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New International, March 1947


Arthur Stein

The Fate of the Sudeten Germans

The Destruction of a People


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 3, March 1947, pp. 79–83.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The first time the Sudeten Germans achieved world-wide publicity was in 1938, when Hitler used their existence as a German-speaking minority in Czechoslovakia as an excuse to wage a “war of liberation” in their behalf.

Today the Sudeten Germans are again in the news. The occasion this time concerns the end of their existence as a distinct group – the government of Czechoslovakia has decided to carry out a policy of deporting the German nationality from its territory. Before the war, Germans had numbered approximately three and a half millions in the Czechoslovak Republic. Today, with the deportation program completed, there are at most 200,000 left. Of the rest, about one and a half million are in the American zone of Germany, about a million in the Russian zone, and many others in forced labor battalions in Czechoslovakia and in other countries more directly under the Kremlin’s iron heel.

The idea of expelling the Sudeten Germans was originally worked out by the government-in-exile of the Czechoslovak Republic in London during the war. According to Dr. Prokop Drtina, head of the Chancellery of the Czechoslovak government, the Soviet government promised full support to this plan when Benes went to Moscow in 1943. At the Potsdam Conference, all the Allies openly and officially endorsed the idea, stipulating only that the expulsions are to be carried out “humanely.”

How any mass expulsions can be humane is one of those riddles which imperialist diplomats never attempt to explain. Since none of the signatories of the Potsdam agreement protested against the manner in which the Czechs carried out the expulsions, we assume that it met their standards for “humane” conduct. What they looked like in practice can be seen from the following excerpts from eye-witness accounts:

By the end of August a transport of Sudeten Germans arrived in Berlin. It came from Troppau in Czech Silesia, and was 18 days on the way. Four thousand two hundred woman, children and aged people were counted before the transport departed from Troppau. One thousand three hundred and fifty were left when the transport arrived in Berlin. – A Sudeten clergyman now in Berlin.

I have seen a large proportion of these people (Sudeten deportees), numbering nearly a million, who are literally starving on the road. I saw children and babies lying dead in the ditch by the roadside, dead of hunger and disease, their arms and legs often not thicker than a man’s thumb. – A Dutch observer writing from Saxony. [1]

By a decree passed by the Czech government on June 21, 1945, agricultural property owned by persons of “German race” (sic!) was confiscated without compensation and, according to a report published in the New York Times on December 1, 1946, the Sudeten Germans were allowed to take with them no more than 500 marks (roughly, $50) and a maximum of 300 kilograms of luggage. The report goes on to say that “anything else they (i.e., the Sudeten Germans) owned remained in Czechoslovakia, no matter who they were.”

Of special interest is the particularly reactionary role played by the Czech Stalinists, who, though this was extremely difficult, excelled even the professional Czech chauvinists in the manufacture of an anti-German lynch spirit among the Czech population. Thus, the following remarks were made by Kopecky, the Stalinist Minister of Propaganda in the Czech cabinet, in a speech at Reichenberg (Liberec, as the Czechs call it) on July 25, 1945:

Liberec will never again be Reichenberg. We will clear Liberec of the German enemies, and we will do it so thoroughly that not the smallest place will remain where the German seed could grow once more. We shall expel all the Germans, we shall confiscate their property, we shall de-nationalize not only the town but the whole area. so that the victorious spirit of Slavdom shall permeate the country from the frontier range to the interior . The government is determined to settle the question of the Germans uncompromisingly and unflinchingly . We are aware that, in the West, various reactionary protectors of the Germans are at work. But the government will not be misled or softened by any pressure, any campaigns, any libellous attacks. It is for us a decisive and encouraging fact that the Soviet Union stands by us in the question of transferring the Germans, and that Marshal Stalin himself has the greatest possible understanding for our endeavors to get rid of the Germans. We will not allow even some hundreds of thousands of Germans to remain in this country . We do not want any Germans along our north-western frontier, we want Czechoslovakia to form one integrally Slav territory with Poland and the Soviet Union. [2]

Here we have a Stalinist presentation of the Czech chauvinist views on the Sudeten Germans, views that have now become the official policy of the Prague government and are endorsed by the Russo-Anglo-American imperialist alliance.

