Soudobé dějiny 4 / 2017

Studies and essays

Contesting the Malyn Massacre

The Legacy of Inter-Ethnic Violence and the Second World War in Eastern Europe

Jared McBride

The study was initially published in June 2016 as No. 2405 “Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies”, published by the Center for Russian & East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh. The text is available online at On the morning of July 13, 1943, a German anti-partisan formation surrounded the small village of Malyn and its Czech and Ukrainian inhabitants. The soldiers gathered the entire village population in the town square and, after a document check, proceeded to lock them inside the town church, school and their homes. The soldiers then set fire to these buildings and shot those trying to escape with machine guns. By the end of the day, Malyn ceased to exist. On the surface, the Malyn Massacre appears as just another ghastly crime committed by a brutal occupying force. Yet, a closer look at archival sources, popular discourse, and scholarly literature on Malyn reveals a much different picture – and a murkier one. The author states there are over fifteen different versions of what happened in Malyn that day. The ethnic identities of the units that accompanied the Germans vary from account to account, as do the details of the crime, the justification for the reprisal, and even the ethnicity of the victims. The study attempts to clarify disparate and mutually contradicting accounts of the events in Malyn by analyzing materials from over ten archives in six countries and four historiographical-linguistic narratives, in addition to field research in Ukraine and the Czech Republic. The author specifies four discursive landscapes about Malyn (Soviet, Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech) and details how and why each of these has come to construct their own version(s) of Malyn in relation to larger grand narratives about the war in the East. This microhistory also underscores how the trauma and legacy of wartime inter-ethnic violence casts a long shadow over the current understanding of the war and highlights the daunting task scholars face writing the history of this region and time period.

Cleansing of Industrial Plants from Collaborationists and “Anti-Social Elements” in 1945

Political machination, retribution excess, or revolutionary moral incubator?

Jakub Šlouf

Using results of extensive research in central and company archives, the author studies the cleansing of industrial plants from collaborationists and so-called anti-social elements in Czechoslovakia in 1945. He describes it as a standard-setting process during which the form of a new revolutionary value system and guilt criteria in relation to the occupation past arising therefrom were negotiated and established in practice in factories and plants. Both escalated nationalism and social egalitarianism, sometimes developing into class antagonism, found their use in it. In addition to acts prosecuted under official legislation, the cleansing process incorporated various minor conflicts of employees during the occupation, in particular disputes between subordinates and superiors. For this reason, mainly top-ranking white collars, human resource officers, rate setters, and shop foremen were removed from their positions. The articulation of guilt of the above group also worked as an absolution of others, particularly rank-and-file workers and white collars, at the symbolic and psychological level. The selected guilt criteria were subsequently becoming a part of the legitimization pattern of the ongoing revolution. The study illustrates how company councils, acting through investigation commissions which, nevertheless, had to create their own legal rules as they had no position or status defined in official legislation, were trying, since mid-May 1945, to regulate, formalize, and unify initial spontaneous actions of employees. However, the legal uncertainty in factories led to a decline of respect to superiors, deterioration of working morale, and devaluation of expertise. In mid-July 1945, organs of the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement intervened into the cleansing process, as they were interested in improving the performance of the nationalized industry. Appeal chambers were established at regional trade union councils as second-instance bodies deciding disputes submitted by industrial plants. In doing so, they were demanding a higher quality of submitted legal documents and supporting assigning the individuals affected by the cleansing to adequate working positions in the production process. In October 1945, results of the company cleansing process were incorporated, under the pressure of trade unions, into official legislation under the so-called Small Retribution Decree. The resulting legal framework was thus an apparent compromise between pre-war legal conventions and moral criteria established during the May 1945 revolution.

