Revenge on Ethnic Germans: Czech Town Divided over How to Commemorate 1945 Massacre

By Hans-Ulrich Stoldt

More than six decades after the end of World War II, long-suppressed information about a massacre of around 2,000 Sudeten Germans in June 1945 is dividing the Czech town of Postoloprty. Supporters of a memorial to the incident are clashing with those who want to forget all about the murders.

Nobody could really say why the five boys had joined the fatigue party of men on that fateful summer's day in 1945. Some thought they were hungry, others that they were trying to flee the wrath of the Czechoslovakian army.

Hundreds of Germans had been herded together on the parade ground in the Czech town of Postoloprty (known in German as Postelberg) on June 6, 1945, just a month after the end of World War II in Europe. They could clearly see the fatigue party heading off. The five boys who had hidden among the men were discovered and led back.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Massacre in the Sudetenland

"Mr Marek wanted the boys to be flogged," recalls 81-year-old Peter Klepsch, an eye-witness. "But Captain Cerny, the commander of the Czech troops, said the boys should be shot."

The boys' names were Horst, Eduard, Hans, Walter, and Heinz. The oldest was 15, the youngest 12. They were flogged and then shot dead -- in full view of the others, who were held back at gunpoint. The Czechs didn't use machine guns, but their rifles, so it took a long time to kill all five. "One of the boys who hadn't been mortally wounded by the gunfire ran up to the marksmen begging to be allowed to go to his mother," recalls 80-year-old Heinrich Giebitz. "They just carried on shooting."

A Series of Tragic Events

Fully 64 years later, Czech prosecutors have now pinned the blame for this terrible atrocity on policeman Bohuslav Marek and Vojtech Cerny, an army captain. The two men are long dead, so the boys' murders will remain unpunished. And yet this was only one chapter in the brutal massacre of some 2,000 Sudeten Germans in the space of a few days in 1945 in Postoloprty and nearby Zatec, about 60 kilometers northwest of the capital, Prague. "This was undoubtedly the worst in a series of tragic events that took part in Bohemia in May and June 1945," wrote Czech historian Tomas Stanek in the mid-1990s.

The truth was long in coming to light, and even cautious attempts to look into the crimes by legal means proved fruitless. The matter was only addressed in earnest in 2007 when prosecutors in the Bavarian town of Hof asked their Czech colleagues for assistance in investigating the killing of the five boys.

Survivors, bereaved family members, and conscientious Czechs now want to erect a monument to the victims of this post-war massacre -- but are meeting stiff resistance from many of Postoloprty's 5,000 inhabitants. "Most of the locals are completely opposed to it," says historian Michal Pehr, a member of a German-Czech committee set up by the municipal authorities. The committee was supposed to put forward its suggestions for a compromise this week. "The entire story was taboo for many people for decades," Pehr says.

'Let Nobody Survive'

It all began in the weeks and months after the end of the war. It was the time of the so-called "wild expulsions," when ethnic Germans were being hunted down in various parts of Czechoslovakia. The fascists had been beaten. Now the Czechs wanted to rid themselves of their despised countrymen as quickly as possible. Though most of the Nazi perpetrators had long-since fled, the rage and the lust for revenge knew no bounds.

Ethnic Germans had lived on the Czech side of the border for centuries, so when Hitler annexed the area in 1938, they had lined the streets to cheer the soldiers. The rest of Bohemia and Moravia was soon a brutal Nazi protectorate, and in the years that followed more than 300,000 Czechs died at the hands of their German overlords. Theresienstadt concentration camp and the village of Lidice, which was burnt down by the SS, will forever serve as symbols of Nazi barbarism.

At the Potsdam conference in August 1945, the Allies authorized the expulsion of more than 3 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, albeit on the proviso that "any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner." But by that time people had already taken matters into their own hands in many areas.

As early as October 1943, Edvard Benes, who would become the president of Czechoslovakia after the war, had threatened from exile in London that "what the Germans have done in our lands since 1938 will be revenged on them multifold and mercilessly." And speaking during a radio broadcast in November 1944, Sergej Ingr, the commander-in-chief of Czech forces in England, issued his fellow countrymen with the following order: "Beat them, kill them, let nobody survive."

Forced to Run and Sing

Demands such as these were eagerly received in places like Postoloprty and Zatec. When the Soviet army pulled out of the newly-liberated area, soldiers of the 1st Czechoslovakian Corps moved in and immediately set about "concentrating" the region's ethnic German population.

On Sunday June 3, 1945 the army ordered some 5,000 ethnic German men in Zatec to assemble on the market square, from where they were marched the 15 kilometers to Postoloprty to a hail of threats, beatings, and gunfire.

"On Monday evening we were all forced to run around the square and sing Nazi songs or whatever passed as such," Peter Klepsch recalls. "All those who didn't run or sing right were flogged."

The next night he saw a group of men being led off for execution. It wasn't to be the last. He also repeatedly heard volleys of gunfire during the day.

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