The Sudetenland is the German-language name used primarily between the two world wars to describe what became the regions of the new artificial state of Czecho-Slovakia which had been inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans for up to 800 years in the borderlands of Habsburg Silesia, Bohemia and Moravia.
The name is derived from the Sudeten mountains, though the Sudetenland itself extended beyond these mountains which run along the border to Silesia and contemporary Poland. The inhabitants were called Sudeten Germans (German: Sudetendeutsche, Czech: Sudetští Němci). The very small German minority in Slovakia, the Carpathian Germans, are not included in this category.
In 1934 the entire population of Czecho-Slovakia stood at 14,729,536, of whom 7,300,000 were Czechs, 2,300,000 Slovaks, 3,231,688 Germans (22.02 per cent of the total population), 691,923 Magyars, 549,169 Ruthenians, Russians and Ukrainians, 186,642 Jews (by nationality), 81, 737 Poles and 49,636 others. There were 249,971 persons not Czecho-Slovak citizens. The Germans inhabited the west and north of Bohemia, and north Moravia, forming about one-third of the populations of those two provinces.
The original inhabitants of what became Bohemia and Moravia were the Celtic Boii people. In Roman times they migrated as far west as Gaul to be replaced by the German Markomanni and Quades (or Quandi) peoples who maintained the Danube as part of their frontier against the Romans; the Markomanni wars are well recorded. Archaeological work 22km south of Brünn (Brno) shows that the Romans had a major town there. They in turn migrated early in the sixth century into Bavaria, leaving behind substantial but scattered German settlers.
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 Czech nationalism in the 19th century.
After the extinction of the Přemyslid dynasty, the kingdom of Bohemia was ruled by the House of Luxembourg and then, by inheritance, by the Habsburgs. By the second half of the 13th century (1200s) onwards the Sudetenland was already settled by ethnic Germans, many of whom were invited in by the Bohemian kings – especially by Přemysl Otakar II and Wenceslaus II. These borderlands were grey areas as far as sovereignty was concerned. In the Peace of Eger on 25 April 1459, the treaty established a formal border between the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Electorate of Saxony on the main ridge of the Ore Mountains stretching from Eger to the River Elbe. The border remains largely unchanged up to today, separating the Czech Republic and Germany, and is thus one of the oldest still extant borders in Europe. With the establishment of this border a great number of ethnic Germans now found themselves inside Bohemia. From 1620 onwards the Habsburgs gradually integrated the Kingdom of Bohemia into their monarchy.
Conflicts in the Sudetenland regions between Czech and German nationalists emerged in the 19th century, for instance in the Revolutions of 1848: while the German-speaking population wanted to participate in the building of a German national state, the minority Czech-speaking population insisted on keeping Bohemia out of such plans. In the wake of this 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.
Post-World War I
Following The Great War, the plutocratic Western Allies dismembered Austria-Hungary mainly using the arguments of Woodrow Wilson for "self-determination" of its constituent peoples. The German deputies of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia in the Imperial Parliament (Austrian Reichsrat) referred to the Fourteen Points of U.S. President Wilson and attempted to negotiate the union of the German-speaking territories with the new Republic of German Austria, which itself aimed at joining Weimar Germany.
With the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire four short-lived 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 its capital, administered by a Landeshauptmann (State Captain), consecutively: Rafael Pacher (1857–1936), 29 October 1918 – 6 November 1918, and Rudolf Ritter von Lodgman von Auen (1877–1962), 6 November 1918 – 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 Moravia and Austrian Silesia; proclaimed a constituent state of the German-Austrian Republic with [Troppau as the capital, governed by a Landeshauptmann: Robert Freissler (1877–1950), 30 October 1918 – 18 December 1918.
- Bohemian Forest Region (Böhmerwaldgau), the region in 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 Sudetenland was incorporated into a newly created artificial state of Czechoslovakia, a ridiculous multi-ethnic state of several nations: Czechs (43%), Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Ruthenians, and others. On 20 September 1918, the Prague Government asked the United States's consent for the annexation of the Sudetenland. President Woodrow Wilson sent Ambassador Archibald Coolidge to the newly created state. After Coolidge became witness to Czech police brutality against peaceful Sudeten German demonstrators (54 killed, among them women and children ), Coolidge had suggested the possibility of ceding certain German-speaking parts of Bohemia to Germany,and Austria (South Moravia and South Bohemia). He also insisted that the German-inhabited regions of West and North Bohemia remain within Czechoslovakia. However, the American delegation at the Paris talks, with Allen Dulles as the American's chief diplomat, who emphasized preserving the "unity" of the so-called Czech lands, decided not to follow Coolidge's proposal.
