Is culturally acceptable ruffle among Czechs

July 20, 1944 - a contradicting date for Czechs

In this article I aim to compare the canonized memory of the resistance against National Socialism in the Czech Republic and Germany. I would like to show that the geographical proximity of the two countries and the resulting interweaving of their history do not automatically promote mutual knowledge and understanding. In addition to the classic stereotypes, the relationship between both sides was determined by the cultural survival interests of the respective nation, which often turned into a nationalism oriented towards dominance and demarcation. Often selective communication between neighbors and partners is the result of this historical development, even if this no longer makes sense in today's situation of an integrating Europe. As an example of the different understandings of the same historical periods, I would like to explain the role of exile and resistance from the Czech and German perspectives. Certainly, a more intensive education about these differences could strengthen the possibilities of empathy between Czechs and Germans and thus also promote a common assessment of the war, democracy and freedom in Europe as well as expulsion. On the way to this goal, however, there is a lot of work ahead of us in the area of ​​descriptive research, but also in the area of ​​pedagogical, media and political communication of the knowledge acquired.

In the silent protectorate

"Assassination attempt on Hitler. We'll find out about it in the course of the afternoon. The outer life of the city continues unchanged. I observe a noticeable reluctance in German as well as in Czech circles and get the impression that they are diligently trying to avoid any discussion about the attack as far as possible, ”wrote Wilhelm Dennler, a senior official of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in his memoirs. And one day later he noted: "Only now do I hear that yesterday almost led to serious events here in Prague similar to those that took place in Berlin." [1] The episode he describes is, however rather an anecdote compared to what is happening in Berlin - two people live out their mutual antipathy. In the protectorate, too, power should be taken over by the armed forces. Initially there was only one arrest. The personal assistant to the Minister of State K. H. Frank, Dr. Giese, visited General Ferdinand Schaal, who held him for a while with inner satisfaction. But then he was informed of the failure of the assassination attempt. The officer, released with apologies, immediately had Frank take measures against the general, with the result that the “20th July 1944 in Prague “was officially ended. However, there were reprisals in the next few days: Communists and Social Democrats were arrested, and K. H. Frank circulated some constructed stories, some of which have not yet been properly dealt with today. [2]

Rare memories

Five years later, on the sidelines of communist Czechoslovakia, the former ambassador Mastný wrote down his memories in neat handwriting, in which he referred to his statements in one of the post-war trials, where employees of the Protectorate administration were charged with suspicion of collaboration. At that time he could hardly assume that these records would ever be printed. [3] Mastný mentioned his contacts to Germans, which he had during his time as ambassador in Berlin in 1938/39 and which he was accused of as a collaboration after 1945: "[...] I still want to, [.. .], mention three Reich Germans with whom I had not only written but also personal contact during almost the entire period of the occupation during their occasional stays in Prague. There were two friends I knew very well from Berlin: Count M. K. Trautmannsdorf and the Berlin lawyer and notary Dr. Münch and next to them also my friend Dr. Carpenter. All three informed me in secret about the development of internal conditions in Germany [...] Count Trautmannsdorf [...] was involved in the July conspiracy against Hitler, about the preparation of which I was informed by him. After the unsuccessful assassination attempt, Trautmannsdorf did not contact me and I do not know his fate. ”Mastný died in 1954 and until his death had no way of finding out more about what was going on around his friend (Trautmannsdorf died in 1965). Mastný was only informed about the arrest and death sentence of another opposition member, Albrecht Haushofer. With the sources available to him in the country, he could hardly know more. The assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944 was not one of the topics that could or would have been pursued (and publicly presented) in the renewed Czechoslovakia after the war. The war was only over for a short time, and the mood made any reference to what was happening in Germany impossible. It was only written about the Nuremberg Trials.

Let them kill themselves

This mood of disinterest, however, started earlier. A politician close to Edvard Beneš, Prokop Drtina, commented on the attempted coup in Germany under the pseudonym Pavel Svatý from London in the BBC on July 23, 1944: “Events that are happening in Germany right now, and their witnesses at home and We are only partially here abroad because Himmler and the Gestapo deny us that we can find out everything in full truth, what they are hiding behind their bloody curtain, these events mean at any rate, regardless of their further course, that Nazi Germany is currently in the stage of his death convulsions has arrived. These convulsions can last a while longer, can drag on for a long time, but can end in nothing but death, because they are death convulsions. "[4]

German Forest in Prague

It would take more than 50 years before the subject was taken up again and Prague historiography was able to come up with new discoveries. Alena Míšková described further fates of this time in her investigation into the history of the Prague German University, whose rector Friedrich Klausing committed suicide on August 6, 1944. In a letter he said goodbye to his three sons and recommended one of them, Lieutenant Friedrich Karl Klausing, if he still had a weapon, to direct the last bullet at himself. Friedrich Karl was one of the conspirators. In a strange contrast to this, the departing father recommended that the second of his sons take care of the German forest and its ideas. In contrast, he was unable to grasp the ideas of his distinguished son. [5] The mention of this episode is, however, no indication of a more intensive Czech occupation with the subject, and of course it does not contain a more comprehensive appraisal of the events of 1944, which can only be roughly measured with German hero worship. After a German-Czech conference in 1992, Dietmar Neutatz's lecture was published in Czech [6], which in a nutshell depicts the national-conservative resistance alongside the Kreisau Circle, the Exile and other groups. Jan B. UhlíĜ also published smaller works on the subject. [7] A monograph on the Czech-German resistance relations is missing, although this field of the history of the relationship could certainly be of particular importance for today's German-Czech contacts.

