Tragedy of the Sudetenland

Expelled German Ethnic Minorities

While still generally unheard of by the general public outside of Germany, it is a matter of little contention among historians that some 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe after World War Two.
Some of these areas had been part of Germany, while in others, Germans had lived as ethnic minorities for generations.
While the actual death toll that resulted from the expulsion remains uncertain and controversial, conservative figures suggest over 1 million.
The German victims of these expulsions seem to have been banished to the same place as the victims of the Dresden ‘terror-bombing’ and the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The mean-spirited logic seems to be that the victims of these various events should not be mourned and for that matter no sympathy should be expressed because they were ‘enemies’ of the victorious Allies.
The controversy of the German expellees received press earlier this year when the governing German coalition parties, the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and the Free Democratic Party proposed a memorial day for the expellees. Almost immediately Jewish groups denounced the idea. Stephen Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany called the proposal “a kind of retaliation” against the victims of German war crimes. A group of historians actually condemned the proposal as “revisionist.” Others called the proposal a mockery and disgraceful.

The Sudetenland


Sudetenland is the German name for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia located within Czechoslovakia.

The name is derived from the Sudetes mountains, though the Sudetenland extended beyond these mountains which run along the border to Silesia and contemporary Poland.
Sudeti montes was already used on Ptolemaios’ map of the 2nd century.
The German inhabitants were called Sudetendeutsche (Sudeten Germans).
The German minority in Slovakia, the Carpathian Germans, is not included in this ethnic category.

3,273,000 people were driven out of Sudetenland as well as Bohemia and Moravia, of which 273,000 lost their lives on the way.

In these areas there once lived 3,474,000 Sudeten Germans in 674 settlements.


Major cities:

Reichenberg, Aussig, Brünn, Brüx, Eger, Gablonz, Karlsbad,
Leitmeritz, Marienbad, Olmütz, Teplitz-Schönau, Tetschen,
Trautenau, Troppau and Znaim
The Sudetenland with the Bohemian Forest and South Moravia was greater than Hessen and Saarland together.
The German Bohemia, part of the Habsburg Empire, by its German-speaking majority played a leading role within the total population.
From 1918 to 1938, after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, more than 3.5 million ethnic Germans were living in the Czech part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia.

Sudeten German pro-Nazi leader Konrad Henlein founded Sudetendeutsche Partei (German Party – SdP) that served as the branch of the Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei for the Sudetenland.
By 1935, the SdP was the second largest political party in Czechoslovakia.


Heim ins Reich

‘Volksdeutsche’ – German for people/folk -, defined ethnically, is a historical term from the 20th century.

The Heim ins Reich (Home into the Empire or Back to the Reich), was a foreign policy pursued by Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler. beginning in 1938. The aim of his initiative was to convince all of the ethnically German people who were living outside of the Third Reich (i.e. in foreign countries such as Austria and the western districts of Poland) that they should strive to bring these regions “home” into the ‘Gross Deutsches Reich’ (Greater Germany). It included areas ceded after the Treaty of Versailles, as well as other areas containing significant German populations such as the Sudetenland. The policy was managed by VOMI (Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle) (Main Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans). As a state agency of the NSDAP, it handled all Volksdeutsch issues.

The words ‘volk’ and ‘volkische’ conveyed in Nationalist thinking the meanings of “folk” and “race”, while adding the sense of superior civilization and blood.
These terms were used by the Third Reich to define people in terms of their ethnicity rather than citizenship and thus included Germans living beyond the borders of the German Reich.
This is in contrast to Imperial Germans (Reichsdeutsche), German citizens living within Germany.
The term also contrasts with the usage of the term Auslandsdeutsche (Germans abroad) since 1936, which generally denotes German citizens residing in other countries.
Volksdeutsche were further divided into Volksgruppen — a minority within a minority in a state — with a special cultural, social and historic development.

