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The Foreign Policy of the German Sudeten Council and Hans-Christoph Seebohm, 1956–1964

  • Gilad Margalit (a1)

Extract

Recent historical studies on the organizations of German expellees and their influence on West German political culture highlight the insincere attitude and deception by the whole West German political establishment toward the expellee politicians and activists and their cause. One study in this field is Matthias Stickler's important book “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” and a more recent one by Manfred Kittel, Vertreibung der Vertriebenen?, takes Stickler's thesis even further. It creates the impression that the expellee organizations, highly dependent on the government for financial and political support, had no option in this matter and were even helpless in that they had to accept the noncommittal rhetoric and the West German government's unwillingness to obligate West Germany for their cause. In this article, I probe this portrayal of the expellee politicians and activists as objects rather than subjects of German politics by inquiring into the political and public relations activities of the German Sudeten Council (Sudetendeutscher Rat) in the field of foreign policy during and around the tenure of Hans-Christoph Seebohm as the leader (Sprecher) of the German Sudeten Expellee Homeland Society (Landsmannschaft) (1959–1967). The Sudeten Council is a non-party association; one half of its members are elected by the federal assembly of the German Sudeten Landsmannschaft and the other half by the political parties of the Bundestag. As well as being a politician of the expellee organization, Hans-Christoph Seebohm pursued the longest political career in the German federal cabinet—seventeen years. He served as Minister of Transportation and Mail of the Federal Republic from 1949 to 1966 under Chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard. To date, no monographic work has been written about Seebohm.

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1 Ahonen, Pertti, After the Expulsion: West Germany and Eastern Europe 1945–1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 96: “The deceptive intent evident in Adenauer's stance on the Heimatrecht of the Sudeten Germans reflected a much broader pattern.” Stickler, Matthias, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch.” Organisation, Selbstverständnis und heimatpolitische Zielsetzungen der deutschen Vertriebenenverbände 1949–1972 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2004), 250: “The SPD Leadership played in fact a double game [toward the expellee politicians]”; and 395: “In festive speeches (Sonntagsreden) the [politicians] told the expellees what they had wanted to hear, but by doing so, they took care by all means not to make any commitment.” Kittel, Manfred, Vertreibung der Vertriebenen? Der historische Osten in der Erinnerungskultur der Bundesrepublik (1961–1982) (Munich: Oldenburg, 2008), 7380.

2 Stickler, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” 431–432; Kittel, Vertreibung der Vertriebenen?, 73–80.

3 “Seebohm löst Lodgman,” Frankfurter Rundschau, September 21, 1959.

4 For example, “Hochkomissare protestiere gegen Seebohm Ausführungen,” Frankfurter Rundschau, December 5, 1951; “The ‘New York Post’ gegen Seebohm,” Frankfurter Rundschau, June 4, 1955. Another example is his speech at the 150th anniversary of Marienbad's celebrations in 1958 in Bad Homburg in the presence of senior government officials: “Heimatrecht ist ein Teil des Völkerrechts,” Frankfurter Rundschau, September 16, 1958; Stöver, Bernd, “Pressure Group im kalten Krieg. Die Vertriebenen, die USA und der Kaltekrieg 1947–1990,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 53, no. 10 (2005): 899900.

5 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 17–18.

6 See Elon, Amos, “Siha ‘im Dr. Adenauer’: Ani Hayyiti Masdir et ‘Inyan ha-Mad'anim,’Ha'aretz, Nov. 6, 1964, 11: “I never demanded the renewal of the 1937 borders. I didn't ever do so; after all, I'm no fool! We'll get to peace negotiations and we'll see what the other side can agree to.” See also Stickler, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” 395.

7 Raiser, Ludwig, von Bismarck, Klaus, and von Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich, “Warum wir das Wort ergriffen. Ludwig Raiser, Klaus von Bismarck und Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker begründen das Memorandum der Acht,” Die Zeit, no. 10, March 9, 1962.

8 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 96; Kittel, Vertreibung der Vertriebenen?, 77.

9 “Pressenotiz Bundesminister Dr. Seebohm zur Frage der Grenzen von 1937,” undated, but apparently from 1951, Frankfurter Rundschau Archiv, Mappe Hans-Christoph Seebohm; “Alliierte Kritik an Seebohm-Rede,” Kurier, December 5, 1951; Eschenburg, Theodor, “Des Ministers Betrachtungen,” Die Zeit, March 18, 1960.