Shared history

What are the reasons for this very different perspective on the events of July 20, 1944, in which Czech politicians to this day carefully distinguish between the memorial sites in Berlin during their visits - while Plötzensee is acceptable, the Bendler Block is avoided? In order to answer this question, it is worthwhile to point out some key events in Czech and German history for the period after 1933 and to treat them, so to speak, from a synchronous-optical perspective. This requires less extensive study of files than a glance at the calendar. Furthermore, the many interpretations must be addressed, which, whether they came about immediately after the events or later, must first be put side by side in order to be able to formulate the right questions for a more detailed study of the sources. To begin with: In this area of ​​German and Czech history, it is extremely difficult to even find a point of contact between the representations. Why? July 20, 1944 did not “fit” into the thinking pattern of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile from the start (and we shall not discuss here how marginal the assassination attempt on Hitler also appeared to Winston Churchill, who only corrected himself after the war). The growing influence of communism since 1945, crowned by the successful coup in 1948, has clouded the view of July 20 even further. For a long time (since 1972) the only standard work in the Czech language was a translation from the workshop of the GDR historians. [8] The only thing to note about Kurt Finker and his book is that such positions are no longer accepted in today's Czech Republic as contributions to a necessary discussion about German-Czech memory conflicts, but are simply wiped off the table by the new generation of historians because of their communist starting point. The turnaround is more radical in Prague than in the new federal states, which does not always promote a broad perspective. But the post-war development of West Germany in the free world is no guarantee for broad and promising historical images - at least with regard to the immediate neighbors in the east, attention remains very limited. For example, if you read the post-war speeches by the Minister for Internal German Affairs, Jakob Kaiser, [9] who was also part of the group of the assassins of July 20, 1944, you can see what a comfortable enemy communism made for him. In this way it was possible to reject everything that came from the "East" in an undifferentiated manner, without going into the details of developments in these countries. Kaiser's positions continue to have an impact in German politics to this day, although his name is almost only known to the general public in connection with the parliament building of the same name.

Refuge of German exile in Central Europe

In order to investigate the causes of the “passing each other”, one has to dig deeper into history. Czechoslovakia in the 1930s was a democratic state despite its flaws (which only partly consisted in the way it dealt with a difficult German ethnic group). Many of the Germans who were politically persecuted in the Reich when Hitler came to power and whose lives were in danger, found a place to go here. The direction of the escape movements speaks a clear language. Mention should only be made of Albert Einstein's temporary stay and the naturalization of the families of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, who were finally able to travel all over the world with their Czechoslovak passports. Golo Mann, this very German historian, even used this passport to volunteer for the Czechoslovak Army (but he was retired for health reasons). The Adalbert Stifter Association in Munich has put together an excellent exhibition and documentation available as a catalog under the name “Turntable Prague”. [10] From Brno and from the many German theaters in Teplitz-Schönau, Troppau, Reichenberg, etc., the experienced a strong influx of excellent actors, while over in the Reich Goebbels railed against the "Jewified theaters", is not even mentioned.

However, this situation ended in September 1938 with the Munich Agreement. This is not the place to analyze the problematic nature of this event, but it should be noted that the Western protective powers of what was then Czechoslovakia - France and Great Britain - approved an unequal exchange (which they soon revoked, it should be noted in advance) : For the Sudeten Germans, a national union with the Reich was achieved at the expense of their democratic rights. After the Jews had been marginalized as victims in the Reich for a long time and the Austrian democrats were attacked hard after the “Anschluss”, the Sudeten German democrats were Hitler's third group of victims. There were tens of thousands who were immediately persecuted as Catholics, Social Democrats or others or who sought salvation in the frightened rest of Czechoslovakia. At that time, however, it was already clear as the next victim: There, too, discriminatory measures against Jews were being discussed and introduced, and there, too, Sudeten German Social Democrats were handed over to the Nazi thugs. [11] There are moving reports of the fate of the refugees that give an idea of ​​which There was uncertainty in Central Europe at the time. There is a photo of the long-time Bavarian SPD chairman Volkmar Gabert, born in Dreihunken near Teplitz-Schönau, which shows him on March 7, 1939 as one of the four boys of the honor guard in front of the portrait of Masaryk (it was the birthday of Founding President of Czechoslovakia who died in 1937). This shot of an almost pathetic demonstration in a refugee camp south of Prague could very well have been Gabert's last picture if it weren't for the group of Sudeten German Social Democrats on March 15, 1939, the day of the occupation of the 2nd Czechoslovak Republic, the rump state by Hitler's grace , escaped via Poland at the last minute.

Participate with Hitler?

