The Last Year of the Second World War 1944–1945 in the Reichsgau Sudetenland and the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Review by Pascal Schneider
The 27th colloquium in the Archives of Ústí nad Labem, a town in northern Bohemia, named Aussig from 1938 to 1945 in the Reichsgau of the Sudetenland, could finally take place on 21 and 22 October 2021. Originally scheduled on 21 and 22 May 2020, it had been twice postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 27th edition of this regular event was characterized by a considerable diversity of its organizers. The colloquium, which took place at the Ústí nad Labem City Museum, a colossal building next to the North Bohemian Theatre of Opera and Ballet, not far from the Peace Square, was organized by the Institute of History of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Jan-Evangelista Purkyně University (FF UJEP) and the Institute of Slavic-Germanic Studies UJEP in Ústí nad Labem, in cooperation with the Archives and the Museum of the city, the Society for the History of Germans in Bohemia and the Collegium Bohemicum.
The theme of this year’s event, The Last Year of the Second World War 1944–1945 in the Reichsgau Sudetenland and the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, was explored by fifteen specialists from Liberec, Litoměřice and Prague, not to mention five local speakers from Ústí nad Labem, and one from France, associated with the CEFRES. As archivists, museum managers and academics, they were presenting their latest research or discoveries, particularly in unpublished collections or rarely used archives. The topics discussed were very diverse and often complementary, concerning both economic and military but also political and cultural issues. In addition, there were rich monographs presented by several witnesses, some direct actors of these events included.
The programme of these half-days, hosted by Kristina Kaiserová, assistant professor at the History Departement and director of the Institute of Slavic-Germanic Studies in Ústí nad Labem, who was in charge of the logistical organization of this colloquium, was divided into four panels, each of which was followed by rich discussions providing clarifications and additions to the problematics.
The first day was a great success, with a good attendance, as was the fourth panel on Friday morning, in which students from the History Department of the Technical University of Liberec participated as well.
The first presentation on Thursday 21 October was delivered by Michal Plavec, curator of aviation collections at the National Museum of Technology in Prague. His talk focused on the air operations in May 1945 of the 3rd Flieger Division, one of the components of the new Luftwaffenkommando 8, under the command of Major General Sigismond von Falkenstein. After having exposed the last air sorties against the Soviet Air Force, he explained under which circumstances von Falkenstein and other German generals were captured by the NKVD. The second lecture, given by Yvan Rous from the North Bohemian Museum in Liberec, related to the arm industry and forced labour in the last years of the war in Liberec / Reichenberg. Yvan Rous revealed that from 1943 to 1945 the regions of Liberec and Jablonec / Gablonz became an armament centre, supported by more than 230 individual forced labour camps, 103 of which were located in the city of Liberec only. Then, thanks to the recently discovered diary of Konrad Henlein, the Sudeten Gauleiter, Martin Veselý, head of the History Department at the Faculty of Arts FF UJEP, attempted to evaluate his activities during the last year of the war. Indeed, the current historiography still covers a small scale of the period from November 1938 to 1945 of this key protagonist in the German annexation.
Pascal Schneider, associated with the CEFRES, opened the second panel with one and only research project presented in German which concentrated on the last year of the Second World War in the Cheb / Eger district. Through unpublished archives, in particular from Nepomuk, an annex of the archives in Plzeň, it was possible to observe how the national socialist administration, assiduous surveillance and increased propaganda operated during the last months of the war. There was also a part developed on the quests and collections, even on the self-sacrifice, i.e. the total physical commitment of some local leaders, the Ortsgruppenleiter of the Eger Kreis. The archivist Markéta Vladyková from the Regional State Archive in Litoměřice subsequently shed light on the role of the Reich government official Dr. Hans Seifert at the end of the war, who besides obtained anti-fascist status after the war. Finally, Martin Krsek, historian at the Ústí nad Labem City Museum, demonstrated through the memoirs of the German soldier Josef Patz, who exceptionally lived until 1945 in his town of Ústí nad Labem, the turning points that preceded and resulted in an unconditional surrender.
The last panel of the first day started with a presentation by Milan Svoboda from the History Department of the Technical University of Liberec. He dealt with the topic of « Skutc combat unit », active from May to August 1945 and composed of volunteers from eastern Bohemia and Hejnice / Haindorf, a small town in northern Bohemia. The aim of this work was to reinterpret, with the help of new sources, a conflict situation in the modern history of regional historiography after 1989. Petr Karlíček, archivist from the town of Ústí nad Labem, specialist from Jiříkov, called Georgswalde until 1945, and the penultimate speaker of this first day, retraced the last months of the Second World War from January to May 1945 in this industrial town in northern Bohemia. In order to do so, he used of witnesses, the contemporary press and other archives with the aim of highlighting the daily life of the inhabitants and the functioning of the town’s administration. Finally, Kateřina Portmann, from the History Department of the Technical University of Liberec, delivered a presentation entitled: « To Live or Not to Live. Suicides at the End of the War and after the End of the War, with the Example of the City of Liberec ». Her aim was to analyse this phenomenon, which was unprecedented in history, at the end of the Second World War. Particularly, it revealed the very diverse origins of the victims as well as their motivations, the reluctance and fear of being transferred from their original home to the occupied territory of Germany included. At the end of this first day, of the Ústí nad Labem City Museum and the host of the conference, Václav Houfek, gave the participants a preview of the newly renovated permanent exhibition, which was to be opened the following month. It represents a contemporary and innovative museography that is both clear and playful.
The fourth panel of the following day concentrated on more cultural and archival topics. And it was Josef Šebesta, musicologist, who began by conveying the importance of military music for the preservation of Czech musical culture in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. To support his argument, he used the example of the Smetana celebrations in 1944. Petr Koura, director of the Collegium Bohemicum in Ústí nad Labem, then emphasized the importance of the development of Czech swing in the Protectorate in the last year of the war, which was listened to in the Terezín / Theresienstadt ghetto in particular. The emeritus director of the Local Archives, Vladimír Kaiser, subsequently continued with the presentation of unknown and unpublished photographic documentation originated from the end of the Second World War in Ústí nad Labem and Paris. These slides from the former archivist Dr. Franz Josef Umlauft, providing information about the everyday life in those towns, also consisted of colour slides of Liberec. The reason for their existence in Ústí nad Labem remains unknown. The penultimate presentation of the symposium was given by the director of the museum, Václav Houfek. His speech focused on the last year of the war in the contemporary newspapers of Ústí nad Labem. Through original documents, which were demonstrated to the students present he indicated the difference between the German Nazi newspaper Elbetalzeitung and the Czech National Front newspaper Predvoj. While addressing some local specificities, he also highlighted their way of adapting to the changing situation. Finally, Marek Krejčí, from the FF UJEP History Department, concluded with a discussion about the cultural life at the end of the war. To be more specific, between the end of the activities of cultural institutions in the Sudetenland from September 1944 and the exceptional authorisations given to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to perform in Prague or the resumption of performances at the National Theatre from 1 April 1945.
Therefore, all the presentations contributed not only to discover little-known social actors during the last year of the Second World War 1944–1945 in the territory of the Reichsgau Sudetenland and the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia but also to lift the veil o such as culture, visual documentation and last military engagements in 1945.
The proceedings of the 27th conference will be published in 202