“The Fourth Tribe of Bavaria” – the Sudeten German Youth

The Sudeten Germans were brought “home to the Reich” by Adolf Hitler in 1938, after the Second World War they were exiled from their homeland. The debate about flight and banishment has repeatedly attracted right-wing extremists in the Sudeten German associations. The Royal Bavarian Antifa discussed some misunderstandings and prejudices with a representative of the Sudeten German Youth.

You are a member of the Sudeten German Youth, i.e. of the youth organization of an association of Sudeten German expellees. We have to admit that first of all the political alarm bells are ringing in our midst. Expellees’ associations, that sounds like Erika Steinbach, like historical revisionism and “blood and soil” ideology… Is that a wrong picture?

Unfortunately yes. We are often confronted with these images, on the one hand, historically speaking, this is not out of the question, but on the other hand, I often have the feeling that people often make use of old clichés and do not keep in mind the changes that took place among the displaced persons after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Erika Steinbach is history with the Association of Expellees, where she lost support and influence at record speed, and she wanted to prevent her successor from succeeding her, as she felt that he was too liberal and permissive, but she fell flat on his face.

In the statutes of the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft the goal of “regaining the homeland” was written, this could be understood in a historical revisionist way and was therefore removed without substitution. Admittedly, this was a massively idiotic formulation from the early days, but I never understood it in a “Heim-ins-Reich”1 a Nazi saying, this expression was used to describe the territories affiliated to the German Reich. Like for example Austria or the Sudetenland sense, but rather as a call to build bridges to my grandparents’ compatriots in the Czech Republic, i.e. to resume relations with the “old” homeland. The Sudeten German Landsmannschaft is apparently anything but homogeneous ideologically. There are three formative so-called “Gesinnungsgemeinschaften”2a group of people with similar views within the association, which stand for different political directions.

Can you explain to us what you have to imagine under them and in which of them you find yourself?

Really formative are these “Gesinnungsgemeinschaften” no longer, but that was different in the past. In the narrower political realm there are only two of them, the so-called “Witikobund,” which can be located on the far right, and the Seliger Gemeinde. The latter represents the Social Democrats in the Sudeten German ethnic group and sees itself explicitly as the successor of the German Social Democratic Labour Party of the first Czechoslovak Republic and is named after its first chairman. As third there is still the Ackermann-Gemeinde, this represents the Catholics and is therefore rather denominational than political, which is however not mutually exclusive.

I personally am Catholic, but for that I don’t need a Sudeten German “community of convictions”, but I am even a paying member of the Seliger-Gemeinde. Not that I am a social democrat, with all the sympathy and respect in the political discourse, that is simply not my ” Gesinnung” (and I find – with all due respect – this word anyway to vomit). But two aspects connect me very much with the Seliger Gemeinde, on the one hand, that my great-grandfather was a member of the DSAP in the first Czechoslovak Republic and after the Munich Agreement and the invasion of Hitler’s troops, he valiantly worked on his attitude and showed it publicly and on the other hand because the Seliger Gemeinde represented and still represents anti-fascist positions very clearly and completely unmistakably and has always stood up for cross-border cooperation, meeting and dialogue.

What is the relationship to the German nationalist wing of the compatriot community like in the present? Are these people involved in the association work? How do you as a youth organisation deal with the “Witikobund”?

In the period of the 50s, 60s and 70s the “Witikobund” was the most formative movement within the Landsmannschaft. At that time it presented itself in large parts German national, perhaps comparable to the right wing of the Union parties. Politically really not my cup of tea, but I was told by older members of the Landsmannschaft that there were personalities working there who, despite differences in content, were capable of respectful treatment in political discourse. Since I have been working here, this is no longer the case at all. If the SdJ and the “Witikobund” have anything in common, it is that they have in fact outgrown the Sudeten German ethnic group.

The SdJ by not only wanting to address the descendants of the Sudeten Germans, but all young people who are interested in the Bohemian-Moravian cultural area, who are looking for an encounter or also Czechs living in Germany. The “Witikobund”, on the other hand, has meanwhile become a gathering place for right-wing radicals far beyond the ethnic group. Besides representatives of other East German compatriots, “Reichsbürger” (citizens of the Reich- These are people who assume that the Federal Republic of Germany is an illegal state and that the German Reich still exists. Often there is talk of an occupation of Germany), also cavort there. conspiracy theorists and everything unappetizing that you can find inright-wing circles. Often there is talk of an occupation of Germany), conspiracy theorists and everything unappetizing that you can find in right-wing circles. The attempt is clear, one wants to find supporters among the expellees and their descendants, but it doesn’t work.