It is interesting to relate the events of that period to the biographies of the later July 20th conspirators. On October 11, 1936 and again in December, Hitler’s emissaries Count Trautmannsdorf and Dr. Albrecht Haushofer visits Prague. It was the start of several weeks of negotiations aimed at a non-aggression pact with Hitler's Germany. Czechoslovakia was supposed to guarantee in a secret agreement that it would not fulfill its obligations from other agreements, especially those with France and England, if not revoked, at least in an emergency. [12] These negotiations fizzled out and are only intended to serve as evidence that Hitler's considerations went in all directions and in 1936 by no means solely revolved around the allegedly severely suppressed Sudeten Germans. How stable such an agreement would have been, and whether Hitler would have kept his word in this particular case, should not concern us here. What is important, however, is the fact that the later members of the opposition followed their leader's turnaround very well, even at a time when the criminal character of the Nazi system should have been clear to them at the latest in view of the Nuremberg Laws. This diplomatic episode did not become particularly well known, but the Munich Agreement at the end of September 1938 all the more. Carl Goerdeler stood by this concoction long after all signatories except Germany had withdrawn their signatures.

After this decision, which the Czechoslovak representatives (interestingly, it was the already quoted Ambassador Mastný and the Hubert Masařík mentioned below) were only allowed to pick them up in Munich, the Sudetenland was occupied. Many Sudeten Germans cheered, but it was by no means all - the group of victims was large and, unlike the Reich Germans, this fate befell them with a sudden blow. The hero of July 20, Count Stauffenberg, was personally involved in the invasion of the Sudetenland on October 4, 1938. In a letter he reports that he had to curb his soldiers' shopping bug. These lines show that he had learned two basic facts - the Sudeten Germans lived in orderly circumstances, in a country that was better cared for than the Reich - and they did not have to be rescued from material hardship. This contradiction to Hitler's angry descriptions of the situation in the neighboring country evidently did not worry Stauffenberg at the time. But even later he did not think much about the strange change of sides of the Sudeten Germans from the (undoubtedly flawed) democracy to a brutal national ideology. Another of the later conspirators, Ulrich von Hassell, who at that time already saw himself in opposition to the regime, announced in March 1939 that the “grab for Prague” had been “brilliantly carried out”. [13]

The unity of Germany (then defined in the folk way) is to this day that which is emphasized again and again as an idea - the word is a kind of myth, regardless of what kind of unity it is in the respective use of the term. This questionable patriotic worldview of the conservative opposition, which was shaped biographically by von Hassell, Goerdeler and others and resulted from the narrow view of the time, is still cultivated even today by certain political dreamers (who are nonetheless dangerous). Paradoxically, it is still countered with the gesture of reproach of the differentiated assessment of July 20, 1944, which has meanwhile dominated the culture of remembrance in the Federal Republic. However, even then, shortly after the "Anschluss" of Austria and the Sudetenland, it was clearly clear that it would be German unity without the Mann brothers, without Wenzel Jaksch, without Stephan Heym and Albert Einstein. In the descriptions of the history of the Kreisau Circle, November 9, 1938, the “Reichskristallnacht”, is mentioned again and again as a formative shock for the resistance. That was five and a half weeks after the occupation of the Sudetenland, where many synagogues had already burned down. But didn't Goerdeler, who resigned from the office of Mayor of Leipzig just a year earlier (despite his courageous advocacy of the Leipzig Mendelssohn memorial, the removal of which led to his resignation), thought about resettling the Jews to Madagascar? To protect them from being “foreign” in Europe, of course. It is true that one cannot simply apply today's standards to those times, but a comparison of the perspectives between then and now can be illuminating: Today we speak of ethnic cleansing and displacement. It is fair to say that the opinions of the opposition at the time developed differently: It is significant that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was already discussing the “prayer for the defeat of my homeland” in a small group in 1941 and made a clear decision in the conflict between love of fatherland and humanity. And Moltke soon saw that the renewal of Germany would very likely only be achieved through Hitler's military defeat.

Exile as a betrayal of the fatherland?

I would like to mention another person at this point because it is often argued that in the years after the Nazis came to power, further developments could not be adequately anticipated. Sebastian Haffner had left Germany in 1938 and first wrote in London the much later published “Geschichte eines Deutschen” (History of a German), and finally in 1939 he wrote a larger work that appeared in 1940 (Germany - Jekyll and Hyde). Haffner in particular is proof that certain developments could very well be foreseen back then. The debate that took place a few years ago about an alleged forgery of the “story of a German”, the authenticity of which has been proven, shows very clearly: Many Germans still have problems with their fathers being blinded to this day. But it is not a problem for today's generation, but a phenomenon that has roots that go back a long way and is partly based on persistent attitudes. How do you deal with the politics of your own country when they derail? Is it possible to pursue a just German policy from exile? What is that, the German “loyalty”? Why is Wenzel Jaksch missing in the 1998 “Lexicon of Resistance 1933–1945”? [15] Neither is Jaksch found in the standard works on Carl Goerdeler [16] and Ulrich von Hassell [17] - both of them achieved the “unification” of Germany the Sudeten annexion welcomed and adhered to, but the actual population of this area was just as unimportant for them as their Czechoslovak neighbors - at that time more opponents, later, in the opposition, potential but unclaimed ally. These neighbors and allies, or at least their representatives, were ultimately found during the war where they could not be easily accepted because of their own political attitudes - in exile. For the protagonists of July 20, as their traditions show, exile was evidently a bad word. This view remained influential in the post-war period, whether it was about the debate about Thomas Mann or the "Herbert Frahm and Exile Story", with which Willy Brandt was to be reviled again and again in a particularly infamous way.

