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Sudetenland (Czech and , ) is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the western regions of Czechoslovakiamarker inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia associated with Bohemia.

The name is derived from the Sudeten mountains, though the Sudetenland extended beyond these mountains which run along the border to Silesia and contemporary Polandmarker. The German inhabitants were called Sudeten Germans (German: Sudetendeutsche, Czech: Sudetští Němci, Polish: Niemcy Sudeccy). The German minority in Slovakiamarker, the Carpathian Germans, is not included in this ethnic category.


The areas later known as Sudetenland never formed a single historical region, which makes it difficult to distinguish the history of the Sudetenland apart from that of Bohemia, until the advent of nationalism and the coining of the term in the 19th century.

Early origins

The regions later called Sudetenland were situated on the borders of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which also consisted of Moravia and other lands (Silesia, Lusatia, etc.). After the extinction of the Přemyslid dynasty, the kingdom was ruled by the Luxemburg, later the Jagiellonians and finally the Habsburgs. Already from the second half of the 13th century onwards the border regions of Czech lands, called Sudetenland in the 20th century, were settled by ethnic Germans, who were invited by the Bohemian kings – especially by Ottokar II and Wenceslaus II. The border was set by the signing of the Peace of Eger in 1459.

From 1620 (loss of the Bohemian Revolt) onwards the Habsburgs gradually integrated the Kingdom of Bohemia into their monarchy, and it remained a part of that realm until its dismemberment after World War I. Conflicts between Czech and German nationalists emerged in the 19th century, for instance in the Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas: while the German-speaking population wanted to participate in the building of a German nation state, the Czech-speaking population insisted on keeping Bohemia out of such plans.

Emergence of the term

German Wehrmacht forces in Sudetenland City Teplice
In the wake of growing nationalism, the name "Sudetendeutsche" (Sudeten Germans) emerged by the early 20th century. It originally constituted part of a larger classification of three groupings of Germans within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which also included "Alpendeutsche" (Alpine Germans) in what later became the Republic of Austria and "Balkandeutsche" (Balkan Germans) in Hungary and the regions east of it. Of these three terms, only the term "Sudetendeutsche" survived, because of the ethnic and cultural conflicts within Bohemia.

Changes after World War I

After World War I, Austria-Hungary broke apart. Late in October 1918, an independent Czechoslovakmarker state, consisting of the lands of the Bohemian kingdom and areas belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary, was proclaimed. The German deputies of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia in the Imperial Parliament (Reichsrat) referred to the Fourteen Points of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the therein granted right of self-determination, and attempted to negotiate the union of the German-speaking territories with the new Republic of German Austriamarker, which itself aimed at joining Weimar Germanymarker.

However Sudetenland was incorporated into a newly created Czechoslovakiamarker, a multi-ethnic state of several nations: Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians and others. On 20 September 1918, the Praguemarker Government asked the United Statesmarker's consent for the annexation of the Sudetenland. President Woodrow Wilson sent ambassador Archibald Coolidge into the newly created state Czechoslovakiamarker. After Coolidge became witness of Czech police brutality against peaceful Sudetengerman demonstrators (54 killed, among them women and children ), Coolidge suggested the possibility of ceding certain German-speaking parts of Bohemia to Germanymarker (Cheb) and Austriamarker (South Moravia and South Bohemia). He also insisted that the German inhabited regions of West and North Bohemia remain within Czechoslovakia. However, the American delegation at the Paris talks, with Allen Dulles as the American's chief diplomat who emphasized preserving the unity of the Czech lands, decided not to follow Coolidge's proposal.

