Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review of Sidonia Dedina's Edvard Benes: The Liquidator: Fiend of the German Purge

The literary works inspired by World War II era atrocities are not well balanced. In the Anglophone world there are literally thousands upon thousands of books dealing with the Holocaust. In contrast only a handful of works have been written or translated into English on the almost equally brutal treatment of ethnic German civilians by the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The English translation of Czech journalist Sidonia Dedina’s Edvard Benes-Der Liquidator by Rudolf Pueschel is thus a welcome addition to this small collection. The English language version of this work is Sidonia Dedina, trans. Rudolf Pueschel, Edvard Benes: The Liquidator: Fiend of the German Purge (Mountain View, CA: RFP Publications, 2001). It is an historical novel dealing with the ethnic cleansing of Germans from Czechoslovakia from April to July 1945.

The native German population in Czechoslovakia when Berlin surrendered on 8 May 1945 exceeded three million people. During the spring and summer of 1945 the newly established government in Czechoslovakia under Edvard Benes instituted a brutal campaign of wild expulsions against the country’s ethnic German population. The Czechs rounded up ethnic Germans into internment camps and confiscated their property before expelling them from the country with only 60 kilograms of possessions. These initial wild expulsions permanently uprooted more than 700,000 Germans from Czechoslovakia. They also involved considerable violence. On 18-19 June 1945 an anti-German pogrom in Prerov/Prerau killed 71 men, 120 women and 74 children. The Czech authorities enforced a series of measures meant to humiliate and demean its German population as a stigmatized population. They required Germans not already interned in concentration or labor camps to wear white armbands with the letter “N” for Nemec, the Czech word for German. The Czech authorities also banned Germans from using park benches, sidewalks, public transportation, trains and telephones and attending restaurants, cinemas and theatres during this time. The wild expulsions from Czechoslovakia involved a complete denial of civil and human rights to the victimized German population. These expulsions as well as the ones in Poland and Hungary received the official approval of the US, USSR and UK at the Potsdam conference starting on 17 July 1945. The pertinent line from Article XIII of the treaty arising from this conference reads, “the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary will have to be undertaken.” This treaty, however, also required that the transfer of ethnic Germans be conducted in an orderly fashion. The conditions for German expellees thus improved somewhat during the second stage of the expulsions, but still remained extremely inhumane.

The wild expulsions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia organized by the Benes government in the spring and summer of 1945 form the subject matter of Dedina’s The Liquidator. Although the author describes the book as an historical novel it is in fact based upon a great deal of investigative research and adheres closely to the actual events of the time. She provides detailed descriptions of a number of horrifying atrocities committed by Czechs against Germans after the end of World War II. These crimes include the death march of some 30,000 ethnic Germans from Brno/Brunn into Austria at the end of May 1945. Another particularly stunning example of Czech brutality against German civilians occurred in Usti nad Labem/Aussig an der Elbe on 31 July 1945. Here Czechs massacred dozens of German men, women and children. Although well documented elsewhere, Dedina’s depiction of these events is particularly vivid and powerful.

Dedina’s novel focuses on two opposite poles. The first locus of the book is on Benes and his henchmen. She seeks to illuminate the motives and mechanisms behind the government’s policy of ethnically cleansing Czechoslovakia of its centuries old German population. The second locus of the book is on the victimized Germans themselves. Here she aims to provide the reader with an insight into minds of a people suddenly deprived of their property, homeland, civil rights and human dignity. In between the space of these two extreme positions of perpetrator and victim she explores the moral ramifications of collective punishment and racial revenge. These ramifications are still relevant today. Unlike Germany the Czechs have never come to terms with the crimes against humanity perpetrated in their name during 1945 and 1946. Like its larger Slavic cousin Russia the Czech Republic remains a country in denial about the truth of its contribution to human misery in the twentieth century.

For further reading see the following works.

deZayas, Alfred, Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans: Background, Execution, Consequences 2nd revised edition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).

deZayas, Alfred, trans. Koehler, John, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).

Naimark, Norman, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Prauser, Steffen and Rees, Arfon, eds., The Expulsion of the ‘German’ Communities from Eastern Europe at the End of the Second World War (Florence, Italy: European University Institute, 2004).

Ther, Philip, and Siljak, Ana, eds., Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East Central Europe: 1944-1948 (Lanaham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).


Susan Barnes said...

"The literary works inspired by World War II era atrocities are not well balanced."

Have you given any thought as to why this is the case?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Susan: Yes, I have and it is a very sensitive subject in the US. But, it basically boils down to the current political uses of the past. There is no political group in the US or UK that benefits from documenting Allied crimes against humanity during WWII. This is especially the case regarding the persecution of ethnic Germans.

Dr. Tobias Weger said...

Sidonie Dedina's book on Edvard Benes is not worth the paper it has been printed on. Written in a vulgar language, it has nothing to do with Edvard Benes as a historical figure of European politics neither with the real circumstances of the expulsion of most of the German-speaking population from Czechoslovakia after World War II. I am shocked to see that it has even been published in an English translation, as it is recommanded in Germany as reference literature by neonazi organizations.