Sudetenland (Czech and Polish: "Sudety") is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the western regions of
Czechoslovakiainhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia associated with Bohemia.
The name is derived from the
Sudeten mountains, though the Sudetenland extended beyond these mountains which run along the border to Silesiaand contemporary Poland. The German inhabitants were called "Sudeten Germans" (German: "Sudetendeutsche", Czech: "Sudetští Němci", Polish: "Niemcy Sudeccy"). The German minority in Slovakia, the Carpathian Germans, is not included in this ethnic category.
History of Sudetenland
The areas later known as Sudetenland never formed a single historical region, which makes it difficult to distinguish the history of the Sudetenland apart from that of Bohemia, until the advent of nationalism and the coining of the term in the 19th century.
The regions later called Sudetenland were situated on the borders of the Kingdom of
Bohemia, which also consisted of Moravia and other lands (Silesia, Lusatia, etc.). After the extinction of the Přemyslid dynasty, the kingdom was ruled by the Luxemburgs, later the Jagiellonians and finally the Habsburgs. Already from the 13th century onwards the border regions of Czech lands, called Sudetenland in the 20th century, were settled by ethnic Germans, who were invited by the Bohemian kings.
The Habsburgs gradually integrated the Kingdom of Bohemia into their monarchy since the 17th century, and it remained a part of that realm until its dismemberment after
World War I. Conflicts between Czech and German nationalists emerged in the 19th century, for instance in the Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas: while the German-speaking population wanted to participate in the building of a German nation state, the Czech-speaking population insisted on keeping Bohemia out of such plans.
Emergence of the term
In the wake of growing nationalism, the name "Sudetendeutsche" (Sudeten Germans) emerged by the early 20th century. It originally constituted part of a larger classification of three groupings of Germans within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which also included "Alpendeutsche" (Alpine Germans) in what later became the Republic of Austria and "Balkandeutsche" (Balkan Germans) in Hungary and the regions east of it. Of these three terms, only the term "Sudetendeutsche" survived, because of the ethnic and cultural conflicts within Bohemia.
Changes after World War I
World War I, Austria-Hungarybroke apart. Late in October 1918, an independent Czechoslovak state, consisting of the lands of the Bohemian kingdom and areas belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary, was proclaimed. However, the German deputies of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia in the Imperial Parliament ("Reichsrat") refused to adhere to the new state by referring to the Fourteen Pointsof U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Instead they proclaimed the union of the German-speaking territories with the new Republic of German Austria, which itself aimed at joining Weimar Germany. Four regional governmental units were established:
German Bohemia("Deutschböhmen"), the regions of northern and western Bohemia; proclaimed a constitutive state ("Land") of the German-Austrian Republic with Reichenberg as capital, administered by a " Landeshauptmann" (state captain), consecutively: Rafael Pacher (1857-1936), 29 October- 6 November 1918, and Rudolf Ritter von Lodgman von Auen (1877 - 1962), 6 November- 16 December 1918(the last principal city was conquered by the Czech army but he continued in exile, first at Zittau in Saxony and then in Vienna, until 24 September 1919)
*"Province Sudetenland", the regions of northern
Moraviaand Austrian Silesia; proclaimed a constituent state of the German-Austrian Republic with Troppau as capital, governed by a "Landeshauptmann": Robert Freissler (1877-1950), 30 October- 18 December 1918
Bohemian Forest Region("Böhmerwaldgau"), the region of Bohemian Forest/ South Bohemia; proclaimed a district ("Kreis") of the existing Austrian Land of Upper Austria; administered by "Kreishauptmann" (district captain): Friedrich Wichtl (1872 - 1922) from 30 October 1918
German South Moravia("Deutschsüdmähren"), proclaimed a District ("Kreis") of the existing Austrian land Lower Austria, administered by a "Kreishauptmann": Oskar Teufel (1880 - 1946) from 30 October 1918.
The U.S. commission to the Paris Peace Conference made the following, unheeded, recommendations. It should be noted they refer to "all" areas claimed by Czechoslovakia, including areas such as
Lusatia, which would for obvious reasonsFact|date=September 2008 never be joined to Czechoslovakia. [Alfred de Zayas, "Anglo-American Responsibility for the Expulsion of the Germans, 1944-48", (Pittsburg lecture, published in Vardy/Tooley "Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe" pp. 239-254) p. 245]
Several German minorities in Moravia, including German populations in
Brno, Jihlava, and Olomoucalso attempted to proclaim their union with German Austria, but failed.
The Czechs thus rejected the aspirations of the Sudeten Germans and demanded the inclusion of the Sudetenland in their new state, despite the presence of 23.4% (as of 1921) ethnic Germans, on the grounds they had always been part of
Bohemiaand Moravia. The Treaty of Saint-Germainin 1919 affirmed the inclusion of the German-speaking territories within the new state of Czechoslovakia.