Four regional governmental units were established:

  • German Bohemia (Deutschböhmen), the regions of northern and western Bohemia; proclaimed a constitutive state (Land) of the German-Austrian Republic with Reichenbergmarker as capital, administered by a Landeshauptmann (state captain), consecutively: Rafael Pacher (1857-1936), 29 October 1918 – 6 November 1918, and Rudolf Ritter von Lodgman von Auen (1877 - 1962), 6 November 1918 – 16 December 1918 (the last principal city was conquered by the Czech army but he continued in exile, first at Zittau in Saxony and then in Vienna, until 24 September 1919)
  • Province Sudetenland, the regions of northern Moravia and Austrian Silesiamarker; proclaimed a constituent state of the German-Austrian Republic with Troppaumarker as capital, governed by a Landeshauptmann: Robert Freissler (1877-1950), 30 October 1918 – 18 December 1918
  • Bohemian Forest Region (Böhmerwaldgau), the region of Bohemian Forestmarker/South Bohemiamarker; proclaimed a district (Kreis) of the existing Austrian Land of Upper Austria; administered by Kreishauptmann (district captain): Friedrich Wichtl (1872 - 1922) from 30 October 1918
  • German South Moravia (Deutschsüdmähren), proclaimed a District (Kreis) of the existing Austrian land Lower Austriamarker, administered by a Kreishauptmann: Oskar Teufel (1880 - 1946) from 30 October 1918.

The U.S. commission to the Paris Peace Conference issued a declaration which gave unanimous support for "unity of Czech lands". In particular the declaration stated:

Several German minorities in Moravia, including German populations in Brnomarker, Jihlavamarker, and Olomoucmarker also attempted to proclaim their union with German Austria, but failed.

The Czechs thus rejected the aspirations of the Sudeten Germans and demanded the inclusion of the Sudetenland in their new state, despite the presence of 23.4% (as of 1921) ethnic Germans, on the grounds they had always been part of Bohemia and Moravia. The Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919 affirmed the inclusion of the German-speaking territories within the new state of Czechoslovakia.

However, over the next two decades, some Germans in the Sudetenland continued to strive for a separation of the German inhabited regions from Czechoslovakia.

Within the Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938)

According to the February 1921 census 3,123,000 Germans lived in all Czechoslovakia, i.e. 23.4% of the total population.

The controversies between the Czechs and the German minority (which constituted a majority in the Sudetenland areas) lingered on throughout the 1920s, and intensified in the 1930s.

In the years of Great Depression the mostly mountainous regions populated by the German minority, together with other peripheral regions in Czechoslovakiamarker, were hurt by economic depression more than the inland. Unlike the less developed regions (Ruthenia, Wallachia), there was a high concentration of industry dependent on export (such as glass works, textile industry, paper-making and toy-making industry) and thus very vulnerable in the period of global depression.For example: 60% of the bijouterie and glass-making industry were located in the Sudetenland, 69% of employees in this sector were Germans, and 95% of bijouterie and 78% of other glassware were produced for export. Then the glass-making sector was affected by decreased spending power and also by protective measures in other countries and many German workers lost their work.

The high unemployment made people more open to populist and extremist movements (Communism, Fascism and German irredentism). In these years, the parties of German nationalists and later the Sudetendeutsche Party (SdP) with its radical demands gained immense popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia.

Sudeten Crisis

Immediately after the Anschluss of Austriamarker into the Third Reich in March 1938, Hitler made himself the advocate of ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering the "Sudeten Crisis".

On 24 April 1938 the SdP proclaimed the Karlsbader Programm, which demanded in eight points the complete equality between the Sudetengermans and the Czech people. The Czech president Beneš refused the Karlsbader Programm.

In August, UK Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia in order to see if he could obtain a settlement between the Czechoslovak government and the Germans in the Sudetenland. Lord Runciman's first day included meetings with President Eduard Benes and Milan Hodza as well as directly meeting the Sudeten Germans from Henlein's SdP. On the next day he met with Dr and Mme Benes and later met non-Nazi Germans in his hotel[7074]

A full account of his report - including summaries of the conclusions of his meetings with the various parties - which he made in person to the Cabinet on his return to Britain is found in the Document CC 39(38). Lord Runciman expresses sadness that he could not bring about agreement with the various parties, but he agreed with Lord Halifax that the time gained was important. He reports on the situation of the Sudeten Germans, and he gave details of four plans which had been proposed to deal with the crisis, each of which had points which, he reported, made it unacceptable to the other parties to the negotiations. The four were: Transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich; hold a plebiscite on the transfer of the Sudetenland to the Reich, organize a Four Power Conference on the matter, create a federal Czechoslovakia. At the meeting, he said that he was very reluctant to offer his own solution; he had not seen this as his task. The most that he said was that the great centres of opposition were in Eger and Asch, in the north-western corner of Bohemia, which contained about 800,000 Germans and very few others. He did say that the transfer of these areas to Germany would almost certainly be a good thing; however, he did add that the Czechoslovak army would certainly oppose this very strongly, and that Dr. Benes had said that they would fight rather than accept it.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgadenmarker on 15 September and agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier did the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.