Designing a Social Parenthood System

Adoption, foster care, and SOS childrenʼs villages in socialist Czechoslovakia

Frank Henschel

The author examines how an institutional system of substitute care of minors was built in socialist Czechoslovakia and how it was implemented in practice, including discussions of experts accompanying these processes. He claims the ruling regime was neither striving to destroy the family as the cornerstone of the society, nor trying to place as many children as possible under a collective long-term substitute care system. Since 1945, however, state authorities in cooperation with experts launched a children care project which showed some social engineering elements and in the framework of which politicians and experts created new standards of children care and education. The substitute care system was always pursuing multiple objectives, as had to deal with social, medical, and ideological issues. Many documents of relevant ministries openly declared an intention to educate a “new, socialist individual” in state-supervised institutional facilities in the 1950s, and collective care of children in childrenʼs homes was a standard type of care of biological or so-called social orphans at that time. Czechoslovak authorities later made step-by-step modifications of the system to expand the portfolio of substitute care options. Under the pressure of experts in pediatrics, pedagogics, and child psychology, including Jiří Dunovský or Zdeněk Matějček, who initiated a discussion on the “childrenʼs issue” in the 1960s, using results of their research projects to point at psychic, emotional, and social damage to children in collective facilities, the authorities reacted by facilitating the adoption process, establishing family-type children´s homes, and a de facto restoration of foster care. The experts were participating in these reforms very intensively, pursuing a nuclear family with a traditional role assigned to mother as an ideal. As to “problematic children”, including those of Romany descent, foster care restored by a legal act in 1973 was considered suitable. In the end of his work, the author describes the history of SOS childrenʼs villages in Czechoslovakia, a hybrid form combining collective and foster care, which played a specific role in the substitute care reform. The concept, which was based on Christian education and the central role of mother, was heatedly discussed in the late 1960s. It was possible to implement it in the liberalized atmosphere of the Prague Spring, thanks mainly to personal efforts of several experts, who established an association, collected a fairly large sum of money, quickly organized the construction of two villages, and arranged their operation. Although the state took them over after the foster care act had come into power, their groundbreaking introduction in the Eastern Bloc still illustrates the fundamental changes of the substitute care system in Czechoslovakia during the forty years of the socialist rule.


Speech for the Prosecution instead of Unbiased Arguments

On the first attempt to write a scientific biography of Stepan Bandera

Luboš Veselý

In the beginning of his work, the author presents a brief list of publications on Stepan Bandera (1909–1959), one of the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, which has hitherto been published in the Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), noting the politicized perception of this historical figure and mutually conflicting national narratives which his life story is set into. While Ukrainian view mostly adores Bandera as the founder of the Ukrainian statehood and national hero, the Polish and Russian (formerly Soviet) ones generally condemn him as a radical nationalist, fascist, and anti-Semite responsible for crimes perpetrated by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Orhanizatsiya Ukrainsʼkykh Natsionalistiv – OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya – UPA) in Western Ukraine in the 1940s. The author then proceeds to the publication of Polish-German historian Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist. Fascism, Genocide, and Cult (Stuttgart, Ibidem 2014), which is so far the first attempt at a scientific biography of Bandera. The author questions and argues against Rossoliński-Liebeʼs approach to the topic, which he claims to be conforming to many negative patterns in Banderaʼs appraisals, failing to describe historical events without an a priori bias or presenting new views, although Rossoliński-Liebe used almost all published works on the topic, as well as a mass of archival sources and memoir testimonies. Rossoliński-Liebe equals Bandera with the Ukrainian nationalism, and regards the latter as a violent movement without setting it in a context. The author argues that ignoring the historical context, one-sided optics, and emotional judgments are significant weaknesses of the work, which thus fails to meet the demands placed upon a balanced scientific biography.

