- Vanished Villages–History of the Carpathian Germans
- In the Mist of Time
- The Middle Ages
- A Culture under Threat: From the Revolution to World War I
- Victims of Versailles and Trianon
- The Slovak State
- Victims of Genocide
- After Potsdam: The Search for Justice
- The New Slovak Republic
Before World War II, Europe contained many small ethnic splinter groups. They had moved away from
the main body of their nation and settled in other lands, where they would survive for centuries.
The territory of today’s Slovakia has been a cross-roads of nations, often conquered by new people who
then mixed with the older settlers. Pre-indoeuropean people about whom we know little lived there. Around
400 B.C., they were conquered by Celtic invaders, who were succeeded by the German tribe of the Quaden
as the dominant nation around 50 B.C. In the South, the Romans tried but failed to conquer the area.
Around 200 C.E. the German tribe of the Vandals settled in North-Eastern Slovakia. There also were smaller
tribes such as the Skiren. Most of these Germans moved South in 406 C.E., conquering notably today’s
Tunisia from the Romans. Their nearly empty lands were settled by the East German Langobarden from 500
to 568 C.E., when that nation also moved Southward, to Northern Italy. Each German tribe left remnants
who did not move. But, according to archaeologists, these remnants cannot have been numerous.
The next ethnic group that became dominant were Slavs. Small groups of Slavic people had moved from the
East to live among the local Germans since the 2nd century C.E. In the late 6th century, many more moved into
the now nearly empty land and assimilated its German remnants. These Slovak settlements paid tribute to
the Awars, a confederation of mainly Turkic nomadic tribes that dominated the Pannonic plain and the
surrounding mountain arc called the Carpathian Mountains. After several large plundering sprees to the
West, the Awars were decisively beaten by the Frankish-Germanic Empire of Karl the Great (Charlemagne).
Their empire dissolved, allowing among else the flourishing, during the 9th century, of a minor kingdom, the
not very aptly named “Great Moravian Empire,” which was neither an Empire nor centered in Moravia, but in
Neutra (slovak Nitra), in Western Slovakia. Owing to constant tribal wars, the population remained small,
by the 9th century at best around 130,000 people, living chiefly in the main river valleys. During that time,
German priests lived in Slovakia, and possibly settlers in the areas near Pressburg.
In the ninth century, Magyars tribes broke over the Carpathian passes. Within two centuries, they conquered the Pannonic plain and its nearby areas, such as what is today Slovakia. The Magyar tribes adopted Christianity, and began to create a modern European state, the Hungarian Kingdom. They needed farmers, (the conquered Slavic population, whom they exploited), and craftsmen. The Hungarian kings, especially Geza II, (ruled 1141-1162) , Andreas II, (r. 1204-1235), who had married Gertrud, Countess von Andechs-Meranien, with holdings in Bavaria and Tyrol, and their son Bela IV, imported thousands of
German craftsmen, miners, farmers and vintners.The settlers came in several waves and settled in three distinct areas, around Pressburg on the Danube, the mountainous Hauerland in Central Slovakia, and the high plains of the Zips in the East, surrounded by the majestic peaks of the High Tatra
mountains. Some even went to the remote Karpatho-Ukraine, but their settlements did not survive the succession of armies storming the passes from the Ukraine to the Pannonic plain, notably the Kumans (in Slavic Polovsty), Mongols, Tatars, Turks, and Cossacks, and many others. New German settlements,
which survived till 1945, were created only in the 18th century, after the Turks left.
In the South, the customs station of Pressburg was developped into a German city in the 12th century. The royal charters of 1217 and 1405 specified that only Germans could become city freeholders, (in practice this meant people recognized by the community as Germans. There was extensive intermarriage, and since the Middle Ages, many Carpathian Germans have Slavic
and Magyar names, while many local Magyars and Slovaks have German surnames). A good example of that process was given by Josef Maday from Krickerhau. His ancestor Ondrej Madaj was a Slovak, who had served in the German army against the Turks in the 17th century, and learned some German. After his service was over he bought a desolate farm in Krickerhau, married a local German, and within a generation his children were ordinary Germans. (Hauerlaender erzaehlen, Ludwig Wohland, ed., HiBu 1998, p. 18). German and Latin only were used as official languages. But after the Hungarian Kingdom was annihilated by the Turks at the battle of Mohacs, Pressburg became the capital of what was left of Hungary, and the refuge of many Hungarian noblemen. They chafed at being excluded from voting privileges in their own capital. After 60 years of agitation, the Hungarian parliament forced the city to amend its charter and give Magyars of noble status the rights of freeholders. In 1608, even, all German cities were by law opened to all comers.
But Pressburg was close to the core German area, only 25 miles from Vienna, and received many new immigrants from Bavaria, Upper Austria and Bohemia. It also was surrounded by many German villages and small cities, such as Boesing and Limbach, and the rich Schuett-Island to the South, with its 12 German villages. This was important, for the mortality rate in medieval cities was high even in the best of times, and required a constant inflow of migrants from the countryside to survive.The German character of the city survived until its charter was voided in 1867, and till 1900 Germans were a majority of the population.
In the 12th century, Hungarians kings invited Germans to settle the empty mountain fastness of the Zips. The Germans were to guard the mountain passes, part of an important trade route to the Baltic, and develop mining, if possible. To reward them for coming, the Magyars gave the settlers large farms and extensive corporate autonomy. It included the right to use the German language and restrict freeholds to Germans in their communities. By 1241, the Zips had 4,000 mostly German inhabitants, mainly from the Rhineland but others from South Tyrol (Eisackstal, notably, who founded Eisdorf), brought as dowry to Hungary by Gertrud of Andechs-Meran. But in April 1241, a Mongol army under Batu-Khan annihilated the Hungarian army at the village of Muhi on the river Sajo (slovak Slana), and then devastated much of the Hungarian Kingdom. In the Zips, a century of work was destroyed, and about half of the people killed by the Mongols. After the Mongols left in 1242, immigration resumed. In 1271, 24 German cities formed the Bund der Zipser Staedte, which remained autonomous from the regular Megye administration till 1876. An important concession was that its governor, the count of the Zips, was not appointed by the king but elected for life by an assembly of county notables, city mayors and priests. By 1300, 26 small cities and over 100 hamletsflourished. The cultural centers were Kesmark and Leutschau (today Levoc”a). But the position of the Zipser was weakened by the lack of new settlers, repelled by the harsh climate and not needing to emigrate after the pandemic of the 1340s-1350s, which killed over a third of Europe’s population, had reduced overpopulation in Germany. In addition, the Hungarian kings mortgaged 13 Zipser cities to Poland from 1412 to 1772. The Poles drained the local economy and pressured cities to accept Slovaks as freeholders. The worst were the frequent wars, especially the wars with the Czech Hussites in the 15th century and the Turks in the 16th-17th centuries, followed by civil wars between pro- and anti-Habsburg Magyar nobles, and the suppression of the largely German Protestants. For each army, the German cities, not the Slovak villages, were the most tempting targets for plunder and murder. For instance, just as one of the worst examples, the little city of Koenigsberg an der Gran in the Hauerland, founded in 1337 by German miners from Kremnitz and Pukanz. In the late 16th century, the city admitted Slovaks. The German population was further weakened by the plague in 1645, and then annihilated by a Turkish raid in 1664, when most people were slain and about 600 survivors sold into slavery. After a few years, Slovaks began to settle the ruins, and called the city “Nova Bana.” When the area finally became peaceful in the 18th century, many small cities such as Rosenberg (Ruzomberok), Deutschlipsch (Nemecka Lipc”a, s. 1946 Partisanska Lupc”a), Gross-Steffelsdorf, Siebenbrot, (Sebechleby), Karpfen (Krupina), etc, founded by Germans, were now entirely populated by Slovaks.
After the disastrous defeat against the Ottoman Turks at Mohacs in 1526, the Kingdom of Hungary shrank, until the 1690s, to the sliver on the left, with the capital moved to Pressburg. The remaining Hungarian areas were subjected to frequent Turkish raids. The “Roman Empire” may confuse some readers–it is the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, or First German Empire, which lasted from 843 AD (when Charlemagne’s Empire was split between his 3 grandsons) to 1806, when Napoleon forced it to dissolve.
The Hungarian kings hoped that the Germans would develop mining, but the Zips had few minerals save some copper in the lower Zips. But plenty of minerals were found in the Hauerland, about 50 miles to the West. Small copper and iron deposits had been worked by Germans in the 11th century. In the late 13th and 14th century the Hungarian kings began to finance large-scale mining, and imported thousands of miners from Thueringia and Silesia. Within a century, over 20 mining towns developped. The largest were the “golden” Kremnitz (Kremnica), the “silver” Schemnitz (Banska St^iavnica), and the “copper” Neusohl (Banska Bistryca). The churches built during that era are among the most beautiful in Eastern Europe. But the ore was depleted in the 16th century. In the Zips, the settlers had received large farms just in case the wealth from copper did not materialize. But in the Hauerland, ore was a certainty, and the settlers received only small plots of land. The area was mountainous, steep and infertile, with forests eroded from mining, and immiserated. By the early 19th century, many cities were near-ghost towns unable to preserve their German character. Only in the market and government center of Kremnitz did a large German population survive. In 1541, 92% of its people were German. In 1880, 69% still were that.
By the late 19th century, the survival of the Carpathian Germans did not look good. After 1860, they were also weakened by a massive emigration of Zipser German peasants and craftsmen to the United States, notably to Philadelphia. This emigration was caused by the increasing poverty of the peasantry, which also hurt the
artisans in the small market-cities that catered to them. Much of the tilled area in the Zips and the Hauerland was marginal, and through inheritance split into many small plots. Much farming was not really sensible once the Zips was connected to world markets by trains which brought grain from the Danube. But the dislocation was made worse by the policies of the Magyar elite. To clear small farms off the landscape, tax rates were set in such a way as to force peasants to sell and become laborers–or emigrate. In 1885, for instance, as noted in the New Yorker Volks-Zeitung, a German-American labor daily that kept track of such things, the average land tax per Joch (pretty much an acre) in Hungary that year was on the average 60.18 Gulden (then US $30.09)
for peasants with less than 10 Joch, 26.66 Gulden for those middling peasants with 11 to 200 Joch, and only 22.90 (US-$ 11.45) Gulden for those, usually Magyar nobles, with 200 to 1000 Joch. Not only was this unfair, it also brought peasants at the verge of starvation because the amounts were so high. Industrial workers in the Zips were lucky then to earn 3 Gulden for 12 hours, while agricultural laborers were often paid in food,
Schnapps, and a few coins.
