This paper is an examination of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft (SL), a West German organization of Sudeten Germans expelled by Czechoslovakia from their homeland after World War II. This essay will place particular emphasis on the political activities of the SL. The intention of the essay is to enlighten the reader to the workings and evolution of a unique organization and advance some reasons for the successes, failures, and longevity of this group.
The continuing existence of an organization such as the SL seems to be an anachronism when one juxtaposes the original political objectives of the group and West German Ostpolitik since Willy Brandt. Yet, like the West German polity, the SL underwent successful policy alterations, reacting to developments both at home and abroad. To a certain extent, the SL adapted to contemporary conditions, discarded obsolete rhetoric, retrenched when necessary, and, in consequence, has survived until the present. Basically, the SL evolved from a politically oriented organization to a heritage preservation society. Although this description is exaggerated, it accurately indicates the direction of the SL's evolution. True, even tday the SL still espouses the right to the Sudeten homeland and self-determination, but generally Sudeten Germans appear to be economically and politically content in West Germany and all signs point to a continuance of their contentment.
The issues which this paper will discuss include the path of the SL from 1950 to the present and its reaction to West German, Central and Eastern European diplomatic and political developments. The questions which the essay will endeavour to answer encompass such topics as: What are the political objectives and aspirations of the SL? How has the SL influenced Bonn's Eastern policy? What tactics and strategies has the SL utilized to achieve its goals? What part have the Sudeten Germans taken in government? Do Sudeten Germans still desire to return to the homeland? These questions have no easy answers, but this writer hopes he will at least provoke some thought on a subject that even today has consequences for a divided Germany and an ideologically disparate Europe.
In 845, several Slav chieftains accepted Christianity in Regensburg, Germany. Thereafter, many of these chieftains married German princesses, and the land where they lived, Bohemia, became a fief of Charlemagne's Empire. The Bohemian Dukes were later made kings by the German Emperor, and became electors of the German Empire.
The Bohemian rulers invited Germans to settle the uninhabited lands bordering on Bohemia and Moravia. Through this area runs a mountain range, the Sudetes, hence the region became known as the Sudetenland.1 In 1526, a Habsburg prince was elected King of Bohemia, reinforcing Sudetenland ties to Germany. Bohemia and Moravia remained a part of the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806. Later they belonged to the German Confederation and after 1866 Austria-Hungary included them among its territories.2
The situation remained unaltered until the collapse of the Habsburg Empire at the end of World War I. The First Czechoslovak Republic, created in 1918, annexed the crown lands of Bohemia and Moravia. The Sudeten Germans, desirous of self-determination as set forth in Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, attempted to affiliate themselves with the new Austrian Republic. To prevent this “treasonous” action, the new Czech state occupied the Sudetenland with troops and forbade Sudeten German participation in Austrian parliamentary elections. Sudeten German political leaders consequently called for a general strike on 4 March 1919, and on this day fifty-four Sudeten Germans were killed by Czech troops as they demonstrated for self-detennination.3
Unable to break this iron grip, the Sudeten Germans strove for political reform within the Czechoslovak State in hopes it would grant their minority ethnic group greater freedom.4 Under the leadership of Konrad Henlein, the Sudeten German Party (SGP) was formed. Henlein actively supported Hitler's pre-war annexationism, and the SGP sympathized with the National Socialists.5 On the other side of the political spectrum, Wenzel Jaksch headed the Sudeten German Social Democratic Party (SGSDP). In contrast to the SGP, the SGSDP continued to work with and support the Czechoslovak Govemment.6
By 1935, Henlein's party received 60% of all Sudeten German votes, polled more than 1.2 million ballots, and became the single strongest party in Czechoslovakia.7 Concurrently, the influence of the SGSDP waned, and after the 1938 Munich Agreement, became insignificant. When Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Jaksch and his group fled to London, where the party operated in exile.8 The SGP, having supported Hitler, was allowed to govern the Sudetenland.
Upon Germany's defeat in 1945, the Red Army entered Czechoslovakia and Eduard Benes, the former president of Czechoslovakia (1935-1938), was permitted to re-establish a government. He immediately began to expel the Sudeten Germans and eventually 3 million were “deported."9 Of these, 1.9 million arrived in the American Zone of Germany. By 1947, the basic framework of the SL was assembled.10
The SL argued publicly that the Sudeten Germans were expelled to cause turmoil and unrest in West Germany. According to the SL, the Czechs reckoned that a large influx of homeless people in a war-torn country would create a social upheaval favorable to communism and enable communist agents to infiltrate West Germany.11 Prague maintained that it expelled the Sudeten Germans to guarantee the existence of an independent Czech State and to punish the Sudeten Germans for crimes perpetrated by the National Socialists during the Second World War.12
In 1948, the Czech Communist Party seized control of the country and continued the expulsions begun by the previous government. One of the most significant results of this policy was to make the Sudeten Germans staunch anti-communists.13 Prague in turn has viewed the SL as a revanchist organization with pan-germanic aims.14 Needless to say, both sides believed the existence of the other precluded the achievement of their own foreign policy goals. In hindsight, this has not proven to be the case, and although Prague has triumphed, the SL is still extant.
