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The Infamous Beneš-decrees
by Dr. Charles Wojatsek


Dr. Charles Wojatsek is founding member of the Vancouver based NGO Human Rights for Minorities in Central Europe, which in 2002 published a study about Beneš-decrees. That paper, Examination of Post World War II Slovak and Czech Discriminatory Decrees, Laws, Court Decisions and Protocols, 1945-2002, prooved to be the best synthesis focusing specially on Slovakia.

Dr. Charles Wojatsek received in 2004 the highest award of the World Federation of Hungarians, the silver medal Support of the Hungarian Nation.

This paper The Infamous Beneš-decrees has been adopted as an official document of the World Federation of Hungarians. Therefore I recommend it to the reader as a document of our own.

Miklós Patrubány
World Federation of Hungarians

The Infamous Beneš-decrees

The expression "Benes-decrees" is a collective designation for 143 decrees Edward Beneš signed during World War II in his political exile in London from 1940 and after his return to Prague in April, 1945, also includes laws passed since 1945 by the Czechoslovak Parliament in Prague and the Slovak National Council (provincial legislation) in Bratislava ; the decrees of the Czechoslovak government and different ministries in Prague, and the decrees of the Board of Slovak Commissioners. Hundreds of pages implementation regulations were also promulgated. The overall goal was the destruction of the Hungarian and German minorities in the restored Czechoslovak Republic after WW II.

The aim of the government was to deprive the citizens of Hungarian and German origin of their Czechoslovak citizenship, to exclude them from political life and public administration, to abolish their associations, schools, independent church organizations, to freeze their bank deposits, to restrict their personal freedom, to exclude them from public and private employment, to confiscate their movable and immovable properties, including stocks and bank deposits. The Slovak provincial legislation in Bratislava duplicated the anti-Hungarian and anti-German decrees and laws issued in Prague.

In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic, a mosaic state of nationalities with 43% of Czechs, was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious Entente powers, without the consent of the population involved. The government of the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic agreed to guarantee the rights of national minorities under the protection and the supervision of the Geneva-based Council of the League of Nations. This obligation, however, was never honored during the twenty-year existence of the first Czechoslovak Republic. The Prague government revoked acquired rights of domicile, treating millions of people of German and Hungarian origin as aliens in the land of their forefathers, confiscated land from their German and Hungarian owners without compensation for distribution among Czech and Slovak colonists.

Even the ruling Slovak partners of the new republic were dissatisfied with the Czech domination in the partnership, and in 1938 they established contacts with the 3.5-million strong Sudeten Germans, the Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian minorities by forming an autonomous block against the Czechs. The radicalization of the internal political situation in Czechoslovakia worried the British and French governments, founders of the country, leading to the emergence of the recommendation to appoint a British mediator to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the minority problem. This lead, at the request of the Czechoslovak government, to the convocation of the four-power – British, French, Italian and German – Munich conference of September 29, 1938 which drew a new borderline between Germany and Czechoslovakia by awarding the Sudeten German districts to Germany. Those events forced President Edward Beneš (1935-1938) to resign from office on October 5, 1938.

The heads of the four governments represented in Munich declared that they would reconvene if the problems of the Hungarian and Polish minorities in Czechoslovakia were not settled within three months of time.

At the request of the four powers, the Hungarian government started to negotiate with the Prague government on the fate of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia. After the impasse of the bilateral negotiations in the city of Komarom, the Prague government asked for an international arbitration of Germany and Italy. On November 2, 1938, in Vienna, the two-power arbitration returned to Hungary from the rump Czechoslovakia a segment of territory along the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border in Southern Slovakia.

On March 15, 1939, another aftermath of Munich occurred as Hitler ordered the German occupation of two provinces of rump Czechoslovakia, Bohemia and Moravia which remained under German rule as a "Protectorate of Germany" until the end of World War II. With the support of Hitler, the Province of Slovakia declared its independence as a sovereign state on March 14, 1939. The first Slovak Republic (1939-1945) then became a faithful satellite state of Germany. A barely six-month old first Slovakia on September 4, 1939, three days after the beginning of the German attack of Poland, joined the German army and remained a German ally until the end of the war.

