The Sudeten Germans until 1848

Definition. From the 13th to the early 19th century, speakers of the Czech and German language (in Silesia also Poles, in Lusatia also Sorbs) lived together in the Bohemian Lands, sharing the status of ruled subjects. The Habsburg conquest of Bohemia in 1620 (Battle on the White Mountain) established absolute Habsbug rule. The Bohemian nobles held responsible for the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 were executed, their domains auctionned off; the Jesuits were given free hand to introduce the Counterreformation. A new nobilty emerged in Bohemia, German/Italian in origin.
Czech historians regard the years between 1620 and 1780 as the Dark Ages in their national history. German historians of the 19th century have labelled the Habsburg Dynasty. Nationalist German historians propagated the concept of the Germans as a 'Kulturvolk' (culture-disseminating people), implying that ruled people such as the Czechs would benefit from such dissemination of culture, and perhaps assimilate into the 'superior' culture.
In 1780, most inhabitants of Bohemia or Moravia, no matter if they spoke German, Czech or both, would have seen themselves as Bohemian or Moravian. When the nationalist movement began in Bohemia, the Czechs did have no problem in becoming Czech patriots; on the other hand, a good number of persons from an ethnically German background joined the Czech national movement, because their first priority was to overcome absolute Habsburg rule, the Ancien regime; only gradually did ethnically German patriots in Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia establish German national identity as the core priority.

The Germans living in Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia, for the most part, experienced the period from 1620 to 1780 (and on into the 19th century) as a time in which they were subjects of an oppressive administration. In 1620, many of the Bohemian Germans had been Lutherans; they were pressed to convert to Tridentine Catholicism; many did, others emigrated. Most Bohemian peasants, German and Czech, were treated as serfs; the Bohemian peasant revolts of 1680 and 1775 were not confined to one specific ethnic group within Bohemia, but the reaction of an overburdened social group.
The term "Sudetenland' is a creation of 19th century nationalism. Bohemia's German-speaking population was concentrated in Bohemia's and Moravia's cities, in an area forming a rim around Bohemia and Moravia (to the south, west and north) and in several insular regions in Bohemia and Moravia. The term 'Sudetenland' has been coined to describe this rim, with an ethnically German population majority; it does not include the Bohemian / Moravian Germans living in the cities surrounded by a Czech speaking countryside, also not isolated pockets of German-speaking villages such as the Iglauer Sprachinsel (Iglau pocket of Germans).
One problem in establishing identities by mother tongue in 19th century Bohemia / Moravia are the countries' ethnic Jews. Early in the century, the majority of the Jews spoke German; in records of the later 19th century, a compatively larger percentage of them appears as Czechs.

For a history of the Sudetenland / the Sudetenlanders, we have to concentrate on the rim regions of Bohemia and Moravia, including most of Austrian Silesia. The region thus described, in the time this chapter covers, was an integral part of Bohemia respectively Moravia and Austrian Silesia, lacked a separate identity and administration. The Sudetenlanders, prior to 1849, did not regard themselves as such. While the Sudetenlanders for the most part were speakers of German, and the inhabitants of the core regions of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as of the eastern region of Austrian Silesia, for the most part were speakers of Czech, the Sudetenland was home to a Czech minority, and coe Bohemia & Moravia as home to a German minority.

Click here for files on the history of the Bohemian Lands

REFERENCE Fritz Peter Habel, Die Sudetendeutschen (The Sudeten Germans), München : Langen Müller (1992) 3rd, enlargd edition 2002 , in German [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted July 29th 2005

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