- The Economy of Ethnic Cleansing: The Transformation of the German-Czech Borderlands after World War II by David W. Gerlach
In the waning days of World War II, Oskar Schindler—a former Czech German spy for Abwehr, a Nazi Party member, and owner of two German factories in Kraków and Brnenec (a small village near his hometown in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia)—fled westward with a handful of his Jewish workers dressed in concentration-camp garb. Schindler was well aware that as soon as the war ended, the restored Czech government would be looking for him because of his alleged wartime crimes. But he also feared that if the Soviets captured him and discovered that he had not only been a Nazi spy but also owned factories that used Jewish slave laborers, they would execute him. In many ways, Schindler ostensibly represented, stereotypically, the type of Sudeten German that Czech authorities sought to punish as severely as possible after the war. Both Timothy Snyder, in Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York, 2012), and Michael Nieberg, in Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe (New York, 2015), painted a graphic picture of the widespread, often violent expulsions of ethnic Germans throughout Central and Eastern Europe after the war. These violent expulsions, particularly in regions occupied by Soviet forces as they swept [End Page 149] into Eastern and Central Europe in 1944/5, were driven by a vengeful Soviet propaganda machine that demonized all Germans, whom Ilya Ehrenberg decried as “not human beings” in a tract circulated among Russian soldiers.
Gerlach argues, however, that Schindler’s case would have been more the exception than the rule. Although he agrees that some of the early expulsions of ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland were violent and vengeful, most of them over the next few years were less so, not only because of authorities’ efforts to ensure that they were humane and orderly but also because of their consideration of the possible impact on local economies trying to rebuild after the war. Gerlach refuses to take a singular approach to the three stages of the expulsions from 1945 to 1947, pointing out that their nature and tempo varied from village to village and region to region. He also notes that although some Sudeten Germans suffered harsh treatment, they often collaborated with their Czech colleagues who occasionally allowed ethnic Germans colleagues to remain in their positions to help native industries to rebuild in an economy devastated by the German occupation and Allied bombing attacks.1 The Czechs who were invited to settle in the former Sudetenland often did not have the skills necessary to fill the shoes of expelled ethnic Germans. In many ways, Gerlach argues, these Czechs posed a serious threat to the economic rejuvenation of the region.
One of the more interesting dimensions of this “ethnic cleansing” program was the plight of the Roma. During the war, the fate of Czech Roma “mirrored that of the Jews.”2 Many were sent to concentration camps in Léty and Hodonín, and later to Auschwitz where they were murdered in 1944. Yet despite their brutal victimization during the Holocaust, the “Roma perhaps became the most targeted group in the [Sudeten] borderlands” (100). Most of them had moved to this region from Slovakia after the war because postwar conditions were far better in Bohemia and Moravia. Sadly, Gerlach notes, the Czechs saw the Roma as “a visible blight on the borderlands,” a view that had haunted them for centuries (101).
Gerlach’s thoughtful, well-researched study of the plight of ethnic Germans in the postwar Czech borderlands is a welcome addition to the literature about an often misunderstood or forgotten episode in the complex history of postwar Central and Eastern Europe. [End Page 150]
1. Radomír Luža provides details about these matters in “Czechoslovakia between Democracy and Communism, 1945–1948,” in Victor...