German President Joachim Gauck arrived on Wednesday for a one-day working
visit in the Czech Republic, the first in his capacity as president. On
Wednesday morning, he met with his Czech counterpart Václav Klaus at
Prague Castle and later with Prime Minister Petr Nečas. After his meeting
with Mr Klaus, the German president praised Czech-German relations as the
best they had ever been. On Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by President
Klaus, he travelled to Lidice - a village which the Nazis razed to the
ground in 1942 in retaliation for the assassination of Nazi governor
Reinhard Heydrich. In Lidice, all 173 men were executed, women and
were sent to concentration camps, while some of the children were selected
for re-education in Germany. After the war, only 143 women and 17 children
returned to the country.
The visit to Lidice was on the agenda at the German president’s request and he became the first German head-of-state to visit the site of the village. Mr Gauck laid wreaths at the graves of those killed in the massacre and at the Lidice memorial.
The European Parliament will open a discussion on the so-called “Beneš decrees”, which resulted in the expulsion of the Czechoslovak German and Hungarian populations and the seizure of their property after WWII. The discussion will be based on a Hungarian petition against the 2007 decision of the Slovak National Council declaring that the decrees are immutable. The parliament has asked Bratislava to send delegates to explain the circumstances around the declaration, which some Hungarian and other MEPs have called discriminatory. The Czech parliament issued a similar declaration in 2002.
Remains of twelve ethnic Germans were put to rest on Saturday in the city of Jihlava in the Vysočina region. The remains were taken from a mass grave two years ago in the Budínka field near the town of Dobronín. The mass grave allegedly contains the remains of victims of the “revolutionary guards”, murdered in the final month of World War II. The service at the St. Jacob’s Church in Jihlava was attended by approximately 200 people and was led in German by reverend Dieter Lang. Reverend Lang, whose own family comes from the Vysočina region, called for reconciliation between Czechs and Germans in his sermon. In May and June of 1945, some Czech towns and villages saw spontaneous violent acts committed by the Czech-speaking population against ethnic German residents. Between 1945 and 1947, three million ethnic Germans and Hungarians were forced to leave Czechoslovakia by the government, based on the so-called Beneš Decrees. It is still unkown how many ethnic Germans perished as a result of the deportation and sporatic violence that took place in the wake of the Allies‘ victory.
For a few weeks in the late summer of 1989, Prague became the scene of a bizarre – and now largely forgotten - refugee crisis. It had all begun in the spring, when Hungary had declared its decision to take down the barbed wire on its borders with Austria. A growing number of East Germans, desperate at the suffocating lack of reform in their country, took advantage of this new gap in the Iron Curtain as a way of fleeing to the West. But smuggling themselves into Austria was an uncertain business, and before long, they started seeking refuge at the
Borderlands are fascinating areas where cultures either meet and intermingle, or in some cases are cordoned off to coldly stare at one another. The Czech/German/Austrian tri-border has experienced both. Over the last century it went from being an imaginary line through the woods to a literal Iron Curtain and back again. What’s emerging here today is a cross-cultural region deep in the Bohemian Forest National Park.
President Václav Klaus says the displacement of Sudeten Germans after WWII was the logical conclusion of a tragic period of Czech history. Speaking at an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Nazi annihilation of the village of Ležáky, President Klaus said that Czechs have long been asked to forget the horrors of the war for friendship’s sake and to share the guilt for atrocities committed. While countering a claim that he was hostile to Germany, Klaus said he could not, must not and did not want to forget what happened in Bohemia and elsewhere in Europe during the war.
In the heart of Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood is Rixdorf, an area that is also known as the Bohemian Village. The settlement originated in the first half of the 18th century, under the auspices of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I., who welcomed Bohemian Protestant refugees into his empire. In the Habsburg Empire, they had been banned from exercising their faith. We recently visited this fascinating area of Berlin and talked to Cordelia Pollina, the director of the Bohemian Museum, which is devoted to the history of this neighborhood.
German President Joachim Gauck said in a letter to Czech counterpart
Václav Klaus on Friday that Germany was aware of its historical
responsibility for massacres at the Czech villages of Lidice and Ležáky
during World War II. Mr Gauck wrote the letter ahead of the 70th
anniversary of the destruction of Lidice and Ležáky by the Nazis in
retaliation for the assassination of acting Reichsprotector of Bohemia and
Moravia Reinhard Heydrich on May 27, 1942. Heydrich succumbed to wounds
suffered in the attack which was orchestrated by Czech paratroopers.
As a result, Lidice, in Central Bohemia, was obliterated on June 10 and Ležáky, East Bohemia, was burnt to the ground on June 24. In Lidice alone, all 173 men were executed, while most women and children were sent to concentration camps. Some of the children were selected for re-education in Nazi Germany. In his letter, German President Gauck wrote that the despicable acts in Lidice and Ležáky filled him with “deep sorrow and shame”, but cited positive ties between Germany and the Czech Republic today as reason for hope. In response, Václav Klaus thanked his German counterpart, saying that he considered the letter a strong statement and positive gesture.
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