The SL set up regional headquarters in Bavaria in 1947.15 A national headquarters was established in Munich in 1950.16 The organization encompasses several regional groups and its membership (defined as dues-paying adherents) was approximately 350,000 in 1960.17
From its inception, the SL functioned as a well-organized association. In 1954 it became the only democratic representation of the Sudeten Germans, and the Sudeten Germans became the first ethnic expellee group in West Germany to have a democratic organization based on secret elections.18 The SL has a central assembly consisting of seventy-one representatives elected by seventy-one electoral districts all over West Germany.19 These representatives serve two-year terms and they elect the president, whose tenure is three years, and the executive board.20
The Sudeten Council, loosely linked to the SL, plays a most important role in the Sudeten German cause. It consists of thirty members, ten deputies from political parties represented in the Bundestag, ten members from the SL, and ten members co-opted from other relevant West German institutions.21 The council is the official representation of external Sudeten German interests, and can accurately be termed the Sudeten German foreign-policy body.22
From 1954 until 1968, the SL had a marked right-wing slant, mirroring the beliefs of its first two presidents, Rudolf Lodgman von Auen (1954-1959) and Hans-Christoph Seebohm (19591968).23 Since 1968, Walter Becher, a more moderate politician, has presided over the SL. As we shall see, under his direction, the SL has more realistically reflected the political situation of present day Europe, such as that brought about by the Prague-Bonn Treaty Of 1973.
The basis for SL political aims have rested upon two rights and two tenets. Because for so long these have dictated SL foreign policy, it is necessary to outline them.
The right to the homeland and the right of self-determination have formed the cornerstone of Sudeten German hopes and aspirations vis-à-vis the Sudetenland. These rights, supported throughout years by increasingly sophisticated legalistic and moralistic arguments, hark back at least as far as Wilson's Fourteen Points of 1918. The SL also has pointed to the incorporation of both of these rights in numerous international documents as a further justification of their validity. Among the documents that have declared these rights are The Atlantic Charter (12 August 1941), Statutes of the UN (26 June 1945), General Declaration of Human Rights (10 September 1948), and the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms (14 November 1950).24 Most importantly, the Basic Law of the BRD1 states that one of the country's duties is “to effect the unity and freedom of Germany in an act of self-detennination."25 However, in spite of all such legal documents, the Sudeten Germans have come no closer to the realization of either right.
The two tenets that have supplemented the basic rights asserted by the SL were incorporated in the Charta der Deutschen Heimatvertriebenen, a lofty proclamation to which the SL subscribed. The tenets constitute a renunciation of revenge and retaliation in all actions, and the belief that only in a united Europe can people live in peace without fear and threat to their basic human rights.26 By assuming these tenets, the SL hoped to make their cause acceptable to their countrymen and the world. In light of Germany's role in World War II, renunciation of revenge and retaliation laid the foundation for respectability for the SL. It is unlikely that the Federal Government or the Western Allies would have tolerated the existence of the organization in the post-war years if not for this declaration. The desire for a united Europe has expressed itself in the foreign policy objectives of the SL. In this context, it suffices to remark that the SL hoped that the creation of a supra-national state would enable the peoples of Europe to transcend nationalism and allow the Sudeten Germans to return to their homeland.
The development of the SL, its foreign policy and political aspirations can be divided roughly into three periods. The first of these, from the SL's inception in 1950 until the 20-Point Program of 1961, witnessed the apogee of SL political potency as well as the climax of hard-line ideology. The second period, from the 20-Point Program until the Prague-Bonn Agreement of 1973, saw the gradual reconciliation of SL aspirations with the political realities of Europe. During this period, the children of those expellees who had lived in the Sudetenland as adults reached maturity, and this accounted in part for the softening of SL rhetoric. The final period, the ten or so years since 1973, has not marked the demise of the SL, as one might have expected. West German political leaders still espouse the right of self-determination, as Chancellor Kohl did in 1983 in a speech on the state of the German Nation.27 And, on the thirty-fifth annual Sudeten German day in 1984, 50,000 Sudeten Germans assembled to hear President Karl Carstens address their cause.28 The survival of the SL has entailed adaptation, reconciliation and concession. It also implies that at the core of the SL there lies a purpose that transcends politics and foreshadows an enduring place for the organization in Germany's future.
The first period in the evolution of the SL lasted approximately twelve years and paralleled the re-emergence of West Germany as an economic powerhouse and its acceptance into the family of nations. The SL's main goals during this period, as reflected by the 1950 Detmold Declaration, consisted a mixture of idealism, hope and realpolitik.29 The goals included the attempt to raise their cause to an all-German and then an all-European one, the promotion of a supra-national European State-with its implications of “rolling back communism” — the enlistment of Western, especially American support, the dissemination of information to publicize their views, and the integration of Sudeten Germans into the BRD economy. The last of these goals, accomplished by the Wirtschaftswunder,2 will not be discussed in this essay. The first five, however, will be examined in depth.