In order to measure the full scope of the injustice and the real dimensions of the barbarity involved, one must be acquainted with the history of the Sudeten Germans and the background of the political questions at stake.

The term “Sudeten Germans,” applied to the German-speaking populations of Bohemia [3], Moravia and southern Silesia, is derived from the Sudetens, the range of mountains that separates Bohemia from Germany and Austria. The three provinces, part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy before the First World War, and, together with Slovakia, known as the Czechoslovak Republic since then, have historically been the scene of the most monstrous nationalist antagonisms, national oppressions, chauvinist exaggerations, and bloody fratricidal warfare. Yet, though still largely divided by language barriers, the population had evolved into a well-workable, multi-national unit at the time of the pre-war functioning of the Czechoslovak Republic. This functioning had constantly become reinforced by the economic necessity of living together: the industrial regions of German Bohemia are practically sealed off by substantial mountain ranges from the economic life of the German Reich, whose Prussian rulers, in addition, seemed more estranged to many German Bohemians than did their Czech neighbors.

Early History

The first known inhabitants of Bohemia were Celtic and Germanic tribes. It is true that from the sixth to the twelfth century the inhabitants of the province were almost entirely Slavonic, but beginning with the twelfth century, Germans and Czechs have lived together in a single state without interruption. Chauvinist historians on both sides quarrel on whether there was a continuity in the German settlements between the sixth and the twelfth centuries. However, for the purpose ‘of this article it is enough to establish the fact both sides readily concede: sizable German minorities have lived in Bohemia for at least eight hundred years. This, by the way, is more than can be said for the white man in America, not to speak of the Jewish minority in Palestine, whose right to live in that country (leaving aside, in this discussion, the question of further immigration) is not challenged, even by the Arabs.

Since 1528, when the Bohemian Diet elected Ferdinand of Habsburg to be King, Bohemia remained under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, with only episodic interruptions, until the fall of that regime at the end of the First World War. This rule meant, on the whole, the systematic attempt to eradicate the Czech language and culture and the Germanization of the official and economic life of the province. As a result, the Czech bourgeoisie, while developing a possibly more radical and democratic-revolutionary history, has never reached the economic strength of its Bohemian-German counterpart. Thus it is estimated that in 1927, long after the break of the German political subjugation of the province, and with a German minority representing only 22.3 per cent of the total population of the Czechoslovak Republic, the relative strength of the Czech and German sections of the bourgeoisie in the Republic was approximately as follows [4]:


Percentage in










Iron foundries






Artificial silk


Glass and porcelain



These figures are fairly representative for all the major industries of the Republic. It is only in the field of banking, i.e., that of administrative capital, in which the Czech bourgeoisie held a position proportionate to Czech population percentages.

It should be emphasized here that the Habsburg policy of national oppression, while strongly supported by the Bohemian-German bourgeoisie (which derived its privileged position from this policy), was repudiated by the Bohemian-German working class. Though the Austrian Social-Democratic Party suffered from a false position on the national question, seeing its solution in cultural autonomy, it rallied behind it not only Austrian workers but Czech, Slovak and Polish workers as well. It was in the vanguard of the fight against the Habsburg policy of Germanization. German Socialists were opposed to the privileged position of the German language and of German culture in the monarchy, and Czech as well as German workers who functioned together in their proletarian organizations were constantly accused of national treachery by their respective bourgeoisies.

Birth of Czechoslovak Republic

The national oppression of the Czechs reached a height in the course of the First World War. The Czechs showed little enthusiasm to fight for a monarchy in which they had known only national subjugation, and the Habsburg regime retaliated with numerous arrests, executions and the strictest police terror. The Good Soldier Schweik, written by the Czech novelist, Jaroslav Hasek, has, among many others, the virtue of being a vivid document of that period of Czech-German relations.