The “Witiko-bund” no longer plays any role within the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, one notices its members only by the fact that they try to turn back the wheel of time legally and cover the Landsmannschaft with complaints. But also here they have lost either the money or the desire, in the last instance the SL was always right. Even at the annual meetings of the ethnic group, the Sudeten German Day, the “Witikobund” no longer has its own stand and is not allowed to hold any events there. Too often speakers were invited under false pretences, who simply did not fit the Sudeten German Day in terms of theme and ideology. By the way, this also applies to the “AfD”, which would like to have a stand, but never gets one. The handling of the SdJ with the “Witikobund” is very simple: There is a decision of incompatibility concerning the memberships.

A “Witikone” cannot join the SdJ, if an SdJler joins the “Witikonen”, he or she is fired. In publications of the “Witikobund” never leaves a good hair on the SdJ, that makes us really proud, because this is the proof that we do many things really well.

Let’s come to our favourite topic: “Homeland “. How do you get around ideas of “blood and soil” and other national nonsense, if you are an association of expellees and are looking for a political approach to the homeland? Did you have to completely reinvent the Sudeten German concept of homeland or are there other, more emancipated homeland traditions besides “Volksgemeinschaft” to which you can refer?

Homeland is something deeply individual. I personally think that you can have more than one homeland, homeland always has something to do with well-being and I cannot describe my homeland in one word. Most likely with the term family. Sure, I’m Lower Bavarian and very happy with it, but there are these specifically Bohemian or Moravian aspects to tradition and cuisine that my “non-Sudeten German” friends distinguish between them. Due to my studies and job I was in exile in the Upper Palatinate, Lower Franconia and Bavarian Swabia, felt “dahoam” (a Bavarian term to be translated with being at home) everywhere, but always for a while after my home town.

Due to my studies and job I was in exile in the Upper Palatinate, Lower Franconia and Bavarian Swabia, felt “dahoam” (a Bavarian term to be translated with being at home) everywhere, but always for a while after my home town. I even committed several violations of the registration law just to secure my license plate number. In no way does my idea of home have anything to do with “blood and soil” or “national community”. The first time I understood the term homeland correctly was when I was 14 and I was in the home town of my maternal grandparents in the Bohemian Forest for the first time.

My uncle Beppi was also 14 during the expulsion, he showed me every corner of the village that day, accompanied by 1000 anecdotes from his childhood there, he was as excited as a little boy. At the end of the day, when we wanted to leave again, we had to pull him out of a Bohemian Boazn, where, after a few “pivo”, he had had a good chat with the Czechs there and told them about his childhood there as well. When my parents and I had managed to get him into the car after some effort, he agreed to: “That’s it, but now we go back home!”

Up to that point, by “home” he always meant his home town in the Šumava, but since that day he meant the place where his children and grandchildren were waiting for him. I was deeply impressed by that place and I still am today. Today I am grown up and have a son whose grandfathers were born in Moravia and Kazakhstan. That is exactly the reason why my boy is a genuine Lower Bavarian. Just like me, because without the damned expulsion my Moravian dad and my Bohemian forest mum would never have met and loved each other in Lower Bavaria.

“Love of the homeland has nothing to do with worshipping the fatherland.” Erich Mühsam once said. Could the Sudeten German Youth sign this?

Totally!

Where do you personally see the tasks and responsibility of a Sudeten German Youth in the present?

The SdJ is an umbrella organization of various groups which deal with culture, international meetings and politics or history. We have many cultural groups which on the one hand preserve music, dance and traditional costumes, but on the other hand also develop them further. So it is not at all the task of the SdJ to make museums, quite the contrary! Culture thrives on change and openness, and we are already making our contribution to this. Of course we are also active in the political and historical field, but with a clear orientation towards the future.

How do you deal with the dark, Nazi chapters of Sudeten German history, and how do your Czech friends deal with it?

Historical reappraisal must not be an end in itself, especially when it comes to the most German of all questions, “Who is to blame? I am a studied historian myself and this “there was a history before 1938” stuff really bores me. With this some people want to blame the first Czechoslovak Republic for the fact that the Sudeten Germans wanted “Heim-ins-Reich” at all costs. But there is history before 1918 or 1618 or even longer. The fact is that the Czech lands were a stronghold of high culture, where people of different mother tongues and religions lived peacefully and harmoniously together.

It was the cooperation of Czechs, Germans and Jews that made Prague and the rest of Bohemia a very special part of Europe. That this began to disappear is the result of many extremely bad ideas of the 19th century, especially nationalism and anti-Semitism, which were often used as tools to secure or extend power. And it is precisely the history that unites rather than divides us that we are trying to build a future. We don’t want to let some big head dictate who we are or who belongs to us, we decide for ourselves. This is very similar to our Czech friends. With Sojka – spolek mladých they have founded their own association, with which we have been working for 30 years now. There may be one or the other in the Landsmannschaft who criticizes us for working with the descendants of the “distributors”. But at best this only brings us a tired smile. Just like a Czech friend who for years took part in joint camps as a participant and later as a supervisor and was asked by her grandmother whether she was going to join the “Hitler Youth” again.

