Brno makes historic apology for ‘death march’

La marche de la mort

Seventy years after the end of World War Two, the Brno City Hall has issued an official apology to the victims of the violent expulsions of the German speaking population that took place in the aftermath of the war.

Brno ‘death march’ | Photo: Post Bellum
Shortly after the end of World War Two, before president Edvard Beneš officially approved the resettlement of around three million ethnic Germans to Austria and Germany, several towns and cities witnessed violent expulsions of their German inhabitants.

One of them was Brno, the second largest Czech town, where, on May 31, 1945, some twenty thousand people were forced to leave the city and walk the 50 km distance to the Austrian border. Around two thousand people are said to have died of exhaustion on the way.

In the Declaration of Reconciliation and Joint Future approved by the Brno City Hall on Tuesday, local representatives expressed their sincere regret over the past events and paid their respects to the victims. Pavel Žára is a spokesman for the Brno Town Hall:

“The first message of the declaration is directed at those who were harmed by the expulsion; it is a message of reconciliation. That’s the symbolic significance of the declaration. The second message is targeted at the young inhabitants of Brno, who have nothing to do with what happened here 70 years ago. It is not about self-accusation, it’s about remembering what happened in the hope that such events will never be repeated.”

Even seventy years after the war, the mass expulsion of around three million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia remains a sensitive issue in the Czech society.

Immediately after the declaration was passed on Tuesday, the governor of South Moravia, Michal Hašek, criticised the move on his website, arguing that it should have been preceded by an apology on the German side.

Brno ‘death march’,  photo: Czech Television
Meanwhile, the city of Brno is getting ready to recall the events of the Second World War and pay homage to all the victims, including the expelled Germans.

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, the city hall declared 2015 the Year of Reconciliation and part of the programme will be a commemorative march from Pohořelice, where the march of 1945 ended, to Brno.

The event was established back in 2006 as a student project and for the first time this year, it was included into the official celebrations. Jaroslav Ostrčilík, who organizes the event, explains why it will take a different direction this year:

“In the years before, it was primarily a commemoration, so we tried to stick to the route people had to take back then, and also to the direction, from Brno to Pohořelice. This year, it should be more than just a remembrance act. There is also a moment of reconciliation. It’s about bringing something back to the city. We are not trying to turn back the wheels of time, but to reconcile with ourselves and also with the people who were expelled from Brno.”

The event will take place on May 30 and will be attended by Czech, Austrian and German politicians as well as witnesses of the post-war events. The march will culminate with a commemorative meeting at a memorial in the Old Brno monastery.