When the Habsburg monarchy collapsed at the end of World War I, the Sudeten Germans instituted their own local governments. These were known under the collective name of Sudetenland, and desired a union with Austria. They lasted for about six weeks; by Christmas of the year 1918, Czech troops had occupied all of these areas. There was no resistance to the Czech occupation. Germans in Bohemia, conforming to the European pattern of this period, showed by this time greater concern over class issues, specifically the socialist revolution, than they did about the national form of a bourgeois state. The program and the reputation of the Czech liberal democrats at the head of the newly established Czechoslovak Republic seemed to insure a fair treatment of the German minority and apparently most of the Germans in Bohemia were ready to accept the idea of living in a republic with a Czech majority. Thus the local elections of June 1919 centered exclusively around the issue of socialism. The same can be said of the parliamentary elections of April 1920, in which German as well as Czech Socialists received a huge vote. In 1921, the Czechoslovak Communist Party was established, which united the revolutionary workers, Czech as well as German, in a single organization. By 1925, even the bourgeois German parties had fully reconciled themselves to a common life with the Czechs and, for the first time in the history of the young Czechoslovak Republic, German Sudeten ministers sat in the Prague cabinet.

The National Question in the Republic

That national problems remained in the Czechoslovak Republic is beyond doubt. When the claims of extremists on both sides are stripped of their chauvinist exaggerations, there still remain grave injustices done to the German minority on such matters as the administration of laws regarding German schools, the appointment of German officials, etc. Yet it is correct to say that in the period from the end of the First World War until the establishment of the Hitler regime in Germany, the German-speaking people of Bohemia, Moravia, southern Silesia and Slovakia considered their prime problems to be the same as those facing the peoples of all other countries: problems of unemployment, of currency stabilization, of political struggles born of class antagonisms. The latter transcended national differences and overshadowed all else. When compared to what took place under Hitler in Europe, or to what is going on in the occupied countries today, it is certainly correct to say that the national antagonisms in the Czechoslovak Republic had to a great extent been relegated to a minor place among the political issues in the late Twenties. [5]

The recurrence of these problems, first under the impetus of the Nazi regime and now under the fierce revival of Czech chauvinism, must be regarded as a retrogression of historical development. (It is interesting, in this connection, to contemplate the enormous difference between the conditions under which the Czechoslovak Republic was originally established, when it was heralded as a symbol of the democratic equality of nations, and the conditions under which it is now being re-established, conditions which involve the expulsion of whole nationalities.)

We now come to the rise of the various types of ultra-nationalist and Anschluss (i.e., “accession” of the Sudeten areas to Germany) movements among the Germans in Bohemia.

The economic depression of the Thirties hit the Sudeten Germans harder than it did any other nationality in the Republic, as hard, perhaps, as it did any group anywhere in Europe.

The main industries of the Sudeten districts, besides the mining of coal, are the manufacture of textiles, various glass and porcelain products and luxury buttons used for women’s garments. Thus, in addition to the reason that the Sudeten districts were more highly industrialized than the other districts of the Republic, the fact that the industries were so predominantly luxury-producing made the Sudetenland especially vulnerable to the economic miseries of capitalism. Of the 60,000 German glass workers who were employed in Bohemia in the early post-war years, only about 30,000 [6] were employed in 1933; whereas 22,600,000 tons of coal were produced in 1929, only 15,226,000 were produced in 1935. [7] Between 1929 and 1937, a total of 166 textile manufacturing establishments, employing 26,179 workers, had closed down. Of these, only thirty-four were given even the slightest hope of reopening. [8]

Some insight into the relative economic plight of Czech and German workers in the Thirties is provided by the fact that in October 1936 for every hundred unemployed workers in those districts of the Republic where the Czechs formed more than 80 per cent of the population, there were 379 unemployed workers in the districts where the Germans held this majority. In mixed districts (i.e., between 20 and 80 per cent Germans) this figure of unemployment was 219. [9]

