisions made at Potsdam ... were soundly based in international law. The conference conclusions have been endorsed many times since in various multilateral and bilateral contexts. (...) The conclusions of Potsdam are historical fact and the United States is confident that no country wishes to call them into question". No Czechoslovak/Czech/Slovak legal norm (decree, law, etc.) ever existed that would have dealt with the displacement of the German population.
Decrees 5, 12, 33, 108/1945 concerned the expropriation of wartime traitors and collaborators accused of treason but also all Germans and Hungarians. They also ordered the removal of citizenship from people of German and Hungarian ethnic origin who were treated collectively as collaborators (these provisions were cancelled for the Hungarians in 1948). This was then used to confiscate their property and expel around 90% of the ethnic German population of Czechoslovakia. These people were collectively accused of supporting the Nazis (through the Sudetendeutsche Partei (SdP), the political party led by Konrad Henlein) and the Third Reich's annexation of the Czech borderland in 1938. Decrees 33/1945 and 108/1945 explicitly stated that the sanctions did not apply to anti-fascists. Typically it was up to the decision of local municipalities. 160,000-250,000 Germans, some anti-fascists, but mostly people crucial for the industry remained in Czechoslovakia.
Decree No. 33/1945 of 2 August 1945. (After the decision made at Potsdam). On the basis of this decree, the Czechoslovak State released from its citizenship those persons who, "in compliance with the regulations of the foreign occupation forces had acquired German or Hungarian citizenship". Czechoslovak citizenship was maintained in the cases of those Germans (280 000) who, at the time of the increasing threat to the Czechoslovak Republic, had officially supported the Czechs, or those who had manifested "their loyalty to the Czechoslovak Republic, had never committed any offence against the Czech and Slovak nations, and who had either actively participated in the struggle for the liberation of the country, or had suffered under Nazi or fascist terror".
The decree was in accordance with the Czechoslovak constitution which did not allow dual citizenship.
Decree No. 5/1945 of 3 June 1945, determining that "any form of property transfer and transaction affecting property rights in terms of movable and immovable assets, and public and private property shall be invalidated, if it was adopted after September 29, 1938, under pressure of the Nazi occupation or national, racial or political persecution" (i.e. this Decree repealed the Nazi confiscation measures adopted against the victims of Nazism).
Decree No. 108/1945 of 25 October 1945: "There is confiscated, without any compensation properties and property rights which are owned by:
- The German Empire; the Hungarian Kingdom ...
- Private persons of German and Hungarian nationality, (cf. Decree No. 33/1945) except for persons who have proved that they kept loyal to the Czechoslovak Republic ...
- Private persons who have performed activities against independence, autonomy ..., security and defense of the Czechoslovakian Republic ..."
The confiscation was based on the international consensus declared in the documents of the Potsdam Conference and the 1945 Paris Agreement. Similar confiscation measure were also taken in other states (principally members of the European Union), such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and Denmark.
The 1945 expulsion was referred to as the "wild transfer" (divoky odsun) due to the widespread violence and brutality that were not only perpetuated by mobs but also by soldiers, police, and others acting under the color of authority. In the summer of 1945, for instance, there were localised massacres of the German population. The following examples are described in a study done by the European University Institute in Florence:
During the wild transfer phase, it is estimated that the number of murdered Germans was between 19,000 and 30,000. Accounts indicated that the Czechoslovak government was not averse to "popular justice" as long it did not excessively blacken the country's reputation abroad. There were even government officials who maintained that the massacres at Usti would not have happened if the government dealt with the Germans more harshly.
According to the German "Society against Expulsion", some Germans were sent to "concentration camps". A 1964 report by the German Red Cross stated that 1,215 "internment camps" were established, as well as 846 forced labour and "disciplinary centres", and 215 prisons, on Czechoslovak territory. Special Courts sentenced 21,469 persons to prison and 713 were executed for crimes committed during the Nazi occupation. They made rough estimate claiming 350,000 Germans in Czechoslovakia passed through one or more of these institutions and 100,000 perished. However the Red Cross was able to confirm only 6,989 deaths in the internment camps. The German historian Theodor Schieder noted, "as reports confirm again and again, the Czechs often deliberately copied the practice and methods of the concentration camps of the National Socialist regime."
