"the events in Postoloprty"
September 6, 2009 2:59 PM   Subscribe

"Two hundred and fifty men were taken one day, another 250 the next, and a layer of earth was thrown in between," a policeman told a parliamentary inquiry in 1947. "They weren't all executed in a single night, but rather in stages." Often enough the condemned men were given a pick and shovel, and made to dig their own graves. The perpetrators didn't have many scruples. After all, they were sure they had high-level military backing...."The general told us, 'The fewer of them that remain, the fewer enemies we'll have.'"
Czech Town Divided over How to Commemorate 1945 Massacre
In July 1947 the ... parliament ... felt obliged to launch an official inquiry into the matter. Countless soldiers and local residents were interviewed, including Captain ... Cerny, who immediately assumed responsibility for the killing of the five boys on the parade ground. "I gave the order for their execution," he declared.

...The officials sent a report back to their minister recommending that the bodies be exhumed and burnt so that "[the victims] should have no memorials to which they could point as a source of suffering by their people."

In a top-secret operation in August 1947, several mass graves were dug up, and 763 bodies were removed, most of which were then cremated. There is little doubt that there were more victims whose bodies were never found.

Meanwhile, the official documents about "the events in Postoloprty" were classified as confidential and disappeared into the Interior Ministry archives.

That suited the postwar residents of Postoloprty and Zatec, who now lived in the houses of the killed or displaced former inhabitants.
posted by orthogonality (33 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There is still a great deal of bad feeling (especially, it seems to me, in the north) from older Czechs towards Germans. The inhumanity of the era in Central Europe is astounding; the war, the 'score-settling', the following Communist regime really does make one think if the word 'inhumanity' can be used with a straight face- it seems all too human and general.

I know that a lot of Czechs of my acquatintance would immediately go on the defensive at this article, and start reciting the number of Czechs killed, the 'treachery' of some ethnic Germans who collaborated with the regime etc.

Humans can be terrifying.
posted by Gratishades at 3:53 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now that we're getting 60 years from the WWII it is surely time to acknowledge the massive expulsions or ethnic cleansing of Germans in Europe. For those who don't know:

With at least twelve million Germans directly involved, it was the largest movement of any European people in modern history, the largest transfer of a population in history, and the largest of several post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe which displaced a total of about twenty million people.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by sien at 4:32 PM on September 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

WOW sien I had never heard of that before. Thanks for commenting!
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:46 PM on September 6, 2009

I think the Armenian Genocide's influence upon the Holocaust is particularly instructive : If you let people forget, then other people might see this as precedent. It's best if countries simply acknowledge their past crimes and financial gains form those crimes, even if you don't plan on making reparations.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:48 PM on September 6, 2009

Oh right, I had no idea. I thought most people were aware of it but just ignore it. I can put together a post about it.
posted by sien at 5:25 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not to mention the Red Army's wholesale rape of Germans.
posted by orthogonality at 5:29 PM on September 6, 2009

sien, I do hope you put that post together. I had no idea. It was never covered in any of the history classes I took.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:58 PM on September 6, 2009

There was, as well as rape, a lot of killing of civilians. From the wikipedia page mentioned earlier the casualties are at least in the hundreds of thousands and there was at least a million missing.
posted by sien at 8:42 PM on September 6, 2009

sien, I also was not aware of that - thanks.
posted by lullaby at 8:46 PM on September 6, 2009

My mother and her family were refugees from the east after the war. Some of the things that she and her sister went through seem to have scarred them for life.

The things they survived are worth remembering and commemorating -- not as some kind of political point-scoring thing, but simply because they're just as much a part of the human story and of the story of those times as the events that have greater public awareness.
posted by Slothrup at 9:17 PM on September 6, 2009

Mod note: comments removed - "tiny violin" nonsense straight to metatalk, quit that shit here please, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:50 PM on September 6, 2009

That page is a great example of why Wikipedia is not a reliable source.
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:19 PM on September 6, 2009

GeckoDundee: That page is a great example of why Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

Any specific objections?
posted by mhum at 10:29 PM on September 6, 2009

Sien, I would like to see that post also, please.

This FPP is tragic...and I think, for many of us, especially Americans, we just have no context in which to understand it. It's astounding, to travel in Europe and see the scars from WWII that still exist...the stories that people tell...and even as that generation passes on, the stories are still being told by their children and grandchildren.

The war for us was a remote thing...a reported thing...not a visceral, fear your neighbor, firebombs in the neighborhood thing... I remember the first time I saw Frauenkirche in Dresden, where hundreds of civilians were killed...and the church had been left standing a mute shell...a burned memorial. It wasn't until the German reunification that they started to rebuild the church, and so for 40+ years, the residents of that town had a visceral reminder of not only WWII, but of how the Allies fought the war.

