Beneš decrees: Wikis


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The Beneš decrees is a term referring to a series of laws enacted by the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile during World War II in the absence of the Czechoslovak parliament (see details in German occupation of Czechoslovakia). Today, the term is most frequently used for the part of the decrees that dealt with the status of ethnic Germans and Hungarians in postwar Czechoslovakia, and laid the ground for the deportation of around 3 million Germans and Hungarians from the land that had been their home for centuries (see expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia and Hungarians in Slovakia). The Beneš decrees have become a symbol for historical debates over the expulsions and its ramifications in today's politics. Officially, the decrees are referred to as Decrees of the President of the Republic (in Czech, dekrety presidenta republiky).



The decrees were issued by President Edvard Beneš. The decrees can be divided into three parts:

  1. 1940–1944
    These decrees were issued during the government's London exile. They were mainly related to the creation of Czechoslovak exile government (including its army) and its organization.
  2. 1943–1945
    Issued in exile. The main theme was the transition of control of the liberated area of Czechoslovakia from Allied armies and the organization of a post-war Czechoslovak government.
  3. 1945 (ending October 26)
    A new post-war government was created in Košice, Slovakia, consisting of parties united in the National Front, with a strong influence of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. As a new parliament had not been organized, the will of the government was implemented by decrees of president. Beneš signed decrees created by the executive government. The decrees included controversial laws connected with the nationalisation without compensation of businesses hiring more than 500 employees, and confiscation of property of ethnic Germans and Hungarians.[1]

All of the decrees were retroactively ratified by the Provisional National Assembly on March 5, 1946 by constitutional act No. 57/1946 Sb.


List of decrees related to the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians

  • 5/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 19. května 1945 o neplatnosti některých majetkově-právních jednání z doby nesvobody a o národní správě majetkových hodnot Němců, Maďarů, zrádců a kolaborantů a některých organisací a ústavů ("Decree of the President of the Republic of May 19, 1945 concerning the invalidity of some transactions involving property rights from the time of lack of freedom and concerning the National Administration of property assets of Germans, Hungarians, traitors and collaborators and of certain organizations and associations")
  • 12/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 21. června 1945 o konfiskaci a urychleném rozdělení zemědělského majetku Němců, Maďarů, jakož i zrádců a nepřátel českého a slovenského národa ("Decree of the President of the Republic on June 21, 1945 concerning the confiscation and expedited allotment of agricultural property of Germans, Magyars, as well as traitors and enemies of the Czech and Slovak nation")
  • 16/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 19. června 1945 o potrestání nacistických zločinců, zrádců a jejich pomahačů a o mimořádných lidových soudech ("Decree of the President of the Republic on June 16, 1945 concerning the punishment of Nazi criminals, traitors and their accomplices and concerning extraordinary people's courts")
  • 27/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 17. července 1945 o jednotném řízení vnitřního osídlení (Decree of the President of the Republic of July 17, 1945 concerning unified management of domestic settlement)
  • 28/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 20. července 1945 o osídlení zemědělské půdy Němců, Maďarů a jiných nepřátel státu českými, slovenskými a jinými slovanskými zemědělci (Decree of the President of the Republic of July 20, 1945 concerning the settlement of Czech, Slovak or other Slavic farmers on the agricultural land of Germans, Hungarians and other enemies of the state)
  • 33/1945 Sb.– Ústavní dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 2. srpna 1945 o úpravě československého státního občanství osob národnosti německé a maďarské (Constitutional decree of the President of the Republic on August 2, 1945 concerning modification of Czechoslovak citizenship of persons of German and Hungarian ethnicity)
  • 108/1945 Sb.– Dekret presidenta republiky ze dne 25. října 1945 o konfiskaci nepřátelského majetku a Fondech národní obnovy (Decree of the President of the Republic on October 25, 1945 concerning confiscation of enemy property and concerning Funds of national recovery)

Deportation of Germans and Hungarians after WWII

Germans being deported from the Sudetenland in the aftermath of World War II

The Beneš decrees are most often associated with the deportation in 1945-47 of about 3 million ethnic Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. Although the decrees do not directly refer to the planned deportation, they laid the ground for it. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile adopted plans to deport the Germans and Hungarians in 1943 and sought the support of the Allies for this plan, which agreed to it at the Potsdam conference.