Those who are old enough will remember that figures of this type can never suffice to describe what a depression really means. To say that the output of coal was reduced by one-half in a period of six years does not explain the effects the closing of even a single mine has on the life of a community that had depended on it. It does not explain the effect a jobless father has on a home where there are children; nor does it serve to illuminate the state of mind of the older unemployed worker who has no prospect of ever finding a job again

And if to these factors you add the fact that in 1933 Hitler had come to power in adjoining Germany, that the effects of his war economy had almost totally eliminated unemployment there, that the Sudeten German, though he had never experienced the police terror and destruction of his economic organizations by fascist bands, could see what to him must have looked like prosperity in the Third Reich, and if you add, further, the fact that the union of all German-speaking peoples into a single state was the first plank of the program of the Nazi Party, you have something of a background against which you can examine the rise of the Nazi movement among the Sudeten Germans.

Rise of Sudeten Nazis

In 1933 the Nazi Party in the Sudetenland was illegalized. It was an insignificant movement and had never attracted more than 10 per cent of the German vote in the Czechoslovak Republic. At the same time, Konrad Henlein, a bombastic and confused demagogue, was organizing a movement called Sudetendeutsche Heimatsfront (Sudeten German Home Front), a name that was later changed to Sudetendeutsche Partei (Sudeten German Party), or “SdP” for short. It was this organization the Nazis entered and, by making deals with Henlein and the other leaders of the organization, they managed to dictate its policies to a considerable extent. Henlein remained the leader, however, and it should be emphasized that he was not, at least not until much later, a full Nazi. He was an extremely skillful demagogue who knew how to play with all political elements. Henlein would repeatedly proclaim his loyalty to the Republic and his eagerness to collaborate with the other nationalities that were represented in it. In a speech in 1934 at Böhmisch-Leipa he went as far as to say that

“We shall never abandon liberalism, i.e., the unconditional respect for individual rights as a fundamental principle in determining human relations in general and the relations between the citizen and official authority in particular.”

On the other hand, it cannot, of course, be said that the SdP was non-Nazi. In order to characterize it correctly, it must be described as a coalition between the Nazis and the conservative bourgeois elements. The further history of the SdP was a history of its further Nazification, a process which was only briefly disturbed by a short-lived open break between Henlein and the Nazis early in 1938, simultaneous with the purge of conservatives in Germany proper.

The two elections in which the SdP participated were the parliamentary elections of 1935 and the municipal elections in 1938.

In 1935, Henlein received approximately 62 per cent of the Sudeten German vote. This figure is used often by the Czech expulsionists to prove their point that “all Germans are Nazis.” What was said above about the relative economic positions of the Sudetenland and of Germany and about the political complexion of the SdP at the time is sufficient comment on this point.

The elections of 1938, on the other hand, need further explanation. Henlein, according to official reports, received somewhere near 90 per cent of the Sudeten German vote at that time. However, various factors must be taken into consideration here for a full understanding of what was involved.

The elections took place, first of all, under conditions that can be described as anything but free. The Germans had already invaded Austria and it was hardly necessary to have unusual prophetic talents in order to foretell that Bohemia would be next. All the bourgeois German parties, i.e., all parties among the German population except the Communists and the Social-Democrats, supported the Henlein tickets. The elections were looked upon more like a physical battle than like a peaceful contest of any sort. The breath of the German military monster could be felt by every German voter on the back of his neck. He did not have to look at the violent police terror in Austria, in order to be intimidated; violence was practiced daily by the henchmen of Henlein on the soil of the Czechoslovak Republic. What is surprising, under these circumstances, is the fact that there were the 10 per cent who had the extraordinary courage to vote Social-Democratic or Communist.

The year 1938 introduces a new chapter into the history of bi-national Bohemia. Germans and Czechs were equally, suppressed by the Prussian master. Both peoples produced heroes in the resistance movement against fascism; both have their dead martyrs who fell at the hands of the Gestapo. And both peoples, too, have had their Quislings and collaborators.

