Memories of World War II in the Czech Lands: the expulsion of Sudeten Germans

The expulsion of Sudeten Germans

In this series women to recount some of their memories of wartime.

The expulsion of Sudeten Germans
Before the Second World War, roughly one-third of the population in the Czech lands had been ethnic Germans. After the war, these so-called Sudeten Germans, living in the border regions of the former Czechoslovakia, were treated as Nazi collaborators and expelled from the country; many thousands died violent deaths during the expulsion in late 1945 and many more died from hunger and untreated illnesses contracted during or after the massive exodus. An estimated 1.3 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone (in what would become West Germany in 1946 in a second, more organized wave of deportation, and 800,000 to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany). Brian Kenety spoke to two such women who, as children, were forced to leave the country with their families with only what they could carry.

"My name is Uta Reiff, but my maiden name was Jakl, and my father was the director of the gymnasium here in Zatec until 1945.

"Gudrun Lindhart: I was born two kilometres from here [Zatec], in 1942. My parents were farmers here. We had to go; we had to go. First we stayed in a small room with seven people - my parents had to work in their own farmhouse for strange people, for three-quarters of a year. And we were very often hungry because we hadn't enough to eat."

Ute: "In 1945, my father and all the men of Zatec had to come to this main square -- there were about 1,000 or more men -- and they were driven to go on foot and they had to go Postelburg [15 kilometres away]. About 800 men were killed there, were shot there, and were buried in mass graves."

Gudrun: "I can't remember everything, but they told me. My grandmother - my mother's mother - died, and we don't know where. We can't find out."

Ute: "My mother and the two small children -- I was six and my other brother was nine -- we had to go to a camp, and we had to stay there until February 1946, for eight months. And many, many children starved because we had not enough to eat."

Gudrun: It was a very, very hard time because this land - it was our land, together. All people, not only the German, not only the Czech. It is a very, very hard thing to talk about. We had to go to the DDR [East Germany] and there we lived."

Ute: "My oldest brother, he was 16, he had to go with my father to this main square and he also was in Postelburg, but he escaped this massacre. But then he had to go to do forced labour, in Kladno."