Berlin/Prague/New York (bpb)--In our time of the US-led worldwide fight against international terrorism, another unsolved problem brings danger in Europe: the German-Czech relations. The question is how to overcome the cruelties, which people on both sides had to suffer in the past decades. In the Nazi times as well as in Czechoslovakia under communist and democratic rules, the common people of both nations became victims of wrong political decisions made both in the East and the West. Great problems are still presented by the laws, which were made under the Czech President Eduard Benes after the end of World War II. These laws, which have been criticized for nearly 60 years, are the foundation on which about 3 million Germans where expelled from their ancestral lands in Bohemia and Moravia--where many of them had lived for hundreds of years. All their properties were confiscated.
The present German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer try to play down the problem. But the Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber and the Member of the German Parliament Hartmut Koschyk want to discuss the matter in the public. They demand to clarify all these related issues and positions. The politicans of the opposition parties say, "It is an international law, that attacks on human rights should not be forgiven under the statute of limitations."
It is a historical fact that all the Allies in World War II against Hitler's Germany agreed to the expulsion of the Germans, that is, also the United States. Most of the German refugees from Sudetenland settled down in Austria and Bavaria. A number of them emigrated to the United States, South America and Australia. In West Germany, the first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer supported the integration of the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia. Many of them became leading politicians, and now also their children are in leading political positions. All these Germans have helped build up democracy in Germany. The organizations of refugees have proclaimed already in the early years that not war, but friendship and cooperation are their goals for the future.
In 1945, Eduard Benes returned from exile in London to Prague. With the support of the Allies and Russia, he set up a government. The rule of Benes was based on executive orders, which he himself declared as the new law of the land. This decision seemed necessary to him, since in those times a parliament was not yet established. In 1948, Benes was in turn driven out of office by the Czech communist Klement Gottwald. But the inhuman laws continued more than ever under the communist regime.
More than 10 of these so-called "Laws" were aimed against the Germans with these results:
1. Germans have no rights at all
2. All their property is to be confiscated
3. The Germans have to be expelled from the country
4. Whenever possible, the Germans have to be put in prison, work camps, or do slave labor for the Czechs
The files in historical archives report unbelievable cruelties against the German men, women and children.
In the country's main radio station "Radio Praha" they broadcasted appeals such as this to the Czech public:
Every German is our enemy!
Have no mercy with women, children, and old people!
Kill every German--throw them out!"
This was the political program of the "Benes Decrees".
Ever since the Czech president Vaclav Havel came to power in 1989 and started to establish--in cooperation with the Western world and the United States--a new, democratic system, Germany has been hoping for better relations.
It is expected that the democratic government of the Czech Republic will declare the "Benes Decrees" to be "invalid from the beginning."
These laws are not in agreement with the laws of the European Union (EU). The Czech Republic has high aspirations to be admitted as a full member into this association of a Free Europe. A united Europe includes the right for every citizen to work, to settle down or to buy land and property in any and all of the countries of the community.
For example, in the United States of America, a man or woman from Texas can work in New York, a person from Florida can stay in California and buy there whatever he or she is able to afford.
It is the same in the present European Union. Germans can work and buy property in Italy, Spain, England, France, Portugal and so on. And the people of these countries can do the same in Germany.
BUT, the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic vehemently refuse that any German should be allowed to buy land or houses in their countries. Many Germans would like to buy the houses of their parents and grandparents that were stolen after World War II.
People want lasting peace and freedom
No doubt: the ordinary man and woman in the Czech Republic and in Germany want to have lasting peace and freedom.
They know that the people killed by Nazis and the Communists, both Czechs and Germans--cannot be brought back from death to life.
For the future cooperation it is not helpful to try to find out who is more guilty for the cruelties and abuse of human rights in the past. The bloodshed on both sides should never again happen in a peaceful Europe.
But for this cooperation it is necessary to admit the wrongs and the crimes commited against the German expellees. The cancellation of the "Benes Decrees" is a fundamental prerequisite. Again and again, these decrees are used by radical politicians in both Germany and in the Czech Republic as an instrument of stirring up strife and incitement.
The majority of people would like to see the Czechs and Germans living together in peace. In this connection, people can think back to the times of the "good old Austrian Empire". As this empire of Austria and Hungary was broken up after World War I, a new Czech state was set up. Tensions arose among the different peoples who formerly used to live together peacefully: Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Moravians, and the Hungarian minorities.
The escalation of political problems led in 1938 to the occupation of Sudetenland and parts of Czechoslovakia by Hitler's army. This was followed in 1945 by the expulsion, murder and torture of the German population.
The Germans had to wear white armbands in the whole country. One would thus recognize them at once as belonging to a criminal people. For a long time, they were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, but could walk only on the road. In shops they were only then served, when all others have finished their shopping. The white armbands were like the yellow Jewish star in Nazi Germany.
To illustrate to the young Americans of our time what can happen, we should hear the report of a 70 years old German farmer from the Sudetenland.
He said: "It was in May, 1945. First came the soldiers of the Red Army into our village. They hunted down our wives and raped them. They took along three young, 16-year old boys from the Hitler Youth and somewhere shot them.
The Soviet soldiers robbed us first of all the cattle, to satisfy their hunger. Then they took mainly watches, jewelry and bicycles. A week later, even worse were the armed communist Czechs. After the passing through of the Red Army, they roamed the country in stolen cars and horse waggons, wildly shooting in the air.
I was sitting at supper together with my family, the farm-hands and two Russian women workers. And a Czech horde stormed the locked gates. We had to get up from the table, and were chased out into the farm yard. My wounded son in wheelchair was pulled out by his hair, and beat him up.
Then we lived two days in the stable, until we were deported into a camp. The two Russian women wanted to go with us into the camp, and said that they were of German ancestry. Actually, they did not want to return back to the Soviet Union with their Soviet liberators. But the Russians took the women forcibly with them. They raped their own countrywomen still in the yard, in the open. The others drank vodka, sang and clapped their hands in order to drown down the pleading cries for help of the two women."