However, over the next two decades, some Germans in the Sudetenland continued to strive for a separation of the German inhabited regions from Czechoslovakia.
Within the Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938)
According to the February 1921 census 3,123,000 Germans lived in all Czechoslovakia, i.e. 23.4% of the total population.
The controversies between the Czechs and the German minority (which constituted a majority in the Sudetenland areas) lingered on throughout the 1920s, and intensified in the 1930s.
In the years of
Great Depressionthe mostly mountainous regions populated by the German minority, together with other peripheral regions in Czechoslovakia, were hurt by economic depressionmore than the inland. Unlike the less developed regions ( Ruthenia, Wallachia), there was a high concentration of industry dependent on export (such as glass works, textile industry, paper-making and toy-making industry) and thus very vulnerable in the period of global depression.For example: 60% of the bijouterie and glass-making industry were located in the Sudetenland, 69% of employees in this sector were Germans, and 95% of bijouterie and 78% of other glassware were produced for export. Then the glass-making sector was affected by decreased spending power and also by protective measures in other countries and many German workers lost their work. [Kárník, Zdeněk. České země v éře první republiky (1918-1938). Díl 2. Praha 2002.]
The high unemployment made people more open to populist and extremist movements (
Communism, Fascism). In these years, the parties of German nationalists and later the Sudetendeutsche Party (SdP) with its radical demands gained immense popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia.
udeten Crisis and German annexation
After 1933, the Sudeten-German party (SdP) pursued a policy of escalation. Party leader
Konrad Henleinwith his deputy Karl Hermann Frankhad secretly formed a pact with the Nazi Partynow ruling in Germany and would gradually increase his demands so that Hitler could reap the fruits of the conflict.
Immediately after the "
Anschluss" of Austriainto the Third Reichin March 1938, Hitler made himself the advocate of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering the "Sudeten Crisis".
In August, UK Prime Minister,
Neville Chamberlain, sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia in order to see if he could obtain a settlement between the Czechoslovak government and the Germans in the Sudetenland. His mission failed because, on Hitler's command, Sudeten German Partyrefused all conciliating proposals. [Šamberger, Zdeněk: Mnichov 1938 v řeči archivních dokumentů. Praha 2002. (ISBN 8085475936)] Zimmermann, Volker: Die Sudetendeutschen im NS-Staat. Politik und Stimmung der Bevölkerung im Reichsgau Sudetenland (1938-1945). Essen 1999. (ISBN 3884747703)] [Čelovský, Bořivoj: Germanisierung und Genozid. Hitlers Endlösung der tschechischen Frage - deutsche Dokumente 1933-1945. Dresden 2005. (ISBN 8090355013)] Runciman reported the following to the British government:
The Nazis, together with their Sudeten German allies, demanded incorporation of the region into
Nazi Germanyto escape "oppression", in fact to destroy the Czechoslovak state. While the Czechoslovak government mobilized its troops, the Western powers urged it to comply with Germany believing that they could prevent or postpone a general war by appeasing Hitler.
British Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlainmet with Adolf Hitlerin Berchtesgadenon 15 Septemberand agreed to the cessionof the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladierdid the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.
Chamberlain met Hitler in Godesberg on
September 22to confirm the agreements. Hitler however, aiming at using the crisis as a pretext for war, now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories, giving the Czechoslovakian army no time to adapt their defence measures to the new borders. To achieve a solution, Italian prime minister Benito Mussolinisuggested a conference of the major powers in Munich and on September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini's proposal (actually prepared by Hermann Göring) and signed the Munich Agreementaccepting the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovak government, though not party to the talks, promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.
The Sudetenland was occupied by Germany between
October 1and October 10, 1938. This unification with the Third Reichwas followed by the flight or expulsion of most of the region's Czech population to areas remaining within Czechoslovakia.
The remaining parts of Czechoslovakia were subsequently invaded and annexed by Germany in March 1939.
udetenland as part of Nazi Germany
The Sudetenland was initially put under military administration, with General
Wilhelm Keitelas "Military governor". On 21 October 1938, the annexed territories were divided, with the southern parts being incorporated into the neighbouring Reichsgaue "Oberdonau" and "Niederdonau".
The northern and western parts were reorganised as the Reichsgau "Sudetenland", with the city of Reichenberg (present-day
Liberec) established as its capital. Konrad Henlein(now openly a NSDAPmember) administered the district first as " Reichskommissar" (until 1 May 1939) and then as " Reichsstatthalter" ( 1 May 1939– 4 May 1945). Sudetenland consisted of three political districts: Eger (with Karlsbad as capital), Aussig (Aussig) and Troppau (Troppau).
