Left Behind: The German National Minority in the Czech Lands, 1946-2004

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This dissertation investigates the evolution of national identification and assimilative trends among Germans who remained behind in the Czech lands from the end of the postwar expulsions in 1946 through the Czech Republic’s entry to the European Union in 2004. My primary lens of analysis is associational life, or formal and informal social groups catering to German individuals and the German community. I analyze the interplay between national identification and the evolution of the German minority’s cultural, economic, political, and social experiences. I ask why the German minority was largely unable to resist assimilation despite the existence of socio-cultural infrastructure that supported German national life. I argue that social-cultural life and assimilation among Germans in the postwar and post-Communist Czech lands were uneven and unstable because of the German community’s ambivalent relationship to the socialist system. German antifascists and laborers were the first to engage in associational life in the postwar period. Antifascist committees only survived a few years, whereas the cultural lives of workers became increasingly enmeshed with the socialist regime. Cultural groups had nearly died out by the mid-1960s, but the Prague Spring in 1968 brought new vigor to German associational life. The austerity of Normalization, however, brought the newly created German Cultural Association into closer alignment with the socialist regime than its founders originally intended. The events of 1989 reignited German cultural life in the Czech lands, heralded the founding of a new cultural organization, and fostered the emergence of bicultural identities. This dissertation illuminates the importance and relevance of remnant minority populations that remain behind in the wake of forced population transfers. In particular, it expands our understanding of the singularity of the experiences of Germans in the postwar and post-Communist Czech lands. I address how and why the historical legacy of World War II, the Cold War context, and domestic politics set Germans apart from the other minority populations in Czechoslovakia and other Germans in East Central Europe. This dissertation also provides insight into different forms of assimilation, the consequences of each, and the instability and mutability of national identification.

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  • 01/28/2019
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