Adolf Hitler

Volksdeutsche were defined by Adolf Hitler as “people whose language and culture had German origins but who did not hold German citizenship.
For Hitler and the other ethnic Germans of his time, the term “Volksdeutsche” also carried overtones of blood and race not captured in the common English translation “ethnic Germans”.
According to German estimates in the 1930s, about 30 million Volksdeutsche and Auslandsdeutsche, were living outside the Reich.
A significant proportion of them were in Central Europe: Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia, where many were located in villages along the Danube, and Russia.
Many of their ancestors had migrated to non-German-speaking European countries in the 18th century, invited by governments that wanted to repopulate areas decimated by the Ottoman Empire occupation and sometimes by disease.
The National Socialist goal of expansion assigned the Volksdeutsche a special role in German plans, to bring them back to German citizenship and elevate them to power over the native populations in those areas.

Shortly after the Anschluß of Austria with Germany, Henlein met with Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, where he was instructed to present demands to the Czechoslovak government led by president Edvard Beneš.
On 24 April, the SdP issued a series of demands upon the government of Czechoslovakia, that were known as the ‘Carlsbad Program’.

Stadtwappen  München

Führerbau – Munich Agreement 1938

Among the demands, Heinlein demanded full equality of Germans with Czechs and autonomy for Germans living in Czechoslovakia.
The Czechoslovakian government responded by saying that it was willing to provide minority rights to the German minority but it refused to grant them autonomy.

This situation was not acceptable by the Germans in Bohemia and Moravia and they called for annexation to German Austria.
However, the Allies rejected this aspiration.

It was followed by the Sudeten crisis, the Munich Agreement.

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938.

The Munich Agreement

The Munich Agreement was a settlement permitting annexation of Czechoslovakia’s areas along the country’s borders mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans known as the Sudetenland by the Third Reich.
The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without the presence of Czechoslovakia.
The agreement was signed in the early hours of 30 September 1938 (but dated 29 September).
The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of the Sudetenland in the face of territorial demands made by Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler.
The agreement was signed by the great powers – Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Wappen des Protektorats
Böhmen und Mähren

Adolf Hitler – der Prager Burg

The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was subsequently invaded by Germany in March 1939, with a portion being annexed and the remainder turned into the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’.

The Slovak part declared its independence from Czechoslovakia, becoming the Slovak Republic (Slovak State), an ally of the Third Reich.
The Sudetenland was initially put under military administration, with General Wilhelm Keitel as military governor.
On 21 October 1938, the annexed territories were divided, with the southern parts being incorporated into the neighbouring Reichsgaue Oberdonau and Niederdonau.

Wappen Reichgau Sudetenland

The northern and western parts were reorganized as the Reichsgau Sudetenland, with the city of Reichenberg established as its capital.

Konrad Henlein administered the district first as Reichskommissar (until 1 May 1939) and then as Reichsstatthalter (1 May 1939 – 4 May 1945).

Konrad Ernst Eduard Henlein

Konrad Ernst Eduard Henlein (6 May 1898 – 10 May 1945) was a leading Sudeten German politician in Czechoslovakia. Upon the German occupation he joined the Nazi Party as well as the SS and was appointed Reichsstatthalter of the Sudetenland in 1939. He attended business school in Gablonz. Henlein entered military service as a Kriegsfreiwilliger. In May, 1916, he attended Offiziersschule and then was assigned to k.u.k. Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 27 (Base-Graz). He saw frontline service in the Dolomites at Monte Forno, Mont Sief, and Monte Maletta from May, 1916 to 17 November 1917. Henlein was severely wounded, then captured by Italian troops, and spent the remainder of the war as a POW held in Italian captivity at Asinara Island. There Henlein spent his time studying the history of the German Turner (gymnastics) movement of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. He returned home after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1919. Influenced by the German national movement, Henlein became a gym teacher of the gymnastics club in Asch (Aš) in 1925, which, similar to the Czech Sokol movement, took an active part in Sudeten German communal life.

Sudetenland consisted of three political districts: Eger (with Karlsbad as capital), Aussig (Aussig) and Troppau (Troppau).
Stadtwappen Potsdam

Potsdam Conference – 1945 

After the end of World War II, the Potsdam Conference in 1945 determined that Sudeten Germans would have to leave Czechoslovakia.