It must be noted, for the sake of objectivity concerning the rush to German alliance during World War II that far-lying Bulgaria adhered to the German war effort on March 1, 1941; Romania did the same on June 21, 1941 on the eve of the German attack on the Soviet Union. Hungary, on the other hand, an immediate neighbour of Germany, became an unwilling German ally on June 27, 1941, four days after the alleged Russian bombardment of the northern Hungarian city of Kassa. Due to its geographic proximity to Germany, Hungary became the last country evacuated by the retreating German occupational forces, leading her enemies to erroneously accuse Hungary of being the last German ally of the war. As a consequence, the Hungarian nation was severely punished by the 1947 Paris peace conference, while the first Slovak Republic, a Nazi puppet state and the first ally of Germany during the war, survived unpunished as a province of the resurrected second Czechoslovak Republic (1945-1992).

In his self-chosen exile in Britain, ex-president Edward Beneš established a Czechoslovak National Committee immediately after the outbreak of WW II in September, 1939, which was recognized by the British and French governments. When France fell under German occupation in 1940, the British recognized Benešs group as a provisional Czechoslovak government in exile, with Beneš as president. This government in exile was on the payroll of the British government for the remainder of the war years.

The diabolic Beneš-plan for the expulsion of the German and Hungarian population from their homes on former Czechoslovak territory came closer to being a reality with the Russian advancement into Central Europe on the Eastern Front. In a written agreement Stalin assured Beneš on May 8,1944 that a civilian administration on the territories occupied by the Soviet troops would be transferred to the Czechoslovak government.

When the Red Army was approaching the borders of the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech and Slovak political exiles in London together with Beneš decided to travel to Moscow against the advice of the British government. To his great surprise, Beneš had to learn that the Czech and Slovak communist exiles based in Moscow were to be accepted as key members and portfolio holders in the newly established Czechoslovak government.

From Moscow, the Czech and Slovak political agents in exile followed the advancing Soviet army pursuing German forces westward and reached the territory of the former first Czechoslovak Republic. On April 5, 1945, in the northeastern city of Kosice (Kassa, Kaschau) Beneš proclaimed the program of the appointed Czechoslovak government which included elements of barbarous oppression and inhuman persecution of the non-Czech, non-Slovak and non-allied population of the restored Czechoslovak Republic. While in London, in exile, Edward Beneš gave himself temporary power to exercise legislative authority as early as February 1945, prior to his appearance on Czechoslovak territory.

After the proclamation of the Kosice program, the Hungarian and German population living in the reborn Czechoslovak state were subjected by decrees to various forms of persecution, including: expulsions, deportations, internments, peoples courts procedures, citizenship revocations, property confiscation, condemnation to forced labour camps, involuntary changes of nationality (the so called reslovakization), and appointment of government managers to German and Hungarian owned businesses and farms. Through the decrees of the some three and a half million Sudeten Germans were brutally expelled from their homes. Beneš also reserved the same fate for the Hungarians. However, the Potsdam conference at the end of WW2 rejected the Beneš-plan for the expulsion of the Hungarian population from Czechoslovakia.

At the end of the war, the fascist President, Jozef Tiso, and some members of the Slovak government escaped to Austria where some of them were captured by the advancing American army. President Tiso and the captured ministers were taken back as prisoners to Bratislava, were put on trial in the new Czechoslovakia . The People’ Courts conducted the trials, and Jozef Tiso as a war criminal was sentenced to death by hanging. With the help of Moscow, the Slovaks to a certain degree avoided the wrath of Beneš. In spite of Benešs protest, Slovakia received a provincial government beside the central government in Prague. It existed until the division of the republic on January 1st, 1993.