This economic plight of Zipser farmers and craftsmen was made worse by attacks on their culture, as well as that of other Carpathian Germans. As long as the Zips was autonomous, there were German schools and jobs for educated Carpathian Germans able to lead their people. Even the countship of the Zips was open to talent, and not the preserve of the aristocracy as so many other high government positions in Central and Eastern Europe. Jakob Nitsch, for instance, elected in 1860, and serving till his death in 1867, was the son of a butcher from Michelsdorf. Also, while the dominant Magyars encouraged minorities to assimilate, they had not forced them to do so. Until 1844 Latin, not Magyar, had been the legal language of this multi-ethnic kingdom. But by the 1840s, it began to bother the Magyar elite that less than half of Hungary’s population was ethnically Magyar, and that the middle-classes and skilled workers, vital to the economy, were entirely German or Jewish. The desire to crush local peculiarities was not restricted to Hungary, it was a common trend in the West during the 19th century. Great Britain crushed the Gaelic culture of Ireland and Northern Scotland, France that of Bretons, Alsacians (till 1871, for those), Basques and Occitans, and Russia that of Finns, Poles and other minorities in its empire. The US elite, which so far had not minded the French character of Lousiana and the German spoken since early colonial times in Pennsylvania, now did so and crushed the historic culture of these areas. And so, the Hungarian revolution of 1848 not only demanded an end to Habsburg rule, but also that minorities assimilate. This caused the latter to side with Habsburg, contributing much to the defeat of the revolt. But in 1866, the Habsburg lost the German civil war to Prussia, and the German Confederation, to which Austria and Bohemia had belonged, dissolved. In 1867, the weakened Habsburgs granted Hungary full autonomy. In 1867, the Hungarian parliament abolished all old-time autonomies and privileges, and dissolved the autonomous County of the Zips. Leutschau and Kesmark, which were royal free cities, lost their autonomy in 1876. They also pressured the ethnic elites into becoming Magyar. Ethnic schools were closed, or forced to use solely Magyar. Without teachers and priests using their language, the small-town
middle-classes began to assimilate massively.
In Pressburg, in 1850, of 42,238 inhabitants, 31,509 or 74.6%, were German, 7.4% Magyars, mostly officials, and Slovaks, mostly workers and
servants, 17.9%. But by 1880, Germans fell to 30,432 of 48,006 people, or 63.4%, by 1890 31394 of 52411,or 59.9%, by 1900 30953 of 61537, or
50.3%. Then they became a minority in their own city, being 36,729 of 73,459 people, or 41.9%, in 1910. Slovaks still were only 14.8% of the city’s
population. In the Zips, by 1847, a third, or 63,833 of the county’s population of 191,523 was Carpathian German, while half was Slovak. By
1880, the number of Germans had fallen to 48,169, and 38,434 in 1910, that is less than a quarter. The county’s overall population had declined
as well, from 191,523 in 1847 to 172,881 in 1880 and 171,725 in 1910, mainly through emigration to the United States.But as important was
“magyarization.” In 1847, only 500 Magyars lived in Zipser County. By 1880, there were 3,526 and in 1910 18,658 –the majority being assimilated
Germans and Slovaks!
To defend their continued existence would have been difficult at best. The 180,000 Carpathian Germans in 1910 were only 5% of the population
of Upper Hungary, spoke three dialects that were not easily mutually understood, and the economic interests of each area were different, too.
Also, a substantial number of the bourgeoisie now mistook their ancestors’ traditional loyalty to the Hungarian state with the obligation of
becoming Magyars, in order to create a strong Hungarian nation-state. And the times were happy, in a general way, reflected by this colorful
cover of a booklet from the bakery of Gustav Wendler, famous for its Nussbeugel. The long-term survival of Carpathian Germans
But then came World War I. After suffering war, hunger, and civil war in early 1919, the Feldivek was torn by the victorious Allies from the state it belonged to for a millenium, and incorporated, without popular consultation, into an entity that had never existed before. This “Czechoslovakia” had a short but unhappy history that would result, a.e., in the destruction of the Carpathian German people.
After World War I, the Allies joined the area of Slovakia and the Karpatho-Ukraine with the Austrian provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia to form the Czechoslovak Republic, or CSR. It was not a nation state: In 1921, of a population of 13.4 million, 6.7 million were Czechs, 3.1 million Germans, 2.0 million Slovaks, 700,000 Magyars, 500,000 Ukrainians, 200,000 ethnic Jews, (another 100,000 counted themselves as being of the Jewish religion, but of German or Magyar ethnicity, less often of Czech ethnicity), 100,000 Poles, others scattered groups. Because of its multi-ethnic character, it was urged the CSR adopt a Swiss form of constitution, with many self-governing cantons, (states), so that all ethnic groups would have a reason to feel loyalty to the new state, just as the three minority ethnic groups of Switzerland do, though Swiss-Germans are a large majority. The Czech foreign minister, Edward Benes”, to get the assent of the Allies to the inclusion of the nearly purely German Sudetenland and nearly purely Magyar areas along the Danube, which blatantly violated the principle of self-determination and seemed likely to trigger conflict in the future, swore to Lloyd George the new state would be “like a new Switzerland.” To ensure that this
unnatural concoction would not create unrest, the Allies forced the Czech government to adopt a law protecting the use of minority languages in any city or village where more than 20% of the population spoke that language, and allowed the minorities to complain to the League of Nations if they were oppressed. In principle, the application of these laws would have prevented ethnic strife, especially as the Czechs, to please the Allies and especially the Americans, adopted all the trappings of democracy.
But it was not a true democracy. For the Czechs considered themselves the sole indigenous people, and the other ethnic groups as mere “guests” living on Czech sufferance. This incredible notion was the root cause of the dissolution of the CSR. The Czechs created a centralized state, in which power over local matters lay with the heads of the Z”upans, (counties), who, like the prefects in France then, were appointed by the central government
to control the locals, not to represent them. The Czechs pretended that Slovaks did not exist by inventing a “Czechoslovak” ethnicity that made Slovaks into dumb country cousins who needed to be taught, forcibly if necessary, their “true” ethnicity. They mistreated Magyars and the Sudeten Germans who lived in the mountain rim since the 12th century. Before 1919, about 300,000 Czechs formed 10% of the Sudetenland’s population. Most of these had moved there in the past generation
only, attracted by the growing industries, and even, in same areas, altering the ethnic balance. Budweis and Pilsen, for instance, good German burghs till the 1850s, and justly famous for their beer, had by 1910 Czech majorities. But now, from 1920 to 1938, in order to alter the ethnic balance of the entire area, and push in as many places as possible the number of Germans below 20%, after which they could not legally use their language, the Czech government pumped 400,000 Czechs from the inner part of Bohemia to Sudeten areas, gave them German-owned farms whose owners had been expropriated under a land reform that hit mainly German and Magyar landowners, and a monopoly on civil service jobs. There were many other forms of discrimination, despite a formal equality of civil rights. (An apt comparision would be the status of the Arab population of Israel, theorerically equal to Jewish Israelis, but in practice not.) The scandalized Sudeten Germans protested to the League of Nations, without success, then demanded autonomy, and, after they were repressed, eventual reunification with Germany, to which Bohemia, after all, had belonged until 1866, when the German Confederation fell apart. Hitler merely skillfully used, for his own plans, a situation created by the Czech political elite. The Czech/Sudeten German conflict would result, among else, in the destruction of the Carpathian Germans, which is why its final course needs to be understood.
Though at first angered by the withholding of the political equality promised in 1919, most Sudeten Germans voted for parties that cooperated with parties representing Czechs (a few, like the Communists, had members from all ethnic groups), up to 75% of the votes cast for German political parties. But the Czech leadership still withheld equality. Bitterness spread, especially after the Great Depression began. Public works and relief was scarce, and even these channeled by the Czech officials in the Sudetenland to the new Czech settlers instead of the native population. The local social democrats issued dramatic descriptions of outright starvation among Sudeten Germans, esp. children as parents could not even afford milk. In 1932, there were 800,000 jobless in the CSR–and 510,000 of them were Sudeten Germans! Their leaders protested to the League of Nations, but strong lobbying by Czech and esp. Czechophile Americans, together with the lack of power of Weimar Germany and Austria, prevented the enforcement of the minority protection treaties the Czech representatives had signed in Versailles.
In 1933, the Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront was founded (Sudeten German Homeland Front), since 1935 Sudetendeutsche Partei. In the 1935 parliamentary elections, the new party received 2/3rds of the vote given to German parties (or about half of the German vote). The SdP wanted autonomy (like the other parties) but also was friendlier (this was 1935 after all) to the new forceful regime in Germany which it hoped would defend the rights of Germans, was not Nazi–indeed, in early May 1936, all open Nazis were expelled from the party. In Oktober 1937 he visited London and also met Churchill. He received no support as Kondon did not understand at all the desperation of the Sudeten Germans. After his deputy Karl Hermann Frank was brutally beaten up by Czech policemen, who were not put on trial or reprimanded, Henlein now saw that only the support of a strong state could protect the Sudeten Germans, and since the English would not want,
he had no choice but to work with Hitler as the the situation became worse after the resignation of president Masaryk. Masaryk had tried to govern with some fairness, without too much success, but even the minorities credited him with being willing. His successor in 1935 was the political mountebank Dr. Eduard Benes”, leader of the aptly-named Czech National Socialist Party, who had been the country’s perennial foreign minister. His reputation for trustworthiness was about that of Ariel Sharon in the eyes of his Palestinian victims. Not only did he refuse to work with the German and other autonomist parties to create a livable solution for all, he even passed the Law for Protection of the Country of May 31, 1936, that gave Czech authorities the right to jail, deport and confiscate citizens without trial. For minorities, the CSR had become close to a dictatorship, even though in daily life relations between individual Germans and Czechs remained good. Benes’ policies finalized the alienation of most German, Magyar, Polish and Ruthenian citizens, and of a substantial number of Slovak citizens. Becoming
indepedent of Prague now became a widespread dream. It made also increasingly sense after Hitler had succeeded in getting the Allies in agreeing to reunify Austria with Germany. Seeing that asking Prague for concessions led nowhere, in March 1938 the German Christian-Social Party and the Union of Peasants (Bund der Landwirte) voted to dissolve their parties and asked their members to support thelegitimate demands of the SdP. In the local elections in Mai, the SdP recived 93% of the vote in German cities. Benes’ answer was to mobilized the Czech army in May, which further estranged the German population.
Yet Sudeten Germans were divided about a reunification under Hitler, especially Catholic conservatives, led by Logman von Auen, and the Social-Democrats, led by Wenzel Jaksch, both of whom would lead the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft after the war. Of course, there were Sudeten German Nazis, too, that is people agreeing with the ideology, but they were not a large group. The electoral results of the Sudetendeutsche Partei cannot be taken as “voting for Hitler” but as voting for the only party which, because of the support of the new government in Germany (Hitler was not going to support Catholics or Social Democrats) might end the hunger and the discrimination. And though the CSR had not earned the loyalty of its subject ethnic groups, until the very end, Sudeten German leaders only asked for autonomy. When the CSR in May 1938 called up the army reserves to show Hitler the will to fight, 95% of Sudeten German men obeyed. Even Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudetendeutsche Partei, demanded publicly never more than a Swiss-style autonomy, again in his April 24, 1938 speech in Karlsbad, but also during his visit to London in May. But Benes and the Czech leaders remained intransigeant and refused concessions even though urged by the British and French government to accept the Karlsbad demands, as related by the British ambassador in Berlin Neville
Henderson in his account Failure of a Mission.