10 Seebohm's speech in Nuremberg, May 13, 1964, Sudetendeutsches Archiv (German Sudeten Archiv, Munich), Kanzlei des Sprechers: ST, Reden und Aufsätze 1964, 3–4.

11 “Hat das Münchener Abkommen Konsequenzen für das sudetenproblem?,” February 20, 1965, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Seebohm 16/1a SL-Reden und Veröffentlichungen, 3–6; “Unsere Heimkehr ins Reich!,” August 12, 1963, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers 1/ C.

12 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 94.

13 In 1954, Theodor Oberländer, the federal minister for expellee, refugee, and war victim affairs, gave a radio address in Bavaria on the national mission of the expellees in the east and said that “the eastern borders [of Bavaria, along which lies] a frontier area, should be strengthened to create a solution for the problem of the Sudeten Germans as a general European solution in the sense of the Munich agreement.” Although this implied moving the German border to the east, no scandal resulted. Speech of Oberländer at the Bavarian Radio, November 5, 1954, Frankfurter Rundschau Archiv, Mappe Theodor Oberländer.

14 Adenauer, Konrad, Bundestagreden (Bonn: AZ Studio, 1967), 17. Franz Richter was the alias of Fritz Rößler, a Nazi activist from Saxony who settled after the war in Lower Saxony and presented himself as a Sudeten German.

15 Protocol of the cabinet meeting of September 6, 1949, in Die Kabinettprotokolle der Bundesregierung, bearbeitet von Ulrich Enders und Konrad Reiser, vol. 1, 1949 (Boppard: Harald Boldt), 317–318.

16 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 95–96.

17 Adenauer, Konrad, Briefe 1953–1955, von Hans Peter Mensing, bearbeitet (Berlin: Siedler Verlag, 1995), 30 and 399.

18 The three most notorious scandals Seebohm evoked in his long career were solved in this manner. “Klärung dringend nötig,” Neue Zeitung, December 6, 1951; “Erhard beanstandet Seebohms Rede,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 25, 1964; Henrich, Hans, “Heil Seebohm!,” Frankfurter Rundschau, December 7, 1951; “Seebohm verteidigt sich,” Hamburger Abendblatt, April 6, 1966; “Fall Seebohm offiziel beigelegt,” Tagesspiegel, April 7, 1966.

19 Stöver, “Pressure Group,” 897.

20 “Seebohm dementiert Regierung,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 14, 1964.

21 “Seebohm muß sich verantworten,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 23, 1964.

22 See, for example, the response of Haffner, Sebastian, “Fall Seebohm—Fall Erhard,” Stern, no. 23, June 2, 1964. See the reactions of the GDR press: “Seebohm muß weg und mit ihm der Revanschismus!,” Neues Deutschland, May 21, 1964; “Seebohm Hetze entspricht Bonns Politik,” Neue Zeit, May 26, 1964. It is most intriguing that the SED press's editors were not satisfied with the protest of the Eastern bloc, but covered, probably in search of legitimization, supportive citations from the Western press about the global protest and sharp criticism against Seebohm's speech and position: “Völker drängen auf Rücktritt Seebohms,” National Zeitung, May 23, 1964; “Je eher Seebohm geht, desto besser,” Neue Zeit, May 23, 1964.

23 “Seebohm dementiert Regierung,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 14, 1964.

24 “Keine Gebietsansprüche an Prag,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 15, 1964.

25 “Erhard beanstandet Seebohms Rede,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 25, 1964. Earlier and later scandals evoked by Seebohm were repeatedly settled in a similar manner with the German chancellors: Seebohm declared that the press misinterpreted his speech. “Klärung dringend nötig,” Neue Zeitung, December 6, 1951; Henrich, “Heil Seebohm!”; “Seebohm verteidigt sich,” Hamburger Abendblatt, April 6, 1966; “Fall Seebohm offiziel beigelegt,” Tagesspiegel, April 7, 1966.

26 The wording of the interview of NBC with Chancellor Erhard on June 2, 1964, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Der Kanzlei der Sprechers BIX/55; “Kanzler verurteilt Seebohm-Rede,” Frankfurter Rundschau, June 6, 1964.

