Prussian past, EU present: the so-called "German" Czechs of Hlucin


The northeastern corner of the Czech Republic, and the area surrounding the town of Hlucin is a ethnic melting pot of Czechs, Germans and Poles, with its own customs and its own curious dialect. And due to the dramatic developments of the 20th century, many of its inhabitants now enjoy some very special privileges.

This is Josef Krettek, a sprightly man in his early eighties.

He's showing his grandson Lukas photos of him taken when he was a soldier during the Second World War.

But the photograph shows Josef Krettek - who is Czech - wearing the uniform of the German Army, the Wehrmacht. He's a living testimony to the region's complex and often hard to explain past.

Josef Krettek: "I was born in 1922, here in this village near Hlucin. I had Czech nationality, I went to a Czech school, and we spoke Czech at home. But when Germany seized the Hlucin area from Czechoslovakia in 1938, we automatically became German citizens. And when the war started, I joined the Wehrmacht."

Hitler's claim to the Hlucin area was based on historic, rather than ethnic criteria. For almost two hundred years, the area - part of the much larger region of Silesia - belonged to Prussia. The people who lived here were mostly Czech, but they felt a strong sense of allegiance to their Prussian rulers, largely due to the prosperity they experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Then came the First World War. Prussia was dismantled. Silesia was divided between Germany and Poland. But a small part of it - the area around Hlucin - was given to Czechoslovakia. Many people here were far from happy - even though they were Czech, their loyalty was to Prussia, not Prague. And so 20 years later, when German soldiers marched into Hlucin in October 1938, many local inhabitants came out to greet them.

The war of course put an end to that - the area of Hlucin was snatched back from Germany after 1945. But sixty years on, people here are once again turning to Berlin to improve their circumstances.

Lukas Krettek "...all his children are automatically German too, so I'm German, my two brothers and sister too, but not my mother - she's still Czech..."

Josef Krettek's grandson Lukas. Because Josef was a fully-fledged German citizen, today his children and grandchildren are also entitled to German citizenship. Lukas, a 27-year-old economics graduate, now has a German passport:

Lukas Krettek: "I was several times in Germany, during my holidays when I was studying. So during the holidays I was maybe three or four times in Germany, and I used it because I can work. I didn't need anything more: only the passport. Last time I used it I was in America, and I don't have vizum on a Czech passport."

In other words you can travel around the world on a German passport - on an EU passport - without having to apply for the visa that you would need with a Czech passport?

LK: "That's right."

Do you feel comfortable with it though? You're a Czech. Do you feel comfortable travelling on a German passport?

LK: "Yes, why not. I don't have a problem with it."

The region's Prussian legacy is strongly in evidence even today. The Czechs of Hlucin still call themselves "Prajzaci" - Prussians - and sometimes use the word "Reich" when referring to Germany. Prajzaci claim they're more industrious and better organised than other Czechs - villages tend to be tidier than elsewhere in the country and a neat, well-kept garden is the pride of every home. For many people from Hlucin - once citizens of the Reich, now citizens of the European Union - old habits die hard. For Insight Central Europe this is Rob Cameron in Silesia.