Benes flipflopped and equivocated, and then suggested to the British that he’d give Germany three counties with German populations, and deport the other Sudeten Germans there. To the British, this confirmed the utter lack of morality, as well as of political sense, of the man and the Czech political class that supported him. On September 8, 1938, Bishop Dr.Tiso, head of the Slovak autonomists, Dr. Szüllö and Count Eszterhazy, (Magyars), Karl H. Frank, (Sudeten Germans) met Benes” a last time to get a general minority statute. They were roughly rebuffed. But on September 11, Hitler declared in a public speech that he would no longer tolerate the oppression of his kinsmen. Recognizing that England and France would not protect his policies any longer, Benes” suddenly changed course in offered in rapid succession four constitutional reform proposals to the stunned Henlein. Who knows how world history would have changed had it come six months earlier. For the world, Czech oppression also was now well documented by the fact-finding mission of Lord Runciman in July 1938, officially released and thus endorsed on September 14 by the Prime Minister. On September 15 (and not one day before) Henlein demand union with Germany. The next day Benes” banned all autonomist parties. Henlein’s new demand received popular support, for after their latest humiliation, many Sudeten Germans were through with Prague rule, with any form of Prague rule.Their alienation was the result of policies pursued by the Czech government for twenty years, it was not created by Hitler. On September 21, France and England forced the Czech government to accept to cede the areas with over 50% Germans, with transfer modalities settled on September 29 in Munich, hence “Munich Agreement” for the entire agreement. Benes’ policies allowed Hitler to pose as a Wilsonian liberator. The British parliament accepted the cession treaties 366 to 144, the French 535 to 75, not to “appease” an aggressor but to correct a blatant injustice. Benes” resigned on October 5, and left for exile in London amidst popular anger now that his ultra-nationalistic policy had ended in disaster.
The Allies also wanted to clean-up a few other problems created in 1919. In the September 21 cession, plus that decided in the “Vienna Arbitration”
of November 2, 1938, the CSR had to give back, under the cheers of the oppressed locals:
- The Sudetenland to Germany (29,000 square km with 3.4 million inhabitants, 3.1 million being ethnic German)
- Teschen to Poland (900 square km with 240,000 inhabitants)
- Danube Valley to Hungary (12,000 square km with 1 million inhabitants, of which 70% were Magyars)
This left 100,000 square kilometers with 10.4 million inhabitants, of which 400,000 were ethnic Germans. Emil Hacha was now elected president, a humanistic old gentleman who desired to conciliate the ethnic minorities. On October 6, Slovakia declared autonomy and Prague agreed. On November 19, 1938, a new constitution gave autonomy to Slovakia and the Karpatho-Ukraine. If only Hacha and not Benes had become president in 1935! But he would not have the time to heal the wounds. In March 1939, Hitler used riots between Czech and Slovaks, and Czech violence against the small German population of inner Bohemia (most cities had German populations since the middle ages, including Prague), to occupy Bohemia and Moravia, and set up a puppet government. Slovakia became independent. Hitler, as known today, did not care much about the suffering of the Sudeten Germans. His goal had been to disarm a main French ally that was an obstacle to his goal of becoming the master of Europe. But no one in Fall 1938 could have known Hitler’s ultimate motives and plans, and they do not diminish the moral rightness of the demands for autonomy. As the former British Prime Minister Lloyd George, who had been co-responsible for its creation in 1919, concluded
on the disintegration of the CSR in 1938-1939:
“The Czechs were specially favoured by the Allies. The result was the recognition of the polyglot and incoherent state of
Czechoslovakia….Had the Czech leaders, in time and without waiting for the menacing pressure of Germany, redeemed their promise to grant
local autonomy to the various races in their Republic on the lines of the Swiss Confederation, the present troubles
would have been averted.”
(Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties, 1953, p. 948, 952, cited in J.M. Kirschbaum, Slovakia: Nation at the Crossroads of Europe, 1960, p. 210-211)
Stunned by the abrupt change that had happened in the week between September 15 and 21, and then the rapid implementation after September 28, many Sudeten Germans cheered. It was not because they now endorsed Nazism, but out of relief that Czech oppression would end, without the war that seemed so likely. Also, it should be remembered that the Nazi dictatorship did not yet seem worse than Mussolini’s Italy or other authoritarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. The relief of many was not proof that they had accepted the racist ideology of the Nazis, as was alleged by Benes” after the war to justify their genocide. In any case, the Sudeten Germans had not been asked their opinion: Hitler opposed a plebiscite, fearing a less than overwhelming welcome, Benes” for it might encourage Slovaks, Hungarians and Ruthenians to ask for one as well. About 50,000 Sudeten Germans even left homes and families to go into exile instead of living under Hitler, such as Wenzel Jaksch. This was a large proportion for such a small people. Others tried to resist dishonorable demands from the Nazi authorities as well as they could. Estimates of those killed by the Nazis vary, as, in order to minimize the extent of resistance among Germans, the Nazis often camouflaged the true causes of arrest and execution, but the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft states at least 1000 Social-democrats, and perhaps the same number of non-leftist resisters,were killed for opposing the regime, while Prof. Alfred Schickel noted 20,000 “victims of the Nazis,” which probably includes those who survived jail or concentration camps, in addition to
most of 35,000 Sudeten German Jews recorded by the 1930 Census, a perfectly integrated group that had participated in the struggle against
Considering their situation between hammer and anvil, this was a creditable record. By comparision, the official 1946 Report by the Benes” government spoke of 35-55000 killed Czechs, but including people that were victims of the war, but not of the Nazis, such as those killed by Allied bombing while working voluntarily in Germany, and those executed for offenses that were not political. The Nazis also killed 6,000 Romanies from Bohemia & Moravia, and about 77,000 Jews, plus another 20,000 Gypsies and 100,000 Jews in Slovakia and the Carpatho-Ukraine. The Gypsies had suffered cruel discrimination in the CSR, and can not morally be claimed, once dead, among “Czech” victims. Neither can most Jewish victims, since they had considered themselves not as Czechs, but as ethnic Jews, or Magyars or Germans of Jewish heritage, and registered as such in the Census. Quite rightly, the 1946 Report (unlike today’s Czech government), included under Czech victims only those Jews and Gypsies who had registered their ethnicity as Czech in the 1930 Census. But the 1946 Report omitted to note that many of the victims were denounced, arrested, sentenced, and executed by Czech collaborators. A little known fact in the West is that, unlike Poles, Czechs had their Vichy-style government that ran the country on behalf of Adolf Hitler, under the general supervision of a Reichsprotektor (Nazi viceroy). The old and ill Hacha remained a figurehead president, while the country was run first by prime-minister general Elias”, and then by general Radola Gajda, head of the prewar fascist VLAJKA movement. Most Czechs were passive, the country had a very low rate of resistance, and a sizable proportion actively supported the Nazis, such as the industrialists Skoda and Bata, or Lida Baarova, the actress. The concentration camp for Gypsies at Lety, established before Hitler’s occupation of the Czech part of Bohemia, remained entirely under Czech administration. (Even today, there is no museum or large monument to the Gypsies murdered there by Czech guards. A small stone square notes the place, while most of the former camp area is used by a pig-farm). It was well evident then, at least to people with a decent heart, that guilt and innocence in Bohemia were not tied to ethnicity.
Before 1918, Carpathian Germans had had few contacts with Sudeten Germans. Inter-regional contacts had been rather with other South-East Germans in the old Kingdom of Hungary, such as the Banat Suebians, Transsylvanian Saxons, Germans of Budapest, and others. But it was the Sudeten-German/Czech conflict that would destroy their people.
For Carpathian Germans, the CSR minority laws had been an improvement compared to the harsher Magyar rule of the last decades before World War I. And as few Carpathian Germans were large landowners (these were Magyars) or owners of factories (Jews), the discriminatory decrees of the Czech government hurt them less. But their second-class status hurt, as well as the elimination of the historic German names of many cities from official use. The most poignant change happened to Pressburg, called Prezpurok in Slovak and Posony in Magyar. In 1919, the new Czech government ordered “Bratislava” as the sole name allowed for public use, a name invented by nationalistic professors in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, Carpathian Germans rebuilt their school system on a religious basis, and cooperatives to help their peasantry. Initially, the CSR authorities were helpful, in order to fight pro-Hungarian feelings among Carpathian Germans. But by the late 1920s, every German school class had to be wrestled for. In the Lutheran church, the situation was not satisfactory for Germans, too. Before the war, both Slovaks and Carpathian Germans (at least those who were not in favor of Magyarization) had asked that the Hungarian Lutherans allow ethnic parishes. The Hungarian state, which had to grant permission, refused, and so did the Hungarian leadership of the church. Now the Slovaks led the Lutheran church, and refused to grant (and lobby the CSR authorities) for such autonomy in 1921. Only three German-speaking Seniorate were allowed, and a German minister’s association.
As the German intelligentsia began to have more regular contacts with each other and with German-speaking countries, the desire to work politically for the benefit of the people increased. Several national parties, incl. Czechs, had a German branch in Slovakia. In 1920, the Zipser Deutsche Partei was founded. It existed till 1939. In 1925, on a common list with other local German and Magyar parties, the ZDP was able to get Andor Nitsch elected to the Czech parliament. But this cooperation with Hungarian parties advocating a return to Hungarian rule angered Slovaks. In 1928, the pro-German Karpatendeutsche Partei (KDP) was founded as competitor of the pro-Hungarian ZDP by Roland Steinacker, Siegmund Keil and Karl Manouschek.
In November 1919, the Deutsche Kulturverband was founded in Prague as a support organization for German schools in the new state. As its founder Dr. Rudolf Funke stated, the DKV was to be “Standing strictly on legal ground, respecting the rights of others, but defending one’s own tenacously, we will support the German school, the German language and German culture.” Under Funke and his successor August Gessner, the DKV created scholarships for needy students, helped poor villages pay teachers and for equipment, and so on. It was strictly non-political. By 1937, there were 3370 local branches, of course mainly in Bohemia and Moravia, but over a hundred in Slovakia as well. Since 1927, FranzKarmasin, (1901 Olmuetz/Moravia-1970 Steinach/Bavaria), a Sudeten German engineer who lived in Slovakia, was the secretary of the DKV in Slovakia. He soon became a leading member of the KDP as well. As Ernst Hochberger notes, the KDP argued that because they were so few, Germans had to vote in one party to achieve any influence at all, esp. to get the schools and school expansion approved by a central government that was more and more unfriendly. The KDP was loyal to the CSR as a state and stood on the basis of Christianity, which enabled ministers to be active in the party. The world economic crisis exacerbated social tensions, as Germans and Magyars were often bypassed by relief distributed by Slovak officials.
In the 1930s, the Catholic Church in Slovakia also pushed to end German services wherever possible, prompting Rev. Jakob Bauer to call for the first German Catholic Day in Deutsch-Proben in 1934. Over 15,000 people came, a massive turn-out that convinced the Slovak bishops to slow down their assimilatory program. But worst for the Germans in that decade was the competition between the ZDP and the younger and more aggressive KDP, which often involved dishonorable mud-slinging. In the elections of 1935, Karmasin, now head of the KDP, organized a joint list with the Sudetendeutsche Partei, received more votes, and had Siegmund Keil in the Senate and Karmasin in the House. But the ZDP also got an excellent result, electing Andor Nitsch to the House and Rev. Eduard Varga to the Senate. In several German mining towns, such as Metzenseifen, the German branch of the Communist Party received many German votes.
As the oppression of minorities continued, the KDP began to adopt a more aggressive stance in favor of autonomy. Most Carpathian Germans welcomed that. At the same time, Karmasin and his clique began to centralize more power in their hands, arguing that the quick decisions needed in these times precluded leaving decisions to the general assembly (Parteitag). In 1937, he also had Konrad Henlein, head of the Sudeten German Party, elected KDP chairman, with Karmasin now his deputy for Slovakia. As noted earlier, the SDP was ideologically not a party close to the Third Reich at the time, there was nothing sinister about that merger. Indeed, the argument that the 130,000-odd Carpathian Germans would only have a meaningful voice in conjunction with the 3 million Sudeten Germans made sense. But after the SDP won many more votes than the ZDP in the local elections in Mai 1938, the KDP leaders centralized the party decision-making even more. But in Fall 1938, the KDP, as all other autonomist parties was banned.