Immediately after the occupation by the troops of the Red Army there began the massacre and forced expulsion of the German population which was accompanied by looting, violence and lynching.

History of the Sudetenland

Settlement by Germanic tribes, Marbod’s Kingdom, reduction of the population during the great migrations.
By the 6th century
Settlement by Eastern tribes.
Campaign by Charles the Great against Bohemia.
Otakar I obtained the hereditary kingship in Bohemia and suzerainty over Moravia.
12th century
A large number of German monks enter the country, founded monasteries and managed large estates.
Battle of the March Field and expansion of the Habsburg power in Bohemia and Moravia.
Emperor Charles IV makes in 1346 the “golden” Prague to German capital, in 1348 he founded the first German university and the imperial regalia was kept in the Karlstein Castle near Prague.
1618-1648 Hussite Wars
The Defenestration of Prague in 1618 starts the Thirty Years’ War.
Congress of Vienna. The Sudetenland stays until 1914 in Austria-Hungary.
Initial planning of “Czechoslovakia” in Allied circles, with territorial claims against Austria, Bavaria, Silesia, Brandenburg and Saxony.
Disintegration of the Habsburg monarchy and the founding of Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten Germans want the annexation to German Austria.
The Czech military occupied the Sudetenland. Dissolution of the German-Bohemian regional government, oppression of the Sudeten Germans.
Four-power conference with inclusion of the Sudetenland into the German Reich.
Flight and expulsion of 3,000,000 Germans from their homeland.

Flight and Expulsion

Expulsion of Volksdeutsche
from the Sudetenland
Expulsion of Volksdeutsche
from the Sudetenland

Immediately after the arrival of the Red Army in Bohemia and Moravia there began the brutal displacement of the German population.

Thus, the victorious Allied Powers were to be provided with a fait accompli.
The expulsion was accompanied by lynchings, mass executions, brutish violence and rape by both the Soviet occupation army as well as the Czech population. Full horror and hatred were the Czechs to the defenseless Germans.
In the so-called Brünn death march about 26,000 women, children and elderly had to walk to the Austrian border. Hundreds died of exhaustion and dehydration.
The able-bodied German men were sent to camps and forced into hard labor.
A quarter million Germans didn’t survive the violence and atrocities, the labor camps.
Over 3 million Sudeten Germans lost their home forever.

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 April 5, 1945, in the north-eastern 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.
Between 1945 and 1948, a series of presidential 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).
Decrees 5, 12, 33, 108/1945 ordered the removal of citizenship from people of German ethnic origin who were treated collectively as collaborators. 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. 


In the summer of 1945 there were localised massacres of the German population. 
June 18–19, 1945, in the Přerov incident, 71 men, 120 women and 74 children (265 Germans) who were Slovak Germans from Dobšiná were passing through Horní Moštěnice near Přerov railway station. Here they were taken out of the train, taken outside the city to a hill named “Švédské šance”, where they were forced to dig their own graves and all were shot. They were all murdered while being transported back to Slovakia by soldiers of the 17th Bratislava Foot Regiment.
20,000 Germans were forced to leave Brno for camps in Austria. Z. Beneš reported 800 deaths.
Estimates of those killed in the Ústí massacre range from 30–50 to 600–700 civilians.
763 people were shot dead in Postoloprty and the immediate vicinity. In September 1947 a Czechoslovak parliamentary commission investigated reports of mass graves scattered around the north Bohemian town of Postoloprty. In all, the investigation unearthed 763 German bodies, victims of a zealous Czechoslovak army detachment carrying out orders to “cleanse” the region of Germans in late May 1945. Expellees who survived the massacre estimated the number of their murdered neighbours to be over 800.

Internment Camps

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. 
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. 
Conditions in the internment camp near Kolín, in which internees were raped and beaten and two of them were killed were investigated by the Czechoslovak parliament. According to a rough estimate approximately 10,000 people died in Czech camps and prisons from 1945 to 1948. The causes of death included epidemics, undernourishment, overall exhaustion and old age, but also ill-treatment and executions.


Expulsion of Sudeten Germans

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 15-16,000 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).