Shortly after the annexation, the Jews living in the Sudetenland were widely persecuted. Only a few weeks afterwards, "
Kristallnacht" occurred. As elsewhere in Germany, many synagogues were set on fire and many Jews were sent to concentration camps. In later years, the Nazis transported up to 300,000 Czech and Slovak Jews to concentration camps. [cite web|last=Wheeler|first=Charles|date=2002-12-03|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2536261.stm|title=Czechs' hidden revenge against Germans|format=HTML, Blog|accessdate=2006-09-26|publisher= BBC News] where 90% of them were killed or died. Jews and Czechs were not the only afflicted peoples; German Socialists, communists and pacifists were widely persecuted as well. Some of the German Socialists fled the Sudetenland via Prague and London to other countries. The " Gleichschaltung" would permanently damage the community in the Sudetenland.
Despite this, on
4 December 1938there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for NSDAP. About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the Nazi Party which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average NSDAP participation in Nazi Germanywas 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland was the most "pro-Nazi" region in the Third Reich. Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moraviaas well as in Nazi organizations (Gestapo, etc.). The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank: the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.
Expulsions and resettlement after World War II
After the end of World War II, the
Potsdam Conferencein 1945 determined that Sudeten Germans would have to leave Czechoslovakia (see Expulsion of Germans after World War II). As a consequence of the immense hostility against all Germans that had grown within Czechoslovakia due to Nazi behavior, the overwhelming majority of Germans were expelled (while the relevant Czechoslovak legislation provided for the remaining of those Germans that were able to prove their anti-Nazi affiliation, in many instances these provisions were not respectedFact|date=September 2008). The number of expelled Germans in the early phase (spring-summer 1945) is estimated to be around 500,000 people. These expulsions and forced resettlements were associated with excesses and even murders of Germans, e.g. in the Ústí massacreand during the " Brno death march" ("Brünner Todesmarsch", the forced march of some 20,000Fact|date=September 2008 German inhabitants of Brno toward the Austrian borders at the end of May 1945). There were about 24,000 knownFact|date=September 2008 deaths directly related to the expulsion (this includes murders as well as suicides or deaths from disease, old age, etc.). More than 62,000Fact|date=September 2008 German people were reported missing by relatives, but their deaths could not be verified. The property of practically all Sudeten Germans, claimed to be part of war reparations, was confiscated by Czechoslovakia pursuant to the Beneš decrees. During the organised phase in 1946, a total of 2,232,544Fact|date=September 2008 people were transferred to Germany: two-thirds of them to the American sector, and one-third to the Soviet sector (note: not all of the transferred were actual Germans: the number includes the non-German members of mixed families and renegades). About 244,000Fact|date=September 2008 Germans were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia. Many German refugees from Czechoslovakia are represented by the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft.
Many of the Germans who stayed in Czechoslovakia later emigrated to
West Germany(more than 100,000). As the German population was transferred out of the country, the former Sudetenland was resettled, mostly by Czechsbut also by other nationalities of Czechoslovakia: Slovaks, Volhynian Czechs, Gypsies and Hungarians(though the Hungarians were forced into this and later returned home). Some areas remained depopulated for several strategic reasons (extensive mining, military interests etc.) or simply for their lack of attractions. There remained areas with noticeable German minorities only in the westernmost borderland.
In the 2001 census, approximately 40,000 people in the Czech Republic claimed German ethnicity.
Germans in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938)
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
Expulsion of Germans after World War II
* Pursuit of Nazi collaborators in Czechoslovakia
Sources and references
* [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/germ/czecheng.html Czech-German Declaration]
* [http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=87 WW2DB: German Annexation of Sudetenland]
* [http://hungarianhistory.com/lib/ethnic/ethnic.doc Ethnic cleansing in post World War II Czechoslovakia: the presidential decrees of Edward Benes, 1945-1948] Available as MS Word for Windows file.
* [http://www.sudeten.de/ "Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft"] de icon
* [http://www.sudetendeutsches-archiv.de/web/de/index.htm "Sudetendeutsches Archiv"] de icon
* [http://www.sudeten-by.de/ "Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft Bayern"] de icon
* [http://www.ackermann-gemeinde.de/ Ackermann-Gemeinde] de icon
* [http://sudetengermans.freeyellow.com/ "sudetengermans.com"]
* Bell, P.M.H. "The Origins of the Second World War in Europe". Addison Wesley Longman Ltd: London, 1997.
* Westermann, "Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte" de icon
* [http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Czech_Republic.html WorldStatesmen - Czech Republic] ; includes description of the 1918 Gaus
* [http://www.wintersonnenwende.com/scriptorium/english/archives/whitebook/desg00.html Description of the expulsion, published by the group of expellees, 1951]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2536261.stm BBC 2002 article about Sudeten Germans]
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