27 Der Bundeskanzler an Seebohm, August 7, 1967, BA Koblenz NL Seebohm 178/2a, 99.

28 In his speech in the central rally of the Sudeten Home Society in Stuttgart in 1963, Seebohm mentions the presence of numerous representatives of the Slovak, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Croatian, and Bulgarian peoples. Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/45, June 2, 1963, 1.

29 On the ABN and Stetzko, see Bernd Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus. Amerikanische Liberation Policy im Kalten Krieg 1947–1991 (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag), 305–312.

30 Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/1.

31 Schmidt-Hartmann, Eva, “Menschen oder Nationen? Die Vertreibung der deutschen aus tschechischer Sicht,” in Die Vertreibung der Deutschen aus dem Osten. Ursachen, Ereignisse, Folgen, 2nd ed., ed. Benz, Wolfgang (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1995), 185; Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 698.

32 “Ein klares ‘NEIN’ zur Lodgman-Außenpolitik,” Sudetendeutsche Legionäre. Informationsdienst, Nr. 2, 2–1952, Frankfurter Rundschau Archiv, Frankfurt, Mappe Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft.

33 Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 695–696, 724ff.

34 “There is especially no reason, whatsoever, to declare that the Munich treaty and the treaty between Prague, Paris, and London have no validity according to international law. From the point of international law, it is an agreement that came about without reproach. That should not prevent one from establishing that the German side [participating in this treaty] was a totalitarian and criminal regime.” Rede des Sprechers Dr. Ing. Hans-Christoph Seebohm auf der Hauptkundgebung des XV. Sudetendeutschen Tages zu Pfingsten 1964 in Nürenberg (May 17, 1964), Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/46, 22.

35 Stickler, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” 102.

36 Hans-Christoph Seebohm's speech on the central rally of the German Sudeten in Stuttgart 1963, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/45, 11–12.

37 Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 698.

38 A letter from Rudolf Hilf to the author, February 22, 2008.

39 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 108.

40 Sadat, Anwar el, In Search of Identity: An Autobiography (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 3334.

41 For the British files on Johannes Eppler's arrest and interrogation, see National Archives, Kew (London), KV 2/1467, KV 2/1468, WO 208/5520. I am grateful for Dr. Yigal Sheffy of the Tel-Aviv University for directing me to these records.

42 A letter from Rudolf Hilf to the author, February 22, 2008.

43 Dr. Rudolf Hilf an Herrn Bundesminister Seebohm, October 30, 1958, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Munich, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/3.

44 Herr Bundesminister Seebohm an Dr. Rudolf Hilf, November 14, 1958, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Kanzlei des Sprechers B9/3.

45 A letter from Rudolf Hilf to the author, February 22, 2008.

46 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 26–27; Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 341f, 676; Stöver, “Pressure Group,” 897–898; Josef Foschepoth, “Potsdamm und danach. Die Westmächte, Adenauer und die Vertriebenen,” in Die Vertreibung der Deutschen aus dem Osten, ed. Benz, 88–99.

47 Bayer. HSTA, RG 260 OMGUS. OMGB-ID 10/70–3/23, 1947, 4.

48 Bayer. HSTA RG 260 OMGUS. OMGB-ID 10/70–3/23, February 21, 1947.

49 Stöver, “Pressure Group,” 897–911.

50 “Walter Becher Nachfolger Seebohms,” Frankfurter Rundschau, January 29, 1968; Becher, Walter, Zeitzeuge. Ein Lebensbericht (Munich: Langen Müller, 1990).

51 Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 347–349, 700; Becher, Zeítzeuge, 255–76.

52 “Bericht über die Reise des Geschäftsführers des Sudetendeutschen Rates, Dr. Walter Becher, MdL, in die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika im Frühjahr 1961,” Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Seebohm 13/3C SL Sudetendeutscher Rat 1954–1962, 7.

53 Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 667, fn. 275.

54 Ibid.

55 On this term, see Wodak, Ruth, Pelikan, Johanna, Nowak, Peter, Gruber, Helmut, De Cillia, Rudolf, and Mitten, Richard, “Wir sind alle unschuldige Täter!” Diskurshistorische Studien zum Nachkriegsantisemitismus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1990), 210228.

56 “Briefwechsel zwischen, Goldwater und Seebohm,” Die Welt, July 16, 1964.