Autonomy, October 1938-March 1939
After the last rebuff on September 8, 1938, and following the Munich agreement, Slovak leaders met on October 6 in Sillein/Zilina and simply declared that there was a Slovak State with full autonomy. With Benes” gone, the Czech politicians finally agreed. Bishop Josef Tiso was elected prime-minister of Slovakia. In the next elections, because of the gravity of the situation, all parties in Slovakia, save the Communists, ran as a single ticket of national unity.
Autonomous, and then independent, Slovakia was smaller and less populated than the Slovak province of the CSR. The following data excludes the Karpatho-Ukraine, though the Feldivek Carpathian Germans there worked with their brethren across the province boundary. The new Slovak state had to give in 1938 certain border districts, about 100 square miles, to Poland (regained in 1939, together with the boundary losses of 1919), and 11,000 km2 to Hungary. Slovakia had in 1930 49.021 km2, in 1940 38.055 km2.
In 1930, the population had been 3.3 million, of which 66.8% were Slovaks, 17.2% Magyars, 4.4% Germans, 3.6% Czechs (mostly civil servants and postwar profiteers who left in 1938-39), 2.7% Ruthenes, 0.9% Gypsies, 1.9% Jews by ethnicity. The Census counted 136,737 Jews in Slovakia by religion, but only 65,385 Jews by ethnicity. Most of the others of Jewish faith in Slovakia registered as ethnic Magyars, and 9,945, mainly in Pressburg (that is over half of the 14,882 Pressburg Jews by religion), as ethnic Germans–which they hardly would have done if their Christian German/Magyar neighbors had been rabid anti-semites.
Despite the political problems, most of the population was concerned mainly with surviving. Wages were low and prices for staple goods high, as shown by the data included in the 1980 Heimatbuch on Krickerhau in the Hauerland, which, after Pressburg, was the largest German community in Slovakia, with 7,000 of its 12,000 inhabitants in the 1930s still being German. The city had many coal-miners. In 1915, a Hauer (cutter) received for a 8-hour shift 5.30 Kronen, the Laeufer (who brought the stuff to the surface) 3.51 Kr. For above-ground workers shifts were 12-hours,for 2.88 Kr. With 26 to 27 shifts/month, Hauer were paid 143 Kr. monthly, a Laeufer 94 Kr., an above-ground laborer 53 Kr. Food cost in the store:1 kg potatoes 0.13 Kr., corn-meal 0.30 Kr., wheat flour 0.61 Kr., rolled barley 0.98 Kr., dry beans 0.98 Kr., bacon 2.90 Kr. (2.2 Ibs cost nearly a daily wage for the laborers!), meat 3.65 Kr. At the time, the US-$ was worth 5 Crowns (or Forint, as called in Hungary).
A decade later, the Great Depression struck. The CSR distributed a small amount of weekly relief vouchers, 20 Czechoslovak Crowns (Kcs) for families and 10 Kr. for single adults. The cards were distributed by the mayor, often with political favoritism. In 1938, a Hauer earned per shift 33 Kcs., or 900 Kcs. per month–a rural grade school teacher 720 Kcs before taxes!
Tiso had a snap census taken on December 31, 1938, showing a population of 2,773,000 inhabitants, (2,291,000 Slovaks, 129,000 Germans (this time excluding Jews), 87,000 Jews, 87,000 Magyars, and 79,000 Ruthenes). Another census in 1940 counted 2.65 million people, of which 84.8% were Slovaks,1% Czechs, 5.1% German, 2.6% Magyar, 2.4% Ruthenes, 3.2% Jews. There were 87,617 Jews by ethnicity and 86,629 by religion, after Slovakia had passed its first anti-semitic laws then. In 1940, 135,408 Carpathian Germans were counted, compared to 147,501 in 1930, reflecting the loss of Jewish Germans, and of several thousand in the territories returned to Hungary, and in Engerau and Theben, returned to Austria/Germany. Further fluctuations were caused by seasonal workers in Germany, who were not countedin the censuses. Around 35,000 Germans lived in and around Pressburg, 50,000 each in the Hauerland and the Zips.
Karmasin, who sincerely wanted to help the Carpathian German people, but also was influenced by the regime ruling in Germany, used his prestige as erstwhile leader of the KDP during a brief window in time to wrestle from Tiso a widespread autonomy for Carpathian Germans. Karmasin had not been mandated by anyone. But it was mainly through his quick work that the Slovak government granted on October 8–2 days after the meeting in Sillein–full cultural autonomy to the Germans, and also urged, on behalf of Karmasin, the leaders of the defunct (banned) German parties to merge into a party that would represent all Carpathian Germans. In November, the leaders of the KDP, the ZDP and the German wings of other parties did so as the Deutsche Partei. Tiso also created a Department of German Affairs, represented by a State Secretary in the cabinet, that would deal with the social and cultural needs of the Carpathian Germans. In the DP, Karmasin became the leader no one knows exactly how, simply by organizing everything and being accepted as leader by the Slovak and German governments. Then Tiso appointed Karmasin as State Secretary for German Affairs. (Hungarians got one, too). Later, after the facts, Karmasin organized a rubber-stamp election that confirmed his position. He was the only candidate, and the FS (Freiwillige Schutzstaffel) thugs in the room made sure no one piped an opposing sound.
Spurred by the Slovak government, which expected the DP to help with relations with the Third Reich, (hardly possible had the DP been on record as opposing Nazism), and local Nazis, who also existed, albeit in small numbers, the DP adopted many trappings of the Third Reich, from the Fuehrer (leadership, or top-down)-Prinzip of decision-making to the Swastika, besides the Slovak symbols. The Carpathian German population was not asked its opinion to all this: None of these measures were ever put to a free vote. Shrewdly, Tiso also played upon the divisions of the Carpathian Germans. When he finally agreed to give Carpathian Germans full control of their own schools in February 1939 he did not put education under Karmasin’s Department of German Affairs. Rather, he created an autonomous German school office within the Slovak Department of Education. He then appointed as office director Paul Wodilla, a Kesmark teacher, was more close to the national-conservative ZDP than to the more radical KDP, who often disregarded Karmasin’s wishes.
In March 1939, after recurring ethnic troubles in the CSR, Tiso and other Slovak politicians contacted several officials in Austria to see what Hitler’s attitude might be should Slovakia opt for independence. Suddenly, Hitler invited Tiso to Berlin on March 7. The Czech government at once deposed Tiso, declared martial law, arrested over 200 Slovak leaders, and brought in Czech troops from the West. There were bloody riots between Czechs and Slovaks. For Hitler, the situation was perfect to advance his goals while seeming a reasonable statesman concerned with regional peace in his bailiwick. He ordered his troops to Prague after successfully pressuring president Emil Hacha to request his protection to maintain order. On March 14, 1939, the Slovak provincial parliament unanimously voted for independence, and Tiso was elected president. Slovakia was recognized by 27 countries, Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Vatican, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Lithuania, Ecuador, Costa Rica, China and Siam, to list a few. It were not only the allies and satellites of the Third Reich who recognized the right of
the Slovak people to be independent–despite less than ideal circumstances. But then, how many small countries had them?
The First Slovak Republic satisfied many of its citizens, even though, like many other European countries at the time, it was an authoritarian state with many similarities to Franco’s Spain. It had freed Slovaks from Czech rule, yet prevented their reannexation by Hungary. The alliance with the Third Reich, the price for independence, seemed in the first years not a great burden to most people. Hitler was not interested in Slovakia, left it much diplomatic leeway, and did not have many troops there until after the begining of the putsch of Summer 1944. The economy boomed. Until 1945 people did not experience the food shortages suffered in much of Europe. In addition, Hitler fought the Soviet Union. And while knowledge of Nazi atrocities spread slowly–the Holocaust had begun, in secret, only in Winter 1941/42–the prewar Stalinist massacres (8 million dead men, women, children by 1936, according to Robert Conquest, killed because they belonged to the
wrong ethnicity, like Ukrainians, or social class), were well-known and scared people who, whether of Slovak, Magyar or German ethnicity, were in general of a rural and conservative Christian mindset. Worried about Communism, in 1940, close to 100,000 Slovaks had voluntarily
joined the Hlinka Guards, the uniformed militant wing of the Hlinka Party.
The position of the Carpathian Germans improved in several ways. In many formerly German Lutheran parishes, Slovaks were now the majority and pushed their language in school and church. The Hungarian and Czech regimes had not allowed them to separate, but the newregime allowed in 1939 the creation of the German Lutheran Synod of Slovakia, though the formal recognition of the charter was done only in June 1942. Its only bishop,Johann Scherer, 1889-1966, and his young secretary Rev. Desider Alexy, 1905-1963, who was also active in organizing cooperatives for German peasants, a leader of the Kulturverband, and the publisher/chief editor of a host of church publications, worked to restore cultural pride in their flock. The July 1939 Constitution gave Germans three seats in Parliament, (Franz Karmasin; Rev. Steinhuebl; Siegmund Keil), a state secretary (Franz Karmasin), and like under the autonomy statute, full autonomy in cultural and civil matters, and two battalions in the Slovak army. Magyars received similar rights.
However, for Germans the enjoyment of this autonomy was hindered by two problems. One was that the Slovak state gave Karmasin’s DP a lot of administrative power over the daily lives of ordinary Carpathian Germans, especially those who were not peasants. This reflected the corporative structure of the new state (The Magyar Party also was made the sole legal representative of the Magyar minority). But the government in Berlin excerted an increasingly tightening grip (though this was not made public) on the DP. Karmasin was especially vulnerable to such pressure as he was distrusted by the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst (SD), that is the secret service, because he and several of his closest aides, the Hauptleiter der Deutschen Partei (such as the chief of press work and propaganda Dr. Karl Hauskrecht), had been either members of (Karmasin), or close to (Hauskrecht), the Kameradschaftsbund, a Austrian-German patriotic league opposed to the Nazis, especially rejecting the Fuehrerprinzip (leadership principle) and social darwinism.Many Carpathian Germans found the increasing nazification of the DP distasteful. Many DP members rejected the racist parts of the Nazi program, for they had worked well with urban Jews, sharing the same clubs, struggles against the Czechs for
the survival of German theaters and schools, etc. Before 1939, most non-religious associations had Jewish members, and the Nazis had to work with threats and tricks to get these clubs to pass anti-semitic by-laws (like the “Jim Crow” Laws in the Southern United States at the time)–as in the large and prestigious hiking club Karpatenverein (which was also an economic force and ran a number of mountain refuges).