Chamberlain met Hitler in Godesbergmarker on September 22 to confirm the agreements. Hitler however, aiming to use the crisis as a pretext for war, now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories, giving the Czechoslovakian army no time to adapt their defence measures to the new borders. To achieve a solution, Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich and on September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini's proposal (actually prepared by Hermann Göring) and signed the Munich Agreement accepting the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovak government, though not party to the talks, promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938. The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was subsequently invaded by Germany in March 1939, with a portion being annexed and the remainder turned into a satellite state, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Slovakia declared its independence from Czechoslovakia, becoming the Slovak Republic, a Nazi ally.

Sudetenland as part of Nazi Germany

The Sudetenland was initially put under military administration, with General Wilhelm Keitel as Military governor. On 21 October 1938, the annexed territories were divided, with the southern parts being incorporated into the neighbouring Reichsgaue Oberdonau and Niederdonau.

The northern and western parts were reorganized as the Reichsgau Sudetenland, with the city of Reichenberg (present-day Liberecmarker) established as its capital. Konrad Henlein (now openly a NSDAP member) administered the district first as Reichskommissar (until 1 May 1939) and then as Reichsstatthalter (1 May 1939–4 May 1945). Sudetenland consisted of three political districts: Eger (with Karlsbadmarker as capital), Aussig (Aussigmarker) and Troppau (Troppaumarker).

Shortly after the annexation, the Jews living in the Sudetenland were widely persecuted. Only a few weeks afterwards, "Kristallnacht" occurred. As elsewhere in Germany, many synagogues were set on fire and numerous leading Jews were sent to concentration camps. In later years, the Nazis transported up to 300,000 Czech and Slovak Jews to concentration camps. where 90% of them were killed or died. Jews and Czechs were not the only afflicted peoples; German Socialists, communists and pacifists were widely persecuted as well. Some of the German Socialists fled the Sudetenland via Prague and London to other countries. The "Gleichschaltung" would permanently damage the community in the Sudetenland.

Despite this, on 4 December 1938 there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for NSDAP. About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the Nazi Party which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average NSDAP participation in Nazi Germany was 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland was the most "pro-Nazi" region in the Third Reich. Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as in Nazi organizations (Gestapo, etc.). The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank: the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.

Expulsions and resettlement after World War II

After the end of World War II, the Potsdam Conference in 1945 determined that Sudeten Germans would have to leave Czechoslovakia (see Expulsion of Germans after World War II). As a consequence of the immense hostility against all Germans that had grown within Czechoslovakia due to Nazi behavior, the overwhelming majority of Germans were expelled (while the relevant Czechoslovak legislation provided for the remaining Germans who were able to prove their anti-Nazi affiliation). The number of expelled Germans in the early phase (spring-summer 1945) is estimated to be around 500,000 people. About 244,000 Germans were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia. Many German refugees from Czechoslovakia are represented by the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft.

Many of the Germans who stayed in Czechoslovakia later emigrated to West Germanymarker (more than 100,000). As the German population was transferred out of the country, the former Sudetenland was resettled, mostly by Czechs but also by other nationalities of Czechoslovakia: Slovaks, Volhynian Czechs, Gypsies and Hungarians (though the Hungarians were forced into this and later returned home - see Hungarians in Slovakia#Population exchanges). Some areas remained depopulated for several strategic reasons (extensive mining, military interests etc.) or simply for their lack of attractions. There remained areas with noticeable German minorities only in the westernmost borderland around Chebmarker; in the Egerland German minority organizations continue to exist.

In the 2001 census, approximately 40,000 people in the Czech Republic claimed German ethnicity.

See also


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