The award-winning history of 12 million German-speaking civilians in Europe who were driven from their homes after WWII: “a major achievement” (New Republic).
Immediately after the Second World War, the victorious Allies authorized the forced relocation of ethnic Germans from their homes across central and southern Europe to Germany. The numbers were almost unimaginable: between 12 and 14 million civilians, most of them women and children. And the losses were horrifying: at least five hundred thousand people, and perhaps many more, died while detained in former concentration camps, locked in trains, or after arriving in Germany malnourished, and homeless.
In this authoritative and objective account, historian R.M. Douglas examines an aspect of European history that few have wished to confront, exploring how the forced migrations were conceived, planned, and executed, and how their legacy reverberates throughout central Europe today. The first comprehensive history of this immense manmade catastrophe, Orderly and Humane is an important study of the largest recorded episode of what we now call "ethnic cleansing." It may also be the most significant untold story of the World War II.
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About the Author
R. M. Douglas is associate professor of history, Colgate University. He lives in Hamilton, NY.
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Orderly and HumaneThe Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War
By R. M. Douglas
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2012 R. M. Douglas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Planner
A week after the Munich Conference of September 1938, the Czechoslovak president, Edvard Bene, composed his letter of resignation. After a quarter of a century at the heart of political life in Czechoslovakia, and almost three years as its unchallenged leader, he had become in the space of seven days a political irrelevance. While the great powers haggled over the future of his country at MunichCzechoslovakia had not even been invited to send a delegation to the conferenceBene was made to stand by helplessly, watching his life's work crash in ruins. Two decades previously, as the foreign minister of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government and right-hand man of the Republic's "Father-Liberator," Tomá Garrigue Masaryk, Bene had argued, lobbied, and negotiated behind the scenes at the Paris Peace Conference to brilliant effect, securing the great powers' agreement to a larger expanse of territory for the new Czechoslovak state than the most optimistic of his countrymen had dared to imagine. Now he looked on as the same powers accepted Adolf Hitler's demand that the Czechoslovakia he had worked so unsparingly to create and to preserve must be dismembered. More than a quarter of Czechoslovakia's territorythe German-speaking Sudetenland, extending in a broad band along three sides of the country's frontierand a similar proportion of its population were to be turned over to its aggressive northern neighbor as the price of staving off a new world war. Within a fortnight of the Munich accord, the Czechoslovak government had completely evacuated the Sudetenland, which was immediately divided into Gaue (districts) and integrated into the Nazi Reich. What remained of the country, abandoned by its French and British allies, was left to make the best deal it could with Hitler. Having been vilified for six straight months in the Goebbels-controlled Nazi press as Germany's principal external enemy, Bene knew that he was not the man to undertake that task. He preferred to go into exile, accepting a teaching position at the University of Chicago as his mentor Masaryk, a onetime philosophy professor, had done in the years before the Great War.
Although world opinion sympathized with Bene over the manner in which he had been driven from office, a general consensus held that, as the London Times put it, the transfer of territory to Germany had been "both necessary and fundamentally just." The people of the Sudetenlandlike the Czechs and Slovaks, citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its collapse in 1918had never been consulted as to whether they wanted to be part of Czechoslovakia. If they had been, their overwhelming preference would have been to join their fellow German-speakers in the postwar Austrian state. Even in 1919, Allied diplomats had worried that giving the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakiamaking the Germans the second largest nationality within the Republic and relegating the Slovaks to a distant third placewould be to strain the assimilative capacity of the infant state too far. Harold Nicolson, a member of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, recorded his anxiety "about the future political complexion of the Czech State if they have to digest solid enemy electorates, plus an Irish Party in Slovakia, plus a Red Party in Ruthenia, to say nothing of their own extreme socialists." But Bene and Masaryk had carried the day over these objections. While Czechoslovak troops created "facts on the ground" by forcibly suppressing the provisional governments established in each of Bohemia and Moravia's four German provinces at the end of 1918, the two leaders persuaded the Allies that only a strong Czechoslovakia could check the revival of German hegemony in central Europe. The Sudetenland with its vibrant export-oriented industries, they argued, was vital to Czechoslovakia's economic prosperity. Without it the country would be strategically indefensible, vulnerable to attack from the north, west, and south. Somewhat against their better judgment, and in contradiction of Woodrow Wilson's professed commitment to the principle of self-determination, the Allies assented, as the British prime minister David Lloyd George would ruefully recall, to the incorporation in the new state of "hundreds of thousands of protesting Magyars and some millions of angry Germans." Bene, for his part, promised the Allies that independent Czechoslovakia would become a model multinational state. The rights of the Sudetendeutsch minority would benefit from the most comprehensive system of protection in domestic and international law in Europe. German, he declared, would become "the second language of the country," and in public affairs would stand "on equal footing with Czech." Sudeten rights would be safeguarded by a nationality law based on the principles of the Swiss constitution. Proportional representation would prevent the Germans from being subjected to the tyranny of the Czech majority.
