German president recalls tragic past on Czech visit

Joachim Gauck, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

German President Joachim Gauck on Wednesday concludes his official three-day visit to the Czech Republic. Together with his host, Czech President Miloš Zeman, Mr Gauck paid homage to the victims of Nazism at the former concentration camp in Terezín. But he also recalled the fate of millions of ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War.

Joachim Gauck,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
German President Joachim Gauck and his Czech counterpart Miloš Zeman paid respects to the 30,000 victims of the former Nazi concentration camp in Terezín outside Prague on Tuesday afternoon. Mr Gauck and his host toured the former Gestapo prison as well as the Jewish ghetto set up by the Nazis in 1941, and participated in a prayer conducted by the chief Czech rabbi, Karol Sidon The German head of state later shared his feelings with the reporters.

“At my age, visiting Germany’s neighbours and the countries against which Germans once waged war makes me feel that this should not be forgotten. So I want to show that today, there are different Germans.”

Expulsion of ethnic Germans,  photo: Sudetendeutsches Archiv / Creative Commons 1.0 Generic
Joachim Gauck’s official visit is his second trip to the Czech Republic since his inauguration. In October 2012, he became the first German leader to visit Lidice, a village razed to the ground by the Nazis in 1942.

But this time, the German leader also commemorated the three million of ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War in retaliation for Nazi atrocities. Mr Gauck told students and professors at Prague’s Charles University on Tuesday that the Nazi occupation and the expulsion brought an end to centuries of co-existence of Czechs and Germans.

“The final act of the drama came after the liberation of 1945. That’s when also the Germans had to leave their homes, through flight, expulsion, ethnic cleansing, or whatever we call it, guilty and non-guilty alike.”

But history was not at the top of the German and Czech president’s agenda. The Czech head of state, Miloš Zeman, told a news conference that they had been discussing mainly political, economic and other types of cooperation between the two countries. Mr Zeman said they found no issues that could derail the successful relations between Prague and Berlin.

Joachim Gauck,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“The common theme of our debates has been a shift of the Czech Republic’s attitude towards European integration. I’m aware that Germany is the engine of the EU, and I would like the Czech Republic to become its transmission box.”

Mr Zeman’s choice of words was not a coincidence. On Wednesday, the presidents will see an example of successful cooperation between the two nations: the Czech-based, German-owned Škoda Auto plant in Mladá Boleslav.