Herr Hitler's reclamation of Austria has brought Czechoslovakia onto the front pages. The newspaper correspondents of Europe are now burning the cables with stories of how Czechoslovakia, the "democratic bulwark of the Continent", is threatened with an imminent Nazi coup; of how France and Russia are prepared to fight to protect Czechoslovakia's menaced citizens; of how the seizure of the Czechoslovakian "democracy by Germany would spell the doom of European progressivism for generations to come. The stories, as well as the scribbles of our American commentators imply that the fate of the world is now hanging precariously upon the jagged mountain peaks which form a bulwark between "brave little democratic Czechoslovakia" and her saber-rattling Boche neighbor. But an examination of such assertions will reveal that they are larded with historical mis-statements, with political pleading of the familiar Left persuasion, and outright lying propaganda.
It may be said at once (a) that the very name of the Czechoslovakian Republic is a lie, if by republic is meant a free popular government in which there are no classes having exclusive political privileges; (b) that there is no such group, ethnologically speaking, as the Czechoslovakian people; (c) that the democratic promises made by the "Republic's" founders to the Allied powers in 1919 were made in brazen foreknowledge that they would not be kept; (d) that hundreds of thousands of persons in this "democratic" nation are now faced with actual starvation; and (e) that 3,500,000 Sudeten-Germans are doomed to extinction. Only today, twenty years after the formation of the Czech "Republic", is the outside world permitted occasionally to glimpse a desperate situation there, and to realize that 3,500,000 men, women, and children cannot be enslaved or eliminated without payment by Europe of a heavy penalty in blood.
To be sure, on March 18 of this year, the Cabinet Council at Prague took action to give the German minority a greater voice in government. The measure supposedly permits administration of German districts by German nationals. But on the basis of past events, a pledge made by the Cabinet Council will not necessarily be fulfilled. The action in March followed demands presented by Hitler; it is always possible for the decree to be rescinded at a later, more propitious date. The average Sudeten-German remains highly skeptical of Czech "promises", having learned a bitter lesson from post-war events.
This post-war history of Czechoslovakia, encompassing two decades of intrigue and political opportunism, commenced when the Austro-Hungarian monarchy breathed its last in 1918. The suave gentlemen of St. Germain leapt at once to the task of dismembering the ancient dual State, aided by an ex-Princeton professor, Woodrow Wilson, who then happened to be President of the United States. Sensing that Wilsonian Liberalism was in the ascendant, and that high-sounding slogans would serve as a cloak for materialism, the Czechs, a Slavic people found chiefly in parts of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, seized the reins of Destiny. A propagandistic campaign, started at a time when the glory of Hapsburg was still un-dimmed, saw its culmination in the so-called "Washington Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovakian People", dated October 18, 1918, and issued in Paris over the signature of Prof. T. G. Masaryk, Gen. Dr. Milan Stefanik, and Dr. Edward Beneš. With supreme contempt for historical, ethnological, or practical truth, this declaration commenced with a deliberate lie. For there is no Czechoslovakian people, never has been, and probably never will be.
The inhabitants of the countries for which these politicians pre- tended to speak were then, and are now (in the order of their relative numerical strength) Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews, all of them radically different, with languages and cultures of their own. By what sleight of hand Professor Masaryk, the great friend of Dr. Wilson, was able to palm of on the learned representatives of the Allied powers the completely mythical premises underlying a "Czechoslovakian Republic" will forever remain a secret. The fact remains, however, that in the name of Western Democracy, a State was created which had neither topographical nor ethnological cohesion, nor even a raison d'ětre, except the ambition of a handful of Czech politicians stirred by personal greed and their hatred of the Austrians and Germans. The gentlemen at Versailles and St. Germain, alarmed by the boldness of the plan, approved it only after solemn Czech avowals that the rights of the minorities thus created would be fully protected, and that the League of Nations should have supervision over them. Result: The rights of these minorities have been trampled underfoot for twenty years; and the League of Nations has not even acknowledged the receipt of innumerable protests submitted by the hapless German minority which now pays for the tragic error committed at St. Germain.
A year and a half after St. Germain, a document of the utmost importance was drafted by the representatives and senators belonging to the German Parliamentary Association in the Czech "Republic". Ignored by the world's press, it was submitted to the Czechoslovakian House of Representatives on June 1, 1920, and to the Senate on June 9. It read in part:
Through the Peace Treaty, a State has been created in the middle of which, outside of approximately 6,500,000 Czechs, also embraces ... almost 4,000,000 Germans. In vain were our protestations before the beginning of and during the peace negotiations ... in vain we have pointed out that a State shaped like this is not in accord with Wilson's Fourteen Points, nor with the concept of democracy; that it could never find peace, and that ... it would represent a permanent threat to the peace of Europe.
We, the representatives of the German people ... depose ... that this State was created at the expense of historical truth, and that the deciding great powers have been misled.