In the event, the record of the First Republic never lived up to these lofty aspirations. Although Czechoslovakia's constitution declared the equality of all citizens "without consideration of race, language or religion," in reality an ever-present tension existed between "the ideal of building up a State on a modern, democratic basis ... and the psychologically comprehensible but in practice self-destructive tendency to transform that State into an instrument of Czech and Slovak nationalism." Little was done to make good on Bene's undertaking to the Allies at Paris to convert Czechoslovakia into "a sort of Switzerland." And indeed, to have done so would have required a degree of generosity and far-sightedness of which few Czechsnot even Bene himselffully recognized the necessity. It would also have made the Republic into a very different kind of country from the one of which Czech nationalists had dreamed. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czech andto an even greater degreeSlovak speakers had received scant consideration at the hands of the dominant German and Magyar linguistic groups. Now the boot was on the other foot, and the temptation to reply in kind was almost irresistible. Even the popular and conciliatory Tomá Masaryk, himself the son of a Czech-German mother and who grew up speaking German more fluently than Czech, had sometimes displayed a degree of triumphalism, in his inaugural address referring infelicitously to his Sudetendeutsch fellow-citizens as "immigrants and colonists." Many Czechoslovaks, less diplomatic than he, made no secret of their conviction that German-speakers, the human residue of an alien and oppressive culture, had no place in their new Republic. If the Germans were a minority within Czechoslovakia, moreover, the Czech people never forgot that they were a small linguistic island in a larger Germanic sea extending across central Europe in which they were outnumbered by more than ten to one. The concept of "Czechoslovakia" was itself a fragile structure, to which even a large proportion of Slovaks were not fully reconciled. To try to accommodate the cultural idiosyncrasies of yet another people might sow the seeds of separatism, and eventually of national disintegration.
After the Munich conference, Czechoslovakia's many Western defenders unanimously asserted, in the words of one of their number, that "these German-Bohemians were the best-treated minority in Europe." The truth was more complicated. Certainly the Sudeten Germans were never the targets of a systematic government-directed persecution, though physical attacks on Sudetendeutsche and their institutions and symbols were far from uncommon during the Republic's early years. But neither were they treated on anything like terms of equality. By a variety of means, the state from above and Czech nationalists from below tried to eliminate manifestations of German culture, especially by using administrative expedients to drive down the number of officially registered "Germans" in each district below the critical 20 percent threshold that, under Czechoslovak law, entitled minority populations to formal recognition. Thus, as Tara Zahra notes, "Thousands of citizens who professed to be Germans on the census of 1921 were subject to interrogations, fines, and imprisonment for illegally declaring a 'false' nationality." The fines involved were usually modest, typically a week's salary for an ordinary worker, and the periods of imprisonment brief. Nevertheless, "in all the cases in which individuals were fined or imprisoned for declaring a false nationality, self-declared Germans were changed into Czechs." When the next census was taken in 1930, ethnic manipulation occurred on an even larger scale. One investigation by the Ministry of the Interior found that enumerators in Brno had forged 1,145 signatures and reclassified another 2,377 individuals so as to reduce the town's German population to a whisker below the 20 percent threshold. The central government in Prague, for its part, attempted to dilute the ethnic composition of the Sudetenland by posting Czech civil servants and their families there; dismissing tens of thousands of German public servants either for their inability to pass newly required examinations in Czech language and culture or in response to denunciations (which were officially encouraged and received on a massive scale), and replacing them with Czech functionaries; and selectively closing German schools. Lastly, a controversial land reform program benefited Czech and Slovak farmers at the expense of their German- and Magyar-speaking counterparts: "a social policy in its original intention," in Zbynek Zeman's summation, "became, in its execution, a national policy." Between the wars, Zahra concludes, "Czech nationalists finally enjoyed the opportunity to realize nationalist fantasies unchecked by the moderating influence of a neutral state."
In spite of this unpromising beginning, as the new Republic began to stabilize a real possibility existed that Czechs and Germans, given enough time, would reach a mutually satisfactory modus vivendi in their new country. Tomá Masaryk, one of the few members of the majority population to recognize the dangers of driving the Sudetendeutsche into a corner, dedicated himself as president to diminishing Czechoslovak chauvinism and German separatism alike. By the mid-1920s, these efforts had begun to bear fruit. In the 1925 elections, the "rejectionists" among the Sudetendeutsch population, who denied the legitimacy of the state and vowed to take no part in it, were decisively outnumbered by the "activists," who aimed at striking the best possible deal for the German population within the framework of the Republic. The "activists" were strengthened by the support they received from Berlin. Unlike the German territories lost to Poland under the Treaty of Versailles, the Sudetenland had never formed part of the Reich. The Weimar Republic's leaders were therefore relatively undisturbed by its inclusion in Czechoslovakia. Some of the more far-sighted among them, like Gustav Stresemann, could perceive definite advantages in having a substantial pro-German element represented in the Prague government, which would serve Berlin's interests in central Europe far better than the addition of a few million more German-speakers to Austria's population. Consequently, the German government encouraged Sudetendeutsch leaders to play a full part in the political life of Czechoslovakia. Relations between the two communities underwent a definite thaw, assisted by the fact that many Sudeten Germans recognized that their own conditions compared favorably to those of their co-linguists in inflation-ridden, war-debt-burdened and politically unstable Germany. In 1926 Franz Spina, a Sudeten German parliamentarian who served twice as a minister in the Czechoslovak government, told a French newspaper, "We have lived with the Czechs for a thousand years, and through economic, social, cultural and even racial ties, we are so closely connected with them that we form one people. To use a homely metaphor: we form different strands of the same carpet."