The Expulsions

Today, the German fascists have lost a war and Hitler is dead. But the chapter Hitler started to write is still being written. The terror Hitler introduced into the peaceful provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia has never left. Today, the Germans of Bohemia are uprooted from their homes, herded into concentration camps, made to perform forced labor and, if they survive, dumped into a strange and hostile country where they only add to the misery which exists there already.

According to the policy of the Czechoslovak government, those Germans who can “prove” that they were anti-Nazi during the war are to be exempt from the deportation program. This concept of “exemption” is interesting in itself, reversing the concept to which civilized people generally hold, namely that innocence is assumed until guilt can be proved. [10] But actually, the Germans are being deported without selection and on a wholesale basis. Among them, according to reports published by Der Sozialdemokrat, the organ of the Sudeten Social-Democracy in London, are many Jews (you see, they couldn’t “prove” that they were anti-Hitler), and people who have spent their lives in the Social-Democratic and Communist movements.

There are many indications that the Czechs are having difficulties managing the industries in the Sudeten districts without the Germans. Skilled workers are at a premium and a major industrial crisis seems to be the result. But here I am getting off the subject. This is a discussion of the history of the Germans in Bohemia, and that history has come to an end,

* * *

A few general remarks remain to be made. The story of the uprooted people of Bohemia is a case history that illustrates a modern trend. It finds its counterparts in the story of the Hungarians who have been robbed of their homes in Slovakia, of the workers from Germany who have been kidnapped into Russia – of all those for whom the destruction of Hitler has meant little more than a change in the political complexion and the nationality of their tormentors.

Of all the indications of the moral bleakness of our world today, the most symbolic are the attitudes taken by the traditional parties of the European Left toward these expulsions. And I am not even speaking of the Stalinist parties, which are no longer considered working class parties, in the ordinary sense of that term, by revolutionary socialists. But the complete failure of the international labor movement to fulfill one of the most elementary democratic functions in protesting against this neo-Hitlerism was less expected. Neither Czech Social-Democrats nor British Laborites nor American trade unionists show the slightest concern over the continuation of Hitler’s race theory and practice in the heart of Europe.

We must recognize that these national expulsions are not only additional proof of the validity of our internationalist stand in the war, when we declared that the victory of neither side would open up a path for humanity to continue to progress, but they are also evidence of the frightful moral decay of the labor movement accelerated by its cynical support of an imperialist camp in the war. The outrage committed against the Sudeten Germans should bring every honest democrat to his feet in indignant protest. But it is a sign of our times that aside from a small handful of individuals in this country and England, the only movement that is prepared to pledge its solidarity to the Sudetens is the Fourth Internationalist movement.

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1. Tragedy of a People – Racialism In Czechos1ovakia, American Friends of Democratic Sudeten, New York 1946.

2. Deportation Drama In Czechoslovakia – The Case of a Dying People, special edition of Der Sozialdemokrat, London,October 1945.

3. The term “Bohemia” especially when used in connection with the Germans, is often understood to include the smaller provinces of Moravia and southern Silesia, and it is in this sense that I shall use it in this article.

4. Oppressed Minority?, by Frank Koegler. Hutchinson & Co., London 1942.

5. An indication of the extent to which the German and Czech cultures had been amalgamated in Prague and other urban centers can be gathered from the following report in the New York Times of November 4, 1946. which states under the heading Czechs Lift Moral Ban on Speaking in German that “... now that the Sudeten Germans have officially gone ... a great majority of the city dwellers know German and only a limited minority get along well in any other western language.”

6. Czechs and Germans, by Elizabeth Wiskemann, Oxford University Press, London 1938.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. It is in matters of this type that Russian influence shows itself most clearly in the newly re-established republic. The Stalin government, long ago having mastered the art of wholesale uprootings of peasant populations, has, by its own admission, also transferred whole nationalities during the war as punishment for “treachery,” or, as in the case of the German Volga Soviet Socialist Republic, to preclude “treachery.”

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