Sudeten Germans

Sudeten Germans
This article is part of the article Czechoslovakia


Importance of Sudeten Germans

Czechoslovakia was inhabited by over 3 million ethnic Germans, comprising about 23 percent of the population of the republic and about 29.5%[1] of Bohemia and Moravia.

The Sudetenland possessed huge chemical works and lignite mines, as well as textile, china, and glass factories. The border area of Bohemia was mainly inhabited by Germans. The Český Les (Bohemian Forest) extended along the Bavarian frontier to the poor agricultural areas of southern Bohemia.

Moravia contained patches of "locked" German territory to the north and south. More characteristic were the German "language islands" - towns inhabited by important German minorities and surrounded by Czechs. Extreme German nationalism was never typical of this area.

Not all ethnic Germans lived in isolated and well defined areas - due to historical developments, Czechs and Germans were mixed on many places and at least a partial knowledge of the second language was quite common.

Since the second half of the 19th century Czech and Germans created separate cultural, educational, political and economical institutions which kept both sides isolated from each other. This separation continued until the end of WWII.

Policies affecting Sudeten Germans

Early policies of the Czechoslovak government, intended to correct social injustice and effect a moderate redistribution of wealth, had fallen more heavily on the German population than on other citizens. In 1919 the government confiscated one-fifth of each individual's holdings in paper currency. Those Germans constituting the wealthiest element in the Czech lands were most affected. The Land Control Act brought the expropriation of vast estates, many belonging to German nobility or large estate owners. Land was allotted primarily to Czech peasants, often landless, who constituted the majority of the agricultural population. Only 4.5 percent of all land allotted by January 1937 was received by Sudeten Germans, whose protests were expressed in countless petitions.

According to the 1920 constitution, German minority rights were carefully protected; their educational and cultural institutions were preserved in proportion to the population. Local hostilities were engendered, however, by policies intended to protect the security of the Czechoslovak state: border forestland, considered the most ancient Sudeten German national territory, was expropriated for security reasons and Czech soldiers, policemen and bureaucrats were stationed in areas inhabited only by Germans.

Minority laws were most often applied to create new Czech schools in German districts. Sudeten Germans, in possession of a large number of subsidized local theaters, were required to put these at the disposal of the Czech minority one night a week.

Sudeten German industry, highly dependent on foreign trade and having close financial links with Germany, suffered badly during the Depression, particularly when banks in Germany failed in 1931. Czechs, whose industry was concentrated on the production of essential domestic items, suffered less. Tensions between the two groups resulted. Relations between Czechs and Germans were further envenomed when Sudeten Germans were forced to turn to the Czechoslovak government and the small loans bank (Živnostenská banka) for assistance and these authorities often made the hiring of Czechs in proportion to their numbers in the population a condition for aid. Czech workmen, dispatched by the government to engage in public works projects and border fortification in Sudeten German territories, were also resented.

Politics of Sudeten Germans

Sudeten German representatives wished and tried to join Austria, Germany or at least obtain as much autonomy rights as possible. The constitution of 1920 was drafted without Sudeten German representation, and the group declined to participate in the election of the president. In 1926, however, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann of Germany, adopting a policy of rapprochement with the West, advised Sudeten Germans to cooperate actively with the Czechoslovak government. In consequence, most Sudeten German parties (including the German Agrarian Party, the German Social Democratic Party, and the German Christian Socialist Party) accepted cabinet posts.

By 1929 only a small number of Sudeten German deputies - most of them members of the German National Party (propertied classes) and the Sudeten German National Socialist Party (Sudetendeutsche nationalsozialistische Partei) - remained in opposition. Nationalist sentiment flourished, however, among Sudeten German youth, who belonged to a variety of organizations. These included the older Turnverband and Schutzvereine, the newly formed Kameradschaftsbund and the Bereitschaft.

Rise of a Nationalist Party

On October 1, 1933, Konrad Henlein, aided by Matthias Burkhalter and other members of the Kameradschaftsbund, a youth organization of romantic mystical orientation, created a new political organization. The Sudeten German Home Front (Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront) professed loyalty to the Czechoslovak state but championed decentralization. In 1935 the Sudeten German Home Front became the Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei - SdP) and started an active propaganda campaign. In the May election the SdP won more than 60 percent of the Sudeten German vote. The German Agrarians, Christian Socialists, and Social Democrats each lost approximately one-half of their followers. The SdP became the focus of German nationalist forces. The party pretended to strive for a just settlement of Sudeten German claims within the framework of Czechoslovak democracy. Henlein, however, maintained secret contact with Nazi Germany and received material aid from Berlin. The SdP endorsed the idea of a fuhrer and mimicked Nazi methods with banners, slogans, and uniformed troops. Concessions offered by the Czechoslovak government, including the transfer of Sudeten German officials to Sudeten German areas and possible participation of the SdP in the cabinet, were rejected. By 1937 most SdP leaders supported Hitler's pan-German objectives.

On March 13, 1938, Austria was annexed by the Third Reich, a union known as the Anschluss. On March 22, the German Agrarian Party, led by Gustav Hacker, fused with the SdP. German Christian Socialists suspended their activities on March 24; their deputies and senators entered the SdP parliamentary club. Only the Social Democrats continued to champion democratic freedom. The masses, however, supported the SdP.

Final crisis in 1938

Konrad Henlein met Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, and was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government. In the Carlsbad Decrees, issued on 24 April, the SdP demanded complete autonomy for the Sudetenland. If Henlein's demands were granted, the Sudetenland would be in a position to join Nazi Germany.

As the political situation deteriorated, security in Sudetenland deteriorated, too. There were small scale clashes between young SdP followers (equipped with arms smuggled from Germany) and police and border forces. In some places the regular army had been called in to pacify the situation. Propaganda from Nazi Germany accused the Czech government and the Czechs of atrocities towards Sudeten Germans. The Czech public started to prepare for an inevitable war (for example, training with gas masks).

On 20 May, Czechoslovakia initiated a partial mobilization in response to rumours of German troop movements. The army moved into position on the border. Western powers tried to calm down the situation and forced the government of Czechoslovakia to comply with most of the Carlsbad Decrees. However the SdP, instructed to push towards war, escalated the situation with more protests and violence. Under pressure from its Western allies, the Czechoslovak government was forced to accept Munich Agreement (signed September 29 by Britain, France, Germany and Italy and negotiated without Czechsolovak participation) ceding a German-defined maximalist extension of Sudetenland to Germany including among other things the Czech Škoda works by Pilsen, Czechoslovakia's primary armaments factory.

As a result, Bohemia and Moravia lost about 38 percent of their combined area, as well as about 2.8 million Germans and approximately 750,000 Czechs to Germany.


After the end of WWII the majority of Germans from Czechoslovakia were expelled, 3 million altogether, 300 000 died. The expulsion was often accompanied with violence. See overview of expulsion of Germans after World War II and details of explusion from Czechoslovakia.

See also


External links

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