Unfortunately this positive momentum was not sustained. When the ailing and elderly Masaryk stepped down from the presidency in 1935, he carried away much of the Sudetendeutsch community's goodwill with him. In contrast to the charismatic Father-Liberator, Edvard Bene, his long-time heir apparent, seemed a colorless and uninspiring replacement. Across the political spectrum, Czechoslovaks paid tribute to Bene's intelligence, diligence, and efficiency. In administrative ability he stood head and shoulders above his peers. But if his talents were those of the skilled bureaucrat, so too were his flaws. Thin-skinned, intensely self-righteous, cold, and prone to bearing grudges, he was to prove an unfortunate choice as Masaryk's successor. His own secretary, Jaromír Smutný, acknowledged that although a "brilliant master of tactics and strategy, the greatest Machiavelli of our time ... he is unable to awaken the enthusiasm of the masses.... People leave him persuaded, but not feeling entirely with him, full of confidence but without affection." Bene also had a tendency toward political idées fixes that would twice prove disastrous for his country. An ardent Francophile, between the wars he placed his complete trust in the relationship between Prague and Paris, only to be abandoned by the French at Munich. A similar disillusionment lay in his future, after he transferred his unquestioning and unrequited confidence to the Soviet Union. The Sudeten German population's attitude to Bene, hence, was at best one of reserve. It was suspicious of his efficient public relations network that ceaselessly reiterated to Western Europeans what they wanted to hear about Czechoslovakia's and its president's exemplary liberal and democratic credentialsan image it knew to be more than a little rosecolored. It recognized him as a committed Czech nationalist, whose regard for minority rights owed more to pragmatism than conviction. And it had little confidence that in any situation in which Czechoslovak and Sudetendeutsch interests were in conflict, Bene would treat the two communities even-handedly and impartially. When the resolution to confirm Bene in the presidency was put before the Prague parliament in 1935, not a single Sudetendeutsch deputy voted in favor.
The differential impact of the Great Depression on Czech and German communities intensified the Sudetenland's sense of alienation. As one of the most export-dependent parts of the country, the Sudetenland was hard hit by the contraction in international trade. But the Prague government added greatly to the region's distress by its practice of preferring Czechs for public-sector jobs, dismissing thousands of Sudetendeutsch workers in the process. Germans, more than 23 percent of the population in the 1930 census, five years later made up only 2 percent of the civil servants in ministerial positions, 5 percent of the officer corps in the army, and 10 percent of the employees of the state railways. Not a single ethnic German was to be found in Bene's own Foreign Ministry. State contracts, even for projects in the German-speaking districts, were steered toward Czechoslovak firms. By 1936, more than 60 percent of all Czechoslovak unemployment was concentrated in the Sudetenland. No less injurious to German sensibilities was Prague's dismissive response to their complaints of discrimination. It was unreasonable, Czech leaders argued, for the Sudetendeutsche to complain about their exclusion from public-sector employment while they remained equivocal in their loyalty to the very state that they expected to pay their wages. Germans, on the other hand, recalled that Czechoslovakia had come into existence as a result of Czech and Slovak soldiers deserting from the Austro-Hungarian army during the Great War and forming a Czechoslovak Legion to join the conflict on the Allied side against their former comrades in arms. For Bene and his followers, with their record of disloyalty to the Hapsburg Empire at a moment when it was fighting for its life, to preach to anyone else about minority nationalities' duty of fidelity to countries to which they had been unwillingly attached seemed to most Sudetendeutsche the epitome of hypocrisy.
Excerpted from Orderly and Humane by R. M. Douglas Copyright © 2012 by R. M. Douglas. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations xi
1 The Planner 7
2 The Volksdeutsche in Wartime' 39
3 The Scheme 65
4 The "Wild Expulsions" 93
5 The Camps 130
6 The "Organized Expulsions" 158
7 The Numbers Game 194
8 The Children 229
9 The Wild West 254
10 The International Reaction 284
11 The Resettlement 301
12 The Law 326
13 Meaning and Memory 346