Exile as a method of resistance

However, exile plays an important role in the Czech version of the “war story”. The most important collection of documents by Edvard Beneš is already called “Six Years of Exile and the Second World War”. In a speech on July 24, 1940 (after the first recognition of the Czechoslovak government in exile - but before he was also recognized as president), he declared the events from the meeting in Munich in 1938 to be enforced and therefore invalid. And he says a sentence that already defines the position in relation to the following events four years later: "It would be simply nonsensical and naive to believe and think that the war can end according to the wishes of the Germans." [18] This in exile The words uttered stand in a clear opposite position to all Goerdeler's peace plans, which contain the explicitly not mentioned claim to have been made “at home”. At the same time, this claim put the internationally isolated German conservative opposition in the unenviable position of considering such strange possibilities as the one to build Heinrich Himmler against Hitler.

It is not to say that the policy of the Czechoslovak resistance developed in exile was morally on a different level; only the fundamental difference in the way of thinking should be emphasized. Even exile was not free from problems. In this context we should talk about the relationship between Czechoslovak exile and resistance to the homeland. But this is another story. The conflicts between the groups in exile would be another topic, be it between the Czechs and Slovaks (Beneš – Osuský), the Czechoslovaks and Poles or the Czechs and Sudeten Germans. The hub of this conflicted relationship was London. The conflicts that the individual groups waged in London have been dealt with many times. But it is interesting how many encounters “in exile” did not take place despite the existing possibility. While the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks in London defined their positions and spoke to representatives of British politics, while Wenzel Jaksch also assumed the important position of a democratic Sudeten German and an opponent of some Czech intentions, while Waldemar von Knoerringen had just arrived to discuss his still rather communist To continue the group “New Start”, while all this was happening, the representatives of the later opposition of the Kreisau Circle stayed in the same London (often also in Switzerland and Sweden). They spoke to the same British foreign policy-makers, but not to the important representatives and organizations of the exiled smaller countries. [19] During Heinrich Brüning's stay in London in the same year, there were no reports of any contact with these groups of obvious opposition to Hitler. Even Carl Goerdeler traveled a lot during this time - also without wasting a thought on contacts with Czechs, Poles, or even with Sudeten Germans. Wenzel Jaksch was in London at the time and could certainly have explained to anyone interested that not a few Sudeten Germans, together with German refugees and the Jews of Austria, became the first victims of the consolidation of Germany according to national principles after the Sudeten crisis.
However, the German visitors to London only looked for specific addresses. By exclusively seeking contact with government circles of the western powers, the German conservative opposition acted in a strange parallel to the actions of the NS leadership, which even went so far as to wage the war in the east and in the west according to different moral standards. However, one must honestly say that for many participants in the military resistance it was precisely this difference in warfare that became an important impetus for their decision to oppose the Nazi regime.

Jaksch is missing

It has already been mentioned that Wenzel Jaksch is missing in many depictions of the German resistance. But it is by no means the case that he was an unknown figure in the Reich. The Sudeten German Social Democrats were not only an important party from the hereditary legacy of the Austrian Social Democrats, but also the contact address for the Reich German Social Democrats after 1933. Jaksch maintained a wide range of contacts with the Germans from the Reich. Hubert Masařík, who worked in the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry at the time, even reports on an episode that seems rather bizarre today, in which Jaksch, together with Otto Strasser in Prague in the summer of 1938, wanted to warn Czech politics against an overly indulgent attitude towards Hitler. [21] Jaksch went into exile soon afterwards, while the contemporary witness Masařík stayed in Prague by chance and initially worked in the protectorate government, where he was involved in the resistance of General Eliáš.

Student protest

In the first months of the Protectorate Government, Prague was not as quiet as it was in the days of the occupation in March 1939. After only six months, starting on October 28, 1939 - it was the date of the Czechoslovak state holiday there were major demonstrations in Prague, which were suppressed by the police at gunpoint. The nervousness on both sides was of course influenced by the beginning of the war, which logically was viewed very differently by the occupiers and the occupied. Emotionally, the Munich Agreement was a kind of beginning of war for the Czechs. The student Jan Opletal died of his injuries sustained in the riots. He was buried on November 17th, which in turn sparked protests. On that day there were extensive reprisals throughout the protectorate. Hostages were shot and hundreds of students were transported to Sachsenhausen. The feeling of anger spread on the Czech side - with corresponding consequences for relations with Germans in general. Parts of the population, however, slipped into a feeling of passive despair, with the resulting sharply anti-German attitude building up during the forced inactivity - with fatal consequences for the period after 1945.

Longed-for start of the war

In contrast, exile was more politically active. Eduard Táborský, secretary of the Czechoslovak President during his time in exile, gives a detailed account of the mood of the Czechoslovak exile in his diary. [22] In his notes of September 1, 1939, he describes the debates among the Czech exiles in London. “The President was visibly excited. Although we expected it from day to day, it moves you when it really comes [...]. The beginning of liberation has come. How long it will take? We agree that it cannot last as long as the previous war. ”Edvard Beneš had been back from the USA in London since July 19 and was working on his conception of the renewal of Czechoslovakia. He had to wait another year for the British to recognize his government-in-exile, and it took even longer for him to be accepted as president - with the reason given by the Czechoslovak exile (with a few exceptions - such as Osuský) that his resignation was on May 5. October 1938 was enforced.

