czechs against germans -- 2/16/21

Today's selection -- from Year Zero by Ian Buruma. After their liberation at the end of World War II, many Czechs sought their revenge against Germans within their borders:

"Czechs, like other human beings, will do their worst if they are offi­cially set upon defenseless people. Torture prisons were established in Prague and other cities. Suspected SS men were strung up from lamp­posts. More than ten thousand German civilians were packed into the Strahov football stadium, where thousands were machine-gunned just for sport. The Revolutionary Guards (RC) were the Czech equivalent of the Polish Militia, young hoodlums given official license to act out their vio­lent fantasies. They led the mobs, stoning Germans in the streets, and otherwise molesting citizens who had once been privileged, or wore 'in­tellectual glasses.' But they had the support of the army, and the newly liberated country's top officials, too.

"One story -- by no means the most horrific -- will have to suffice to give an impression of what it was like during those wild summer months, be­fore the violent orgy, like the sexual abandon in other parts of Europe, petered out, and a new order was imposed. It is the story of a German ac­tress named Margarete Schell. Born in Prague, Schell was famous before the war for her performances in the theater and on the radio. On May 9, she was arrested by four Revolutionary Guards, one of whom was her local butcher. Along with other German women, she was taken to the railway station to sweep away the rubble left by an air raid. Made to carry heavy paving stones, she was struck with rifle butts and kicked with heavy army boots. The mob cried: 'You German pigs! Fattening yourselves all those years, well, you have your Führer to thank for this!'

"Things escalated quickly from there: 'I had nothing to cover my head, and my hair seems to have annoyed the crowd ... Some recognized me and screamed: "She was an actress!" Unfortunately I had manicured and lacquered nails, and my silver bracelet put the mob into an even greater frenzy.'

"German women were made to eat pictures of Hitler. Hair hacked off their own heads was stuffed into their mouths. Schell was sent to a slave labor camp where she was flogged by Revolutionary Guards for no reason she could discern. Yet, she was less obtuse than some other Germans in central and eastern Europe. Not all the Czech guards behaved badly. One Guard, seeing that she could barely walk anymore, let alone work in her ruined shoes, offered to find her a pair of sandals. And Schell noted 'When I hear this RC man's description of spending seven months in a German concentration camp, we really shouldn't be surprised by the way we are treated.'

"Schell understood the true nature of Czech resentment too. Still won­dering why she was singled out for a specially savage beating one day, she remembered how people had told her that the commandant found her 'too refined.' In the diary entry of the same day, August 8, she mentions a vicious female guard in the camp kitchen. 'The women,' she observes, 'are the worst everywhere. It clearly has to do with their rage, because they can see perfectly well that, despite our current labor as servants, we still remain what we always were.'"



Ian Buruma


Year Zero: A History of 1945


A Penguin Random House Company


Copyright 2013 by Ian Buruma


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