In November 1939 the Krickerhau section of the DP, led by mayor (and DP local leader) Paul Herzog and Rev. Josef Steinhuebl, the official DP Landschaftsleiter for the Hauerland and one of three Carpathian German DP deputies in the Slovak parliament, put the question about inner-party democracy into the open. In December, Herzog even threatened with a division of the DP if Karmasin’s autocracy was continued. As Robert Melzer, who lived through it, wrote in the Heimatblatt (March/April 2002, p. 11-13), the Slovak and German leaders in Pressburg were shocked by such antique provincialism. On December 21, to intimidate the locals, Karmasin, after confirming his position with the German embassy and the Slovak government, sent Donath, the commander of the FS, (Freiwillige Schutzstaffel, the party militia), to muster the 250 FS members in Krickerhau and ensure their loyalty to Karmasin. But only 35 came to be mustered, and Herzog also visited the muster. Donath tried to have Herzog ejected, was hindered by threats by local FS members among the 35, drew his pistol, and, after his threats did not work, left in a huff to report in Pressburg. After hearing the report Karmasin on December 22 dissolved the local DP and all its local offices–which included the four Kindergartens (not under the Education Department but under the Dept. of German Affairs), the school lunches (vital in that impoverished
mining community) and all other payments from the State Department of German Affairs due to locals. The locals protested at first, but, with the Slovak government grinning and standing by without helping, in the end had to yield–by law the DP leaders simply controlled too many facets of Carpathian German life. Also, as even Herzog admitted, there was no one else but Karmasin who was at that moment able to fill the position as leader. Herzog merely wanted Karmasin to be responsive to the people he governed. In January, Krickerhau surrendered. Herzog lost his job. Karmasin left Steinhuebl in office, since the Reverend had powerful backing in the Catholic Church. The whole affair scandalized many Carpathian Germans. Though few left the DP (economic consequences were too severe), many pre-1939 activists in Carpathian German affairs lost enthusiasm and became passive opponents.
Carpathian German criticism of the DP leaders increased when after Fall 1942 Slovakia, after intense lobbying by Karmasin, allowed the Waffen-SS to recruit Carpathian Germans. The DP leadership then pressured young men to sign up. In July 1944, matters became worse when Slovakia, with the support of the DP leadership, forcibly transferred all German conscipts, including those already serving in the Slovak army, to the Waffen-SS.
Because of the reality of life in a semi-police state, opposition was rarely voiced publicly. Yet as Slovakia remained independent, the Nazis were never able to totally control Carpathian Germans or even the DP. And so, suspected of being soft on doctrine, the DP was closely watched by the Gestapo. The Grenzbote, its organ, though published by Karmasin himself, was banned from sale in Germany throughout the war. Only selected agencies and individuals could get the paper. Carpathian Germans could not fathom what the Nazi elite had in mind, and Karmasin tried to avoid telling them who was in real control. Even Karmasin must have been torn, at times. As an anguished Karmasin wrote to Himmler on July 29, 1942 (in a letter cited during the Eichmann trial), Carpathian Germans were horrified when, in a night and fog action, about 700 mentally disabled Carpathian Germans were kidnapped and brought to Germany for “treatment.” Their fellow villagers, who were deeply Christian, suspected that their loved ones were murdered in the euthanasia program, what was he to tell them? In 1942, bishop Josef Scherer,
though of a calm character who frowned on political controversy, in a stunning sermon, dared to condemn Nazi claims to total obedience by reminding his flock that: “Our Lord is Jesus Christ alone. Only through Him can salvation be gained;” not through any human
leader, be he Hitler, Stalin or FDR.
Another threat was that, influenced by the spirit of the times, many Slovaks began to dream of an ethnically homogenous state. Germans were now the largest remaining ethnic minority, and replaced Magyars as the main irritant to Slovak nationalists. During the 1940 Census, the Slovaks, eager to show that they were now a majority in their capital, pressured the local Germans in Pressburg, still a fifth of the population, to register as Slovaks, and were angered when the latter resisted.The government opened schools in German areas and forced children from mixed marriages to attend. It allowed members of any ethnic group to register as Slovaks, but not the reverse. Government employees had to speak Slovak in public and private, and were pressured to change their surnames.Though officially aimed at “magyarone” Slovaks (Who had adopted Hungarian before 1918), in practice this targeted Germans and Magyars as well. The final aim, assimilation, was obvious. And though Slovakia was an ally of the Third Reich, they received little help from its ambassador. Still, the Republic is remembered by its Magyar and German citizens as having been much fairer to its minorities than earlier and later regimes. And this was indeed true–save, unfortunatly, for one of them.
5.1. The Holocaust in the Slovak State:
A shadow over the Republic was the Holocaust. Prodded by Hitler, but also by the desire to create a Slovak middle-class (the middle class was mainly Jewish or Magyar of recent vintage), the Slovak parliament passed the first anti-semitic laws on April 18, 1939, instituting quotas in the liberal professions, followed in June 1940 by the forcible sale of Jewish-owned property to Slovak Arizators. In 1941, another 51 anti-Jewish laws were passed, with scant opposition, though on September 9, during the vote on the Jewish Code, there was a scandal after, out of protest, Rev. Josef Steinhuebl, one of the Carpathian German deputies, refused to vote, while Count Janos Eszterhazy, the Magyar deputy, even voted against, thus marring the cheerful unanimity which the Slovak state, like other authoritarian states, expected from its legislators. Between October 1941 and March 1942, the majority of the Jews living in the cities were deported to the countryside–also removing them from their friends and acquaintances who could have helped them. In Pressburg, only about 6,000 ot the 15,000 Jews, who had beenmostly ethnic Germans or Magyars, remained by Spring 1942. Then, from their rural dwellings, many of these Jews were rounded up by
Slovak police for deportation to the East. At the time, the Slovak authorities, the population, and the Jewish victims themselves, had no reason to doubt the Nazi propaganda that they were to be resettled farther East since the Nazis, as late as 1941, had publicly declared that they wanted to create a Jewish autonomous area near Lublin in occupied Poland. This is also why the Slovak parliament, moved by feelings of guilt, alloted 500 Reichsmark per Jewish deporteee, to be paid to the Nazis to be used for seeds, agricultural implements and training to help their former Jewish countrymen. But around December 1941, Hitler had changed his mind and secretly decided to exterminate European Jewry. In summer 1942, Pope Pius XII warned Tiso that rumours that Jews were being killed instead of resettled were true.Tiso stopped at once the deportations. About 58,000 Jews had been deported, but 33,000 remained. To avoid antagonizing a small but strategically placed
ally, Hitler tolerated Tiso’s orders for the time being. The deportations resumed only in Fall 1944, when, in the wake of the failed putsch in central Slovakia, Hitler sent in troops, which included in their wake Gestapo and SD units. By the end of the war, about 90,000 Slovak Jews had died in the Holocaust.
This included most of the 10,000 Jews who had become Germans, and borne witness to this in the 1930 Census, when to do so brought only hassles and discrimination from the Czech government. Their Christian fellow Carpathian Germans, themselves a small and powerless minority closely watched by the Slovak state and the Third Reich, were unable to save most of them. But where possible, men of courage did so. For example, in Pressburg, Stefan Kammerhofer had not only courage, but, even more importantly, a place where to hide people. In the large medieval basement under his pharmacy, he hid 32 Jews till war’s end. Paul Kerner and his family hid the Lichtenstein family. In Altwalddorf/Zips, the families of Johann Breuer and Jakob Scholtz hid Jews in their barns. As Paul Brosz noted in his work about the end of the Carpathian German people, the community was small, and many hiding places known to others, yet even DP leaders did not betray them. And after the 1944 uprising, DP leaders such as Leo Kowal, Kreisleiter of Pressburg, Chrobok, Kreisleiter of Goellnitz, and Dr. Scholz, the Kreisleiter for Unterzips, were thrown into KZ’s for strongly protesting against the wanton executions and deportations by Gestapo and SS of Jewish civilians who were innocent of any crimes during the uprising.
5.2. The Slovak National Uprising and the End of the War:
From August to October 1944, central Slovakia was the scene of an uprising, the desperate attempt of a group of army and government leaders, supported by Russian partisans, to replace the Slovak government and switch sides before the impending defeat of the Third Reich. The uprising failed for several reasons, including because many Slovaks were upset that the Allies made it clear that after victory, there would be no independent Slovakia, but that they would be forced back under Benes”‘s rule. They also were horrified by the crimes of the “anti-fascists,” who murdered over 2,000 ethnic Germans in the Hauerland. The German inhabitants did not fight the occupation of their villages, in order not to provoke a bloodbath of unarmed Germans by the dreaded partisans. In several villages, the German communists that were made mayors by the partisans protected civilians as much as they could, though some also used the situation to settle private
disputes. In many villages, all men and teens fled to the forests, hoping that at least the rebel Slovak army had kept enough decency not to murder women and children. The rebel army indeed did–but not the partisans. They were often murdered.
Many Germans were slain in small groups, such as the murder on August 24 of 4 Carpathian German peasants in Turany, and on August 27 in Sklabina 4 men from Krickerhau, an innkeep and his helpers who had gone to get beer, or in Krickerhau, where the prewar German mayor, the engineer Herzog, was tortured to death. Large massacres occured on August 27 in Rosenberg (Ruzomberok) were 143 Carpathian German men and teens were murdered, and in Deutsch-Proben, 36 men were killed in early September. In the waning days of the uprising, the rebels out of spite went on a rampage. By September 19, the rebels lost Deutsch-Proben and Gaidel. They now collected many Germans. The center was the castle of Slovenska Lupca, where over 500 Germans, and several dozen Slovaks, were kept prisoner under harshest conditions. As the Jewish partisan J.V. S^pitzer recalled after the war, “if one felt like it, one simply went in, picked a few Germans, and killed them for fun.” Another death camp was in Sklabina. In Glaserhau, on 21 Sept., the entire male German population, 187 peaceful peasants, was called up to dig anti-tank trenches. But once at the spot, they were forced to dig a mass grave and then killed. On September 23, 500 German men and three girls from Hochwies and Paulisch were pressed into cattle cars and left to die at the
railroad station in Kremnitz without ventilation, water, food or sanitation. By September 27, 87 of them were dead when a rebel Slovak officer had
them released. Mass-killings of Carpathian Germans also happened in Deutschlipsch, Biely Potok (incl. women), and Magurka.The rebels also killed a number of Magyars and Ruthenes, nearly 2,000 Slovak priests and officials, and 150 soldiers who refused to join them. Yet Slovaks had to be somehow tied to the regime to be at risk, while Germans were killed solely because of their ethnicity. Because Hitler now distrusted the loyalty of remaining Slovak troops, the rebellion was put down by Wehrmacht and German and foreign SS units, including the feared Ukrainian SS Division Galicia, assisted by the 3,500 Slovaks of the POHG, the Elite unit of the Hlinka-Guard, while the Red Army was beaten back at the Dukla-Pass. At the same time, in reaction to the uprising, an armed Heimatschutz (Home Protection Unit) was created in the German villages not yet occupied by the rebels. In the rear, about 3,000 Jews and rebel Slovaks were killed by SD units (Sicherheitsdienst, or investigative police) service) and by friends and relatives of the 2,000 Slovaks murdered by the rebels. Strategically, the bungled uprising made no sense at all. But it led to the deaths of most surviving Jews in Slovakia, and increased the atmosphere of murderous
A temporary evacuation of Carpathian German civilians seemed advisable, but Hitler’s “no surrender” policy generally forbade any evacuation in the East until it was much too late. But in Fall 1944, Karmasin began to evacuate many children to schools in Austria, and secretly made plans for a general evacuation until the end of the war. When the Embassy heard of this, Karmasin was cited to Berlin to explain his “defeatism.” He went, expecting the worst, but was able to convince of the need for a temporary tactical retreat. From December to March, Zipser, Hauerlaender and Pressburger were evacuated in long trecks, slogging through the snow, their children and sparse belongings in makeshift carts. Still, many remained, trapped in the highlands. The Zips was occupied by the Red Army
in late January-early February. Menhard, for instance, fell on January 27. On March 2, the Red Army took Liptau St Nikolaus (today Liptovsky Mikulas) for a few days, then was driven back. The murders and rapes committed during the short Soviet occupation stiffened the resistance by German troops and Slovak anti-Communists–Tiso’s army still had 30,000 soldiers then, plus the Hlinka Guard. After more hard fighting, Pressburg fell on April 4, 1945, Sillein (Zilina) on April 30. Vienna, the next large city, was besieged on April 4 and surrendered on April 13.