For Beneš and in the understanding of the majority of the Czechoslovak exile, the war was the way to freedom. Robert Bruce Lockhart, [23] who also describes the change in the British position towards the recognition of an exile representation of the Czechs and finally to the annulment of the Munich Agreement, expresses himself in a similar way. He also highlights how the "provisional status" of the government-in-exile was lifted following an initiative by Anthony Eden. With a view to this status, Jan Masaryk described the victims among the Czech airmen who had been fighting in the war for some time in a sarcastic remark as "provisional deaths". These "provisional deaths" in the Battle of Britain once again demonstrate the clear orientation of the Czechs and many Slovaks towards war - not because they were principally in favor of war, but because under the circumstances, victory over Germany was the only way to restore Czechoslovakia .

Indeed, this restoration began in exile, and not just on paper. The work of the Czechoslovak exile took place in a specific situation: going into exile was an individual decision that in many cases saved the lives of those affected and luck could play a major role in their success. When they arrived in exile, the emigrants were given a government in exile that issued draft orders and exercised its own jurisdiction. The state administration and the army took out loans and were able to pay their families. The resisters were thus at the same time in the role of citizens of a state. Wenzel Jaksch's refusal to send Sudeten German Social Democrats to the Czechoslovak army in exile could therefore be interpreted as disloyalty to his own country after the Munich Agreement was revoked.

At the same time as the Czechoslovak government-in-exile was recognized, London's foreign policy-makers shelved their contacts with the German resistance. The designation of the national-conservative opposition to Hitler as the "Reichswehr-Royalist-Goerdeler-Clique" quoted from the relevant files by Gregor Schöllgen is indicative of this period. [24] Incidentally, the royalists by no means predominated in this movement; It is known, however, that the resistance members tried to establish contacts with some representatives of the House of Hohenzollern, but without success. Understanding for this was hardly to be expected. It is interesting, however, that another representative of the nobility, Otto von Habsburg, was not considered in this context - perhaps because he was in exile. But even he himself, who closely followed the situation at the time, still sees the limits in the thinking of the national-conservative opposition to this day. [25]

General Eliáš

Was it different “at home” in the protectorate, could there have been a connection between the resistance in both countries? General Eliáš was appointed Prime Minister of the Protectorate Government under President Hácha. He had been reluctant to take on this task, but once in office he tried to save the national community, to prevent it from being brought into line under orders from the Reich and to ensure the survival of the Czechs in the looming war. He also worked illegally by maintaining contacts with the London exile, relaying news about the state of affairs at home and being in dialogue with Edvard Beneš about the activities of the Protectorate Government. When Reinhard Heydrich came to Prague, this kind of resistance in the government quickly became impossible. Eliáš was arrested on September 28, 1941, from October 1 he was on trial and later (together with the minister of his government JiĜí Havelka) he was executed. Hubert Masařík, already quoted, belonged to this group. He survived and reports about it in his memoirs. [26] Eliáš tried to protect the rest of the opposition by incriminating himself. The natural way with which this group justified its resistance (Eliáš said openly in front of the court that he had therefore not reported to the Germans about his contacts with Beneš, since he did not want to extradite his compatriots to repression) is still waiting for an appropriate appreciation by the Czechs. Eliáš was executed on June 19, 1942 when another incident intensified the persecution in the Protectorate.

The attack on Heydrich

On May 27, 1942 at 10.30 a.m., two resisters sent from London in 1941 carried out an attack on Reinhard Heydrich, in which he was fatally injured. The attack was followed by a wave of repression that culminated, among other things, in the liquidation of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. In our context, it is of interest how Czech and German historians rate this event.The positions vary between a rejection of the attack because of its consequences, which made further Czech resistance almost impossible due to the aggravation of the situation, [27] a slightly condescending position of some German historians and the positive appreciation of the event as part of the official Czech canon of memory of the resistance . The associated rituals of public memories are quite similar to the official celebrations for July 20th in Germany.

The end of Mussolini

The events of July 25, 1943 in Italy showed the world that it was possible to overcome Mussolini's dictatorship, allied with Germany, in the given war situation and to end the war immediately. This process was carefully registered in the Protectorate and in exile in Czechoslovakia. The fact that they occupied the still unfree part of Italy primarily for strategic reasons did not exactly increase sympathy towards the Germans. The war went on for almost two years. It was the time when the Hungarian Jews could still have been saved, when the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was suppressed, when music was still being played in Theresienstadt and the abused city became a perfidious propaganda backdrop for the representatives of the International Red on June 23, 1944 Had to submit a cross. While transports to Auschwitz started again after the visit, the deputy head of the press office gave a press conference in Berlin on July 19 (!), Which served to whitewash the situation in Theresienstadt. On June 30, 1944, the Theresienstadt prisoner Willy Mahler commented in his diary on a Goebbels article from the magazine “Das Reich” as follows: “In the article by Dr. Goebbels you can see the boundless German desperation about today's conditions and about the development of the war. ”[28] So were all Germans desperate, and the only difference between the assassins and them was the way in which they dealt with this despair? This is of course only a rhetorical question, as is the hint that ending the war as early as 1943, together with Italy, would have prevented the destruction of German cities. At that time a conversation between the opponents of Germany and Goerdeler would have been possible, similar to the way in which Badoglio was spoken to in Italy. Soon after, however, the situation changed. With Hitler's Germany, beyond unconditional surrender, no negotiation result was possible. The premise on which Edvard Beneš's conception for the restoration of Czechoslovakia was based became generally accepted.