The early years of the SL were marked both with success and occasional failure. The Charta der Deutschen Heimatvertnebenen conferred respectability on the SL and further reputability was bestowed upon the organization with the promulgation of the Wiesbaden Agreement in 1950. This document was concluded between the Czech National Committee — an organization of exiled non-communist Czechs — and the SL. Apart from an abiding belief in democracy, the Wiesbaden Agreement recognized the right of Sudeten Germans to return to the homeland, bound both signatories to work for the liberation of the Czech people, rejected the theory of collective guilt, and established claims for the compensation of damages suffered by either party.30 This last point is noteworthy, for the SL was the only expellee organization to claim compensation for the expulsions.3l This claim contradicted the spirit of the Charta der Deutschen Heimatvertriebenen, for it raised the spectre of retaliation for injury. However, the SL leadership found no difficulty reconciling the two, which suggests that beneath the facade of formal, peaceful declarations lay latent feelings of resentment. Nevertheless, the Wiesbaden Agreement enhanced the position of the SL, for it was the only Landsmannschaft to cement such a “foreign” agreement, and showed the type of supranational state the Sudeten Germans desired in Europe. Evidently, this state was supposed to be democratic and non-totalitarian, implying that the elimination of communism from Eastern Europe was a prerequisite to the return to the homeland.
SL reaction to political events within West Germany and Western Europe serves as an indication of the organization's goals. The SL supported the European Defense Community and decried its demise in 1954.32 In 1955, the SL supported Germany's entrance into NATO and logically German rearmament.33 Again in 1957, the SL approved of the European Common Market because “This marks another great milestone on the way to uniting the free peoples of Europe."34 One year later, the Sudeten German Council rejected the Soviet Peace Plan because it sought German recognition of the Sudetenland as part of Czechoslovakia and the legalization of the expulsions.35 The reasons the SL supported economic and military organizations was intrinsically related to the objective of constructing a supra-national European State and pushing back communism. Additionally, co-operation among Western European countries may have facilitated SL opportunities to enlist aid for their cause and as a consequence thereof, hasten the return of their homeland.
Initially, the SL endeavoured to elevate the Sudeten Question to national importance. This attempt was met with marked success and should be traced for its past, present and future implications. Even before the SL had established a national headquarters, Sudeten Germans were represented in the German Bundestag and the Bavarian Landtag. West Germany's political parties were quite supportive of expellee aims in general, and Sudeten Germans in particular. This should come as no surprise for in 1950, West Gem any's population of 47,696,000 included 7,900,000 expellees, or 16% of the population.36 Sudeten Germans, 1,900,000 of them, constituted 20% of Bavaria's population.37 It would have been extremely difficult for political parties to ignore such a large part of the populace, particularly since most expellee groups, like the Sudeten Germans, were well-organized. Initially, Sudeten Germans seemed to support political parties dependent upon the degree to which the party catered to their stated objectives. In 1950, a political party, the Bund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten (BHE) (the organization of expellees and those deprived of their rights) was created expressly to serve expense interests.38 However, being as socially, economically, and politically diverse as any other group, Sudeten Germans cast votes for all political parties. A brief examination of each follows.
The CDU (Christian Democratic Union), as the party in power after 1949, made a special effort to attract expellee support.39 In 1945, the party established a special sub-branch led by expellees “primarily responsible for formulating expense and refugee policy for the CDU."40 The party's 1953 Hamburg Program upheld claims to the homeland and insisted on the right of self-determination.41 In 1966, when the BRD moved toward improved relations with Czechoslovakia, the CDU reiterated its 1953 stance, but explained that it sought reconciliation with East Bloc countries.42 On the regional and national levels, the CDU got marginally smaller support from expellees than the SPD (Social Democratic Party), despite its control of government and more conservative slant.
The SPD, unlike the CDU, did not establish a special expellee infra-organization until the mid-1960's but did exert efforts to obtain expellee votes.43 The Bad Godesberg Party Program of 1959 explicitly demanded “Recht alter Menschen auf ihre Heimat, ihr Volkstum, ihre Sprache und Kultur."344 However, the SPD was criticized by the CDU and CSU for being too soft towards Eastern Europe.45 Especially after the erection of the Berlin Wall, the SPD was the vanguard of political parties adopting a more flexible attitude towards East Bloc countries.46 Perhaps because expellees were more likely to be economically disadvantaged, the SPD, despite its policies, received substantial expellee support.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) position regarding expellees was similar to the SPD's. In its 1957 Berlin Program, it advocated the right of self-determination, the right to the homeland, and the rights of free mankind.47 Because the FDP was so much smaller than the SPD and CDU, its expellee mandate was correspondingly smaller.
The Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian counterpart and essentially smaller partner of the CDU, usually espoused the same program as its big brother. However, the CSU's chairman, Franz Josef Strauss, was perhaps one of the most outspoken supporters of expellee interests.48 In 1961 in a resolution supporting the SL's 20-Point Program (see below), the CSU stated it felt particularly closely tied to and responsible for the Sudeten Germans.49 Moreover, “Die CSU ist bereit, entsprechende Antrage der SL mit besonderer Bereitwilligkeit zu unterstützen."450 This attention to Sudeten German interests has been undoubtedly rewarded at the polling place.
Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly one of the most ephemeral political parties, was the BHE. Created in 1950 specifically to represent expellee interests, it obtained Bundestag representation only once, in 1957, and declined rapidly thereafter.51 During its existence, Sudeten Germans voted the BHE ticket more than for any other political party, and supported the BHE more than any other expellee organization. The BHE eventually failed because of internal dissension, economic integration of expellees, and demographic factors.52 The SL did not mourn the BHE collapse, but neither did it accurately gauge Sudeten German support of the party. SL President Lodgman von Auen explained after the BHE's electoral failure in 1957, “The BHE/GB's loss of votes in the last election is no symptom of shifting interests among expellees with regard to German reunification or the lost German territory in the East. The BHE/GB never represented a majority among expellees."53
The National Democratic Party (NPD), a neo-fascist group which grew in size in the 1960's, was another party which tried to attract expellee support.54 The party was formed in 1964, and although it never broke the 5% barrier for a national mandate, it achieved regional representation. The NPD program, a mixture of nationalism, pan-germanism, and irredentism, seemed attractive to expellees. According to the NPD, the Sudetenland had been legally ceded to Hitler in 1938 in fulfillment of the principle of selfdetermination.55 Thus the region was still considered a part of Germany, contrary to Government declarations which only recognized 1937 borders. In spite of the expulsions, “the Sudeten German's right to the homeland…has not been extinguished,” and the NPD “pledges especially to support the SL in its battle for rights."56 Many expellee organizations denounced the NPD as neo-fascist, however the SL was not among them.57 Notwithstanding Sudeten German support, the NPD expired as a political party by 1970.58 The SL, as shown below, had certainly become less politically active by this time as well. It appears that the NPD took with them their radicalism and rightist-extremism, and these -isms no longer seem to have an audience among Sudeten Germans.
On the whole, expellees as a group have come to support the major democratic parties.59 Although 20% of all expellees “were attracted to the BHE's thin mixture of narrow economic appeal and nostalgic nationalism” this did not prevent that party's decline.60 Indeed, one historian credits the BHE with “having organized sections of the population that were ready to swing to radicalism, of having helped to make them feel that there was a place for them in West German politics, and of having led them to participate in the processes of a new democracy."61 Whatever the case may be, the Sudeten Germans seemed to have followed the broad path towards moderation. They gave disproportionate support in comparison with other expense groups to rightist parties — the BHE and NPD — but have gradually succumbed to mitigating political, social, and economic forces. The German economy has successfully absorbed them, Bonn's social legislation (i.e., Equalization of Burdens) has recognized many of their claims, and they generally have acquired a stake in society.62 Sudeten Germans today are indistinguishable in their political preferences from other West Germans. Therefore, political parties, especially since the SPD came to power in 1969, have made much less of an effort to attract expellee support.63
In retrospect, the number of Sudeten German representatives has fluctuated in the Bundestag, but increased absolutely in both parliaments between 1946 and 1965. The numbers themselves explain little, but government statements at the time tell that the ballot box voice of the Sudeten Germans was not insubstantial. For example, West Germany responded to the 1950 Prague Agreement by rejecting it. The Prague Agreement was a treaty of friendship between East Germany and Czechoslovakia of 14 July 1950 in which Pankow and Prague sanctioned the expulsions of the Sudeten Germans and recognized the Oder-Neisse line.64 Bonn said that Pankow was unauthorized to represent the German peoples and refused to surrender the right of the homeland of Germans from Czechoslovakia who “had been placed under the protective patronage of the BRD."65 Of course, Bonn reacted to national and international anti-communist pressures distinct from the Sudeten German constituency, but the proclamation was undoubtedly a victory if not a life-saver for the SL. In 1954, Bavaria became the official patron of the SL.66 The then Bavarian Minister President, Dr. Hans Ehard, after declaring Bavarian patronage, stated that his land would do everything in its power to support Sudeten German claims to their homeland.67 Among his many reasons for declaring this patronage, Ehard was certainly motivated by politics, as the Sudeten Germans comprised 1.9 million of Bavaria's population. Ehard's political magnanimity was also a significant step toward raising the political consciousness of the German people on the Sudeten Question. Shortly thereafter, BRD foreign minister Dr. von Brentano assured the Sudeten Germans that “The West German Government (would) adhere to the 1950 resolution according to which it had pledged the German expellees its guardianship of their rights to the homeland in Czechoslovakia."68 A few months later on 28 June 1956, Brentano reiterated this position adding that Bonn backed “the rights to the homeland and self-determination right of people as an unconditional prerequisite for the resolution of the fate of those persons in exile or slavery."69 This statement was admittedly ambiguous, for exiles could refer to all inhabitants of communist ruled countries or more specifically ethnic Germans still living in communist countries. Yet, the SL inferred support of their aspirations from Brentano's remark, which was perhaps most important. Final proof that the SL had succeeded in elevating theirs to an all-German cause came as a subsection of the Hallstein Doctrine. In 1956, at the 161st session of the Bundestag, State Secretary Hallstein, inter alia, recognized expellees' right to the homeland and self-determination.70 On the heels of this proclamation, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag stated that the Federal Government was “charged with defending the legal claim to German eastern territories and the expellees' right to the homeland vis-à-vis foreign govemments."7l
