Prepare for another big shocker, then. This landed in my mailbox yesterday:
I’ve never been to Prague. My mother and grandmother passed through it once, though–on their way out of northern Yugoslavia in 1944, as displaced persons, fleeing the Russian invasion. Their memories of that great artists’ city were anything but golden; the Czech authorities robbed them blind. They literally came out of there with nothing but the clothes they wore. Ordinary locals weren’t terribly friendly to the German-speaking refugees passing through, either, even though these ethnic Germans had nothing to do with what those other Germans were doing to Eastern Europe. If they didn’t know a word of Czech, how could they explain that their family had lived in Yugoslavia for some 200 years? Well, they couldn’t–and no one was listening anyway. All too soon, the mistrust became mutual. My mom says a lot of women from the DP camps were raped by “partisans”. Even little girls, which my mom and aunt were at the time, were not safe. The Batschka-German refugees huddled in fear, and were only too glad to leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself, if not sooner. From Prague they went on through Silesia; my mom’s family ended up in the countryside in Bavaria. None of them ever went back to Prague again, not even to visit–not even when it became fashionable for Germans to do so again.So it comes as some surprise to learn that the Czechs–and their hardline communist leaders, at that–later became allies, however inadvertent, to Eastern Germans wanting to go west. It’s one more irony for wingnuts to break their teeth on–and one more proof that the West, not the East, stood to profit more from the continuance of the Iron Curtain and the Wall. It’s also the ideal bookend to my post from the other day. There’s a real wealth of surprising information there, folks, so here’s that link again. Go read!
Washington, D.C., November 8, 2009 – Just before the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, even the hardline Czechoslovak Communist leaders called for the opening of the German border, according to documents from high-level archives in Berlin, Bonn and Prague published for the first time in English and posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.Czech police try to stop wall jumpersCompiled and edited by Czech historian Vilem Precan and translated by Todd Hammond, the documents show that waves of East German refugees fleeing to the West through Czechoslovakia (more than 62,000 just in the period from November 4 to 10, 1989) so alarmed the Czechoslovak Communist authorities – who previously had resisted the reforms under way in Poland, Hungary and in Moscow – that they asked the East German leadership on November 8 to allow its citizens to go directly to West Germany, in effect to open the border.The documents posted today include the secret diplomatic exchanges between the West German foreign ministry and its embassy in Prague where thousands of refugees took shelter, between East German diplomats in Prague and their bosses in East Berlin, between Czechoslovak diplomats and Party officials and their counterparts, and eyewitness accounts by dissident Charter 77 spokespeople about the refugee crisis.The posting also includes contemporaneous photographs of the scene at the West German embassy in Prague, Czech police attempting to prevent refugees from scaling the embassy walls, the tent city that arose in its courtyard, and rows of abandoned Trabant cars in the streets of Prague.The detailed essay by Vilem Precan, “Through Prague to Freedom,” that accompanies the documents cites the Czechoslovak government’s demarche to East Berlin on November 8 as “a kind of ultimatum” that forced the East German Communists into a rapid “modification of rules for permanent exit” – a reform famously announced and flubbed by an East German Politburo member at a press conference on November 9. The statements by Gunter Schabowski led Western TV reporters to declare the Berlin Wall open when it was not, but the televised news brought crowds of East Germans to the checkpoints in East Berlin that evening who eventually forced their way through and made the media reports ultimately accurate.