Do you believe in invisible Germans?

The non-presence of Germans in the Czechoslovak/Czech history

Brasov/Brassov/Kronstadt, Istanbul, Bruxelles, Riga: all are multi-ethnic towns. The book ‘Europe and its border-towns’ by J. Kotek offers a picture of about a dozen such towns. A good number of splendid "parallel worlds" as we could say in plotkist parlance! But one may be surprised to find an article about Prague, by J.Rubes, in this book. This can be explained by the focus of the article on the cultural history of Prague, composed as it was until the second world war of Czech, German, and Jewish elements. Only the Czechs managed to survive the war.

The dreary prospects of the minorities in Prague and in the Czech Republic were accentuated by Gipsy emigration to the West in the last few years. There is at least one "positive" point about this exodus. This time it is not the state which is organizing it, although we may find a few exceptions when some local authorities were eager to help Gipsy families to move out. It can in no way be compared with the radical solution of the "German question". The post-second world war Czechoslovakia expelled hundreds of thousands of supposedly unloyal Czech Germans and only a small number could stay. A technical solution was applied: several trains a day containing up to 1200 persons in 40 wagons headed to occupied Germany throughout 1946. The cost of the whole operation was more than 500 million Czechoslovak crowns. The end of the long history of Czech Germans. Schluss.

Czech-German relations were (since the establishement of Czech and German nations in the 19th century until the end of WW2) determined by changing dominance from one side to the other. The Germans lost the crucial wars and that is why the Czech Germans lost completely. Schluss.

In the cases of the Gipsy emigration from the Czech Republic and the expulsion of Czech Germans from the former Czechoslovakia we can talk about a trend towards ethnic homogenisation. The Czechs are not too far from reaching one hundred per cent of the population. While it may be sad for some people that the Czech lands are becoming or became less "multi-culti", this does not interest us here. In this article I would like to focus on the German "non-presence" in the Czech political and cultural landscape. This subject has been largely neglected by Czech historians, although we have to admit that something that does not exist is quite hard to study. As the issue is the non-presence, we will not focus on the Czech Gipsies, who emigrated only in part.


Photo by Jakob Hurrle, Berlin

An interesting point is made by Rubes (in the aforementioned article about Prague) about the lack of Czech Germans in the communist Czechoslovakia. His point is that the confrontation between the Czechs and Czech Germans (and/or Jews) in the pre-war period may have served after the war for a new kind of resistance, this time against the totalitarian regime. Although it is not clear that an opposition could arise this way, we can assume that the incorporation and control of Czech Germans might have posed a challenge for the communist regime.

The place where most invisible Germans are concentrated is the Sudeten region, where most Czech Germans used to live. Before the second world war, the anti-democratic Sudeten-German Party received the majority of votes from local Germans and became a powerful tool for Hitler’s expansionist policies, namely destroying Czechoslovakia. The party’s leader Henlein is known as an infamous figure by all Czechs.

The Sudeten region has become, during the 1990s, a bastion for extremist parties and we will probably see a new Henlein born there, but this time a Czech one. The extremists owe their success, especially in the north-western part of Bohemia, not only to high unemployment but also to the expulsion of Germans. After more than fifty years you can still feel how these areas are culturally uprooted. For some Czechs who are living in the houses of former Germans the invisible Germans became almost real as they feared for losing their property and the possible return of the Sudeten Germans.

The physical non-presence of Czech Germans in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s could possibly be part of the cause of the dissolution of that country. This comes to mind when we investigate the creation of Czechoslovakia and an alliance that served against the Czech Germans: the so called

czechoslovakism. This concept enabled the "Czechoslovaks" to maintain a majority in the newly created state. This way the number of Germans, who were substantially represented in the Czech lands, seemed less important. From this point of view we may argue that if the Czech Germans had not been expelled, the Czechs would have made an effort to save the federation so that their dominant position in the country would not be threatened. The consequences for Czech history are not the same if the Germans are visible or invisible, if they are present or non-present. However, in both cases "they are still here". So kein Schluss.

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