These proclamations signified SL success at solidifying the Sudeten Problem within the political mind of West Germany. Their success at the European level, however, was much less impressive. In 1960, Dr. Rudolf Lodgman von Auen, past president of the SL, wrote that the SL ought to extend the Sudeten German cause abroad by establishing relations with exile groups outside of Europe and their respective organizations.72 The absolute dearth of information on this objective in subsequent issues of the Sudeten Bulletin, while not proving its failure, definitely indicate the insignificance of its result. This was one of the problems of the SL; it was never able, beyond symbolic gestures, to obtain foreign or international recognition of its cause. Much hoopla was given to the Nationalist Chinese who, on 11 December 1956, brought before a plenary session of the UN the question of the German expulsions after World War II.73 Seen as a step toward the international recognition of expellee legal claims, it had only minor repercussions and the UN did not pass a resolution. A similar failure occurred when the SL tried to obtain Radio Free Europe (RFE) airtime to project their views and broadcast Sudeten German programs. Czech commentators on the RFE opposed the SL and were vehemently attacked for their anti-Sudeten German stance. One SL spokesman said, “The RFE has developed into a stronghold of the late Dr. Benes' National Socialist Party."74 The SL was unable to obtain RFE airtime and called for its own expellee transmitter station.75 This project, too, never reached fruition, and ultimately, the SL had to be content with transmissions by Radio Madrid of Sudeten German programs in the Czech language.76 This string of failures marked SL attempts to achieve international recognition of their cause. The one exception, the one country that did take notice of the SL was the USA, although in a half-hearted, superficial way. Perhaps because Bavaria, the home of the majority of Sudeten Germans, had been part of the American Zone, or perhaps because the USA had a guilty conscience arising from the Potsdam Agreement, which, among other things, had sanctioned the expulsions, a steady stream of US Congressmen and Senators sent congratulatory messages to the SL every year upon the annual Sudetendeutscher Tag, approving their intentions and encouraging their aims.77 For example, Senator Strom Thurmond wrote in 1957, “The spirit of independence demonstrated by the Sudeten Germans who suffered such great persecution at the hands of the communist-led government should inspire the world."78 The inaccuracy of this statement — the Benes-led National Socialist Government, not the communists, first expelled the Sudeten Germans — typified American ignorance of Central European history and proved that US support was probably part of a general anti-communist stance for domestic political profit rather than a knowledgeable response to perceived injustice. Furthermore, the Senator's message proved that despite all efforts, the SL had failed to elevate the Sudeten Question to the international level or to enlist the whole-hearted support of the West. As the SL president lamented in 1957, the West was interested only in combatting communists in Europe and has yet to move beyond theoretical declamations on the expellee issue.79
Against these prevailing currents, the SL participated in the World Refugee Year of 1959, and in 1961 the Sudeten German Council joined the Federalist Union of European Ethnic Groups.80 The latter meant that from then on the Sudeten German Council still represented the 165,000 Sudeten Germans still living in Czechoslovakia. However, neither action significantly enhanced the international position of the SL.
1961 was a benchmark year for the SL. There surfaced an internal conflict between the wish to accommodate political realities in Europe and the desire to continue the hard-line policies. One Sudeten German leader voicing the latter opinion explained that the SL “(does) not want to be a mere cultural society, or an auxiliary wing of political parties, but an ethnic organization with responsibilities and aspirations unique for all times."8l However, his was a dissenting voice amidst a growing acceptance of a conciliatory line. The 20-Point Program of 1961, while retaining many hard-line positions to pacify SL right-wingers, was the first indication of the SL's new direction.
The annual Sudeten German Rally (Sudetendeutscher Tag) has been and continues to be the most prominent event of the SL. As a measure of Sudeten German vitality, the rally reveals an almost uninterrupted well-being since the first one took place in 1950.82 Because this event provides a common thread in the SL chronology, it constitutes an appropriate transition from the first to the second period of SL history.
In the early years, the rally offered expellees the opportunity to find family and encounter old friends.83 It also enabled the SL to remind the public of the right to the homeland and self-determination and to denounce the Czech Government.84 Later, the rallies increasingly became a forum for politicians and an exhibition of Sudeten German culture (i.e., sports, dances, plays, and parades).85 Looking at pictures of the rally in the Sudeten Bulletin, one is struck overwhelmingly by the predominance of elderly people. Certainly the annual rally was for many simply a reunion, a time to get together to share memories of the homeland and reminisce about old times.
The number of Sudeten Germans who attended these rallies is instructive, if only in showing the extent of support for the SL and the unflagging desire of Sudeten Germans to congregate year after year. Even given the difficulty of accurately estimating such large numbers and the likely tendency of the Sudeten Bulletin to exaggerate, the attendance figures are impressive and reveal that there has been an attraction, be it political posturing, cultural exhibitions, or simply fond memories that has consistently drawn Sudeten Germans to the rallies.
