Prague, Czech Republic – A new digital app launched at the beginning of June seeks to help Sudeten Germans descendants connect with one another and search for their ancestors.
New app helps Sudeten German descendants reconnect with their roots
Available in Czech, German and English, Sudeten.net is the brainchild of the Munich-based Sudeten German Association, a non-governmental organisation representing the interests of Sudeten Germans and their descendants.
“User growth has been quite explosive in the first three weeks since we launched,” Mathias Heider from the Sudeten German Association told Kafkadesk.
“We are especially pleased that the network is used by a great number of residents of the Czech Republic – Czechs with German roots, but also people who moved to the former Sudetenland and want to find out more about the history of their new home”, he explained.
The Sudeten.net app works both as a free information tool to learn more about Sudeten German history, culture and institutions, as well as a social media platform where users can register by informing their place of origins and/or current place of residence, basic details about themselves and contact each other to start a discussion.
The Sudeten German Association insists that the website is also open to Czechs and “all participants interested in the Sudeten Germans – regardless of their origins.”
“We want to emphasize that Sudeten Germans are not only part of Germany or Austria,” Mathias Heider told us. “They belong to Czechia, and Europe as a whole. In our experience, the number of Czech people who share this view is growing rapidly,” he adds, putting the app in the context of the association’s three-fold purpose.
“In a European context, we work for German-Czech reconciliation; in Germany and Austria, we work for the development of our culture; in Czechia, we strive for the awareness of our common Czech-German-Jewish history in the Bohemian lands,” he explains.
Breaking the taboo
About 3 million ethnic Germans lived in interwar Czechoslovakia, largely concentrated in the Sudeten borderlands. The region was annexed by Nazi Germany after the 1938 Munich agreements and later became part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after Hitler’s invasion of the entire Czech lands the following year.
After the end of the war, the government of newly restored Czechoslovakia ordered the expulsion of ethnic Germans (and Hungarians) from the territory. Between 2.5 and 3 million ethnic Germans were forced to relocate to Germany and Austria in 1946 and 1947, and tens of thousands of them are believed to have died in the process.
Describing the post-war expulsions as “traumatizing to this day” for those who experienced it, Mathias Heider from the Sudeten German Association highlights that their descendants hold widely varying views on their roots.
“Some of them are particularly clinging to their new home. They emphasize their native status and understand their Sudeten German origin as a kind of taboo, which they still try to conceal even after more than 70 years.”
“For most, though, it’s the opposite,” he explains. “They have a feeling of having no home at all and being unable to find one anywhere, no matter where they live. It’s interesting that many people who are affected by this do not even know much about their Sudeten German origins. It seems to be a very subconscious phenomenon.”
One of the goals of the new Sudeten.net app is evidently to help them reconnect with their roots and fill that gap, which differs across generations.
“Those who are old enough to remember the places of their childhood largely still consider the modern-day Czech Republic as their homeland,” Heider says. “Most of the younger ones don’t, but their relationship to the Bohemian lands is still characterised by great interest and affection.”
Pointing out the lack of coverage of Czech affairs in German media, Heider ventures that “if you do meet a German who is really interested in the Czech Republic, follows the events there or even learns Czechs, it’s almost certain she or he is of Sudeten German descent.”