It wasn't just Europeans killing civilians...no military force left WWII with clean hands. And because the war was remote, and only reported back in the most glowing of patriotic terms, I don't think Americans can fully grasp the true horror of the ethnic atrocities perpetrated by...and on...the various peoples of that region.

And lest we think that this sort of thing is still not ongoing, I remind you of the ethnic conflicts around the globe, both current and in the last 40 years. We, as a country, have have always closed our eyes to this sort of massacre, just as the Czech government wanted everyone to just forget about this one, in the hopes that it would just sort itself out.
posted by dejah420 at 10:36 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Read the talk page.

Many of the sources are Nazis, only a few are Poles, and one is Alfred de Zayas. Some of the figures for deaths (necessary to sustain the "genocide" claims) seem to be calculated by taking some implausible demographic estimate from somewhere, another from somewhere else, and concluding that the difference is the number of civilian casualties. Other figures seem to include the number of military and civilian deaths for the whole Eastern front for the final two years of the war.

Many of the references are to articles in Polish and German that contributors claim to have translated themselves. Many of those are self published war memoirs written by former members of the German military. There are no supporting references written by any historians of note (pardon me if there are any who are well known but not outside Poland or Germany).
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:55 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

After the Reich is an example of a well received book in English on the subject.

This stuff is still very controversial. What wouldn't be controversial is the mass expulsions. It's clear that masses of Germans and much German territory was taken after WWII. There were also substantial German minorities in much of Eastern Europe. This again, isn't controversial.

The numbers of deaths is clearly difficult to ascertain. This isn't surprising. At the end of a hugely destructive war it's very hard to work out what happened.
posted by sien at 11:53 PM on September 6, 2009

I'm traveling in Warsaw with a family member right now, and one of the most amazing things that she keeps mentioning is how the building we're staying in was built over 500 years ago, leveled completely - to its foundation! - during the war, along with all of the surrounding area, and then rebuilt so well that the area was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s. The utter destruction was on a level which seemed to exceed even that of Hiroshima, in that the original citizens of the city were deported, killed, or sent to concentration camps over essentially the entirety of the six years of the war. It's impossible to compare human suffering, of course, but it was truly horrific.

We visited the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising museum yesterday and we were both taken aback by the inhumanity of the situation generally. A few photos along the wall of the garden have been rendered in color; these were striking in how close they made us feel to the era. An aerial photo shows the neighborhood around the site of the museum - with no buildings left, no roads, no rail or tram lines, no vehicles, no evidence that there were people there at all except rotting bodies and huge piles of rubble.

The massive expulsion and resettlement of Germans has been studied for decades and is well-documented, though an exact number of casualties is hard to find. See, for example, the western part of Poland, which was Germany and is now essentially empty of Germans. Wrocław, Szczecin, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Koszalin, Kołobrzeg...all evacuated and all repopulated with Polish people from, mostly, the eastern parts of the country now in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. It's in pretty much every museum and book about the war's effects here, and I have a number of neighbors in my city in west-central Poland whose ancestors came from the east. It certainly was not a smallish, regional, piecemeal thing - it was the end, in just months, of a thousand years of German life in the East.

Perhaps this was less-known in America because we weren't as active in the East as we were in the West in the years immediately after the war, and because we have generally ignored the disputes around this time that don't fit a battles-and-tanks-and-A-bombs-centered framework. An introduction to the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic history of central Europe is Norman Davies' book about the history of the city we now call Wrocław.

posted by mdonley at 12:13 AM on September 7, 2009

I'm not taking a side in this fight, but that Wikipedia article on the Expulsion of Germans after World War II has obviously been a bit of a battleground. What stuck out to me is that, looking at the Expulsion of Germans after World War II">the footnotes, there was apparently a time when it quoted this book's statement that the expulsion and killing of Germans after world war II constituted "the largest single case of ethnic cleansing in human history." Whatever side you stand on, that seems like a pretty, well, ballsy thing to say.
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 AM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

argh, well you get the point
posted by koeselitz at 12:18 AM on September 7, 2009

Another, if not the other, big ethnic cleansing was the partition between India and Pakistan. It may have been larger, it's hard to gauge.
posted by sien at 12:31 AM on September 7, 2009

Aside from that, there were clearly several larger population transfers which happened in China. In the first four years after the revolution in 1949 at least 20 million were moved to the urban areas in an effort to modernize.
posted by koeselitz at 12:41 AM on September 7, 2009

I presume the author wouldn't define the Chinese actions as ethnic cleansing, because they took place within what was (broadly) the same ethnic group. But I agree that it's an odd statement; it implies that killing six million Jews was a less significant act of ethnic cleansing because the number of Jews who were killed is less than the number of Germans who were displaced.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 AM on September 7, 2009

Hmm. The expulsions (and, quite often, mass murder) of Germans in the East at the end of WWII has long been a contentious subject, not least because many far-right activists in Germany have long attempted to exploit the quite justified grievances of those refugees.
The refugee associations, until well into the 1980s, had a considerable weight in German politics, in particular through the Bavarian CSU party (many refugees, in particular from Czechoslovakia, resettled in Bavaria). On the positive side, this made pre-reunification West Germany very welcoming of all refugees of war and political persecution. On the negative side, this also gave West German politics an oddly irredentist flavour, with all official and school maps still showing Germany in its 1937 borders.