It was usual at the rallies for SL leaders to direct verbal exhortations at the Federal Government or Prague. Frequently, BRD representatives came to the Sudetendeutscher Tag as well to explain government policies with regard to expellees, as Foreign Minister von Brentano did in 1956.86 Congratulatory messages always poured in from abroad, especially from the US, demonstrating the perceived importance of the rallies. Prague, on the other hand, often denigrated the rally, viewing it as a symbol of German revanchism. In 1956, Rude Pravo, Prague's newspaper, labelled the event a “rusty weapon left over from the stubborn period of the cold war."87
The purpose of the rally, in the opinion of a member of the Bavarian Landtag, was basically to remind the world of the expulsions and reaffirm the Sudeten German claim to the homeland.88 With the passage of time and the repercussions of such events as the erection of the Berlin Wall, the establishment of a BRD trade mission in Prague and the suppression of the “Prague Spring,” the purpose of the rally gradually changed. In 1970, one spokesman described the rally as a “testimony of support for Europe, justice, and the preservation of peace."89 The late 60's and early 70's witnessed a mitigation of Sudeten German rhetoric at the annual rally and West Germany's establishment of diplomatic relations with Prague in 1973 reinforced this trend. In more recent years, with West Germany's growing desire to improve ties with East Germany (DDR), the rally has once again become a platform for national politicians. At the thirty-fifth rally in 1984, BRD President Karl Carstens praised the Sudeten Germans for their intellectual and cultural contributions to Germany and their role in preserving Eastern German traditions.90 As the hope of German reunification receives new life, it is possible that the Sudetendeutscher Tag will regain some of its lost luster while the SL itself may recoup some of its past political prestige.
The second period of SL history covers the period 1961 to 1973 and witnessed many events of far-reaching importance in Central Europe. The period was characterized by temporizing action on the part of the SL as the organization endeavoured to withstand forces that generally ameliorated relations between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. Throughout this period, the SL maintained its existing political objectives. However, in line with numerous West German diplomatic decisions which the SL perceived to threaten its future, SL leaders exerted a greater effort to influence the BRD government. Paradoxically, the failure of the SL to prevent, or even attempt to impede Germany from establishing diplomatic relations with Czechoslovakia (CSSR) did not spell the end for the organization. Instead, that event, which marks the close of the second period, confirmed the SL propensity to focus on cultural and historical activities over political agitation as the sustaining purpose of the organization.
The Sudeten German 20-Point Program of 7 May 1961 demarcates the beginning of the second period of SL history. Beneath a biased view of the expulsions, evidence of appeasement was present. For the first time, the SL recognized that the Munich Agreement, which it had hitherto regarded as legal and just according to international law, was a document of dubious character.91 The SL also reversed its position concerning negotiations with the CSSR. The criterion of SL policy had always been to “reject negotiations with persons who instigated or carried out the expulsions."92 The new program averred that “people are to be judged exclusively by what they think of the expulsion today and what they are sincerely working for today."93 Although this last point specifically referred to Sudeten Germans, it implied a more tolerant attitude toward Prague as well. Finally, the right of self-determination, though reiterated in its traditional form, was qualified by point 19 which explained that self-determination “admitted different constitutional or international solutions."94
The 20-Point Program set the SL upon a new path of pragmatism. It arose largely from the realization by SL leaders that the West judged other international problems as more important than the expellee question.95 Additionally, trends visible within the BRD government portended improved relations with Central Europe. Indeed, on 14 June 1961 the Bundestag passed a resolution calling for a gradual normalization of relations with Central European countries.96 Apparently, the SL leaders were not purblind and, in a sense, were accommodating themselves to diplomatic developments.
One result of the 20-Point Program was that each of the major political parties of West Germany endorsed the new, liberal program as a solution to the Sudeten German Question.97 Party support of the SL, as has been shown, was not unprecedented and in fact dated back to 1950. At that time, all of the West German parlimentary parties had sanctioned the Obhutserklärung.98 In this Declaration of Protection, the BRD Government promised to protect the rights of Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia.99 Although the parties renewed their support of the SL in 1961, they concurred with Bonn that the BRD had no territorial claims against the CSSR, but that this did not prejudice the inalienable rights of the Sudeten Germans to their homeland.100 This disclaimer was an important qualification that reflected Bonn's desire to improve relations with Central Europe. As such, it served notice to the SL that their political position was perhaps not as strong as it had previously been.
Any hope engendered by the 20-Point Program for a return to the homeland was stricken when the Berlin Wall was erected during the night of 13 August 1961. More than any other single event, this action drove home to the SL as well as the rest of the world the permanence of Germany's division. The SL's prerequisite for returning to the Sudetenland — the reunification of Germany followed by the founding of a supra-national European state — received a severe, if not fatal, blow. The shock waves that rumbled through the world community affected the Sudeten Germans no less than any other Germans, and it perhaps indicated that a more practical strategy was in order. That this was not immediately the case is illustrated by SL actions in the early 1960's.