57 Becher to Seebohm, July 24, 1964, Sudetendeutsches Archiv: Kanzlei des Sprechers 1/E.

58 For example, see Becher's correspondence with the American Senator E. J. (Jake) Garn of Utah in June-July 1979 regarding the SALT II talks during the Carter administration, where Garn and Becher shared their critique of Carter's foreign policy, and Becher tried to coordinate a hearing of the Bavarian Prime Minister and former federal Defense Minister, Franz Josef Strauss, in front of the foreign committee of the U.S. Senate. Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Der Kanzlei des Sprechers B 19/2.

59 Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus, 700.

60 For example, “Kolonialstatus oder Selbstbestimungsrecht, welchen Weg wählt Deutschland für Europa?,” May 5, 1959, and “Die Verantwortung des Akademikers gegenüber der wiedervereinigung,” May 31, 1957, Bundesarchiv Koblenz, Nachlass Seebohm 178 /18.

61 Haar, Ingo, “Die deutsche ‘Vertreibungsverluste.’ Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der ‘Dokumentation der Vertreibung,’Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte XXXV (2007): 260f.

62 In November 1950, the three high commissioners of the Western Allies told Adenauer in an unequivocal manner that their reference to the reunification of Germany meant only the Soviet Occupation Zone (GDR). Foschepoth, “Potsdamm und danach,” 107.

63 Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, Seebohm, Gedanken aus dem Vortrag in Siegen, May 15, 1960, BA Koblenz NL Seebohm 178/18 H.-C. Seebohm, 1.

64 “Pressenotiz Bundesminister Dr. Seebohm zur Frage der Grenzen von 1937,” undated manuscript from 1951, Frankfurter Rundschau Archiv, Mappe Hans-Christoph Seebohm. Seebohm referred to a similar solution a couple of times until the end of his political career; see, for example, “Hat das Münchener Abkommen Konsequenzen für das sudetenproblem?,” February 20, 1965, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Seebohm 16/1a SL-Reden und Veröffentlichungen, 8.

65 “[The act of expulsion] is also illegal on the basis of the Declaration of Human Rights, the Atlantic Charter, the Declaration of the Nuremberg Tribunal, and all the great international decisions.” “Hat das Münchener Abkommen Konsequenzen für das sudetenproblem?,” February 20, 1965, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Seebohm 16/1a SL-Reden und Veröffentlichungen, 6.

66 See, for example, Lemberg's explanation of why Slavs were incapable of ruling in Eva Hahn, “Das völkische Stereotyp. ‘Osteuropa’ im kalten Krieg,” undated, http://www.bohemistik.de/lemberg.pdf (accessed Oct. 17, 2007).

67 “Seebohm dementiert Regierung,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 14, 1964; “Seebohm verteidigt erneut das Münchener Abkommen,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 19, 1964.

68 Seebohm, Gedanken aus dem Vortrag in Siegen, May 15, 1960, BA Koblenz NL Seebohm 178/18 H.-C. Seebohm, Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, 2.

69 “Ansprüche Polens zurückgewiesen,” Frankfurter Rundschau, August 31, 1964.

71 “Holländische Kritik an Seebohm,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 21, 1964; “Seebohm muß sich verantworten,” Frankfurter Rundschau, May 23, 1964. See also, for example, the articles of Professor Theodor Eschenburg against Seebohm: Eschenburg, Theodor, “Des Ministers Betrachtungen,” Die Zeit, March 18, 1960; Eschenburg, Theodor, “Unbelehrbar, Herr Minister?,” Die Zeit, April 14, 1960. See as Gresmann, well Hans, “Seebohms Fall,” Die Zeit, June 3, 1960.

72 Stickler, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” 167f; Adenauer, Briefe 1953–1955, 34 and 401–2; in a letter dated October 1953, Adenauer told Seebohm that, to be reappointed to the cabinet, he would have to refrain from making any further political speeches.

73 “Adenauer prüft Seebohm-Rede,” Frankfurter Rundschau, Sept. 22, 1960.

74 The wording of Erhard's interview with NBC on June 2, 1964, “Kanzler verurteilt Seebohm-Rede,” Frankfurter Rundschau, June 9, 1964, Sudetendeutsches Archiv, Der Kanzlei des Sprechers B IX/55; “Spiel mit Zahlen,” Frankfurter Rundschau, June 9, 1964.

75 In 1955 only 16.4 percent of the expellees who lived in the Federal Republic were members of the expellee organizations. Stickler, “Ostdeutsch heißt Gesamtdeutsch,” 178, 144, 146.

76 Ahonen, After the Expulsion, 101.

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