The Sudetengerman defense

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17. The Sudetengerman defense

The Sudetengerman political parties with 72 parliamentary representatives could possibly have made some achievments had they shown more solidarity and farsightedness, they showed themselves as living in the past. New forces had to be gathered, and a path into the future had to be found, especially for the young. As early as 1919 the "Böhmerland Movement" was organized. At the University of Prague, Ernst Leibl founded the student groups called "Freischaren". The German "Jugendbewegung" (youth movement) spread from Germany into the Sudetenland and later a Catholic youth movement developed across the land and in the higher schools. Emil Lehmann and Erich Gierach established a center for cultural and political education in Reichenberg. The "Schulverein" (school association) evolved into the "Kulturbund" (cultural association). The Sudetengerman Turners (gymnastics clubs) reoriented their educational activities. Sudetengerman teachers united in efforts to maintain ethnic values and heritage. Many new periodicals originated at that time. And all this took place outside the scope of political parties. These young Sudetengermans aspired conscientiously and with deep concern towards an ideal state and a just society. At that time, a political party with a social as well as national appeal would still have been capable of captivating and rallying this youth easily.

The Czech government took Hitler's coming to power 1933 in Germany and the following spread of radicalization in wide circles of Sudetengermans as justification for coercive political measures. That was the hour for Konrad Heinlein to found the "Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront" (Sudetengerman home-front). Shortly before the parliamentary elections of 1935, a court order rescinded this name, and thereafter the movement renamed itself "Sudetengerman Party". In his party program Henlein conceded recognition of the Czech state and its constitution under the condition that vital interests of the German population would be respected and guaranteed. As the election-day drew closer, more and more people flocked to Henlein's party. Henlein himself did not run for office. The returns of the election on May 10, 1935, showed a victory exceeding all expectations.

In the autumn of 1935, the ailing President Masaryk resigned and was succeeded by Eduard Benes. Harassments and censorship continued; the economic depression went on and so did the Czechization. Germany's growing power with dwindling unemployment on one side, and the economic crisis with particular burdens for Sudetengermans on the other, gave National-Socialism an appealing appearance to many. Aware of the danger, the Sudetengerman political parties with seats in government - Social Democrats, Christian Socialists and Union of Farmers - attempted to attain concessions and improvements for the German population. President Benes and Prime-Minister Hodza promised, in letters to these three German parties, from this time on to fill public service positions in proportion to nationality and as far as possible to compensate for the wrongs of the past. However, practically nothing happened over a full year.

In the meantime a political storm had gathered over Czechoslovakia and henceforth any concessions would have come too late. After Heinz Rutha, Henlein's foreign policy advisor, had been arrested by Czech authorities and tormented to death, Henlein came more and more under the influence of radicals. Furthermore, the Austria-annexation of March 13, 1938, raised hopes among many Sudetengermans for improvement of conditions. When Henlein visited Hitler on March 28, Hitler declared that he intends "to resolve the Czechoslovak problem in the not too distant future". No longer can he tolerate "Germans being harassed or fired upon".

At a rally in Karlsbad on April 24 the Sudetengerman Party demanded in an eight point program the restoration of complete equality of the German national group with the Czech people.

In the local elections of May/June 1938 the Sudetengerman Party received more than 91 percent of the German vote.


The "Karlsbad Program" of March 24, 1938

  1. Restoration of complete equality of the German national group with the Czech people;
  2. Recognition of the Sudetengerman national group as a legal entity for the safeguarding of this position of equality within the State;
  3. Confirmation and recognition of the Sudetengerman settlement area;
  4. Building up of Sudetengerman self-government in the Sudetengerman settlement area in all branches of public life insofar as questions affecting the interests and the affairs of the German national group are involved;
  5. Introduction of legal provisions for the protection of those Sudetengerman citizens living outside the defined settlement area of their national group;
  6. Removal of wrong done to Sudetengerman element since the year 1918, and compensation for damage suffered through this wrong;
  7. Recognition and enforcement of principle: German public servants in the German area;
  8. Complete freedom to profess adherence to the German element and German ideology.

Documents on German Foreign Policy, (London, 1950), 
Series D, vol. II, no. 135, p. 242.


Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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