One on One Andreas Wiedemann on resettling the Czech borders
German journalist and historian Andreas Wiedemann is the author of a book about the resettlement of the Sudetenland following the expulsion of the German population at the end of World War II. The title translates from German as ‛Come with us to the borderland: resettlement and new settlers in the former Sudetenland 1945-1952.’ Unlike the expulsion, the resettlement has been given scant coverage although the consequences still scar large parts of the country. I asked him why he seized upon the subject.
“I was very interested in this topic because there are a lot of books or works about the expulsion or transfer of the German population from the Czech Republic or rather Czechoslovakia, but today you can not find much material about what happened after. So an interesting question for me was what happened when the Germans went away. That is the main question in this book.”
“It was planned, but maybe not from the beginning. The problem was that directly after World War II there existed plans from the exiled Czech government about the transfer of the Germans and the restructuring of the state after the war. But there were no plans about how to organise the whole process. The idea that the Germans leave the country after the war was a very clear idea. That was the beginning. But the second step following the transfer of the Germans, the logical next step of the resettlement of this region with Czech and Slovak people, there was no exact plan how to manage it. So in the beginning, in the summer of 1945, it was not organised. It was maybe a spontaneous migration process as people left home, went to the border regions and had a look what was going on and if it was possible to find a new house or new work and investigate the possibilities. But after the summer and autumn of 1945 it was planned. There were a lot of different state institutions involved in the whole process, a resettlement office and all the ministries and the government organised the whole process. Then, there were detailed plans. The results may have been different from the plans, but it was organised.”
My impression is that whatever was organised, looking at the results today they look pretty disappointing. Many of these areas look fairly run down, are still under populated and even in a certain sense undeveloped compared with what they were before.
“Of course the problem fast became clear that there were not enough people to fill up the border regions after the Germans left. And this was clear to the politicians as well. They said that if they achieved 75 percent of the pre-war population that would be okay, that would be enough, because it was clear there were not enough people to resettle these regions. There were big differences between the regions. For example, in the northern industrial regions there are many problems today but these are not linked to the resettlement process. Directly after the war, perhaps the first 10 years after the war, I think industry in the northern Bohemian industrial regions worked. For example, in Ústí nad Labem there were more people after the war than before the war. But if you look at the west Bohemian regions, like Karlovy Vary, there were 50 percent less people than before the war.”
I always got the impression that the Communists perhaps were not sure what to do with these border regions. Perhaps especially in the west they did not want to fill them up but leave them as a kind of buffer zone in case there would be a new conflict?
“The Communists on the one hand always stressed how important the resettlement process was. But on the other hand they decided to use the whole process to restructure the economy. For example, there were 7,000 companies closed after the war. Some of these were moved to Slovakia. That was part of the plan for the whole policy to industrialise Slovakia. This kind of policy was of course not a very positive aspect for the regions. When you talk about the western regions there were problems. The resettlement and the lack of new settlers who came forward was one of them. The second aspect is the border with Germany because a lot people and the Communists were afraid of a new war and people thought that Germany together with the US and England would fight against Eastern Europe. So people at the border were afraid and the Communist policy was to close this border.”
During your research did you come across some things that you believe were not well know before?
“I was surprised that not only the Germans or the Hungarians or the so-called wartime traitors or collaborators with the Nazi regime had problems. But that was also the position of long time Czech settlers in these regions who had lived along the border for the whole of their lives, before and during the war and at the time when the border was part of Hitler’s Germany. There were a few hundred thousand Czech people and a lot of these people had, for example, German wives or husbands. And I was surprised that after the war they had big problems because the new settlers and the government in Prague thought that these old settlers were not reliable people because they had lived with the Germans for their whole lives and they had stayed during the occupation. There existed plans to move them away. There were plans to move a 100,000 people or thousands of people to the interior. These were just plans that did not happen but they were surprising. I was also surprised by the articles in the press that you could not trust these old settlers. It was a big thing at the time.”