Under the guise of legal legitimacy, non-elected and self-appointed government officials carried out arbitrary, high-handed actions, resulting in merciless prosecution of innocent human beings. Between 1945 and 1948 an endless list of discriminatory anti-Hungarian and anti-German presidential decrees, edicts laws and statutes were proclaimed by the president of the republic; the Prague-based Czechoslovak Parliament, the Czechoslovak government, the Slovak National Council (provincial legislature) in Bratislava and by the Board of Slovak Commissioners (provincial government). A list of 89 anti-German and anti-Hungarian decrees, laws, protocols and court decisions in English translation can be found on this website:
(Section: History, Czecho/Slovak-Hungarian Affairs, or
(Section: Hirek, Kozlemenyek)

The validity of those decrees, laws and protocols was refreshed and prolonged by laws No.229/1991 and No.330/1991 to exclude the Hungarians in Slovakia from restitution of landed property to their former proprietors or their legal heirs. These provisions renew the legal continuity of Beneš-decrees and confirm the confiscation of Hungarian properties in favour of the state.

The Slovaks, willing partners in the 1938 collapse of the Czechoslovak Republic and solely responsible for the disappearance of second Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992, joined the Czechs in the persecution of the Hungarian minority in 1945. Army units of the first Slovak Republic (1939-1945) which fought the Soviet Union in alliance with Germany, suddenly, at the end of World War II, became soldiers of the new Czechoslovak army, wearing the Czechoslovak tricolor on their Slovak army uniforms. The Ministry of National Defense of the first Slovak Republic published in 1942 a book: "Od Tatier po Kavkaz" (From the Tatra Mountains to the Caucasus), an illustrated compendium of Slovak army battles against the Soviet Union. In May 1945, the same Slovak army units became Czechoslovak soldiers and were used for billeting Magyar communities and coercing the defenseless population into Hungary. Roughly 10,000 Magyars escaped to Hungary to avoid Czech and Slovak persecution. Additional 39,000 were ordered to leave Czechoslovakia. Presidential decree No. 33/1945 of August 2, 1945, under the concept of "collective guilt" declared that all Czechoslovak citizens of German and Hungarian origin lose their Czechoslovak citizenship on the day when this decree takes effect. Presidential decree No. 88/1945 of October 17, 1945 assigned Hungarian men between 16 and 55 years of age and women between 18 and 55 years of age for slave labour on the vacant land left behind by the expelled German population from Bohemia and Moravia, and their properties were confiscated in favour of the state. Decree 104/1945 of the Slovak National Council also dealt with the confiscated Magyar Property and their accelerated distribution, without compensation, to Slovak nationals. The objective was to insure that the confiscated properties, including cultivated land, forests, livestock, farms and farm implements would devolve to those considered to be politically reliable. Confiscation commissions were involved in 4538 such cases between 1945 and 1948.

Under the supervision of the armed forces and the police, whole families were deported, including women, children, ill and old people. According to a Slovak source, 73,000 Hungarians were taken to slave labour camps to the Czech provinces. In 2004, there are more than 19,000 of them in the Czech Republic. Over 545,000 hectares of land has been confiscated during this wave of cleansing. In 1945-1948, the losses of Hungarians has been estimated to US$ 102 billion.

Furthermore, the Prague government with Soviet Russian assistance initiated negotiations with Soviet-occupied Hungary for an exchange of population. During 1947 and 1948, according to official lists, 76,616 well-to-do Magyar farmers, tradesmen and businessmen were forcibly taken to Hungary in boxcars. At the same time, 60,257, mostly poverty-stricken Slovaks volunteered to move from Hungary to Czechoslovakia.

Beneš provided the finishing touch to the total destruction of the Hungarian minority by his decree-writing activity. On June 7, 1946, the Slovakian Commissioner of the Interior, under the name of reslovakization, issued decree No.20,000/1946. So-called reslovakization commissions were created throughout Hungarian-populated Southern Slovakia with the purpose of implementing forced acceptance of Slovak nationality. By December 1947, 326,679 Hungarians were labeled and recognized as Slovak nationals by the Central Committee for Reslovakization. Threatened and intimidated, those Hungarians submitted their applications to the committee under duress in the hope of retaining their possessions and / or employment. He result of this ethnic cleansing caused the reduction of Hungarians in Slovakia from 1,070,614 in 1918 to 520,528 in 2001 and the rapid increase of the Slovak population from 1,700,000 to 4,430,900 during the same period of time.