Tehran, December 1, 1943

The conferences in Casablanca, Tehran and Yalta led to two important changes that were positively assessed by the Czechs at home and in exile. On the one hand, priority was given to the unconditional surrender of Germany. On the other hand, the governments-in-exile of Poland, Czechoslovakia and others grew into the role of allies. Czechoslovak troops fought on practically all fronts of the war. A peace agreement with concessions to Germany was therefore no longer conceivable. The Czechs in the country and in exile considered the German idea (again it was used by both the Nazis and the resistance) that one could make peace in the West while continuing to fight the Soviets as simply ridiculous. In doing so, the Czechs may deliberately misjudge the real possibilities. The memoirs cited above show that the government-in-exile had chosen its seat in London, but that there was little confidence in the Western powers in Munich in 1938. The feared possibility of a separate peace strengthened ties to Moscow, even if most politicians active in London were not at all enthusiastic about it. In this atmosphere, however, the influence of communist exile in Moscow on Czechoslovak politics grew and with it the role of the Soviet Union in this area. The people around President Beneš could only fear a partial peace, but never consider it.

Landing in Normandy

When the allies landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944 at the latest, there was a chance, albeit a slim one, of an “Italian moment” in Germany. Today it is called a "historical window". This was also understood by the assassins, whose plans and efforts are now available in extensive literature. What was the Czech perspective at that time? At about the same time, Beneš gave several detailed interviews to the journalist Compton Mackenzie in London. Regarding the state of German society, he said: “I admit that I do not believe in the idea of ​​re-educating Germans. When the Germans are finally defeated, they will feel very sorry for themselves, and none of them are likely to go to war again, but the idea of ​​racial superiority is so ingrained in every German that several generations will be born and die until this view is eradicated, and as long as this belief in the superiority of the German race lives, the Germans will contemplate a new war so that they can prove this superiority. It is clear to us Czechs that we cannot live with the Germans. ”[29] In view of the whole history that led to such formulations, should we expect an accommodating attention after July 20, 1944? That was no longer the president, who was still interested in the fate of German emigrants in the 1930s, who had dealt with increasing the civil service quota among the Sudeten Germans from 16 to 22% and at the beginning of 1938 for the association for the Deutsches Theater in Prague donated. [30] The train in the direction of a new beginning without the Germans and in the direction of revenge had already left before July 20, 1944.

Still, sympathies too

Only a few Czechs, who have gained extensive knowledge of Germany in their personal development, thought differently. The diplomat Hubert Masařík, whose memories of the years 1938–1939 are an important source, was already on the sidelines after being arrested by the Nazis and subsequently released. He lived in the country and eventually “hid” as an employee of a company in Berlin. After all, it was a long way from the Protectorate. Even after the war he thought about his contacts with Count Westarp, who had spoken to him about the resistance. It was one of the few testimonies of a natural cooperation between a Czech and a German in the resistance long before July 20th. [31] The episode has not yet been fully clarified and is not listed in any work on the German resistance. It is about Theodor von Westarp, who provided his Czech partner with a Berlin ID card and thus enabled him to travel back and forth between the Protectorate and Berlin, and who was looking for helpers from among the Czech forced laborers. Because of the somewhat better supply situation in the Protectorate (which by no means refers to the frequently raised stereotype that the Czechs were "doing pretty well" in the Protectorate), Westarp asked Masařík for help with supplying refugees whom he hid in the basement of his villa (their Identity is so far unknown; the Westarp family could not find any documents either). Masařík also expresses himself in general about his contacts with representatives of the German opposition to Hitler: “I have to say that every such contact was a psychological adventure, but in principle always a pleasant experience. Why? Me and my friends, we knew that this resistance movement was not mass-based, that it was a movement of a small group of intellectuals and officers. The movement took advantage of several opportunities to eliminate Hitler and their greatest act, the assassination attempt in July 1944, ended without success. We also knew that the majority of the members of this group were right-wing and that all were German nationalists, which is also evident from the program of one of its leaders, Carl Goerdeler. And yet these contacts were pleasant for a Czech.
The reason was obvious: After getting to know each other better, we found that we are united by respect for the highest values ​​of European civilization, a respect for the law, rejection and the feeling of disgust - with these Germans combined with the feeling of shame - in the face of Nazi crimes, in view of the negation of the last traces of humanity among the Nazi leaders and the brutally murderous Gestapo. "[32]

Democracy or Patriotism?

