New evidence on post-war massacre of Germans in Usti nad Labem

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It's exactly fifty-five years since the lynching of some 80 Germans in the northern city of Usti nad Labem. On Monday both Germans and Czechs joined together for a church service for the dead, a joint commemoration of the massacre. Details of the event are still scarce, and historians are still working to complete the picture of exactly what happened on that day. Zuzana Smidova has more.

On Tuesday July 31st, 1945, a munitions dump in Usti nad Labem exploded. Rumour spread that German partisans were responsible, and the incident was followed by the lynching of local Germans. Around eighty German-speaking inhabitants of Usti were shot dead or thrown off a bridge and then shot in the water. Like many controversial events in post-war Czechoslovakia, contemporary propaganda blamed the incident on the Germans. But according to extensive research by Usti historian Vladimir Kaiser, it was the chief investigator of the explosion - a military officer named Bedrich Pokorny - who laid the explosives, as a pretext for revenge.

For many years the event was shrouded in silence in Czechoslovakia. On the other side of the border, however, some historians began calling the massacre the "Sudeten Lidice", estimating the number of dead at over two thousand. Mr Kaiser says that during a recent visit to Munich, which is currently hosting an exhibition about the massacre, he heard a Sudeten German politician using the figure of 2,000 victims.

After 1990 Czech historians started investigating the event themselves, tracking down Czech and German witnesses. Today, says Vladimir Kaiser, it is clear that the explosion and the massacre were both planed well in advance. The explosion, he said, was only a signal for the massacre, which took place literally seconds afterwards in three different locations simultaneously.

The historians have also uncovered facts suggesting that both the explosion and the massacre were planned by officials from the Czechoslovak ministries of interior and national defence.

Historian Vladimir Kaiser, however, has made some more, even more controversial claims about the event. He says the explosion could have been the result of British and American interest in the Czechoslovak defence industry. The ammunition store was located next to a factory making engines for German Messerschmitt aircraft. The factory was completely destroyed in the explosion. Mr Kaiser claims the British and American defence industries were trying to prevent Czechoslovakia from using German engines for their aeroplanes, in a bid to force them to buy their own surplus equipment left over from the war.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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