The Ways to Reconciliation and Forgiveness in the Czech-Sudeten German Relations. A Personal View.

Love. Forgive. “However, concerning the Sudeten Germans it is not that simple!” This is the objection that I often hear.

zap_hr (1)I (born in 1952) have grown up in the Sudetenland, in the German speaking village of Hackelsdorf/Herlíkovice on the upper Elbe in the Giant Mountains. We knew nothing. Nothing about the subdivision of the concentration camp Groß Rosen. We had no idea what the houses were used for before or that there used to be a school, a mill house, a grocery store and pubs. With other children I used to look through the windows into the empty wooden houses on the mountain side and poked with sticks into the graves (what if there is a dead German to find?). The people did not know each other, as every family came from somewhere else they glowered at each other and did not trust one another. There was no past, no community. Maybe nostalgia.Much later, my eyes were opened by the texts of a historian, Ján Mlynárik (in the socialist era publishing under the pseudonym Danubius). After his texts were published, the life in the Sudetenland for many Czechs that once “occupied” the German houses brought no fortune any longer. Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. My family is a testimony of that. Do you believe in the power of a curse?

The other end of the circle of my life: In September 2017 I participated in the meeting of the “Heimatkreis Hohenelbe” in the Bavarian Marktoberdorf. There were friends of mine among the participants. The homeland connects us. Many of them were so empathetic and understanding towards us Czechs that I occasionally had to oppose them. And vice versa – my weakness for the old people of that land is familiar to me. Only because I am a Germanist and because my earlier husband is a Sudeten German? I see the Sudeten Germans as those who had always been getting the short straw – as an involuntary minority in the time of the first Czechoslovakian Republic, as Hitler’s “Cannon Fodders” on the East Front, as victims of the expulsion from Czechoslovakia based on a collective guilt, and also as suspicious refugees in the destroyed post-war Germany.

Herlík hřbitovWhen discussing with those who defend the expulsion I often ask (myself): how would we have acted politically if we were the Germans? Would we have passed the tests of the time of war?

The nostalgias tend to strive for fulfillment. Hence, once the revolution took place, I was able to help in building up the contacts and cooperation with the Heimatkreis Hohenelbe. (Finally those whose roots originate in my hometown!). I participated in making plans for the community centre in Vrchlabí, which in the end, unfortunately, did not come about. Yet the joy from personal friendships made along the way has remained.

Life tends to pull itself toegther meaningfully. I became a member of a small community “Přátelé Herlíkovic/ the Friends of Hackelsdorf) and our activities (such as the renovation of an old village house or of the small mountain church, cleaning up the German cemetery nearby, thematic Czech-German Weeks taking place all year long, Church anniversaries) are delightful for me. Because this is how we search for ways to reconcile the present with the past.

Your old men will dream dreams”. I have dreams as well. I dream of finding Gottfried and Günther one day. In 1946, as small kids, they had to leave their house in Hackelsdorf, the house that our community now maintains. I dream that they might come back and we would say: “Your house!” I also dream that the train station in Hohenelbe / Vrchlabí might house a memorial, with the names of the nearly 45 000 Germans “transported” from here between 1945 and 1946 in freight trains. I dream that history, the history taught in schools, might not end with the Second World War. And I wish that our country would finally agree conclude a War Graves Agreement with Germany (which would, beside the “war graves”, also concern itself with the civilians who perished as a result of the war).

“The thing will be solved once they all die out,”. This is how an aquaintance of mine summed the thing up for himself. Only extraordinary people are capable of jumping over their own shadow. Many Czechs, and also many Sudeten Germans, are still entrenched in their positions. My problem is not the German guilt. It is the failure of my people that lies upon my shoulders. “It is difficult to act with humanity in a time of human hostility so that no new injustice arises”, says our friend, minister Erich Busse from Dresden.

When talking with people in Marktoberdorf, there was always a wish expressed: that the never-ending circle of injustice and revenge would be broken. Ingrid Mainert, supervior of the Hohenelber and professionally a psychotherapist, speaks of the necessity of a mediator. She is also against the Beneš-Decrees (“Who wouldn’t be!”), however it is clear to her how extremely complicated this matter is for the Czechs. But are our politicians always making their decisions with regard to the closest elections, actually willing to solve the problem? Is it not our task? There are no merely “private” life stories. Each one of us is responsible in our concrete historical time. And as Christians we are not sentenced to any kind of a circular motion, but – as living “Ichthys” – we are intended to swim against the stream. Is not the Spirit of God the most competent mediator?

IMG_3607.1That acquittance of mine was right with his statement – but in a different way than he intended. Once there will be no more of us expelled Sudeten Germans, then they will finally come. They will come back into the literature, a literature that we will begin to uncover. Memorials and museums will be opened, the German cultural heritage will be respected. And for sure in Prague, there will one day be a big and much visited exposition with a short name: ODSUN. But that all will no longer will have to do with reconciliation and forgiveness.

Hana Jüptnerová