Wednesday, 18 April 2007
Where we live near Cesky Krumlov in Southern Bohemia the ghosts of the area's former German residents are everywhere. Prior to 1945 you were most likely to hear German spoken on the streets of Krumlov (German: Krummau). You will find remnants of this on walls and signs, such as the one above.
The area is close to the German and Austrian borders. Until 1918 the whole of the Czechoslovakia was part of the Austrian Empire, but after defeat in World War 1 and the collapse of the Empire, the new independent state of Czechoslovakia was formed. In 1938 Hitler's troops occupied the Sudetenland, claiming to be liberating the Sudetenland Germans from Czech tyranny; this was followed by the conquest of the rest of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs, betrayed by the British at Munich, entered fifty years of oppression.
Many of the Sudetenland Germans welcomed the Nazis - after all over half a million joined the Nazi party and so it was not a surprise that in 1945 a massive backlash took place. It was not a surprise but that does not disguise its savageness. German property was confiscated and the German population was forced out of the country. To give you some idea of the scale of this forced movement - at the time of the 1921 Census there were over 3 million Germans in the country; by 2001 there were just 40,000.
The house we own was once owned by Germans. It is typical of the area with its courtyard and orchard. The German farmers were proud of their homes and loved the land. Under the Czechs and the Communists the house fell into decline and disrepair. An old neighbour remembered the German family - "If they came back now they would be in tears," he said, "to see the house now." Others, whose homes lay nearer the border, would find nothing at all if they came back. The Sumava became the frontline in the Cold War. The Iron Curtain ran straight through it and so whole areas and villages were cleared to remove any cover for asylum seekers trying to cross to the West. All that remains are the metal crosses and wayside shrines and silent orchards and gardens gone wild.