The Germans of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and the Germans of Slovakia never had the intention to unite with the Czechs ... Thus, the Czechoslovakian Republic is the result of a one-sided Czech act of will, and these German districts were unlawfully occupied by force of arms. ... Even the scant protection which the Allied and Associated Powers had intended the German people has been brought to nought by the brutal acts of the Czechoslovakian Revolutionary Assembly ... Thus we declare solemnly that we recognize none of these laws as binding us ....
We condemn the myth of a purely Czech State, of the Czechoslovakian nation, and of the Czechoslovakian language as in obvious contradiction to the facts. We shall never recognize the Czechs as rulers, shall never submit as slaves to this State. ... We declare solemnly that we shall never cease to demand the self-determination of our people. ...
This document carried fifty-four signatures of duly-elected representatives of the Sudeten-German people. Its publication now in THE AMERICAN MERCURY is, to my knowledge, the only time the protest has ever-appeared in the English language.
Months of horror, privation, and death had preceded the declaration: Sudeten-Germans in various cities in Northern Bohemia had been jailed for lawfully assembling; a score had been shot when Czech soldateska - former "legionnaires" who had deserted the Austrian Army in Russia and joined the enemy - instituted a reign of terror. But the official protest of the German representatives went as unheeded as a dozen others that were to follow.
True, the Sudeten-Germans were eventually permitted to seat their representatives in the Czech Parliament; but they were hopelessly outnumbered, and since, under the "democratic" rules to which European correspondents love to refer, the absolute majority ruled, their lot can be imagined. Eventually, the "German Agrarians" were even taken into the government, but they, too, were hopelessly outnumbered. (On March 21 of this year they left the government and joined the pro-Nazi Henlein. On March 24 the second of these "activist" Sudeten-German parties, the Christian-Socialists, did likewise.)
It is behind this cloak of "democratic" procedure that events are still occurring to belie the protestations of Czech statesmen. If it is kept in mind that the struggle between the Czech rulers and the subjugated Sudeten-Germans may well become the Sarajevo of the next World War; that it is in Reichenberg perhaps, or in Eger, or in any of a dozen other cities near the German-Czech border, that the torch may be put to the powder barrel, it seems essential rather than merely important to analyze the situation from the standpoint of the Sudeten-German.
The entire borderland of the present Czechoslovakian Republic, be- ginning at a point where Low Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia meet, along the frontier of Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Bavaria, Wurternberg, Saxony, and Silesia, into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, is inhabited solidly by Germans who have been there for hundreds of years, who have cultivated the soil, and who have built up an industry second to none in Europe. This border belt, varying in depth and population, enclosed the northwestern part of the Republic, and is in turn surrounded completely by Germans and German-speaking Austrians. Within this ring, and flowing out of it to the southeast, live Czechs. Towards the East they gradually melt into the Slovakian population in Moravia and Western Galicia, so much so that in the far eastern section of the Republic the only Czechs are officials amidst an alien and hostile population.
The German borderland - Sudetenland - was the richest possession of the Hapsburgs. In order to understand the present plight of the primarily-industrial population of the Sudeten-German districts in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, it is necessary to know that eighty per cent of the industrial facilities of the former monarchy were located in the provinces now constituting the Czechoslovakian Republic. And of these eighty per cent, in turn eighty per cent were owned by Sudeten-Germans. At the outbreak of the war, industrialization in the Sudetenland had made such strides that of 100 persons gainfully employed, fifty-four were engaged in industrial pursuits, as against twenty-seven in agriculture, fourteen in commerce and trade, and only five in the professions and government service. Yet the first economic leaders of the Republic, as well as all Czech political leaders, have openly stated that the chief object of Czech economic policies must be to eliminate the supremacy of the Sudeten-German in industry and commerce.
The first decisive stroke fell in February, 1919, when the Secretary of Commerce forbade the transfer of credits and deposits from Czechoslovakia into any part of the former Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, and vice versa. The Sudeten-German banks thus lost control of their capital overnight, and were forced to seek credits with Czech banks - particularly the Zivnostenska Banka. Frequently such credits were given only if Czech firms were taken into partnership.
A second blow was the refusal of the Czech Government to pay the former Imperial-Royal army for war material. In view of the economic structure of the monarchy, the vast majority of all industrial supplies were manufactured in Sudeten-German districts, which now suffered losses amounting to a billion dollars. The cancellation of war-loans was another measure which struck hard at the Sudeten-German population, since a large portion of these loans were subscribed by them.
After these general measures, a ruthless campaign of taxation, primarily directed against the Sudeten-German industries, was started. The Sudeten-German industry was systematically eliminated from all government orders; and raw materials were diverted almost exclusively to Czech firms. Hardest hit of all was the textile industry - almost exclusively in the hands of Sudeten-Germans. Built for a market of 55,000,000 people (the inhabitants of the old monarchy), it retained after the war an interior market of only 1,350,000; this, together with the world-wide crisis, doomed it from the beginning of the new era. Production by 1933 had fallen almost forty per cent.
