Forced migration – crime against mankind

My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who took his family to Egypt to live. They were few in number when they went there, but they became a large and powerful nation. The Egyptians treated us harshly and forced us to work as slaves. Then we cried out for help to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our suffering, hardship and misery. By his great power and strength, he rescued us from Egypt. He worked miracles and wonders, and caused terrifying things to happen. He brought us here and gave us this rich and fertile land….. Deut 26,6-10

There are various reasons why people migrate. Global citizenship makes people from all around the world migrating to places where they want to live. Mostly people migrate because of socio-economic reasons. They migrate because of better job perspectives. People migrate legally and illegaly. Some people flee because there is civil war in their home country – they hope to return one day. One of the worst-case-scenarios is a foreigner rudely comes to you saying „Go away!“ Being forced to migrate is a crime against mankind. In this essay I want to remind what has happened to the Sudeten people in the midst of Europe eighty years ago – a century-lasting past which – I claim – affects knowingly or unknowingly the life of some people in Germany till today.

The homeland of the Sudeten people living along the Sudeten mountains in an area of 28.000 square kilometers belonged to the Holy Roman Realm since 10th century. The region flourished under the influence Charles IV. (1316-1378), king of Bohemia, „rex romanorum“ and the „most-crowned emperor of his century“ (Pierre Monnet). The old-czech speaking Charles learned five languages to represent the plurality and cultural diversity of Europe and established the first university in Prague, the capital of Bohemia, in 1348. German-speaking Sudeten people co-existed and lived peacefully among the Czech-speaking people in Northern Bohemia, Moravia and Sudeten Silesia for more than 800 years. If there were tensions then because of religious or social reasons. People avoided violence. An exception was the Hussite war (1419-1436). The Hussites named after Jan Hus were revolutionary reformers in Bohemia acting against the roman-catholic church. The black Madonna of Tschenstochau, the iconography of the monastery of Jasna Góra1, the most holy shrine in roman-catholic Silesia, has been destroyed by protestant Swedish and Hussite militaries. The scares in her face make the brutality and violence of the 15th century visible.

Habsburg monarchy
In 1526 the homeland of Sudeten came under protection of the catholic Habsburg dynasty. During the White Mountain Battle near Prague in 1620, the catholic Habsburg knocked down the revolts of Czech and German speaking protestants living in Bohemia. The White Mountain Battle became a national trauma for the Czech. Czech language was displaced from public life. Bohemia, Moravia and Austria belonged to the Roman-German Realm till 1806 and from 1815 to 1866 to the German Confederation. Sudeten Germans elected and sent delegates to the German National Assembly to the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt in 1848. Nationalism grew in the beginning of the 19th century especially by the French Revolution. An important role of the cultural and scientific development of Bohemia played the German-speaking Jewish community. Germans, Czechs and Jews lived together and made Prague a unique capital of cultural diversity. The Sudeten Germans belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Realm of Habsburg till 1918.

Violation of the right for self-determination
1918 marked the end of the Austria-Hungarian multiethnic state. 6,7 million Czechs demanded an independent state. The Czechoslovakian Republic (CSR) was founded on 28th of October 1918. The Sudeten Germans which were privileged during the Habsburg monarchy suddenly became a minority. During the invasion of Czech militaries in Bohemia 54 people died. On Tuesday, 4th of March of 1919 Sudeten German population demonstrated peacefully for their right for self-determination which US-president Wilson had proclaimed. The Jewish population living in the Sudetenland felt belonging to the German-Austrian population and shared with them their right for self-determination. In May 1919 there were efforts to liberate the Sudetenland from outside, nevertheless the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty in June 1919 made Germany forget the Sudeten Germans. After the signing of the contract of St. Germain on 10th of September 1919 the Sudeten Germans were assimilated against their will and their right for self-determination to the new state of CSR, a republic which they could not identify with.

Suppression and Ignorance
It should be mentioned that the US, advised by Harvard professor Archibald Coolidge, – in contrast to France, England and Italy – understood best the injustice of the peace contract regulations to the Sudeten German minority and their mistreated right for self-determination. The following twenty years the CSR systematically ignored and suppressed the non-Czech and non-Slovakian citizens. Czech politician Edvard Benesch became an unscrupulous person manipulating documents („Memoires“) for the Paris Peace Conference. It was Benesch who was obsessed by the idea to czechise CSR politics while being in politics openly anti-Sudeten German. After 1919 Czech became official language. German language and culture was systematically banned in villages and towns, in public institutions like schools and factories. In the midst of 1930 the unemployment rate in Sudeten land was five times higher than in Czech speaking regions. The Sudeten German Heimatfront was founded by Konrad Henlein and later named Sudeten German party. NS-Germany tried to destroy the existence of Czechoslowakia by provoking an international conflict with its aim to reunite the Bohemian and Moravian districts to the German Reich.

„Sudeten crisis“
In 1938 during the so-called Sudeten crisis England and France feared the rising power of Adolf Hitler therefore they demanded CSR to resign the Sudeten region to the German Reich. France and England did not want war against the right of the people to self-determination since it is a cardinal principle in modern international law. There was a dilemma between disregarding the right of the peoples to self-determination and the western appeasement politics against the aggressive dictatorship of a faschist party called Nazis. In the night from 29th to 30th of September 1938 France, Great Britain and Italy the signatory powers of the Munich Agreement2 accepted the so-called liberation of the Sudeten Germans to the German Reich. But this „liberation“ was double-disadvantaging for the peace-loving Sudeten people because the exchanging rate was about 1 crown to 12 penny and being annoyed by Nazi officials.