After the war broke out in September 1939, Edward Benes” , after some misgivings, had been allowed by Churchill to create a “Czechoslovak” government-in-exile–even though Great Britain had recognized Slovak independence and Benes” had no more of a mandate than a retired mailman. Emil Hacha was the internationally recognized president. In 1940, Benes asked for permission to eliminate the German and Magyar population in a reconstituted CSR with the borders of 1937. The British refused, because the Munich Agreement had been legal and morally justified, and in part because there was no Czech resistance to speak off. Why should they be rewarded? And so in May 1942, Benesch sent a hit commando with orders to kill Heydrich, the Nazi vice-governor, and provoke a bloodbath if possible. They succeeded. The population of Lidice, who had not asked to be sacrificed by Benesch, was massacred by the SS in relatiation. Then, Czech resistance activities again waned till the first days of May 1945. But Benesch had achieved his goals. Making the most of Lidice, he gained Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s approval for his genocide, and after having done so, broke off relations with the Sudeten German resistance around Wenzel Jaksch and Friedrich Stampfer (1874-1957).
The latter, a Sudeten German Jew who was chief editor of the Berlin Vorwaerts in the 1920s till 1933, whose family originated from Stampfen, today Stupava, near Pressburg, fearlessly and publicly denounced the racist collective guilt theory. But it was to no avail.
Racism won out in the minds of the Allied statesmen.
By April 4, 1945, the Red Army had conquered most of Slovakia and put it under the authority of Benes” ‘s government. In a reign of terror, 28,000 Slovaks were accused of high treason, and 11,800 sentenced to jail or execution to discredit and destroy the desire for Slovak independence. Tiso was hung in public. Worse was the fate of the non-Slavic minorities. Benes”‘s April 5, 1945 Program declared that the CSR would be a purely Slavic state since the “guests” (living there since the 12th century!) had misbehaved. Their demands for equal rights, then autonomy, were considered to be in themselves proof of collusion with Hitler, for had the CSR not been a perfect democracy? On the basis of this distorted reasoning (which would make fair game of any ethnic minority demanding equal rights), mobs
began killing and deporting the native German and Magyar population, with medieval brutality. All Germans had to wear white armbands, making them easy targets. In Prague, for instance, in May, several dozen old men were tied to lampposts on the Charles Bridge, doused with gasoline, and burned alive under the jeers of Czech nationalist mobs. According to an investigation by the German government in the 1950s, the accounting of the victims, and studies by historians such as Fritz-Peter Habel and Alfred de Zayas, about 250,000-350,000 Sudeten Germans were murdered. Even outstanding resisters were murdered, such
as the Victorin family, the parents of artist Herta Ondrus”ova-Victorin, Prague Germans who had dared the Gestapo to save the lives of 40 Czech workers wrongly accused of sabotage. Their courageous deed was known, but it did not save them. Surviving non-orthodox Jews, who often had considered themselves of German or Magyar ethnicity before the war, were told to assimilate or leave the country. In 1946, another Benes” decree made the killings not even crimes needing amnesty, but lawful patriotic deeds. These decrees remain valid laws in the Czech Republic to the present day.
In Slovakia, this “final solution” to the “German problem” found little support. Slovaks generally drew the line at trying to assimilate their neighbors, as they had tried during the war, and murdering them. The Slovak communist party, whose prewar support among the Catholic Slovak peasantry had been very limited, had many German and Magyar members. Benes” had ordered the Czech resistance not to work with Sudeten German anti-Nazis, for he needed the picture of their collective support for Hitler to gain Allied support for his murderous plans. But his writ did not extend to wartime Slovakia. Over 250 Carpathian Germans fought with the partisans. Several dozen, including their leader Ferdinand Zimbaur, died in the KZ of Mauthausen. Remembering this, even Slovak communists asked Benes to differentiate between the innocent and the guilty, but to no avail. At least they were able to stop the deportation of Magyars in 1948, so that a substantial number remained in Slovakia.
That any German joined the partisans at all was a wonder, for resistance in Eastern Europe was, thanks to decisions taken by FDR in 1943, morally far more ambigous than is commonly realized in the United States. Besides the need for courage to face the police of a totalitarian state, which makes the number of resisters small, whether in the Soviet Union, Third Reich or Red China, Germans had to consider that the Allies, despite their claims to represent decency and humanity, had embraced the mass-murderer “Uncle Joe,” and given him Eastern Europe. Now this would be bad for all people living in the East. But, in addition, the Western Allies tarred an entire ethnic group with collective guilt for an ideology most of them had not chosen. Any would-be German partisan had to mull over that he may, in the end, only be helping the murderers of his own women and children. As the events of 1945/46 showed, such fears were not at all far-fetched.
According to Paul Brosz, by April, there still were 21,000 Carpathian Germans in Slovakia. After fighting ceased, perhaps 40,000 returned to their homeland. They were innocent of any crimes, and saw no reason for anxiety. Stripped of all civil rights, they were interned and and many died, usually of willfull neglect from starvation and disease, in camps such as Novaky near Priewitz/Prividza, or massacres such as in Prerau/Moravia on June 18, 1945, when Czech soldiers under captain Karol Ctibor Pazura pulled 269 mainly Zipser women, children and old men from a train, (young men were POWs or labor camp inmates), had them dig their graves, strip,and killed.The youngest victim was seven months old. Others were carried off as slave laborers to the Soviet Union and died there. In 1949 the Hilfskomitee fuer die ev.-luth. Karpatendeutschen calculated that about 13,000 Germans had been killed between Summer 1944 and Dezember 1946. Paul Brosz, in Das letzte Jahrhundert, p. 66, notes that probably 23,000 Carpathian Germans were killed during and after the war, that is 13,000 being civilians murdered betweenSummer 1944 and the closing of the camps in 1947, plus 9,000 soldiers at the front and about 1,000 civilians deported to Sibiria. This means of blood toll of 16%, or every sixth Carpathian German. In some German statistical works the number of 32,000 is noted, and this is correct insofar 32,000 Carpathian Germans died in the war and its aftermath–but 9,000 of these were Carpathian German Jews. These Carpathian
Germans died not becausethey were Germans, but because they were Jews. By the end of 1946, the majority of interned Carpathian Germans were deported to Germany and Austria. Between 6,000 to 10,000 remained in Slovakia, usually women married to Slovak men, and the village of Hopgarten, (today Chmelnica),protected by its remotedness and a lot of luck.
Saddeningly, the Western Allies agreed to the elimination at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences in 1945. How could this have happened after the “Good War,” supposedly fought for the rights of humans not to be killed or hurt because of their ethnicity? Hitler, looking at the large number of Jews in Communist movements, had concocted a Jewish collective guilt for Communist crimes, ludicrously including anti-Communists and the unpolitical majority. This is why he killed them after Fall 1941. But the Allied governments concocted an equally immoral guilt-by-ethnic-association for the crimes of the Nazi dictatorship, again not caring whether a particular individual had actually resisted the Nazis, or belonged to the majority of ordinary people who, in any dictatorship, are powerless and unpolitical, and merely try to survive.. The result of this policy was the genocide of the East Germans. About 15 million lost the homelands in which Germans had often lived for close to a thousand years, while about 2.5 to 3 million were butchered on the roads, killed in camps, or starved to death. Few had been involved in Nazi crimes (those guys already had fled). In the 1940s, people such as the Anglo-Jewish publisher, politician and humanitarian Victor Gollancz and the Alsatian humanitarian Albert Schweitzer reminded Allied audiences that they had sullied their victory by allowing this massacre of innocents.
There was the 1946 denunciation A Tragedy of A People protesting the Benes decrees signed among else by (of all people) George Creel, whose World War I propaganda made Germans into subhumans for many Americans and in a way made this tragedy possible (and who atoned somewhat by protesting now), John Dewey, Varian Fry (who saved many Jews emdangered for being Jews, but was not blinded by thisto the horrors of Germans murdered for being born Germans, or others), Oscar Garrison Villard, Norman Thomas, etc., and in a speech before Congress on 20 Jan. 1948 by Harold F. Youngblood (R-MI, 1947-49), who also noted organized attempts to keep this tragedy from being brought before the American people. Then this tragedy was entombed in media silence, as if it had never happened. Few people in the United States are aware of it. A general overview is given by Alfred de Zayas, a senior lawyer for the UN Center on Human Rights in Geneva, and by Prof. Kalman Janics Czechoslovak Policy.
A moving litterary treatment has been written, in English, by the young writer Astrid Julian, called Irene’s Song. Her short story is about the Danube Suebians. But what Carpathian Germans, and so many others, went through, was similar.
By 1946, most Carpathian Germans lived in DP camps in Austria, such as in Gallneukirchen. Initially, they had hoped to stay in Austria, to whose ethnically German population they were culturally close, especially the Pressburger. But in order to be spared a harsh occupation, the postwar Austrian government tried hard to convince the Allies that Austrians were not Germans, and did so partly through conspicuous cold-heartedness towards their fellow ethnics, which whom they had even shared citizenship until 1919. Some Carpathian German leaders, such as Rev. Alexy, had prewar contacts with Stuttgart, and decided to move most of their people to that area, though a large group remained in Austria, notably Vienna, Upper Austria, Steiermark and Salzburg. Individual families moved to Sweden, France, South Africa, Australia. Several hundred moved in the 1950s to the United States and Canada.
There also were survivors among the Jewish Carpathian Germans, those who had declared their German ethnicitity in the 1930 Census. But the awful events had broken the bonds between Jewish Carpathian Germans as a group and their Christian brethren. After the war no organized cooperation with Jewish Carpathian Germans in Israel and other countries resumed. However, private individual contacts continued and can be glimpsed through passing references in the Carpathian German publications. As noted in the Karpaten-Jahrbuch 1973, Wilhelm Loewyborn 1912 in Leutschau, in the 1930s director of the Neue Pressburger Zeitung, and later in Israel chief editor of the German-language Jedioth Chadashoth, remained in touch with his fellow Zipser through his school friend, Carpathian German historian Dr. Michael Schwartz. So did Leo Kestenberg, born in 1882 in Rosenberg, who was a professor and civil servant in Berlin till 1933, and died in 1962 in Tel Aviv. After Israel Nachrichten, the lone surviving German newspaper in Israel, whose chief editor Alice Schwarz-Gardos grew up in Pressburg in a German-speaking, thoroughly integrated family, published in 1983 an article on the KDL, several Jewish Carpathian Germans in Israel wrote to reestablish connections with old friends.For instance in Karpatenland 4/1983, p. 102, two letters from Tel Aviv were published, by Aranka Cohen (formerly Aranka Glasner from Nehre/Strazky), and S. Gordon (formerly Gottersmann) from Schmoellnitz. Both described themselves straightforwardly as “Zipser Deutsche.”