Of course it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the thoughts of people who have experienced Nazi occupation or expulsion, but maybe that is not our job. We don’t have to reconcile, because we were estranged from janie, we don’t have to apologize for anything, because we didn’t do anything wrong. But what we have to learn from the past! Nationalism and anti-Semitism separate, they even kill. That is why we must always extend our antennas and react sensitively, register all dangers and immediately counteract them with everything available.

Is there an awareness of an anti-fascist responsibility before history in the Sudeten German youth? How would you describe the association relationship and your very personal relationship to antifascism?

Absolutely clear! The nationalism, which finally found its climax in Hitler-fascism, is after all the cause for the great suffering of the Czechs, which finally led to revenge combined with lawlessness, uprooting and often death of Sudeten Germans. The eternal vicious circle, so to speak. Fascism defines a “we” that stands above everything else, especially the individual. The SdJ is a very heterogeneous bunch, just as every society should be. While preserving the uniqueness of the individual, we want to live our motto “More community. More understanding.” and thus contradicts the fascist ideology.

I personally know of no active member of the SdJ who has ever voted for anything to the right of the Union parties. Once my pupils put up posters in the school building with the slogan “Who is not right-wing, is not left-wing, but normal!That applies to me too, I’m really not left (*laughs*), but I am extremely disgusted by any form of populism, right-wing conservatism, trivialization of history, “You won’t be allowed to say that after all”-babble, everything that you would call proto-fascism. And I will always be completely against it. After all, I’m a history teacher, and this is my duty. The Bavarian people pay me well for it, and the Bavarian constitution in article 131 explicitly gives me the order to do so. The Libertas Bavariae is the absolute opposite of fascism and therefore the Free State of Bavaria is in its idea the state manifestation of anti-fascism.

“Heimat” also plays a role in the context of the refugee debate. Do you feel closer to the refugees because there have been similar traumatic experiences in your family?And what is the official position of the compatriot community regarding the reception of people in need?

That applies to me too, I’m really not left (*laughs*), but I am extremely disgusted by any form of populism, right-wing conservatism, trivialization of history, “You’ll be allowed to say that after all”-babble, everything that you would call proto-fascism. And I will always be completely against it. After all, I’m a history teacher, and this is my duty. The Bavarian people pay me well for it, and the Bavarian constitution in article 131 explicitly gives me the order to do so. The Libertas Bavariae is the absolute opposite of fascism and therefore the Free State of Bavaria is in its idea the state manifestation of anti-fascism.

“Heimat” also plays a role in the context of the refugee debate. Do you feel closer to the refugees because there have been similar traumatic experiences in your family?And what is the official position of the compatriot community regarding the reception of people in need?

Of course I feel very connected to today’s refugees, after all they share the fate of my ancestors. Nobody leaves his home voluntarily, there are always constraints behind it. Here it is important to show solidarity at all times and everywhere and to stand by you in everyday life. The Landsmannschaft sees it very similar. Of course, there are also people there who think that the fate of the Sudeten Germans is something different, after all they were Germans. However, I always recommend that people ask for more information. My grandfather was told more than once that he is a stranger, a “gypsy” who is himself to blame and could have stayed in his homeland if he had only “behaved decently”.

And this although he was catholic and spoke a Bavarian dialect, he was never fully accepted in Lower Bavaria. How was it then only with Protestants from East Prussia? I know of a case in which a woman who was driven out of the Sudetenland as a teenager took in a Syrian refugee and supported him with integration and language acquisition. This commitment, he said, was based on her own experience as a displaced person. I would like this to be the rule rather than the exception. A Syrian refugee was also taken in by an SdJ cultural group, who regularly came to the group lessons and quickly became a specialist in Bohemian folk dances. At the Sudeten German Day he reported on his escape, which was received with great interest by many listeners. At that time he still did this in English, one year later he already knew the German language orally much better than I did.

How much Sudetenland is still in you? Or is the integration in Bavaria in the third generation of displaced persons finally completed successfully?

Quite a lot and somehow nothing at all. That is also due to the terminology. “Sudetenland” is actually an artificial word for the German populated areas of the former Czechoslovakia. And this Sudetenland was also very heterogeneous in itself. Some of the traditions we cultivate in our family are explicitly from the area where my ancestors came from, i.e. Bohemian Forest and Iglauer Sprachinsel. And so I have two sides, one Lower Bavarian and one Bohemian-Moravian. The integration has been completed since the generation of my parents, and the Free State of Bavaria made this possible through targeted policies. At the latest since the elevation to the Fourth Tribe (started by Minister President Hoegner and completed by Minister President Goppel) this has also been manifested in state policy. And Bavaria is so beautiful, it wouldn’t be surprising if at some point there were a fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. tribe would exist.