- Cleansing the Czechoslovak Borderlands: Migration, Environment and Health in the Former Sudetenland by Eagle Glassheim
Eagle Glassheim presents an imaginative account of the postwar history of the Czechoslovak borderlands/the Sudetenland in his new book. Combining a range of engaging visual images with a variety of primary and secondary sources, and even some personal history, the book offers new insights into a complex and sometimes contentious past. In addition to its analysis of the Czechoslovak borderlands, as Glassheim puts it, the book “is also an extended reflection on the idea of rootedness, an idealized condition that intertwines the health of landscapes, communities, and individuals” (12). Indeed, the book explores this theme across the chapters in myriad ways. This approach allows the author to discuss a wide range of ideas related to the Sudeten German expellees and their former homeland. While the book has several guiding themes, none take center stage, which might give some readers uncertain ground to stand upon. At times the discussion focuses on Heimat, at other times health and the environment, elsewhere the narrative emphasizes ethnic cleansing. For Glassheim though, all these themes point to a connection with modernity and the utopian hopes that it holds as well as the dystopian results that it sometimes yields.
The book covers a broad history from the formation of the Heimat movement in the nineteenth century through the rise of the dissident movement that would help to undermine the Communist government in Czechoslovakia by the 1980s. Chapter one provides a valuable synthesis for those unfamiliar with this region by weaving together the shared history of Czechs and Germans through World War II. As Glassheim makes clear, the rise of competing Czech and German nationalist movements mirrored one another in their efforts to gain support among wider audiences. Despite Hitler’s success at Munich in 1938, the Sudeten Germans had only a short time to celebrate as their hopes for greater control of the Sudetenland vanished, first at the centralizing hands of Germans from the Reich and then later, after the war, through expulsion, which is the subject of chapter 2. Chapter 3 follows the Sudeten Germans into postwar Germany and the difficult integration process there. Here Glassheim works from the immediate postwar period, when local Germans saw expellees as possible disease carriers, to more contemporary discussions about the health of Sudeten German memory as part of a shared German history. While this chapter broadly covers the integration process, Glassheim argues that the expellees can also be seen as “a mirror for anxieties about postwar modernity” in Germany itself (91). [End Page 527]
The book’s strengths lie in the lines of inquiry that Glassheim pioneered and connected in new ways with the topic of the Sudeten German expulsions and the resettlement of the borderlands. While several of the book’s chapters have appeared as articles elsewhere, there is a certain value to having them all in one place. His discussion of the environmental devastation that followed the expulsions offers the best example of this. In chapter 4 Glassheim argues that a “materialist/productive ethos” came to shape both settlers’ and officials’ attitudes toward the borderlands. This helped, in turn, to set aside concerns for the environment as the Communist regime sought to utilize the borderlands for its productive goals. This resulted in scarred landscapes and polluted air that held unsettling consequences for the new inhabitants of the borderlands. Chapter 5 offers an in-depth account of the decision to refashion the coal mining town of Most in northern Bohemia. Here the story follows the Communist Party decision to build a new city center in order to gain access to the coal vein that sat beneath the town’s existing center. In painstaking detail, the author shows how planning for the new city center occurred and the convoluted consequences that followed. Chapter 6 takes the story of the borderlands to the end of the Communist period. Here the focus is placed on the continued degradation of the borderlands and the...