July 20, 1944 was a significant event that had shown how courageously and decisively its protagonists planned the act and, even after its failure, stood by the deliberate intention. The eleven years that preceded the act, however, have radically changed the view of Germany from the outside. Accordingly, the Czechs hardly noticed the specific events around July 20, 1944. This is one side. But the German conservative resistance must also be reproached for the fact that its image of the war situation and its ideas about possible partners lagged behind reality for a few years. What was supposed to be achieved was actually no longer achievable at this point, even after a successful assassination attempt. When Wolfgang Venohr, for example, emphasizes Goerdeler's patriotism, [33] he is of course not expressing the untruth, but at the same time he fails to recognize the fact that this patriotism was 12 years of totalitarian dictatorship, 11 years of concentration camps, 9 years of the Nuremberg Laws, 7 years of foreign policy aggression, 5 Let years of war and mass murder go by without taking any action (the fact that there had been assassination attempts before does not change that). Venohr also misjudges the other and by him unnamed patriotism of the Germans, which existed in the exile of Sebastian Haffner. The patriotism of Goerdeler, von Hassell, and Stauffenberg in Germany, which was almost defeated, was only Haffner's Dr. Jekyll. Under the Nazi rule, which Haffner paraphrased as Mr. Hyde, the increasingly weaker Dr. Jekyll doesn't. And this vision - it must be repeated here - was written down as early as 1939.

Central Europe?

Finally, I would like to “briefly” cover the last 200 years. Can the average informed public in both countries even develop a feeling of empathy on the basis of school knowledge? Was it during the war, and does the majority of the population today have a basis on both sides to view the clearly defined “we” groups as something in common? In Jena at the beginning of the 19th century, at the meeting at the Wartburg, Czechs and Slovaks were still involved. An example for everyone - Kollár. But even the term “Wars of Liberation” could not be adopted with a clear conscience by the guests of the German universities at the time. On the one hand, many of them longed for the freedoms of the French Revolution for their home countries as well; on the other hand, they correctly saw that a re-strengthening of Prussia and the unification of Germany mean nothing good to them. To this day, these differences are clearly visible in the canons of the respective historical narratives. The stabilization of Prussia means for the Czechs (and also for many Sudeten Germans) the loss of a crown land - even if it happened in the distant past and was no longer of any real importance around 1800. Silesia was forcibly torn from Maria Theresa and the Prussian-Austrian wars were reflected in many folk songs that are still sung today.

For comparison: the view from Poland is also problematic. There are still pictures from Hambach 1832 with Polish flags flying on them. The failed Polish uprising met with a lot of sympathy in Germany. Today's debates, on the other hand, are rather controversial and burdened by little mutual knowledge.

But back to the German-Czech relationship: in 1848, within a few weeks there was a split in the previously harmoniously connected Bohemia of both tongues. How could the celebrated St. Paul's Church attract the Czechs when suddenly they were no longer the Kingdom of Bohemia in the Holy Roman Empire, but a minority to be protected in a state with the attribute “German nation”? The founding of an empire in Versailles in 1871 meant for the Czechs a complete breakdown of solidarity with the German Reich - where was the democracy, the cosmopolitanism, the awakening that could have attracted the Czech neighbors? To learn from the Germans meant introducing a similarly dull nationalism (and in some cases we succeeded in doing so). When, when the historical lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia were spun off in 1918, there was talk of "violent annexation" in some parts of the German-populated areas of the country, the Czechs' trust in the political conceptions of their German-speaking neighbors has completely waned. Here, in the Bohemian Crown Lands, it happened only once in the last 1000 years - in the wake of the Prussian aggression to Silesia mentioned above - that the borders were shifted. Before and after 1918 there was gradually a fatal tendency in Czech politics to be symmetrical and balanced towards Germany (this attitude is still prominently represented today). At that time, the Peace of Versailles became part of the founding myth of Czechoslovakia. Even then, the Czech protagonists saw that the German negotiators were not taking them very seriously. Here, in an effort to revise the Versailles Peace (which, this is not to be disputed here, was of course in no way peacemaking), Carl Goerdeler started. Today's approach must be designed across this mined field. The means for the first approximation is attention.

Almost all of the examples have already been mentioned: to this day, with all its speeches in Hambach and Frankfurt (and at the Whitsun meetings of the Sudeten Germans), public remembrance in Germany has taken no notice of the continued existence of the Prague German University after 1918. The role of Czechoslovakia as a place of refuge for German emigrants during the Nazi era is just as rarely discussed. And once again - who says that the development after the Munich Agreement was the way for most Sudeten Germans from an imperfect democracy to a dictatorship with national legitimacy, in which many ended up in concentration camps or died at the front? What is it then that, given this background, the Czech resistance appears to many Germans to be a collection of illogical acts of little importance? "The Czechs were doing pretty well in the Protectorate," one hears from time to time. “Then why did they carry out the assassination attempt on Heydrich when they had to know what repression would follow?” How bitter must the Czechs find it when they were an insignificant province from the perspective of the assassins of July 20, one Province not worth working with. The same applies if today's reflection on these events has still not managed to overcome the European asymmetry.