Upon reunification, Germany officially accepted the Oder-Neisse line. This was not only due to the conditions that the former Allies put for accepting reunification, but also the fact that the refugee generation had mostly faded away by then. Still, Germany's Eastern neighbours remain very touchy about the subject (which also reflects a very considerable degree of bad conscience), and tend to overestimate the weight of the refugee associations, and in particular of their most nationalist elements, something which their own nationalist politicians, like Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic and the Kaczynski brothers in Poland, like to exploit for their own profit.

An honest, open historical discussion about the subject would therefore not just be fair towards the refugees and their descendants, but also significantly weaken the kind of nasty politicians which usually feed on such festering wounds, both in Germany and in its neighbours.
posted by Skeptic at 7:33 AM on September 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Anecdotal derail: I'm fond of maps and history, and how lines on the maps we see today came to be. Here's an experience that brought a bit of German/European history and cartography to life for me.

I used rent an apartment in a Chicago 2-flat. The building next door was owned/occupied by a rather old German widower with a heavy accent. He worked hard on his garden and rode his bike to and from the market, so he appeared healthy, but was about as grumpy and anti-social as you can get. He didn't even bother to ever rent out the units in his building. He warmed up slightly when I married and my wife showed an interest in his flowers. One day while trying to make friendly chit-chat I mentioned I had visited Germany once, and that his gardening reminded me of Bavaria. I asked what part of Germany he was from and, with a wistful glint in his eye, he said "I am from Königsberg." as if, for him at least, two world wars had never happened.
posted by metacurious at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2009

Meant to include this for some context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaliningrad
posted by metacurious at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2009

> he said "I am from Königsberg." as if, for him at least, two world wars had never happened.

Two world wars? It was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. By my calculations, that's zero world wars ago, though I guess you could count the Cold War if you were so minded. At any rate, what else should he say? He was from Königsberg. You expect him to call it by the name some brutal foreign occupiers imposed on it?
posted by languagehat at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2009

Oh, and great post—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2009

I wasn't suggesting he should say anything in particular, nor expecting him to . It was just an interesting experience to meet a person from formerly German/Prussian territory who seemed to feel that it ought still to be so.

Regarding calculations, the loss of that territory, and the renaming of cities like Königsberg to Kaliningrad was in part a result of the two world wars and the Cold War, right?

Also, this man was German, not Polish. Königsberg/Kaliningrad is in Poland. As for whether he should cave to the "brutal foreign occupiers" (Russia) new name of Kaliningrad, there is the Polish perspective that the Germans were the original occupiers, and that Königsberg was a name imposed by such an occupier.

For me this is where I saw the connection of my story to the thread, since the original article was about a revenge massacre of ethnic Germans living "in" Czech territories perpetrated by ethnic Czechs. Those Germans had perhaps been in the territories for generations by the time of the two world wars, but they were still seen as foreigners or occupiers. So I met a guy who would have been like one of those Germans who had nothing to do with the original conquest of an area of Poland, and felt like it was home, even though in his life time it had been occupied by Russia, renamed, and is presently "back" in Polish dominion. I thought it was interesting because it reveals the many-layered complexity of the issues.
posted by metacurious at 8:45 AM on September 8, 2009

> the loss of that territory, and the renaming of cities like Königsberg to Kaliningrad was in part a result of the two world wars and the Cold War, right?

If you want to look at it that way, it was a result of all of human history. But I don't see what direct relevance "two world wars" have to someone saying Königsberg instead of Kaliningrad. If you left the city by 1946, it was Königsberg to you.

> Königsberg/Kaliningrad is in Poland.

posted by languagehat at 10:33 AM on September 8, 2009

> Dude...

Color me corrected on geopolitical boundaries.

> [then] it was a result of all of human history.

Yea, I guess that's part of what I was trying to point out...

So why the beat down, languagehat? I didn't join the thread with an agenda, just a story that seemed interesting and relevant.
posted by metacurious at 5:01 PM on September 8, 2009

> So why the beat down, languagehat? I didn't join the thread with an agenda

No, of course not, and I'm sorry if it came across as a beatdown. I correct mistakes for a living, and my style can be a bit abrupt. No hard feelings, I hope.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on September 9, 2009

Okay, I can appreciate your reflexes for what they are. No hard feelings from this end. Pax.
posted by metacurious at 9:15 PM on September 9, 2009

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