7.1. Carpathian German Organizations in Germany:
The Western Allies who occupied West Germany did not allow, initially, any association gathering the victims of the expulsions. But in August 1946, in Bad Cannstatt near Stuttgart, Carpathian German Lutheran ministers, led by Rev. Desider Alexy, who had moved to Stuttgart, founded the Hilfskomitee der evangelischen-lutherischen Slowakeideutschen (nicknamed HiKo), and in October 1948 in Munich, Catholic priests led by Rev. Jakob Bauer founded the Hilfsbund karpatendeutscher Katholiken (HiBu, HB). The two formed the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Karpatendeutschen,” or work-group of the Carpathian Germans. In 1949, the AG was joined by a non-sectarian group, the Karpatendeutsche Landsmannschaft, (KDL) which became the main representation of Carpathian Germans worldwide. No Carpathian German associations or activities were allowed in the GDR. All these organizations worked in what
was until 1989 West Germany.
The speakers of the KDL (we do not have presidents), were Anton Birkner, (1898 Philippsdorf/Bohemia-1976 Stuttgart),
succeeded by Isidor Lasslob and then the current speaker Oskar Marczy. At first, the main need was to lobby for
relief for Carpathian Germans expelled to Germany and Austria, a task that continued into the 1960s, when the last Carpathian Germans slave laborers were released from Sibiria. There also was a constant trickle of individuals who either fled Slovakia, or were allowed to join their families in the West. The KDL, the HiKO and th HiBU, besides giving emotional support, also translated documents, took affidavits for pensions etc, helped fill out such forms, provided ad-hoc legal assistance, etc. Their own suffering did not close their hearts to the suffering of others. After the people of Hungary revolted against their Communist overlords
on October 23, 1956, the KDL, HiKo and HiBu swiftly organized the Karpatendeutsche Ungarnhilfe for the relief of their erstwhile countrymen. But such activities are not so urgent anymore. Today, the main task is to keep the memories alive.
The first years were especially harsh for Carpathian Germans. They had lost everything, had traumatic memories, and yet their German-ness was often disputed by the locals. Dialects and customs differed very much, much more so than today. In 1949, it was by no means clear that the West German state would pass the law on sharing the war’s burdens, the Lastenausgleich, in which a special tax on West Germany property paid for seed money for the Germans from the East. It seemed as if the refugees would become a permanent miserable under-class. When the first Karpatenjahrbuch was published in 1950, Desider Alexy, as chair of the HiKo, wrote about the work of these three relief associations. At the time, few believed that the exile would be permanent, but there was the heartfelt need to protect the memory of their regional culture, especially against denigration by West Germans. On July 30, 1949, in Ludwigsburg, the first Carpathian German convention was held and was favorably commented by the general public. It also galvanized many Carpathian Germans into joining and supporting
such activities, which gave confidence and self-respect, and allowed to talk with fellow sufferers. In 1952, the 800th anniversary of Carpathian German settlement was celebrated in Vienna. These activities made Carpathian Germans visible. For such a small and poor group, their cultural activities have been remarkable.
A building cooperative created on the initiative of Rev. Alexy and architect Emil Czipf, to build for Carpathian Germans housing and old people’s homes in places around Stuttgart, such as 82 units in Gross-Bettlingen and 260 units in Kircheim/Teck-Oetlingen. The cooperative withdrew from the Arbeitsgemeinschaft in the 1970s and dissolved, its mission fulfilled.
Verein Karpatendeutscher Schriftsteller:
Founded for our postwar writers, with about 20-30 members, including Alfred Marnau, the exiled writer who lived in London, and which published the quarterly Karpatenland: Zeitschrift fuer karpatendeutsche Literatur, Kultur und Volkskunde from 1968 to the late 1980s. The association is dying.
There is a museum and archives, the Karpatendeutsches Kulturwerk in Karlsruhe, founded on the initiative of Julius Robert Luchs and Erich Sirchich in 1969 (born 1901 Kaesmark, died 1988 Korbach/Germany). It had a forerunner in the Karpatendeutsche Heimatstube, founded in 1953 by Julius Robert Luchs in the small city museum in Korbach/Hessen. After a few years in five rooms in the Kaiserstrasse 223 (with 86 square meters of surface), the museum moved to the palace in Karlsruhe-Durlach. The city of Karlsruhe accepted to become the sponsor of the exiled Carpathian Germans in 1968, and helps mainly through the museum. The museum has thousands of books and manuscripts about Carpathian German life, pictures etc. Their catalogue is not yet online (2002). As the current organizations are run by aging volunteers, with no younger Carpathian German successors in sight, the only institution with a chance for lasting survival is the Kulturwerk. Yet, considering the weird attitude many younger Germans have to their people, to depend to such an extent on the goodwill of a city that is not populated mainly by descendants of Germans from the East can be dangerous. There are instances in which reeducated city councils have withdrawn support. It is
unfortunate that no funds were collected and a house acquired when conditions were the best for such a project, in the 1960s and 1970s. In the past two years, several younger non-Carpathian German historians have been invited on its board, generally people connected with the linguistic research into medieval Carpathian German of Prof. Ilpo Tapani Piirainen. These historians also write more for the Karpatenjahrbuch. But, reflecting the German-baiting climate in modern German academia, these are noticably more negative about Carpathian German history.
Verein zur Erforschung der Interkulturellen Beziehungen in der Slowakei:
This Society for Research on intercultural Relations in Slovakia was founded on the initiative of Oskar Marczy in 1999 to get Slovak and other historians interested in the history of our little people, and its peaceful coexistence with the other ethnic groups in the area. As a sacrifice to the ambient Zeitgeist, the word “German” is not even used.
Publications in occupied Germany needed a license, and the Allies would not license publications for expellees. Rev. Alexy worked around that restriction by convincing the Lutheran Church in Wuerttemberg to let him use the parish leaflet for Urach on a regular basis for news after January 1947. In January 1949, the Evangelischer Glaubensbote became an independent publication. In March 1949, the Karpatenbote was published by the Hilfsbund. But a non-sectarian publication was needed as well. In 1949, the Karpaten Rundschau: Nachrichte und Berichte aus der Slowakei was published in Frankfurt with US permission (I don’t know much about that effort, but have a copy). In 1950, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Karpatendeutschen began to issue the monthly Karpatenpost. Until the 1970s, there were two versions, one for Catholics with the HiBu 2 page insert, one for Lutherans, with the HiKo insert. Now, each
Karpatenpost has news from both religious relief societies. The AG also publishes the annual yearbook Karpatenjahrbuch,with serious, professionally researched and doumented articles on local history and folklore.
Carpathian German Organizations in Austria and Sweden:
Those able to remain in Austria formed their own Landsmannschaft in 1950, indeed two of them. In the Russian Occupation Zone, it was the Hilfsverein der Oesterreicher aus Pressburg und Umgebung, since 1955 Karpatendeutsche Landsmannschaft in Oesterreich, and in the American Occupation Zone, in Linz, the Karpatendeutsche Landsmannschaft in Oberoesterreich. The two are still legally separate. The KdL in Vienna publishes since 1950 the Heimatblatt der Karpatendeutschen, now six times a year. They have a little museum in Hainburg, near the border with Slovakia. A memorial stone in Hainburg/Austria, tells of our people’s tragic fate. There were several hundred Carpathian Germans in Sweden and on Easter 1949, as the Karpaten Rundschau reported, they created even a Bund der Slowakeideutschen that was intended to represent Carpathian Germans worldwide–for it was not clear yet whether such an organization would be allowed in Germany.
7.2. Defending One’s Honor:
During these decades, the KDL increasingly had to battle those who denigrated their tragedy. Czech and Slovak collaborators were judged as individuals. Their existence, and the apathy of most Czechs an Slovaks during Nazi rule, (and subsequently under Stalin’s murderous rule, by the way), were not taken as proof of collective guilt of the Czechs and Slovaks, but were used so against Germans. And so CSR emigres fleeing the now Communist puppet-state continued to make hate propaganda against their German countrymen, using the wartime stereotypes so popular among many Americans.
Indeed, the skillfull propaganda by a handful of Czech super-nationalists and their American supporters to denigrate the existence of the native Germans of the former Czechoslovakia even extends to early American history. Augustin Hermann, born in Prag in 1621 as son of Ephraim Hermann, merchant on the Kohlmarkt, and Beatrice Redal, Prague Germans as it were, and a early German immigrant to North America, is since the late 1990s routinely described as Czech immigrant by the small handful of Czech-American opinion-makers in such matters (for who,among the general public, would know about the man). This included till December 2004 the Library of Congress at
LC Hermannr though established scholarship such as Otto Lohr, (1912), Hermann Schuricht (1898) and John O. Evjen (1916) established that he was a German Bohemian. Not that it mattered much in Augustin Hermann’s lifetime–then one was a Bohemian, whether of the Czech or German variety, but today it matters and shows how gullible Americans can be manipulated by “politically correct” ethnic nationalists against poor people who happen to be “politically incorrect.” The latter not only have to suffer their losses but are also read out of historical memory. Once the official opinion is set, corrections are difficult. However, the Library of Congress staff, after a long correspondence asking for some nuance, did change the text so as to allow that he might well have been a Bohemian German. This compromise was as far as they were willing to go, yet it is quite open-minded and shows that it is worth for citizens to try to set wrong records as straight as possible. Just be calm, cite sources, and be naggingly persistent. Another example of a distortion with a huge impact is Radomir Lu^za’s The Transfer of the Sudeten Germans: A Study in Czech-German Relations, 1933-1962, published in 1964 at a time when very little material was available in English. In the US, even today, if a public or college library has any book at all about these events, it is probably Lu^za’s book.
They also concocted after the war the fable that the 1945 expulsion had only been fair retaliation for an alleged ethnic cleansing of Czechs in 1938 from the Sudetenland. However, while the assertion is often made today, (an example among many being the comments of the press attache of the Czech Embassy in the Washington Post of 27 May 1999, p. A38), Czech sources are hard put to substantiate it–for such an expulsion never happened. Czech officials and government-sponsored settlers had to leave–as they had Slovakia after it declared independence. But Czechs who lived there before 1919, did not, even though some did so voluntarily, refusing to live under Hitler for political, not ethnic, reasons, just as Sudeten Germans strongly opposed to Hitler left. But, as shown recently again by Fritz Peter Habel, Eine Politische Legende: Die “Massenvertreibung” von Tschechen aus dem Sudetengebiet 1938/39 , (Munich: Langen Mueller Verlag 1996, 359 pages), 320,000 local Czechs remained, even voted in the Reichstag by-elections in December, and enjoyed their own cultural organizations until the end of the war. Of course, the elections were bogus, but the point is that they were treated like the Sudeten Germans even by the Nazis, or even better, since they were exempt from the draft, unlike Sudeten Germans. After 1943, this was a great advantage.
There were Czech and Slovaks leaders in exile who recognized that a horrible crime had been committed. In 1953, the Slovak National Council in Exile (represented by Matus” C^ernak and Karol Sidor), concluded a treaty with the KDL promising that in a free Slovakia, German innocents would be as welcome as other exiles. The treaty was endorsed on July 22, 1953 by the influential Slovak League in America, with whom the KDL had close contacts, especially under its leader Filip Hrobak. Hrobak also came to the annual convention of the Carpathian Germans in Stuttgart in 1961 and reiterated that in a free Slovakia, Germans would gain restitution. The KDL closely worked also with the Matus-Cernak-Institute, founded by Slovak exiles in Germany. In 1950 (not 1955), in Wiesbaden, the Czech resistance hero, general Lev Prchala, (1892-1963), now head of the National Executive Committee, one of several Czech exile groups, concluded a similar treaty with the Sudeten Germans.