Without losing sight of the serious fact of displacement after the Second World War, we still have a lot to do with much earlier events in order to analyze the process of de-solidarization and to work our way through to a European history. There are experts who claim that the stories of peoples will always be different. I do not believe it. But we must first begin by examining canonized traditions to see whether they do not fall short of the interpretation of a WORLD WAR by restricting them to national history alone.


[1] Wilhelm Dennler, Bohemian Passion, Freiburg 1953.
[2] Stanislav Kokoška, ​​personal communication to the author.
[3] VojtČch Mastný, Vzpomínky diplomata [Memoirs of a Diplomat], Prague 1997.
[4] Prokop Drtina, A nyní promluví Pavel Svatý [And now Pavel Svatý is speaking], Prague 1945.
[5] Alena Míšková, NČmecká (Karlova) univerzita od Mnichova k 9. kvČtnu 1945 [The German (Karls-) University from the Munich Agreement until May 9, 1945], Prague 2002.
[6] Dietmar Neutatz, ýeskoslovensko v zahraniþnČ politických pĜedstavách nČmeckého odboje a exilu [Czechoslovakia in the foreign policy ideas of the German resistance and exile], in: Cesta do katastrofy? ýeskoslovensko-nČmecké vztahy 1938–1947 [The road to disaster? Czechoslovak-German Relations 1938–1947], Ústav mezinárodních vztahĤ [Institute for International Relations] and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Prague 1992.
[7] Jan Boris UhlíĜ, 20 þervenec 1944 v nČmecké a þeské historiografii [July 20, 1944 in German and Czech historiography], Historie a vojenství [history and military affairs], XLV, Prague 1996; ders., Plukovník Stauffenberg a 20. þervenec 1944 [Colonel Stauffenberg and July 20, 1944], Historický obzor [Historical Review] 5 (4), p. 85.
[8] Kurt Finker, Stauffenberg a 20. þervenec 1944 [Stauffenberg and July 20, 1944] (translated by H. Karlach), Prague 1972.
[9] Tilman Mayer (ed.), Jakob Kaiser. Trade unionist and patriot, Cologne 1988.
[10] Peter Becher / Sigrid Canz, Drehscheibe Prag, Munich 1989.
[11] Leopold Grünwald, Sudeten German resistance against National Socialism. Publications of the Sudetendeutschen Archiv 23, Benediktbeuren 1986; We didn't want to go wrong with the masses. Publication of the Seligergemeinde, Munich 1995.
[12] Compton Mackenzie, Dr. Beneš, London 1946.
[13] Gregor Schöllgen, Ulrich von Hassell 1881–1944, Munich 1990.
[14] Wolfgang Venohr, “Everybody has their pants full! Nobody dares to contradict! ”, In: Junge Freiheit, 29, 1999.
[15] Peter Steinbach / Johannes Tuchel (eds.), Lexicon of Resistance 1933–1945, Munich 1998.
[16] Gerhard Ritter, Carl Goerdeler and the German Resistance Movement, Stuttgart 1954.
[17] Gregor Schöllgen, Ulrich von Hassell 1881–1944 (note 13).
[18] Edvard Beneš, Šest let exilu a druhé svČtové války [Six years of exile and World War II], Prague 1946.
[19] Here is a small compilation of the works cited: Carl Goerdeler, 1937 in London Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin, August 18, 1938 in London, meets Churchill, Vansittart Theo Kordt, a few days after Munich 1938 in London, meets Halifax Carl Goerdeler - August to October 1938 in Switzerland The same, sent his "Weltfriedensprogramm" in December 1938 Moltke and Trott are there (meet in Oxford in 1937) London: Brüning in April 1939 from the USA to London May 1939 Carl Goerdeler in London and in Paris (Churchill, Vansittart) Pechel, Trott in London three times in spring 1939, in London in summer 1939 Fabian von Schlabrendorff in London in midsummer 1939 (Lloyd, Churchill).
[20] Henlein 1938 in London (outside Munich) and - still as a Czechoslovak citizen - is received by the envoy Jan Masaryk; The flight from Hess also belongs here.
[21] Hubert MasaĜík, V promČnách Evropy [In the Changes in Europe], Prague 2002.
[22] Eduard Táborský, PresidentĤv sekretáĜ vypovídá [The President's secretary testifies], Zurich 1978.
[23] Robert Bruce Lockhart, Comes the reckoning, London 1947.
[24] Schöllgen, Ulrich von Hassell 1881–1944 (note 13).
[25] Personal communication to the author dated May 30, 2004: Habsburg had not agreed with the "Anschluss" of Austria anyway. And he had clear ideas: “Even before the war someone wanted to talk to me about the opposition, but he wanted to establish contact in an SA uniform. Of course I had to refuse. "
[26] See note 21.
[27] VojtČch Mastný, Protektorát a osud þeského odboje [The Protectorate and the Fate of the Czech Widertsnad], Prague 2003 (revised version of the original English edition from 1971).
[28] Quoted from Miroslav Kryl, Osud vČzĖĤ terezínského ghetta v letech 1941–1944 [The fate of the inmates of the Theresienstadt Ghetto 1941–1944], Prague 1999.
[29] Mackenzie, Dr Beneš (note 12).
[30] Hubert MasaĜík was the bearer of the donation.
[31] See note 21.
[32] See note 21.
[33] Venohr, “Everyone is fed up with their pants!”.