According to Alfred de Zayas:
One of the worst camps in post-war Czechoslovakia was the old Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt. Conditions under the new Czech administration are described by H. G. Adler, a former Jewish inmate as follows: ... in the majority they were children and juveniles, who had only been locked up because they were Germans. Only because they were Germans...? This sentence sounds frighteningly familiar; only the word 'Jews' had been changed to 'Germans'. [...] The people were abominably fed and maltreated, and they were no better off than one was used to from German concentration camps.
The civilian internees who survived to be expelled recorded the horrors of months and years of slow starvation and maltreatment in many thousands of affidavits. Allied authorities in the American and British zones were able to investigate several cases, including the notorious concentration camp at České Budějovice in Southern Bohemia. The deputy commander of this camp in the years 1945–6, Václav Hrneček, later fled Czechoslovakia and came to Bavaria where he was recognized by former German inmates of the camp. Hrneček was brought to trial before an American Court of the Allied High Commission for Germany presided by Judge Leo M. Goodman. The Court based an eight-year sentence against Hrneček upon findings that the Budějovice camp was run in a criminal and cruel way, that although there were no gas chambers and no systematic, organized extermination, the camp was a centre of sadism, where human life and human dignity had no meaning.
Germans living in the border regions of Czechoslovakia were expelled from the country in late 1945. The joint German and Czech commission of historians estimated that there were about 15,000 violent deaths. Czech records report 15,000-16,000 deaths not including an additional 6,667 unexplained cases or suicides during the expulsion, and others died from hunger and illness in Germany as a consequence. In 1946, an estimated 1.3 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone of what would become West Germany. An estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany).
On 8 May 1946 the Czechoslovak provisional National Assembly passed Act No. 115/1946 Coll. It was enacted in conjunction with the Beneš decrees and it specifies that "Any act committed between 30 September 1938 and 28 October 1945 the object of which was to aid the struggle for liberty of the Czechs and Slovaks or which represented just reprisals for actions of the occupation forces and their accomplices, is not illegal, even when such acts may otherwise be punishable by law." This law, which is still in force, has de facto ensured that no atrocities against Germans during the time-period in question have been prosecuted in Czechoslovakia.
Decree No. 115/1946 of 8 May 1946. Activities (which would otherwise be considered criminal), were not illegal if their "objective was to contribute to the fight for regaining of freedom of Czechs and Slovaks or were aimed at righteous retaliation for deeds of occupants or their collaborators". Inappropriate violence or any other similar excesses were not amnestied. They were always crimes and were always punishable as crimes.Decrees of the President of the Republic, page 27 Without such act, many resistance combatants would be open to criminal prosecutions for their activities against Nazis. The law stipulating that the sentences pronounced against the Czech Resistance fighters during the war had been lawful were valid in Germany until 1997.President Decrees 2.a
However, the Czech government did express its regret in the 1997 JointCzech–German Declaration on the Mutual Relations and their Future Development:
III. The Czech side regrets that, by the forcible expulsion and forced resettlement of Sudeten Germans from the former Czechoslovakia after the war as well as by the expropriation and deprivation of citizenship, much suffering and injustice was inflicted upon innocent people, also in view of the fact that guilt was attributed collectively. It particularly regrets the excesses which were contrary to elementary humanitarian principles as well as legal norms existing at that time, and it furthermore regrets that Law No. 115 of 8 May 1946 made it possible to regard these excesses as not being illegal and that in consequence these acts were not punished.
II. "The German side acknowledges Germany's responsibility for its role in a historical development, which led to the 1938 Munich Agreement, the flight and forcible expulsion of people from the Czech border area and the forcible breakup and occupation of the Czechoslovak Republic. It regrets the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Czech people through National Socialist crimes committed by Germans. The German side pays tribute to the victims of National Socialist tyranny and to those who resisted it."Czech–German Declaration 1997
The joint Czech–German commission of historians in 1996 stated the following numbers: the deaths caused by violence and abnormal living conditions amount approximately to 10,000 persons killed; another 5,000–6,000 persons died of unspecified reasons related to expulsion; making the total number of victims of the expulsion 15,000–16,000 (this excludes suicides, which make another approximately 3400 cases.