Resistance and resilience
It is worth mentioning that there were various forms of christian resistance against the Hitler regime by the catholic Sudeten Germans since 1933. Catholic newspapers were prohibited, the catholic bishop of Leitmeritz Anton Weber had to leave his residence. On 16th of October 1938 the first transport of Sudeten Germans led to concentration camp Dachau. Among them was Franz Gruber (* 26th of September 1900 in Rehberg). Gruber was a carpenter, he and his family lived in Sattelberg. He was against the annexation of the Sudetenland to the German Reich. Franz Gruber died on 24th of November 1938 in KZ Dachau. Another example of catholic resistance was Sudeten German Josef Tippelt (* 30th of August 1908 in Marschendorf). He was a teacher criticizing the anti-christian Nazi ideology in a letter to Cardinal of Vienna Theodor Innitzer who had co-signed the annexation of Austria to Nazi regime with the words „Heil Hitler“. Tippelt was imprisoned in October 1938 and executed on 6th of March 1943 in Berlin-Plötzensee. Eduard Schlusche (* 12th of October 1894 in Bennisch) was a lay publicist who was very much engaged in the printing of the Pastoral Letter of the German bishops in 1934 and also in the secret distribution of the encyclical writing „With Burning Concern“. In March 1941 he was arrested and first brought to KZ Auschwitz and second to KZ Neuengamme near Hamburg. He died at the end of the war during a bombardment of ships. Wenzel Bartel (* 3rd of January 1885 in Weipert) helped antifascist and Jewish refugees out of Germany. Bartel was kidnapped by the Gestapo and brought to Bärenstein and Chemnitz. He died on 10th of March 1940 in KZ Flossenbürg and Dachau. Also remembered should be Roman Karl Scholz (* 16th of January 1912 in Mährisch-Schönberg) who belonged to the Canonici regulares Sancti Augustini and the journalist Viktor Reimann from the „Austrian liberation front“. Scholz was executed on 10th of May 1944. Other names of martyrs from Sudetenland are blessed franciscan sister of the Christian Love Maria Restituta Helene Kafka (* 1st of May 1894 in Hussowitz near Brünn) who was against the removal of crosses in hospital rooms, and the Mariannhill Missionary Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig (1st of March 1911 in Greifendorf) who protected Jews and criticized a Nazi newspaper „Der Stürmer“. Unzeitig was arrested in Glöckelberg in Böhmerwald on 21st of April 1941 and died in KZ Dachau on 2nd March 1945 due to typhus while helping others.

World War II
During World War II 180.000 Sudeten Germans died and many cities like Karlsbad, Aussig, Oberleutensdorf, Troppau and Reichenberg were bombed. After the war in 1945/46 more than 2,8 million Sudeten Germans collectively had to leave their homeland without compensation. The expulsion of Sudeten Germans planned and carried out by CSR-president Edvard Benesch from his exile in London led to murders and abuse. 165.000 Sudeten Germans died during their expulsion. 105.000 died as refugees because of hunger, hunger-afflicted diseases and lacking medical treatments.

An ongoing crime against mankind
The expulsion and expropriation of the Sudeten Germans fulfills what the International Convention defined a „genocide“ on 9th of December 1948. The convention which was codified as ius gentium can be fully applied to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. The expulsion was an act of „crime against mankind“ – no statue of limitations – to the Nürnberg War Crimes Tribunal. Facing the cruelty of the Nazi regime the world kept silent in regard to the expulsion of 14 million people from Eastern Europe who were expropriated and forced to migrate, a crime which can be considered not only a crime against humanity, rather a crime against mankind. The loss of capital of 3 million displaced Sudeten Germans can be estimated to 136 billion Euro in purchasing power. Even after two generations descendants of Sudeten Germans feel betrayed because of their loss of centuries-long-inhabited homeland3 including houses, flourishing culture, language and heritage of their beloved ancestors who suffered innocently and had to rebegan their life having nothing.

Ultimately the Bible itself may be studied as a document of migrants (admitting that the Aramean went voluntarily to Egypt)…

“My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who took his family to Egypt to live. They were few in number when they went there, but they became a large and powerful nation. The Egyptians treated us harshly and forced us to work as slaves. Then we cried out for help to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our suffering, hardship and misery. By his great power and strength, he rescued us from Egypt. He worked miracles and wonders, and caused terrifying things to happen. He brought us here and gave us this rich and fertile land…..” Deut 26,6-10.

„May everyone see goodness, may none suffer any pain“
सवेर् भद्रािण पश्यन्तु मा किश्चद् दुःखमाप्नुयात्
Sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu mā kaścid duḥkhamāpnuyāt

BAUER, Markus: Nicht alle wollten „heim ins Reich“.
MONNET, Pierre; SCHMITT, Jean-Claude (Hg.): Les autobiographies souveraines de l’Antiquité aux Temps Modernes. Orient et Occident. Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012.
STADELMAIER, Bernd: Die Geschichte der Sudetendeutschen.


1 Jasna Góra which means „bright mountain“ and not „mountain of the brights“.

2 The Munich Agreement was signed in the night from 29th to 30th of November 1938 by Adolf Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier and the Italian Governor Benito Mussolini. This Agreement was to de-escalate the aggression forces of Hitler.

3 The territory of the Sudetenland alone can be valued to 500 billion Euro compared in square kilometers what Japan offered Russia for four kuril islands – a small territory inhabited by 40.000 people.


Veröffentlicht von Benedikt Winkler

Theologe & Journalist - Artworks, Film and Documentary. Benedikt Winkler forscht zu „Theologien im Kontext religiöser Pluralität: Differenzierungen - Herausforderungen - Perspektiven und Chancen“. „Ich schreibe für Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants und Silver Surfer, welche die Geister unterscheiden möchten.“

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