The Unmastered Past:  The Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after World War II by Dr. Gary Cohen, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Minnesota

When: Saturday, February 18, 2012 from 9:00am – 12:00pm
Where:  Carlson School of Management, Room 2-224. Carlson is located on the West Bank Campus at 321 Nineteenth Avenue South.  A skyway connects the building to the 19th Avenue Parking Ramp.

We think of World War II as a period in world history of enormous loss of human life, indeed the most destructive episode in the last three centuries.  Losses of human life on this scale can only be estimated, and current estimates of the military and civilian dead, whether due to violent attacks, genocide, disease, or starvation caused directly by the war, run to between 62 and 78 million people in all theaters.  Civilian deaths ran to between 40 and 52 million.  Yet the human suffering in Europe did not stop with the formal end of hostilities in 1945.  Deaths continued for several years after the war because of starvation and disease in bombed out cities and above all among the refugees created by massive forced migration after the fighting stopped.  The largest number of those forced migrants, expellees, in fact, were ethnic Germans who were forced out of their home communities in many parts of East-Central as they fled from the advancing Soviet military forces or were deliberately expelled by Soviet authorities and the new post-war governments in East-Central Europe.  That movement of ethnic Germans included between 12 and 14 million people, probably the largest single forced migration in modern history.

A large German-speaking minority, which numbered around 3 million people at the end of the World War II, had resided in parts of Bohemia and Moravia for many centuries.  A wave of ill-organized expulsions between May and August 1945, the so-called “wild expulsions,” encouraged by Czechoslovak authorities, drove some 700,000 to 800,000 people out of Czechoslovakia, regardless of whether they were directly implicated in the Nazi occupation or not.  A more organized process, supervised and regulated by the Czechoslovak government, drove out 2,000,000 more between January and October 1946.  In fact, already in London during the war, the Czechoslovak government in exile had decided to resolve the longstanding Czech-German political conflict by expelling a large part or all of the German-speaking population; and a broad consensus of Czech and Slovak political forces, as well as the victorious allies, supported the action.  Any serious questioning of whether the largely indiscriminate mass expulsion was right or truly justified has remained taboo in much of the Czech political spectrum ever since — as Václav Havel found out when he raised the question soon after becoming president of Czechoslovakia.

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