In 1962, members of the Bavarian Diet, evidently responding to pressure from Sudeten German constituents, sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Justice of the BRD. The letter demanded the extradition or punishment of those Czechoslovak citizens responsible for the deaths of 300,000 Sudeten Germans during the expulsions.101 This behest contradicted the spirit of the Charta der Deutschen Heimatvertriebenen and scarcely mirrored the more conciliatory aims outline in the 20-Point Program. Apparently, the Berlin Wall and its implications for the SL had boosted conservative sentiment within the organization.102 Bavaria's reaffirmation of its patronage of the Sudeten Germans shortly thereafter may have been related to this forward, aggressive attitude. Yet, the pre-eminence of this hard-line was short-lived.
On 11 December 1962 Rudolf Lodgman von Auen, past president of the SL and staunch conservative, died.103 The passing of Auen seemed to weaken conservative initiative among Sudeten Germans, for in 1963, when Bonn began to consider establishing a trade mission in Prague, the Sudeten Council acted reasonably. It passed a resolution which stated in part, “The Sudeten German Council welcomes all endeavours aimed at improved relations between the two peoples."104 Assuredly the council restricted its resolution by warning the BRD government to avoid recognizing Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, the pragmatic, more “liberal” attitude initiated in 1961 appeared once again to prevail.
Pragmatism, however, did not prevent the negotiations between Prague and Bonn from being stormy. The CSSR demanded that West Germany annul the Munich Agreement hic et nunc as a precondition to negotiations.105 The SL went into a frenzied state announcing that an annulment would be extremely detrimental to their cause, essentially invalidating their claims to the homeland.106 Eventually the negotiations were concluded with the Munich Agreement intact. However, the near catastrophe exposed the precarious position of the SL and the willingness of Bonn to ponder, though not as yet bargain with, Hitler's 1938 diplomatic coup. The Münchner Abkommen had possibly become the vulnerable shield of a retreating SL knight.
The SL knight arguably lost that vulnerable shield in 1966. In April of that year, West Germany transmitted a Peace Note to Prague avowing “The BRD is of the opinion that the Munich Agreement of 1938 was torn up by Hitler and that it is no longer of territorial significance.'"107 Although Bonn did not explicitly annul the Munich Agreement, it was clear that SL objections had been overridden and Bonn was finally pursuing better formal relations with the CSSR.108 Perhaps partly as a result of the Peace Note, partly as a result of declining interest in the Sudeten Question in the West, the Sudeten Bulletin underwent major changes in 1966. The bulletin dropped its title, merged with another publication, the German News, and was renamed the Central European Journal.109 The editor, Anton Wuschek, explained that the bulletin's content would deal with historical and contemporary European affairs instead of solely Czech-German relations and Sudeten German issues.110 More important, the-primary emphasis was thenceforth to be placed upon “articles concerned with modem history, international relations, arts, economics, and the current affairs of Central Europe."111 That its major English language publication no longer focused exclusively on Sudeten German issues implied that treatment of such issues no longer supported an English-speaking readership. Western, especially American, heed of the Sudeten German Question had either declined or been replaced with a greater desire for a European detente. In any case, the SL presumably believed that its cause would be better served by stressing a broader spectrum of Central European topics instead of specific Sudeten German matters.
Two years after Bonn's Peace Note and the reorganization of the Sudeten Bulletin, Russian troops cracked down on blossoming intellectual and personal freedoms in Chechoslovakia.112 The suppression of the Prague Spring, as it came to be known, affected both Bonn and Sudeten German leaders. Franz Josef Strauss, chairman of the CSU, must have expressed the feelings of many Germans when he said “a curtain (fell) on the prospects for a peaceful coexistence with the East Bloc states, obscuring a view of the future."113 But the event elicited no further response in the Central European Journal.114 The silence of the journal is possibly indicative of Sudeten German disinterest and depoliticization with regard to the country of their homeland. If this is the case, it reinforced the already visible trend-axiomatic in the Sudeten Bulletin's merger and change — away from purely Sudeten German political issues.
In 1970 Bavaria established the House of the German East for the Sudeten Germans in Munich.115 The purpose of this institution was twofold: first and foremost was to preserve the Sudeten German cultural heritage and second, to provide a place where peoples from all over Europe could meet to exchange ideas. In a closing address at the official opening of the House, a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences defined the House as follows, “These houses are a socio-political, and interpersonal necessity; they depoliticize and de-ideologize old concepts and relations… At stake is a new healthy attitude on the part of Germans from the East … toward a new intellectual and cultural focus in Europe."116 As a reflection of the trend away from political activism, as a signpost indicating a new cultural-historical orientation for Sudeten Germans, and as a result of Central European diplomatic realities, the Haus des deutschen Ostens symbolized the SL revelation that they were not going to ever regain the homeland. Hence, the best, and perhaps only way to preserve the Heimat for their children was to create a place where their arts, handicrafts, customs, and traditions would be preserved.