The UN Human Rights Committee issued decisions in three cases concerning Sudeten Germans (Des Fours Walderode v. Czech Republic; Petzoldova v. Czech Republic; Czernin v. Czech Republic) in which violations of articles 26 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were established and the Czech Republic was ordered to return the property to the rightful owners. As of 2010, the Committee's views had not been implemented.[needs update]
Public opinion surveys indicate that the public is opposed to such measures.
According to an article in the Prague Daily Monitor:
The Czech–German Declaration [of] 1997 has achieved a compromise and expressed regret over the wrongs caused to innocent people by "the post-war expulsions as well as forced deportations of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, expropriation and stripping of citizenship" on the basis of the principle of collective guilt.
In the Czech–German Decleration of August, 1997:
The German side took full responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi regime and their consequences (the allied expulsion).
"The German side is conscious of the fact that the National Socialist policy of violence towards the Czech people helped to prepare the ground for post-war flight, forcible expulsion and forced resettlement."
"The Czech side regrets that, by the forcible expulsion and forced resettlement of Sudeten Germans from the former Czechoslovakia after the war ..., much suffering and injustice was inflicted upon innocent people."
The Czech Republic has not expressed regret for the allied transfer of Sudeten Germans with Nazi-German citizenship or those who had not manifested "their loyalty to the Czechoslovak Republic".
German politicians and the deported Sudeten Germans widely use the word "expulsion" for the events. However, political representatives in both the Czech Republic and Poland, from where millions of Germans had to move after WW2, usually avoid this expression and rather use the word "deportation."
The British Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department planned a "population transfer commission" similar to the arrangement in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 to provide compensation for private property to transferred Greeks and Turks following the Kemalist war of 1919–1923. But events went faster and the expulsions began in May 1945, long before the Potsdam Conference and before any agreement on a commission had been settled. No population transfer commission with competence to evaluate the claims of the German expellees was ever established. (See Public Record Office documents FO 371/46810 and FO 371/46811).
Since the Czechoslovak government-in-exile decided that population transfer was the only solution of the German question, the problem of reparation (war indemnity) was closely associated. The proposed population transfer as presented in negotiations with the governments of U.S., UK and U.S.S.R., presumed the confiscation of the Germans' property to cover the reparation demands of Czechoslovakia; then Germany should pay the compensation to satisfy its citizens. This fait accompli was to prevent Germany's evasion of reparation payment as happened after World War I.
This plan was suggested to the Inter-Allied Reparation Agency (IARA) in 1945, but because of the advent of the Cold War was never confirmed by any treaty with Germany. The IARA ended its activity in 1959 and the status quo is as follows: Czech Republic kept the property of expelled ethnic Germans while Germany did not pay any reparations (only about 0.5% of Czechoslovak demands were satisfied ). For this reason, every time the Sudeten Germans request compensation or the abolition of the Beneš decrees, the Czech side strikes back by the threat of reparation demands.
Even during the preparation of the Czech–German declaration the German side avoided the Czech demand to confirm the status quo by the agreement. However, Germany adopted the Czechoslovak fait accompli and has paid compensation to the expellees. One source claims the German government paid about 141bn DM to the expellees until 1993. Other sources state an overall amount of roughly 60bn EUR paid out as partial compensation to all citizens of Germany and ethnic-German expellees — a group of 15m people alone — affected by property loss due to consequences of the war. The payout to Germans from Czechoslovakia can be assumed to represent a much smaller fraction of that sum.
In contrast to Germany, the issue of compensation of expellees was, at least nominally, closed by several treaties with Austria and Hungary. The most important follows:
Beneš, Z. — Kuklík, J. ml. — Kural, V. — Pešek, J., Odsun — Vertreibung (Transfer Němců z Československa 1945–1947), Ministerstvo mládeže a tělovýchovy ČR 2002, pp. 49–50.