Among the four Allies, the Soviet Union urged their British and US allies to agree to the expulsions of ethnic German citizens and of allegedly German-speaking Poles, Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Yugoslavs and Romanians into their zones of occupation. France was no party to the Potsdam Agreement and never accepted exiles arriving after July 1945 into its Zone of Occupation.

Slovak and Hungarian officers are inspecting the forced relocation of Hungarians at Nové Zámky in September, 1946.[2]

In the Potsdam Agreement, the other three Allies agreed that they would accept the exiled persons, expelled from a number of eastern Central European countries, in their zones of occupation in Germany.

The expulsion was planned by Edvard Beneš, and began immediately after the war ended, in May 1945. The Czech national committees and partisans, led by Communists, began a wide-scale mistreatment and murder, expulsion, rape and internment of Sudeten Germans in Czech concentration camps (for instance Terezín/Theresienstadt).[3]

According to some recent investigations, approximately 165,000 Sudeten Germans died violent deaths during the expulsion, while another approximately 105,000 died of its immediate consequences during or after displacement.[3]

For the Soviet Union the atrocities and mass expropriation along ethnic alignments were just a beginning for later so-called class actions. The perpetrators and profiteers blundered into the situation, that they became dependent on a perpetuation of the Soviet rule in their countries in order not to be dispossessed again of their booty and to stay unpunished. Furthermore the mass expropriations loosened legal standards as to property rights of other Czechoslovaks, which was clearly intended for the future of Czechoslovakia as a state under Soviet influence.

Both advocates and opponents of the decrees generally believe that by their enforcement, Czechoslovakia collectively punished ethnic German and Hungarian minorities by expropriation and deportation to Germany, Austria, and Hungary for their alleged collaborationism with Nazi Germany and Hungary against Czechoslovakia. This occurred during their struggle for being incorporated into either Germany, Austria or Hungary. The Czechoslovak government described that struggle as irredentism, while representatives of the German and Hungarian minorities claim that the right of self-determination of minorities was denied after World War I and that their ethnic areas were made part of Czechoslovakia against their wishes. The Sudeten German territories and the newly founded Republic of German Bohemia (Republik Deutschböhmen), which had almost exlusively German population, had been militarily occupied by Czechoslovakia in 1918 and assigned, against their express will, to Czechoslovakia by the victors in the First World War by the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919. Edvard Beneš played a major role in convincing the WWI victors to assign these areas to Czechoslovakia. Demonstrations against the Czechoslovak occupation that were organized by the Sudeten German Social Democrat Party, were smashed by the Czechoslovak military and several people killed. In Czechoslovakia, the Germans and Hungarians were subject to a policy of assimilation and discrimination; in particular their languages were discriminated against and they were ousted from the civil service.[3]

Some of the decrees concerned the expropriation of the property of wartime traitors and collaborators accused of treason, but were applied to many Germans and Hungarians collectively. The government revoked citizenship for most peoples of German and Hungarian ethnic origin. (In 1948 such provisions were cancelled for the Hungarians.) This was then used to confiscate their property and expel around 90% of the ethnic German population of Czechoslovakia.

The Germans were collectively accused of having supported the Nazis (through the Sudeten German Party– a political party led by Konrad Henlein)– and the Third Reich's annexation of the German-populated Czech borderland in 1938. Almost every decree explicitly stated that the sanctions did not apply to anti-fascists, though the term anti-fascist was not explicitly defined. Some 250,000 Germans, some anti-fascists and others judged people crucial for industries, remained in Czechoslovakia. Many of the anti-fascists of German native language emigrated under a special agreement stipulated by Alois Ullmann.[4]

Revocation of Decree No. 33/1945

On April 13, 1948, the Czechoslovak government issued decree No. 76/1948 allowing those Germans and Hungarians still living in Czechoslovakia, to reinstate Czechoslovak citizenship that had been revoked by decree No. 33/1945. The Slovakian Commissioner of the Interior also revoked the latter decree by issuing decree No. 287/1948.

Status today

With two exceptions, 89 of the Beneš decrees, edicts, laws and statutes, along with extensive pages of instruction for their enforcement, are kept valid by their continued existence in the statutes of the Czech Republic (1993) and the Slovak Republic (1993). These two successor states of the restored Czechoslovakia remain unwilling to revoke the edicts and laws so as not to contradict the results of WWII.

