Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun May 22 16:54:29 UTC 2005
Small steps towards reconciliation between Czechs and their German
Praha 5/5/2005 , by Peter Josika
After years of controversy the City of Brno/Brnn has finally unveiled a
bilingual commemorative plaque of the famous German-Moravian politician
Ludwig Czech. Ludwig Czech was a member of the inter war German Social
Democratic Party, a junior member in the Czechoslovak government between
1929 and 1938.
He was known to be a major supporter of Czech-German cooperation and
attempted to improve the difficult relationship between the two linguistic
groups after the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
During the 1930s, a period of economic hardship and ever increasing
political polarization, Ludwig Czech fought tirelessly on both sides of
the ethnic divide. While on the one hand attempting to improve minority
protection standards and lift government investments in German speaking
Sudetenland, he also campaigned against the upsurge of Nazi support among
many Germans during the rise of Hitler in neighbouring Germany.
Most of the approximately three million Germans and 500,000 Hungarians of
Czechoslovakia experienced a decline in their living standards during the
inter-war period, while the standard of living of Czechs and Slovaks
generally improved. This uneven development increasingly polarized
One of the main contributors to this uneven development was the
introduction of Czechoslovak as the national language in 1920, which cost
tens of thousands of German and Hungarian speaking postal, railway and
other government officials their jobs, as well as a major land reform
which generally disadvantaged Germans and Hungarians. The world wide
recession of the early 30s, which hit German speaking industrialized
Northern Bohemia the most, and infrastructure investments mainly targeting
Czech and Slovak instead of German speaking regions, were additional
factors that increased dissatisfaction among the German population.
Ludwig Czechs efforts for tolerance, peace and respectful co-existence
could not prevent the Munich agreement and the subsequent dismantlement of
The Nazi media bombarded Sudeten Germans with anti-Czechoslovak propaganda
between 1933 and 1938. Although Ludwig Czech and the German Social
Democrats had long been pushing for a German-Czechoslovak radio station to
counter the Nazi monopoly on public opinion, it was not until weeks before
the Sudetenland was seized by Hitler, that the Czechoslovak government
finally reacted and a German radio station was launched. It turned out to
be too little too late.
The subsequent Second World War cost almost the entire Jewish and Roma
population, as well as many Czech freedom fighters and forced labourers,
their lives. In the aftermath of the War more than 2.5 million Germans and
some Hungarians were expropriated and expelled from their centuries old
homeland. In eight years one of the most diverse parts of Europe had
become virtually monolingual.
In a speech at the official unveiling of the plaque Czech MP Zdenek
Koudelka said I am proud that we can remember a man here in Brno today,
who showed us a path that we can now follow together in the European
Union. Koudelka also emphasised that Mr Czech was a man that Czechs,
Austrians and Germans honour equally for his achievements.
Ludwig Czech refused to leave Czechoslovakia when Hitler seized the
country in 1938. He always stood by his democratic principles. He died at
the Terezin/Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942.
In the meantime, the City of Usti nad Labem/Aussig has announced its
intention to place a plaque on a bridge over the Elbe/Labe River. In 1945,
shortly after the end of World War II, German women and children
(estimates vary from 30 to 2000 victims) were massacred there by
Czechoslovak militia. (Eurolang 2005)
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