Michal Korhel: State, Children and Power: Czech-German Children in the Power Struggles of Post-WWII Czechoslovakia

For centuries, Czechs and Germans have lived side-by-side in the Czech borderlands, also known as the Sudeten German territories, in a coexistence that was ruptured by war and its consequences. As a result of the Czechoslovak post-war policy against the Germans and their alleged collaborators, Czechs who had ‘fraternized’ with Germans during the Second World War were punished. Children born of mixed relationships were exposed to the Czech nationalists’ endeavor to ‘cleanse’ Czechoslovakia from everything German. Many of them were deprived of their Czechoslovak citizenship and were hence hindered from receiving full social care, education or even better food rations in the early post-war years. Beyond that, some of them were not just witnesses to, but also became subjects of humiliation, labeling and frequent abuse. The primary aim of this study is to analyze power relations in post-WWII Czechoslovakia based on the position of Czech-German children. Understanding “power”, according to the German sociologist Heinrich Popitz, as the ability to assert oneself against others allows us to examine power relations on various levels – the national, international and individual. Juxtaposing governmental policy aimed at dealing with children born of mixed Czech-German relationships with the implementation of this policy reveals tensions between central and local Czechoslovak officials. The fate of these children may help to determine which authorities were involved and how they strived to prevail in the power struggle on the national level. As many Czech-German families were separated by the forced expulsion of the German-speaking population from Czechoslovakia, their children became of international interest. Analyzing the issues of repatriation and the international social and legal protection of children, the role of this group in the conflict between East and West during the Cold War will be assessed. Finally, based on the qualitative analysis of oral history interviews, the study will examine the different experiences of Czech-German children with various forms of violence within the context of post-war Czech society. Exploring how children handled such experiences allows us to discuss their ability to deal with the state’s “national cleansing” policy as well as the way their own national identity was shaped.

Michal Korhel is a PhD student at the Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ústí nad Labem (Czech Republic) as well as a PhD student at Augsburg University (Germany), where he conducts his current research on children born of foreign soldiers and Czechoslovak women, as well as on children from Czech-German mixed relationships in Czechoslovak society after WWII. He is also a member of the Marie Curie Innovative Training Network “Children Born of War”. As a Visiting Fellow, Korhel has taught at the Faculty of International Relations and Area Studies of the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow. He holds a Master’s degree in Modern History from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). He has held internships at various research institutions, including the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the German Historical Institutes in Warsaw and Moscow, and the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation. Aside from his native language Slovakian, Korhel is fluent in German and English, as well as speaking Polish and Russian. In his research, he focuses on the impact of violence on individuals and societies as well as on the post-WWII history of East Central Europe with a special interest in the social history of the Cold War and east-west cooperation.


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