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 illegally proclaimed. It was later, however, confirmed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty of Saint-Germain, and subsequent Treaty of Trianon.
The Czechs 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 Bohemia and Moravia. The Western Allies peace treaties in 1919 affirmed the inclusion of the German-speaking territories within the new state of Czechoslovakia. No plebiscites were carried out making a mockery of President Wilson's "self-determination" promises. As a result, during the two decades between the world wars, Germans in the Sudetenland continued to strive for a separation of the German inhabited regions from Czechoslovakia.
Alexander Powell, writing in 1928, "that of all the countries of eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia was the best risk [of trouble]. This lies in the selfishness displayed by the Czechs of Bohemia in their relations with others." He continues: "the Czechs have stubbornly refused to listen to reason, even when arguments for a change in their attitude have been advanced by friends. Their frontiers were fixed at Trianon 'for all time', they assert, and in their refusal to consider any revision they are adamant. Their uncompromising attitude is doubtless attributable to the fact that just at present they are considerably 'above themselves'. But such a frame of mind is hardly surprising in a people who obtained their independence so recently, so suddenly, who have had good fortune literally thrust upon them."
During the Great Depression the mostly mountainous regions populated by the German minority, together with other peripheral regions of Czechoslovakia, were hurt by the economic depression more than the interior of the country. Unlike the less developed regions (Ruthenia, Moravian Wallachia), the Sudetenland had a high concentration of vulnerable export-dependent industries (such as glass works, textile industries, paper-making and toy-making industries). 60 per cent of the costume jewellery and glass-making industry were located in the Sudetenland, and 69 per cent of the employees in this sector were Germans, and 95 per cent of the jewellery and 78 per cent of glassware was produced for export. The glass-making sector was affected by decreased spending power and also by protective import measures in other countries and many German workers lost their livelihoods.
The high unemployment made people more disillusioned and open to populist and extremist movements (Communism, Fascism and German irredentism). In these years, the parties of German nationalists and later the Sudeten German National Socialist Party (SdP) with its radical demands gained immense popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia.
Herr Henlein's party, immediately after the Anschluss (Union) of Austria with the Third Reich in March 1938, approached Hitler for support and the latter now made himself the advocate of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia.
On 24 April 1938 the SdP proclaimed the Karlsbader Programm, which demanded in eight points the complete equality between the Sudetengermans and the Czechs. The Czech president refused the Karlsbader Programm. Meanwhile the British Consul in Liberec, M. Pares, submitted a very full report to the British Ambassador at Prague mentioning "the extreme obstinacy of the Czechs and their unwillingness to make concessions". He said the two fundamental claims of the Sudeten Germans are the right to have German districts administered by German officials and the establishment of adequate guarantees against the encroachment of Czechs into those districts." He added that many ethnic Germans were Christian Socialists and opposed to Nazis. However, he then said "nevertheless, 90 per cent of the Sudeten Germans would vote in favour of an Anschluss (union) with Germany if a plebiscite were held, even those who disliked the present regime in Germany….The Czechs have not wholly given up on the policies which have led to this. The newly appointed stationmaster of Schluckenau is a Czech and the new traffic manager at Liberec station is also a Czech; a local policeman refused to answer enquiries in German (though he was well able to do so)."
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. Lord Runciman and his team arrived on August 3. Meanwhile, the Polish Charge d’Affairs on August 9 called upon the British Foreign Office in London to ask that Lord Runciman should also investigate the claims of the Polish minority, but that they wanted no involvement with the ethnic Germans. However, they were seeking equal rights with them.
Lord Runciman's first day included meetings with the anti-German President Eduard Beneš and Prime Minister Milan Hodza, as well as directly meeting the Sudeten Germans from Henlein's SdP. On the next day he met with Dr and Mme Benes and later met non-National Socialist Germans in his hotel  Lord Runciman reported on August 18th that he had seen “everybody who matters…in this mixed little world…..a country with seven parties and five races.” The British Ambassador also reported on August 19th that Herr Henlein had told Lord Runciman that he wanted: (1) to find a solution by negotiation. (2) and within present frontier of Czechoslovakia. (3) and to maintain international peace. (4) and to keep his people quiet.
However he added that [Czech] Dr Milan Hodza’s offer to provide seven new post offices he regarded as contemptible when 50,000 Germans have lost their posts due to Czechisation. He wanted: (a) restoration of the posts. (b) restoring career officials; [Czech] police to be withdrawn as they are a public danger, and a general settlement embracing autonomy.