The glass industry, probably the second most important in Bohemia, has now receded fifty per cent. The export of musical instruments - they formerly found their way throughout the world - has dropped seventy-five per cent; the export of wooden toys, fifty per cent; the export of buttons, seventy per cent. All these industries were, and are, owned by Sudeten-Germans. And while these suffered, new factories were built in the Czech interior with the active aid of the State itself. In brief, since 1918 the Germans have lost 4111 industrial concerns, while the Czechs have gained 4552.
Parallel with the measures through which the Sudeten-German industry is being absorbed by the Czechs, runs the elimination of Sudeten-German workers. The Czech State, as the largest employer, sets the example: Czechs are taken on, Germans are cast out. As a first lever, the government made Czech the only official language, contrary to the specific words of the Treaty of St. Germain. Thus many thousands of Germans were dismissed for lack of a sufficient knowledge of the "State language", even though most of them were employed and had been employed all their lives - in districts where nothing but German was spoken.
More vicious, though, than any measure taken theretofore was the "Defense of the Realm Act", as proposed on March 26, 1936. This law provides for the creation of a belt of twenty-five kilometers along the border in which, not only in times of war and of "readiness for war" but also in peace times, the military shall have the final say in all questions. Every kind of construction, every industrial enterprise, every license, is subject to military rule. In times of "preparedness", men and women between 17 and 60 may be drafted and put to work "in the personal service of the military authorities".
And lastly, people employed by all enterprises particularly important for the State" must be reliable. Reliable, of course, means Czech. With what annihilating force this law hits all minorities living within the borders of Czechlosvokia, and most particularly the Sudeten-Germans, becomes apparen t when we learn that these minorities live almost exclusively in the border belt, as illustrated in the lowing table:
The official unemployment statistics compiled by the State give no means an exact picture of the total unemployed in Czechoslovokia today. Nevertheless, statistics for 1936 admit of 750,000. The number of people facing starvation much larger; conservative estimates set the total number exclud ed from any possibility of earning their living at 3,500,000, That it is the German population which bears the brunt of these conditions is no longer denied even by the Czechs themselves.
Social misery in the Sudeten-German districts is great. Hundreds of factories are shut down, and dozens have been dismantled. Wages have receded to the starvation point. In some small establishments in Prague and Budweis, men work for food and lodging only. The management of a steam mill near Budweis pays workingmen four cents per hour; a weaver in ]ungbunzlau pays men twenty-five cents daily, while women receive twelve cents. On the border between Bohemia and Moravia, the entire family of a weaver (nine people) with fourteen work-hours daily, earns only $6 per month.
In addition to the disturbing state of industry and commerce, the plight of agriculture in Czechoslovakia is no less threatening. In almost all European States that owe their existence to Versailles or St. Germain, the land was redistributed after the peace treaties. It is characteristic of these "land reforms" that they were proclaimed as a social and economic necessity for interior colonization, but that, invariably, they served to dispossess racial minorities. Thousands of members of the minorities have been thrown out of farm work and added to the unemployed; purely German districts in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia since 1925 have been systematically covered by a network of Czech colonists who are bound by agreement with the Land-Reform Office to employ Czech servants exclusively and are obliged to trade with Czech professionals only.
It is obvious that the conditions under which hundreds of thousands are forced to live have brought about a downward trend in public health. But even though tuberculosis, cancer, and other diseases are rampantá among the adults to an extent unheard of in any other civilized country, it is youth that suffers most. At the end of the 1934-35 term, physicians employed by the Deutsche Jugendfrsorge examined all pupils in the Sudeten-German districts who were about to leave school. Fully twenty-five per cent of them were tubercular, thirteen per cent suffered from heart diseases, twenty-one per cent had eye diseases, and ten per cent represented cases of serious melancholia and manic depression. Of the total number no less than sixty-one per cent were seriously ill.
This, then, is the state of affairs today in what the newspaper correspondents and our "Liberal" commentators choose to call "brave little democratic Czechoslovakia". The Czech Government has succeeded, and is succeeding, in annulling the foundation upon which it was built and upon which the rights of minorities were based.
In revealing the truth about this so-called "Republic" which threatens to become a pawn on the European chessboard, one thought had been uppermost in my mind: the day will come, and likely soon when the United States will once again be entreated to send its at armies to Armageddon. Twenty years ago, it was the struggle to Make the World Safe for Democracy. Today, in the words of the egregious Comrade Litvinov, addressed to the diplomatic representatives of the world powers on March 17, it is merely an invitation to discuss collective measures against "aggressor nations", primarily intended to guarantee borders of Czechoslovakia. Tomorrow, it will be the call to arms.
Conjured up out of pseudo-Liberal hatred and greed, based on and deceptions, governed with utter disregard for treaty obligation and ordinary decency, yet claimed by itself, and hailed by world, as a bulwark of democracy, the "Republic" of Czechoslova will expect every armed American to do his duty.