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The fractured lives of German Bohemian children, born 1933-40 in the area known as Sudetenland: a memory study, Nablonz-Neugablonz

Lees, H. (2015) The fractured lives of German Bohemian children, born 1933-40 in the area known as Sudetenland: a memory study, Nablonz-Neugablonz. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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At the Paris Peace Conferences of 1918-1919, new states aspiring to be nation-states were created for 60 million people, but at the same time 25 million people found themselves as ethnic minorities. This change of the old order in Europe had a considerable impact on one such group, more than 3 million Bohemian German-speakers, later referred to as Sudeten Germans. After the demise of the Habsburg Empire In 1918, they became part of the new state of Czechoslovakia. In 1938, the Munich Agreement – prelude to the Second World War – integrated them into Hitler’s Reich; in 1945-1946 they were expelled from the reconstituted state of Czechoslovakia. At the centre of this War Child case study are German children from the Northern Bohemian town and district, formerly known as Gablonz an der Neisse, famous for exquisite glass art, now Jablonec nad Nisou in the Czech Republic. After their expulsion they found new homes in the post-war Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, testimonies have been drawn upon of some Czech eyewitnesses from the same area, who provided their perspective from the other side, as it were. It turned out to be an insightful case study of the fate of these communities, previously studied mainly within the context of the national struggle between Germans and Czechs. The inter-disciplinary research methodology adopted here combines history and sociological research to demonstrate the effect of larger political and social developments on human lives, not shying away from addressing sensitive political and historical issues, as far as these are relevant within the context of the study. The expellees started new lives in what became Neugablonz in post-war Bavaria where they successfully re-established the industries they had had to leave behind in 1945-1946. Part 1 of the study sheds light on the complex Czech-German relationship of this important Central European region, addressing issues of democracy, ethnicity, race, nationalism, geopolitics, economics, human geography and ethnography. It also charts the developments leading to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after 1945. What is important in this War Child study is how the expellees remember their history while living as children in Sudetenland and later. The testimony data gained indicate that certain stereotypes often repeated within the context of Sudeten issues such as the confrontational nature of inter-ethnic relations are not reflected in the testimonies of the respondents from Gablonz. In Part 2 the War Child Study explores the memories of the former Sudeten war children using sociological research methods. It focuses on how they remember life in their Bohemian homeland and coped with the life-long effects of displacement after their expulsion. The study maps how they turned adversity into success by showing a remarkable degree of resilience and ingenuity in the face of testing circumstances due to the abrupt break in their lives. The thesis examines the reasons for the relatively positive outcome to respondents’ lives and what transferable lessons can be deduced from the results of this study.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Heuser, B.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:48053

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