New Czech film spotlights post-war massacre of Germans

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A new film that enters Czech cinema distribution on Thursday, Bohdan Sláma’s Shadow Country, opens a thorny subject in the country’s modern history – massacres of ethnic Germans at the end of World War II.

Shadow Country (Krajina v stínu) by director Bohdan Sláma is a powerful but bleak chronicle of life in a small village on the Bohemian-Austrian border from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Part of the story is based on a real-life massacre of 14 people in the village of Tušť – which had previously been part of Austria and had a mixed Czech, German and Jewish population – in late May 1945.

The ethnic German victims had been summarily executed for collaborating with the Nazis by the Czech Revolutionary Guard in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

Sláma has described as a key motif of the film “the post-war retribution against the Germans and the rise of a regime that immediately put people with a yearning for revenge and property front and centre.”

Historian and writer Pavel Kosatík offered this assessment of Shadow Country, which is shot in stark black and white, to Czech Radio.

“I was quite surprised how closely the screenplay adhered to the historical facts. The fact the film attempts to intervene in the historical reality as little as possible means that it doesn’t much resemble typical film dramaturgy, where there is a story arc. I’m not sure if it has catharsis either. It’s a kind of historical chronicle. It reminded me a bit of All My Good Countrymen, which is also set in a village and has a collective protagonist.”

Around three million Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war and a number of atrocities similar to the one in Tušť took place during the initial period known as the “wild expulsion”.

'Shadow Country', photo: Czech Television

Pavel Kosatík describes the situation at that time.

“Formally there was peace. Germany had capitulated. People were highly wound up and felt that the fear they had experienced and in some cases what they themselves had committed during the war deserved redress in the form of payback. And whoever had a weapon at that time could almost randomly choose a victim. Of course, the easiest target was the Germans. There was support for this from the highest echelons, including the president, the entire government, the vast majority of the media and all the political parties at that time.”

Shadow Country received its world premiere at the Uherské Hradiště film school and entered domestic cinema distribution on Thursday.

The usually hard to please Czech critic Kamil Fila has said that no better domestically produced film is likely to be released this year.