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President Beneš in Brno: "Eradicate once and for all"

President Beneš in Brno: "Eradicate once and for all"

As a kind of prologue to the Death March from Brno, evictions of German-speaking people from their homes took place already on 11 May 1945. By order of the commander of the Brno National Security Guards (NBS – a police force set up immediately after liberation), that very night elderly people, women and children were taken into all sorts of public buildings or into six internment camps where adult men were already held for forced labour.

This measure first of all released about ten thousand apartments, which were immediately re-occupied by Czech residents. In fact there was a shortage of housing  caused by the US and Soviet air raids. These had claimed seven hundred human lives since August 1944; over two thousand houses were destroyed and about six thousand people found themselves without home. In addition, the Red Army troops, German POWs and refugees who were returning home via Brno from forced labour or concentration camps, stayed in Brno.

At least to the same extent, however, this campaign was related to the visit of President Beneš. As soon as 11 March 1945 he set off from London to Moscow, where he flew with stopovers in Cairo and Tehran because of the ongoing fights. In Moscow, he met up with Stalin on 19 March, then continued by train to Košice, where, upon the Soviets' request, he awaited the end of the fighting. On the day of the surrender of the Third Reich, he continued by car via Slovakia to Moravia, where his motorcade had to literally push through villages crowded with people cheering him.

He reached Brno, apparently cleared of Germans, on 12 May, when he spoke from the balcony of the New Town Hall. "My program is – and I make no secret about that – that the German issue must be eradicated in this country," he thundered in the Municipal Assembly Hall. "That nation ceased to be even human in this war, ceased to be humanly bearable and appears to us now only as a single great human monster. That nation must be administered a hard and severe punishment for all it has committed."

In the camps all around Brno, assiduous punishing was going on already; insane violence and dying took place every day. An also one of the highlights of the so-called wild expulsion was approaching, which became known as the Brno Death March. It ought to be pointed out that especially active at punishing were people such as the NBS commander Bedřich Pokorný. Most probably he had been a Gestapo informer and later became a senior officer of StB (secret political police), in charge of Communist prison camps. While men were held prisoners of war and the real Nazi criminals they were already waiting for noose, President Beneš's "hard and severe punishment" fell especially on women, children and elderly people – those, who in fact had very little in common with the horrors of Nazism.

Jaroslav Ostrčilík