Benešs pathological hatred and ruthless persecution of his political opponents was ended by a coup d’état of the Czechoslovak Communist Party on February 25, 1948. Benes died four months later under house arrest at his estate in Bohemia. He had misled the French between 1918 and 1938 by not upholding the obligations that the first Czechoslovak Republic assumed under the peace treaties after World War I. No longer to be able to delude the Russians, they mercilessly had Beneš removed from office.

When the Communist Party in Soviet-ocupied Hungary took over the government, the Czech-Slovak-Hungarian antagonism in the „peoples democracies" became an embarrassment for Moscow. With the disappearance of Beneš from the political scene, the Czechoslovak government issued decree No.76/1948 on April 13, 1948 and the Commissioner of the Interior for Slovakia decree No.287/1948, allowing those Germans and Hungarians still living in Czechoslovakia, to reinstate the Czechoslovak citizenship that had been revoked by decree 33/1945. A year later, Hungarians were able to send their children to Hungarian schools again since 1945. The Provisional National Assembly of the Czechoslovak Republic on 28. March, 1946 declared by law No.57/1946 that all presidential dcrees from their beginning have the binding force of law.

The Provisional National Assembly adopted law of amnesty No.115/1946 of May 8, 1946. This law gives amnesty to murderers and criminals for crimnes committed between September 30, 1938 and October 28, 1945, the aims of which were to assist the struggle for regaining freedom for Czechs and Slovaks. This law is still valid in the successor states in the European Union.

Slovakia emerged as an accidental beneficiary of World War II. The role of Slovakia during WW II should be the object of an international inquiry. The wartime alliance of the first Slovak Republic with Germany was forgiven by peacemakers at the conclusion of WW II. as demanded by the fiction of a Czechoslovak Republic. The Slovaks hid behind the political cloak of Czechoslovakism.

The Parliament of the European Union called upon the Czech government in April 1999 to abolish the Beneš-decrees. The Czech government has expressed its unwillingness to rescind the decrees and laws, even though it is known that they can never be harmonized with the laws of the European Union. In the same month, the Slovak Foreign Minister, Eduard Kukan, stated that the Slovak government does not wish to deal with the post WW II discriminatory edicts. They are viewed as a very sensitive issue to be discussed only at the request of the European Union. Restoration of Czechoslovakia in 1945 was a political mistake of colossal proportion.

On May 1st, 2004, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic became members of the EU and after the June, 2004 elections to the EP and the appointment of a new European Commission perhaps there will be the necessary political will to deal with the Beneš-decrees. The Beneš-decrees became a European problem as decree No.33/1945 was a problem for Moscow in 1948 in the peoples democracies.

A desired solution may come from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. There is a precedent for compensation of a confiscated property (Cyprus versus Turkey). On May 26, 2004, 78 former Sudeten Germans who are living in Germany, Austria and the USA filed a complaint at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg demanding the restitution of their properties confiscated by the Beneš-decrees or compensation. The lawyer of the Sudeten Germans, Thomas Gertner, said that there is a precedent for a similar case in the Strasbourg court. In 1996, Turkey had to pay $900,000.00 to a Cypriot Greek woman, Tatina Louzida, who in 1974 was expelled from Cyprus by the invading Turkish troops. I would like to add that lawyers in Slovakia today are ready to file complaints in Strasbourg on behalf of their Hungarian clients whose properties were confiscated after 1945 by decrees, laws, statutes, protocols and court judgments.

Dr. Charles Wojatsek

This text is edited in German language too -- and commented by Markwart Lindenthal 2004-09-26