But their exile groups faded in the 1970s, such as the Matus-Cernak-Institute after the death of his director Kristof Greiner in 1979. In the CSSR
itself, the Germans were “cleansed” from history as well. Every German artifact was declared a Slavic creation, from Meister Paul, a famous Carpathian German medieval woodcarver, to the famous beer of Budweis and Pilsen in the Sudetenland. After the CSSR became free in 1989, the new president Vaclav Havel denounced the Vertreibung as immoral. Justice seemed to win, in the end. But then Havel changed his tune. Stung by the strong Czech nationalist reaction that endangered his reelection, in 1995, at an extraordinary speech before the Charles University in Prague, he attacked the wish of the exiles to return by blaming ordinary Sudeten Germans for Nazi crimes in Bohemia, using Benes’” wartime lies, and attacking people who disagreed with this collective guilt thesis as close to the Nazis.These lies were then the basis of the 1997 Czech-German “Reconciliation” Agreement, which denounces only the brutality of the deportation, but not the deportation itself, and precludes any return, even if the victims purchased back their own former homes. The Czech political class wants the results of the
ethnic cleansing to be final. Sudeten Germans were scandalized by this heartless cynicism.
The number of slain Sudeten Germans had been calculated with great care by the Statistical Office of the German Federal Republic in the 1950s, and was probably too low since it overestimated the number of deportees sent to the future GDR. So far, no one had seen any factual reason to dismiss these findings, which tallied with what survivors knew about who had survived from their home communities. But now nationalist Czech historians proceeded through various accounting tricks to pretend that “only” Sudeten 40,000 Germans were slain, while hiking the number of “Czech” victims (notably by including Jews and Gypsies who had not felt to be Czech when alive), in an Orwellian juggling with corpses intended to make the number of German victims less than the number of Czech victims. For Carpathian Germans, the death toll was put at “several hundred”! At the urging of the German Kohl-government, eager to get on with improving foreign relations and capitalist trade, the Czech-German Historical Commission in 1996 and the Slovak-German Historical Commission validated these propaganda figures.
A poll printed in Die Welt showed that, unlike the current “reeducated” German political caste, which, educated mostly in the1960s, has been greatly influenced by collective guilt notions, (for comment, see Raico, above), most Germans agreed with the scandalized Sudeten Germans that this was no basis for friendship within the European Union, which the Czech Republic hopes to join. So does Gernot Facius, Welt’s humanist grand old man, in editorials such as on October 12, December 11, 1996, Jan. 21, Febr. 17,May 24, 1997, see Die Welt,the SPD politician Peter Glotz, and among Czechs, former dissidents such as the historian Bohumil Dolezal, the philosopher Petr Prihoda, and Chess champion Ludek Pachman. Sodoes the Bavarian State Government. The ties between Bavaria and neighboring Sudetenland had been close, and after the war many
deportees settled there. It agreed to the treaty only with the reservation that it must be not a closure, but a first step that will enable talks
convincing the Czech public of the need to come clean before God and History. Another fighter for the truth is historian
Frantisek Hybl, who after years of agitation to an often hostile crowd convinced the city of Prerau (Presov) in Moravia to erect
a German/Czech memorial to the Carpathian Germans massacred there.
In the United States, historians such as Charles Ingrao and the Jewish-Hungarian Istvan Deak remind people that, as Deak stressed
in 1996, “Nor is the murder and expulsion of the Bosnian muslims any more of a criminal act than was the murder and expulsion of the
Sudeten Germans, both being based on the monstrous principle of collective guilt and preventive action.”
After this betrayal by a German government they had trusted, the Sudeten Germans face now the arduous task of educating the public, which they had neglected to do since the justice of their position seemed so obvious. They also had believed the coldwar propaganda that democraciesare naturally virtuous. The only obstacle seemed the Communist dictatorship. This will become even more arduous under the new socialist-ecologist government elected in Germany in September 1998. It was elected to deal more effectively with the very high unemployment rate. Yet, as most of its members belong to the ’68ers, who believe that human rights are not universal, but can be withdrawn from politically incorrect ethnic groups, in this case Germans, the new government is likely to be very damaging to the flickering hope for recognition held by the victims of the Vertreibung, as the utterances made in late October 1998 by the new Foreign Minister Josef (Joschka) Fischer to the Polish government hint. Nothing has changed since then by 2004. See the event page for current political happenings.
Slovakia became autonomous in 1990 and independent again in 1993. How would the new state deal with its former German countrymen, and especially the forlorn remnants still living there.The 1991 Census counted 6,000 Germans, though their numbers (mostly in mixed marriages) are estimated at 15,000. In 1991, their discrimination was too recent, and many too scared to admit that they were Germans–especially as that ethnic category was not printed on the census form but had to be written in by hand. As Leni Gedeon, a member of the KDVKaschau/Kosice, remembered about wondering whether to join the new KDV in 1990 (Karpatenblatt 8/2000, p.4): “Can I now show that I am of German ancestry? Or do I still have to be afraid and be careful.” But after joining, “I could now speak German again, did not have to look over my shoulder, whether someone listened to us or even reported us.” Yet the Slovaks who had been adults before the war and remembered the good relationship between both peoples were dead now, and the young and middle-aged generations raised in schools propagating Benes” hate-propaganda. Today, nearly a decade after the end of Communism, the Czech Republic still demonizes Sudeten Germans.What would the
Slovak Republic do?
Though not a complete vindication, the relationship with the newly free Slovakia became better than expected. In April 1990, at a workshop in Stuttgart, KDL speaker Isidor Lasslob introduced two envoys of the provincial Slovak government, Dr Pavel Hollak and Anton Snahican. Dr. Pollak spoke the words the exiles had longed for: “Our first task can only be to honestly ask the Carpathian Germans for forgiveness for their suffering from 1944 to 1946. We wish to clear that path, to be able again to walk on it freely, as brothers with Christian love and respect.” The official commemoration of the 1944 Slovak Uprising in 1990 also included, for the first time, a recognition of its innocent victims, and an incipient debate in the press about the doubtful nature of the competing hagiographies around the uprising created by Benes”ists and Communists to legitimize their rule.
The official declaration of the Slovak parliament of 13.Feb.1991 was more ambigous–fair to the history of Carpathian Germans until 1918, but then scapegoating that small and powerless minority for all that went wrong in Slovakia from 1918 to 1945, especially the anti-Jewish policies of the Tiso regime.The KDL in Germany and Austria, while welcoming the declaration in general, rejected the latter part as blatantly untrue. But the Slovak government refused to amend it. Slovak President Michael Kovac” suggested a meeting of Slovak and Carpathian German historians to clear things up, but it met only once in 1992, and again only in September 1998. After 1992, the commemorations of the uprising again turned hagiographical and omitted any mention of the civilians murdered by the partisans. Slovakia has its own rabid nationalists, of course, while fifty years of hate propaganda have left their mark on public opinion and popular stereotypes, and fill newspapers and schoolbooks. Others, though personally more open to the truth, found out that German-bashing pays, especially when approaching American
and West European politicians, media and academia, thus allowing the new state to bypass its moral obligations to one of its former minorities.
Remaining Carpathian Germans have already received over 20% of their property confiscated in 1946, (mainly derelict fields in isolated villages, and even there without the buildings, but still…) while the Czechs have returned nothing to the few thousand Germans survivors in Bohemia and Moravia, using the Benes-decrees as legal basis to deny elementary justice. But political and economic reasons have prevented so far the abolition of the racist Benes” decrees in Slovakia, the restoration of all property to the survivors still living there, not to speak about a right of return for the deportees. Right now, legally, they are treated just like ordinary tourists and cannot even purchase back their old homes. Particularily galling is that current Slovak law allows descendants of ethnic Slovaks to apply for a special non-resident card allowing them to purchase land, but does not give the same rights to descendants of non-Slovaks from Slovakia.
Still, despite the raw wound left by the Benes” decrees, it must be stressed that compared to the post-Communist Czech Republic and Poland, the second Slovak state has done much for its demonized minority. Slovak works begin to acknowledge the existence and contributions of their German countrymen. The Slovak government allowed the creation of the Karpatendeutscher Verein, gives some financial support to its monthly Karpatenblatt, gave it a seat on the Roundtable for Minorities at the Interior Ministry, and basically treats Germans
just like the other minorities. A KDV member, Augustin Lang, even became Slovak consul-general in Munich for a while.
The KDV was founded in 1990 in Metzenseifen. The first leader was Matthias Schmoegner (1990-91), followed by Wilhelm Gedeon, (1991-94), Gertrud Greser, (1994-2000), Bartholomaeus Eiben (2000-2003) and Ondrej Poess (4/2003-). Like the KDL, the KDV is organized in Ortsgemeinschaften (village communities), of which in 2000 there were 34 with a total of 4600 members. The OGs are grouped into five regions, (Pressburg area; Hauerland; Upper Zips; Lower Zips; Bodwa-Valley and Kaschau). Working closely with the KDL in Stuttgart, notably the energetic and politically well-connected (as long as Klaus Kinkel was German foreign minister) Oskar Marczy, the KDV succeeded in creating the following measures to help the Carpathian German minority:
1. The KDL/KDV presented in Dezember 1992 a plan for bilingual German minority schools to the Slovak Ministry of Culture. It was adopted and most of the measures implemented by 2000. Germany and Austria sent German teachers. The schools are supported since 1999 by the KDL OGs coming from each region. Considering th poverty of the Slovak Republic, each DM 1,000 donated counts a great deal.
2. Funds from the German government to buy and renovate old buildings in each region to use as German cultural centers. These “Begegnungshaeuser”were opened 1993-1997 in Kesmark (Kes^marok), Einsiedel a.d. Goellnitz (Mnis^ek nad Hnilcom) in the Zips, Metzenseifen (Medzev), Deutsch-Proben (Nitrianske Pravno), Krickerhau (Handlova) in the Hauerland, in Pressburg (Bratislava) and Kaschau (Kos^ice) in the Bodwatal area. The libraries were donated by KDL members, as well as much money. For details, see the Events Page.
3. The German government awarded initial grants to develop Carpathian German small businesses. The money, when paid back, is then loaned out
again by the Carpathian German Association, a non-profit created for that purpose and headed by former KDV speaker Wilhelm Gedeon. The total sum granted that way was from 1992 to 1999 53.3 million crowns (about $1.2 million). Since 1995, money from repayments is available,too. A total of 185 small businesses, from carpenters to dentists, received funds, saving or creating about 1400 jobs of which the majority benefit Carpathian Germans. (Wilhelm Gedeon, Report in Karpatenpost June 1999, p. 16-17).
4. The slovak broadcasting network has a half-hour of German radio and TV, and the state subsidizes the Carpathian German press, theater and a handsome museum in Pressburg.
5. Important is that the Slovak governments since 1990 do not restrict cooperation between the KDV and the KDL in Germany and Austria, for after a half-century of pariah-like existence, the few remnants in Slovakia cannot, yet, support all by themselves these institutions.
Since the Landsmannschaften in Germany and Austria are unlikely to survive more than another decade–the integration of the third generation just has been too perfect–their gentle nudging of the Slovak Republic to do right at least to the survivors there will abate. Yet there is hope that this small ethnic group will survive in Slovakia, and someday receive the compassion and justice its suffering deserves.
Perhaps a genealogical and heritage circle could be founded in North America, similar to the German-Bohemian
Heritage Society, to provide an anchor-society for Carpathian German history and culture after the Landsmannschaften,
having fulfilled their destiny, have gone into the gentle night.