Kidnapped Souls

Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948

Tara Zahra
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Kidnapped Souls
    Book Description:

    Throughout the nineteenth and into the early decades of the twentieth century, it was common for rural and working-class parents in the Czech-German borderlands to ensure that their children were bilingual by sending them to live with families who spoke the "other" language. As nationalism became a more potent force in Central Europe, however, such practices troubled pro-German and pro-Czech activists, who feared that the children born to their nation could literally be "lost" or "kidnapped" from the national community through such experiences and, more generally, by parents who were either flexible about national belonging or altogether indifferent to it.

    Highlighting this indifference to nationalism-and concerns about such apathy among nationalists-Kidnapped Souls offers a surprising new perspective on Central European politics and society in the first half of the twentieth century. Drawing on Austrian, Czech, and German archives, Tara Zahra shows how nationalists in the Bohemian Lands worked to forge political cultures in which children belonged more rightfully to the national collective than to their parents. Through their educational and social activism to fix the boundaries of nation and family, Zahra finds, Czech and German nationalists reveal the set of beliefs they shared about children, family, democracy, minority rights, and the relationship between the individual and the collective. Zahra shows that by 1939 a vigorous tradition of Czech-German nationalist competition over children had created cultures that would shape the policies of the Nazi occupation and the Czech response to it.

    The book's concluding chapter weighs the prehistory and consequences of the postwar expulsion of German families from the Bohemian Lands. Kidnapped Souls is a significant contribution to our understanding of the genealogy of modern nationalism in Central Europe and a groundbreaking exploration of the ways in which children have been the objects of political contestation when national communities have sought to shape, or to reshape, their futures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6191-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
  3. List of Figures and Maps
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
  4. Preface
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  5. List of Archives and Abbreviations
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. Note on Places and Names
    (pp. XVII-XX)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Long before American university students descended on Europe’s capital cities in search of adventure, the children of peasants and workers became the first “exchange students” in Central Europe. Throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Bohemian Lands (the former Austrian provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia), Czech-speaking children commonly spent their summer holidays or even a school year with German-speaking families (and vice versa) for the purpose of learning the second provincial language. As adults, most participants remembered these exchanges fondly as vehicles for linguistic and national understanding. In 1960, one German recalled that although he...

  8. 1 “Czech Schools for Czech Children!”
    (pp. 13-48)

    September was a busy time of the year for nationalists in the Habsburg Monarchy. By the turn of the century, nationalist agitation ranked with new shoes and teachers as a back-to-school tradition in many multilingual towns of the Bohemian Lands. While traveling through the town of Prachatice/ Prachatitz in the late summer of 1918, the German writer Robert Scheu observed, “There is always a great deal of agitation during the holidays because of the schools. Both nations attempt to win students over for their schools, and not always with the most honest methods. Some families send their children alternately to...

  9. 2 Teachers, Orphans, and Social Workers
    (pp. 49-78)

    In Joseph Roth’s novel The Radetzky March, District Captain Herr von Trotta, an aging Austrian civil servant posted to a small Bohemian town, laments the shrinking number of Habsburg loyalists at the turn of the twentieth century. He links this disturbing decline in Austrian, Imperial loyalties with the growth of new mass nationalist movements.

    The district captain felt as if the whole world were suddenly made up of Czechs—a people he viewed as unruly, hardheaded, and stupid as the inventors of the very concept of “nation.” A lot of people might exist, but no nations. . . . He...

  10. 3 Warfare, Welfare, and the End of Empire
    (pp. 79-105)

    In the fall of 1917, Franziszka Pollabrek, a Czech factory worker, was at her wit’s end. In a scathing letter to the Austrian Ministry of Education in Vienna, she demanded that the state do something about her increasingly incorrigible teenage sons. Pollabrek expressed her frustration with the state’s inaction in the face of what she perceived to be a disturbing wartime collapse of the family. Discipline and order had all but disappeared from her town and family along with all the fathers and male teachers, she claimed. “My boys will become nothing but thieves, liars, and murderers, if you, dear...

  11. 4 Reclaiming Children for the Nation
    (pp. 106-141)

    In 1918, newly elected Czechoslovak president Thomas Garrigue Masaryk consigned the Austrian Empire to the dustbin of history in the name of democracy’s triumph. “On the whole, great multinational Empires are an institution of the past, of a time when material force was held high and the principle of nationality had not yet been recognized, because democracy had not been recognized,” he declared.¹ As Czech nationalists assumed state power in 1918, they knit democratic principles, national self-determination, and ethnic character into a tightly woven tautology. Both Czech and German nationalists demanded national “rights” to children in the name of values...

  12. 5 Freudian Nationalists and Heimat Activists
    (pp. 142-168)

    On the morning of October 8, 1920, German schools in Czechoslovakia remained empty. The cause of this unexpected holiday was a strike—not of teachers but of schoolchildren. The previous day German newspapers throughout Czechoslovakia had published bold ads urging German parents to keep their children home from school. “In spite of all its promises and guarantees to our representatives, the Czech government continues to close German schools and classes and to expropriate German schools, built with our money and for our children, often with force, in order to open Czech minority schools, mostly for only a few Czech children,”...

  13. 6 Borderland Children and Volkstumsarbeit under Nazi Rule
    (pp. 169-202)

    The Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland in early October of 1938 was followed quickly by a homework assignment. Shortly after the invasion, teachers instructed thousands of children in the German schools of the Bohemian Lands to testify to their own personal experiences of “liberation.” E.G., aged ten, recalled a life of struggle and hardship in Czechoslovakia. “In the first grade, we already painted swastikas on the houses where the Czechs lived and had to be punished by our teacher for it. On the way to school we had to go past the Czech kindergarten. The Czech children hit us and...

  14. 7 Stay-at-Home Nationalism
    (pp. 203-230)

    Not long after the Nazi occupation of the Protectorate, the underground Czech resistance magazine V boj issued an urgent message of warning to Czech mothers. “With great fanfare, the Germans are opening new German schools where there used to be none. This is your business, women. It lies in your hands whether our children grow up to be Czechs or Germanized, patriots or traitors,” an editorial urged.¹ This call to arms contained both familiar and novel elements. On the one hand, it reflected the extent to which Czech nationalists responded to the new circumstances of Nazi occupation with time-tested strategies....

  15. 8 Reich-Loyal Czech Nationalism
    (pp. 231-252)

    In late 1943 a member of the Polish resistance reported his observations of occupied Prague to the Czech exile government in London. He observed many differences between the harsh occupation of Poland and the relatively mild conditions in the Protectorate. Above all, this contemporary observer was startled by the persistence of Czech national life in the Bohemian Lands under Nazi rule:

    The Czechs live under relationships that are so different from ours that they seem almost improbable to us, even though they are real. The living conditions are without a doubt difficult and full of restrictions but remain at a...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 253-274)

    After the Nazi defeat, the doctrine of Reich-loyal Czech nationalism was quickly forgotten. Postwar journalists, Czech officials, and humanitarian activists typically remembered the barbarity of Nazi rule in Eastern Europe in terms of the violence of forced denationalization.¹ The prevailing opinion in Czech society, according to an informant’s report from May 1944, was that Czech children would not be safe until every German was purged from the Bohemian Lands. In July of 1944 a Czech informant reported to London, “After the last speech of Dr. Beneš there was disappointment in Bohemia because he wants to keep the loyal Germans here....

  17. Index
    (pp. 275-280)