On August 29, Henlein’s deputy, Karl Frank, speaking at Oberlautensdorf, said that the Sudeten Germans’ final struggle had now commenced; that they had borne for twenty years a lot which would not easily have been borne by another people. On August 30th Lord Runciman wrote: "Benes has made his contribution in a long nine page Memorandum covered with bolt-holes and qualifications – no use for publication. What we need at present is a little flexibility. The signs of bad government accumulate day by day and at any moment Hitler may find an excuse for crossing the border in order to maintain order…. Time is passing rapidly." On September 3 His Lordship was preparing his very reasonable proposals. Meanwhile the British Ambassador had told President Benes on Sept 3rd what would be the fate of Czechoslovakia in the event of hostilities. He emphasised that it was vital for Czechoslovakia to offer immediate, and without reservation, those concessions without which the Sudeten question could not be peacefully solved.
A full account of Lord Runciman's report - including summaries of the conclusions of his meetings with the various parties - which he made in person to the Cabinet on his return to Britain is found in the Document CC 39(38). Lord Runciman felt that the Czechoslovakian government was being blind to the situation, and expresses sadness that he could not bring about agreement with the various parties, but he agreed with Lord Halifax that the time gained was important. He reports extensively on the situation of the Sudeten Germans, and he gave details of four plans which had been proposed to deal with the crisis, each of which had points which, he reported, were unacceptable to the Czechs. The four were: Transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich; hold a plebiscite on the transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich, organize a Four Power Conference on the matter, create a federal Czechoslovakia. At the meetings, he said that he was very reluctant to offer his own solution; he had not seen this as his task. The most that he said was that the great centres of opposition were in Eger and Asch, in the north-western corner of Bohemia, which contained about 800,000 Germans and very few others. He did say that the transfer of these areas to Germany would almost certainly be a good thing; however, he did add that the Czechoslovak army would certainly oppose this very strongly, and that Benes had said that they would fight rather than accept it.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden on 15 September and agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier did the same. No Czech representative was invited to take part in these discussions. Chamberlain met Hitler in Bad Godesberg on September 22 to confirm the agreements. Hitler however, now proposed not only the annexation of the Sudetenland, but in addition 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 Mussolini suggested 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 Agreement agreeing to 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 transferred to German sovereignty between October 1 and October 10, 1938. On 14 March 1939 Slovakia declared its independence from Czecho-Slovakia, becoming the Slovak Republic. The remaining rump Czech part of Czechoslovakia was invaded by Germany, on 15 March 1939, and created the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
Sudetenland as part of National Socialist Germany
The Sudetenland was initially put under military administration, with General Wilhelm Keitel as titular 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 reorganized as the Reichsgau Sudetenland, with the city of Reichenberg established as its capital. Konrad Henlein (now openly a NSDAP member) 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 and Troppau.
On 4 December 1938 there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for the NSDAP. About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the NSDAP which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average NSDAP participation in NS Germany was 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland, because of their liberation from the Czechs, was the most "pro-National Socialist" 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 Moravia as well as in National Socialist organizations. 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
Following the end of World War II, the Soviet Union announced that most of the German populations in Eastern Europe had "fled" and that those who had not would be expelled. This was announced to the Western Plutocratic Allies at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 who, helpless to intervene, merely acquiesced. Czech communists and fanatical nationalists now proceeded to expel and murder as many Germans, immaterial of age as they could find. The number of expelled Germans in the early phase alone (spring-summer 1945) is estimated to be around 500,000 people. Many were brutally murdered. It has been said that some 244,000 Germans, who had to prove that they were never Nazi sympathisers, were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia, but there remains some considerable doubt about these claims. German refugees from Czechoslovakia are now represented by the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft.
As the German population was expelled, the former Sudetenland was resettled, mostly by Czech settlers, similar to the theft of private property and resettlement by Poland in the stolen German provinces (East Prussia, Pomerania). Some areas remained depopulated for several strategic reasons (extensive mining, military interests etc.) or simply because there were insufficient Czechs who wished to move there. For a while there remained areas with tiny German minorities only in the westernmost borderland around Cheb; in the Egerland German minority organizations continued to exist. These, however, were soon abolished as the population were expelled.
In the 2001 census, approximately 40,000 people in all of the Czech Republic claimed German ethnicity. However it seems probable that many of these had come to the Czech Republic after the demise of Communism and the Eastern Bloc.
- Ingomar Pust: Sudeten German Inferno - The hushed-up tragedy of the ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938 (1937 reports), London, 1938, p.188.
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- This account can be seen in cab-23-95.pdf pp68 ff. which can be found at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/cabinet-gov/cab23-interwar-conclusions.htm#Cabinet%20Conclusions%201937%20to%201939
- cab-23-95.pdf p71; CC 39(38) p 4.
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