We are in Os’ home province in central Europe. The province is the geographic center of Europe and, in that sense, it is Europe’s Kansas. Os and his wife are victims of this postwar event. Until he was 37 years old and newly arrived in Munich as a man without a country, Os had never resided in Germany. It is one year after World War II’s end. Europe’s recovery from the war is underway. This region had been mostly untouched by the recent, cataclysmic battles and the Allied bombings that had destroyed Germany. Now, Os and all of his countrymen are losing their homeland. Not even the perpetrator of the war, Germany, although brought to an absolute standstill by the Allied Powers, has lost its entire homeland. Allied bombs have leveled the major German cities. Poland has annexed Germany’s easternmost territories via the Potsdam Agreement of the Big Three powers. Further, the Allies split Germany into a number of sectors. To the victors go the spoils. Nevertheless, although it was to take fifty years, Germany would once again be united. But now in the immediate postwar era…an individual, former Wehrmacht soldier of a totally devastated Germany could still return to Stuttgart, or Bremen, or his hometown village in the northern province of Schleswig-Holstein and begin to put his personal life back into order. Such a controlled choice, however, is not possible in this land.
What is occurring in this province is a unique event. It is happening on a scale unparalleled in recorded history. It involves millions of people. The event is the largest, single mass deportation ever perpetrated on a population. Os and others of his heritage are yet more victims of the recent war. Ironically, they are not citizens of Germany. They have never been citizens of that country except for a recent, brief, and tumultuous period. The famed Munich Agreement of 1938 granted citizenship in the recently vanquished Nazi regime for a little over six years. Other more powerful governments had negotiated that fact. Union with Nazi Germany had been imposed by diplomatic mandate and without their electoral consent. They had been pawns in Hitler’s pre-war political chess game. Now the people of the region are being victimized solely because of their ethnicity. The entire population segment is ordered to report to town squares, city halls, train depots, and open fields. Their property, real and personal, is confiscated and seized by the state. Much of their entire population is temporarily placed in concentration camps, subjected in some cases to beatings and death. Some are cruelly and brutally separated from family. Not only Nazis performed racist acts in those days. Some elements of families will never see each other again. Deportees are commanded by the authorities to bring only 30 kgs. of personal effects. That amounts roughly to one full suitcase. Most folks bring only clothing, family pictures, and personal family documents. Left behind are homes, all other worldly possessions, and centuries of tradition and heritage. Possessing an ethnic German name means immediate persecution. Based on that discriminatory issue alone, folks are summarily deported from their homeland to unknown destinations. Some are anti-Fascists who had fought in the underground against the Nazis on the side of the government that is now deporting them. More ironically, some had recently been liberated from Nazi concentration camps. There is no possibility of appeal.
In essence, their Czech governing authorities are blaming these people collectively for all the evil that has recently been perpetrated in Europe by the Nazis. It is being done with the tacit consent of the victors. The overwhelming majority of these deportees are not Nazis. Most are simple, apolitical folk. Yet, the world does not care. It looks the other way. There are unsympathetic, bitter voices that utter, “The Germans are getting what they deserve. They are getting a taste of their own medicine”. Paradoxically, however, these people now being herded into open railroad cars are not German citizens. They are not Germans and certainly are not “responsible” for the recent war. This body of people has a history in their homeland that dates back 1000 years. These people are totally defenseless and bewildered by their situation.
This is the last time this group of people will ever be a consolidated, cohesive entity. Whole villages are being evacuated of their residents. Os’ hometown, Zwittau, will drop from a population of 9,649 to 178 in a matter of hours. Some cities and towns will soon be absolutely devoid of people. They will become ghost towns, of which many will soon be leveled with bulldozers. Many deportees, women and children included, are murdered in cold blood. History and its documentation are being obliterated….burned, in some cases. Within this tattered group of people, Os is a hero, but nobody knows it. Many years later, Os is to become world renowned for humanitarian deeds he had recently accomplished. Now he and his people are being punished. When Os was a child growing up, one supposes he exhibited some of the traits that would give him world renown as an adult, but who could have been so perceptive to notice? There must be anecdotes to be gleaned from childhood comrades that would indicate his character development or personality. Was he a good guy?…a bad guy?…a con man?…a dashing ladies’ man?….somebody would recall him. Yet, his personal, hometown history will be impossible to research since the deporting officials are intent on destruction of records. All vestiges of the existence of these deportees are to be destroyed. A culture is being exterminated. That is the officially stated goal. Modernly, in Bosnia and Kosovo, this sort of orchestrated mass deportation would become known euphemistically as “ethnic cleansing”. Fifty years hence, a memorial to Os will be erected in his hometown. Replacement residents there will not even have heard of Os. There will be no trace of Os in his hometown records. There will be no hometown records.
Much will be made of the fact that after Os’ death, his remains are interned in the far off land of some of the people he helped. What will always be unstated in those reports is the fact that Os’ own homeland no longer exists. It would have been impossible for him to be buried in his homeland, even if he had so desired. Here, in 1946, his rights to his homeland are being obliterated by design. Childhood and adult comrades are being scattered all over the globe. Few individuals will be able to vouch for Os’ childhood attitudes and behavior or corroborate adult traits. Those eyewitnesses to his youth will themselves be gone from here and residing elsewhere all over the globe….in the U.S., Germany, Austria, Guatemala, Australia, South Africa…or other scattered points. Their survival instincts will dictate their destinations.
Where is this place? We are in Moravia. One of the more famous, so-called “good Germans” to step out of the Nazi era will prove to be Os. Contrary to world-wide presumptions, he is not a German at all. He is a birthright Czech citizen and a Sudeten Moravian. He and his wife are among the 3,500,000 Sudeten (and other) ethnically germanic folk being deported from Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia in 1946 by the post-war Czechoslovakian government. When Os dies, the Jews whose lives Os saved during the Holocaust will give his mortal remains a resting place in Israel, but his Sudeten spirit will be eternally homeless.
Os is Oskar Schindler.
Copyright © 2007 by Frank Koerner