Impact on today's political relations

Since the decrees have not been repealed, they have affected the political relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia and their neighbours Austria, Germany and Hungary.[5]

Those expellees organised within the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft (part of the Federation of Expellees) and associated political groups call for the abolition of the Beneš decrees as based on the principle of collective guilt. European and international courts have refused to rule on cases concerning the decrees, as most international treaties on human rights took effect after 1945/46.

On 28 December 1989, Václav Havel, at that time a candidate for President of Czechoslovakia (he was elected one day later), suggested that Czechoslovakia should apologize for the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians after World War II. In March 1990, President Havel stated that the expulsions were "the mistakes and sins of our fathers" and apologized for massacres of Germans during the expulsion on behalf of his people. He also suggested that former inhabitants of the Sudetenland might apply for Czech nationality to reclaim their lost properties. However, the Czech government never followed through on Havel's suggestion. The governments of the Czech Republic and Germany signed a declaration of mutual apology for wartime misdeeds in 1997.

In recent years, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and the Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber have demanded that the Beneš decrees be repealed, as a precondition for the entry of the Czech Republic and Slovakia into the European Union. Hungarian Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy eventually decided not to push the issue further.[6]

In current terms, the expulsions are also described as "ethnic cleansing"[7][8] (a term that entered usage in the early 1990s, referring to forced deportation/"population transfers"), as well as a crime against humanity and a genocide by some scholars; for instance Felix Ermacora concluded in an expert report commissioned by the Bavarian government in 1991 that the expulsion constituted a genocide and crime against humanity.[9]

In 1993, Theo Waigel (chairman of the CSU and Federal Minister), suggested that the Czechs were hypocrites for condemning ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia while not condemning the Beneš decrees[10].

Former Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman insists that the Czechs would not consider repealing the decrees because of an underlying fear that doing so would open the door to demands for restitution. According to Time Magazine, former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan argued, "Why should we single out the Beneš Decrees?... They belong to the past and should stay in the past. Many current members of the E.U. had similar laws."[11]

On 20 September 2007, the Slovak parliament adopted a resolution proposed by Ján Slota, the chairman of the extremist ultra-nationalist[12][13][14][15] Slovak National Party, that confirmed the decrees. All ethnically Slovak members voted for the decision; only Hungarian minority leaders voted against it.[16] This prompted a strong negative reaction in Hungary, and Hungarian President László Sólyom thinks that it will put a strain on Hungarian-Slovak relations.[17] Due to the decrees and postwar confiscation of property from the Prince of Liechtenstein, Liechtenstein does not recognise Slovakia.

In 2009, the right-wing and eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus demanded an opt-out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as he feared the Charter would render the Beneš decrees illegal[18].


  1. ^ "Visegrad Four dispute over Benes Decrees"
  2. ^ Rubicon, történelmi folyóirat, 2005/6 (in Hungarian) Rubicon Hungarian History Magazine, 2006/6.
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Finally Social Democrats of German native language, 9,165 of them had suffered in Nazi concentration camps and jails, 13,536 experienced other persecutions by Nazis, and their relatives were spared the harshest atrocities, by interning them in separate special camps. 73,125 were deported under preferential circumstances, of course expropriated, a mere 45,779 of them was allowed to take at least their chattel.
  5. ^ Meinungsseiten: Benes-Dekrete und tschechischer Irak-Einsatz by Daniel Satra, 04. 06. 2004, Radio Prague,
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (1994). A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans 1944-1950. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-12159-8.  
  9. ^
  10. ^š-decrees/66339.aspx
  11. ^ "Putting The Past To Rest" - TIME
  12. ^ New Slovak Government Embraces Ultra-Nationalists, Excludes Hungarian Coalition Party HRF Alert: "Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation." (Új Szó, April 15, 2005)
  13. ^ Cas Mudde (2005). Racist extremism in Central and Eastern Europe. Routledge. p. xvi. ISBN 0415355931, 9780415355933.,M1. Retrieved 2009.05.22..  
  14. ^ Zoltan D. Barany (2002). The East European gypsies: regime change, marginality, and ethnopolitics. Cambridge University Press. p. 313. ISBN 0521009103, 9780521009102.,M1. Retrieved 2009.05.22..  
  15. ^ The Steven Roth Institute: Country reports. Antisemitism and racism in Slovakia
  16. ^ Beneš Decrees confirmed in Slovakia in Hungarian
  17. ^ Sólyom: Slovak decision unacceptable in Hungarian
  18. ^

External links


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