The evolution of the SL from a politically oriented organization to a homeland preservation association probably made it easier for the Sudeten Germans to accept the Bonn-Prague Treaty of 1973.117 During preliminary negotiations; the SL magnanimously offered “its expert knowledge and advice” to the BRD Government.118 It is quite likely that Bonn did not avail itself of the offer, for the treaty was highly unsatisfactory to the Sudeten Germans, although it probably would have been so under any circumstance. Once the treaty was signed establishing formal diplomatic relations between West Germany and Czechoslovakia, an outcry arose from SL leaders. But it was more the form the treaty took then the fact of the treaty itself which provoked them.119 Nonetheless, indignation among SL leaders was so great that Bavaria, as patron of the Sudeten Germans, was compelled to reject the treaty.120 One Sudeten German explaining his displeasure said, “The Bonn-Prague Treaty perpetuates the tragedy of 3½ million Sudeten Germans who had no effective voice in any one of the significant historical decisions affecting their fates as a people."121 Needless to say, the anti-treaty protest had no tangible effect on the ratification of the treaty. To all intents and purposes, the treaty simply reconciled the political reality of the loss of the Sudetenland with the personal conviction of many Sudeten Germans. The only apparent victim of the treaty, the Central European Journal, ceased publication shortly after the treaty was promulgated.122 The SL must have decided to channel its journalistic enemies in other, more fruitful and probably less political directions. Twenty-five years after first going to press, the journal ended, culminating the second period in SL history.
The third period in SL history, dating from 1974 to the present, is notable primarily for the dearth of information this writer was able to obtain. Indeed, only a few recent speeches and an article or two were located. However, with an eye to trends evident within the SL at the time of the Bonn-Prague Treaty, the balance of the 1970's was liable to have been marked by continued emphasis on cultural activities and a further decline in interest in the Eastern Question. Attendance at the annual rally dipped enormously between 1974 and 1984, supporting this hypothesis. Aging must have contributed to a declining interest in the homeland; most Sudeten Germans who had been adults in 1945 have probably died. Furthermore, for those Sudeten Germans who had experienced the expulsions and are still alive, the passage of time inevitably heals emotional and psychological wounds, including those caused by the loss of the Sudetenland. Polls taken in the 1950's and 1960's had demonstrated the diminishing desire of expellees to return to the homeland, and one author attributes this to the Berlin Wall and the complete economic integration of expellees by 1961.123 If public clamoring for Die Recht auf Heimat5 did not always decline in correspondence to the true desires of expellees, this was because there was often a disparity between what some expellee leaders professed and what their followers believed.124 On the whole, Sudeten Germans had no desire, even if given the opportunity, to return to the Sudetenland, and this accounted, most likely, for the growing lack of interest in political activity aimed at regaining the homeland and the increasing stress placed upon institutions like the German House of the East.
Very recently there appears to have been a resurgence in interest in the expellee question and Sudeten Question. West German Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl remarked in June, 1983, that the BRD does not “accept our German compatriots being denied the right to self-determination and their human rights being violated."125 On 9 February 1984 Kohl appeared at the Tag der Heimat des Bundes der Vertiebenen (Day of the Homeland sponsored by the Association of Expellees) and enunciated the belief that expellees had been a constructive force in their support of democracy and peace in West Germany.126 He went on to state “ich setze mich ein für ein geeintes Europa, das uns allen Heimat ist und bleiben kann."*127 With East and West Germany moving closer over the last several years, speculation about reunification has become rife, and this obviously has great significance for all expellees. SL objectives for a supranational European state are alluded to in Kohl's “geeintes Europa,” and in the desire for peace, a unified Europe may lead at long last to a peace treaty ending World War II. On the thirty-fifth annual Sudetendeutscher Tag, Flanz Josef Strauss, speaking to 50,000 Sudeten Germans, said, “Die Teilung Europas und Deutschlands werde sich ändern, auch wenn es noch so lange dauert"**128 Expellee groups like the SL may still have a role to play in Europe's future. Very few things are absolutely certain, but we can be reasonably sure about s two things concerning the SL: the Sudetenland will in all probability never again be occupied by Sudeten Germans; and secondly, this is no longer a crucial matter to Sudeten Germans. Content where they are, Sudeten Germans will sustain memories of the homeland through institutions such as the Munich House of the German East and the SL, having refocused its attention on cultural and historical matters, will continue to exist for some time.
*"I declare that I am for a united Europe, that is and can remain a homeland for all of us.”
**"The partition of Europe and Germany will be changed, no matter how long it takes.”
PETER H. OPPENHEIMER is a 1986 graduate with a degree in History from Yale University, and the winner of the 1985 Hajo Holborn Prize for writing on German public affairs. He is currently studying in Germany on grant.
1. West Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland)
2. economic miracle
3. The right of all people to their homeland, nation, language and culture.
4. '"The CSU is ready to support suitable proposals of the SL with marked enthusiasm.”
5. The right to a homeland
|Author:||Oppenheimer, Peter H.|
|Title:||The Sudentendeutsche Landsmannschaft|
|Source:||The Journal for Historical Review|
|Issue:||Volume 7 number 3|
|Attribution:||“Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”|
|Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.|