If there’s one thing I learned from my work, it’s that I never stop learning from it. During the course of this year, I’ve come across some historical facts that I’ve never been aware of, in particular, those of the so-called “Sudeten Germans”.
Previously, I’ve worked on translations from clients whose ancestors lived in Pomerania. Their once-German hometowns, villages, and whole areas belong to Poland since the end of the Second World War and they have Polish names now. With the help of reliable sources, it’s possible to trace and translate these place names. With the Sudeten Germans though, this is quite a different matter.
The Sudetenland consists of Bohemia, Silesia, and Moravia and used to be part of Austria-Hungary. Many people spoke three languages or more, mainly German, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish. Wars, politics, nationalism, and different religious orientations led to countless resettlements and new claims to power, changing the official language from one to the other.
After the First World War, the entire Sudetenland was declared part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia which ensured that its minorities had certain rights, but some claimed that these rights didn’t extend far enough and Germans were not given equal status – in schools, for example, the main language was now Czech. Tensions rose. During the inter-war years, hunger and unemployment fed the rising antagonistic nationalism and a considerable number of the German-speaking population welcomed Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938.
A great number of the Czech population was expelled by the Nazis, and after the Second World War, the majority of the German population was expelled by the Czechs. The animosity between both nationalities grew. About three million Sudeten Germans fled to post-war Germany and Austria.
Everything changed again when in 1948, the country became a Communist state until the peaceful revolution led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1989, Czechoslovakia returned to being a parliamentarian democracy and, four years later, agreed to split the country into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Complicated, isn’t it? Due to its colourful, chequered past, areas of the former Sudetenland could now either be found in the Czech Republic, in Hungary, in Slovakia, or in Austria. If your ancestors used to live there, you may find that their correspondence is full of place names that don’t exist anymore. And should you wonder about your true ethnic origin, you may find it impossible to decide on one of the four countries.
In all the confusion, there is help: Soon, the Sudetendeutsches Museum in Munich is scheduled to open, giving information about the history and the culture of the three million people who once lived there, hoping to build a bridge between the past and the future.