The Post-War Cleansing and Communist Lawlessness

On the article by Jakub Šlouf

Peter Heumos

The text is a modified (by the author) version of Peter Heumosʼs review of Jakub Šloufʼs study “Cleansing of Industrial Plants from Collaborationists and “Anti-Social Elements” in 1945: Political machination, retribution excess, or revolutionary moral incubator?” published in this issue of Contemporary History (pp. 538–581). In the authorʼs opinion, the article written by Šlouf is an extremely productive contribution to the ongoing discussion of Czech historians on the political and social context of the formation and stabilization of the Communist regime. Heumos emphasizes its strengths and argues against some of its conclusions. In doing so, Heumos develops an idea that social and political activities in Czechoslovak industrial plants after the liberation in May 1945 were of an ambivalent nature and that their tendencies to create, with respect to punishment of alleged collaborationists and “anti-social elements” during the war, their own rules of conduct ignoring official legislation were not in themselves a factor supporting the onset of Communist lawlessness. Heumos rather views them as a continuity with manifestations of the resistance of the social environment of industrial enterprises against pressures from the power center in the 1950s and 1960s.


A Dramatic Portrait of Edvard Beneš Presented by a French Historian

Milan Hauner

MARÈS, Antoine. Edvard Beneš: Od slávy k propasti. Drama mezi Hitlerem a Stalinem (Edvard Beneš: From the Glory to the Abyss. A Drama between Hitler and Stalin). Translated from the French original by Helena Beguivinová. Prague: Argo 2016, 372 pp., bibliography, 52 illustrations and a name index, ISBN 978-80-257-1895-7.

The biography of the second Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš (1884–1948), a politician, diplomat, statesman, and political publicist, is a translation of the original title Edvard Beneš: De la gloire à l’abîme: Un drame entre Hitler et Staline (Paris: Perrin 2015). According to the reviewer, Antoine Marès, Professor of History of Central and Eastern Europe at the Sorbonne in Paris, whose published works deal mainly with Czechoslovak and Czech history, wrote his book in the best tradition of French historical biographies. He proceeded chronologically and described dramatic moments of the modern Czech history and difficult personal dilemmas of Beneš related thereto in a matter-of-fact way, with an understanding for a broader context, without any burden of negative or positive emotions which the Czech historiography often cannot get rid of. In doing so, he paid special attention to the development of the inter-war French foreign policy. The reviewer provides a detailed account of the authorʼs findings and comments on some episodes from his own point of view. In the end, he argues against Marèsʼs opinion to the effect that the Czech and Czechoslovak policy has always avoided forcible solutions.

Social History of Ruling Communist Parties in the Long Run

Marián Lóži

CHRISTIAN, Michel. Camarades ou Apparatchiks? Les Communistes en RDA et en Tchécoslovaquie (1945–1989). Paris: Presses universitaires de France 2016, 400 pp., ISBN 978–2-13–063504-8.

The author of the book, who works at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, wrote the social history of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED) in the German Democratic Republic, covering more than four decades of their post-war road to power and rule. In doing so, he emphasizes a meticulously chosen mutual comparison and long-term historical processes. The reviewer highly appreciates the synthetic quality of his work, precisely applied methodology, and broad field of research including the formation and reproduction of local party elites, administrative party practices, and everyday life of members of both parties. The reviewer presents principal findings of the author concerning the operation of the parties, including the specific significance of the nationalistic factor in the legitimization strategy of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the substantially deeper penetration of SED into everyday life of its members.

The Anatomy of the Post-War Rise of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

Matěj Bílý

ŠLOUF, Jakub. Podvedená strana: Zrod masového komunistického hnutí na Plzeňsku, jeho disciplinace, centralizace a byrokratizace (1945–1948). Plzeň: University of West Bohemia in Plzeň 2016, 303 pp., ISBN 978-80-261-0524-4.

In the opinion of the reviewer, the work The Cheated Party: The Birth of the Mass Communist Movement in the Plzeň Region, Its Disciplining, Centralization, and Bureaucratization (1945–1948) dedicated to the history of the Communist movement in West Bohemia from 1945 to 1948, with an overlap into the late 1940s, is groundbreaking. As a matter of fact, it originated a decade ago, when some of its conclusions would have been even more revolutionary for the Czech historiography than today. It is not just a regional study with a narrow focus: using rich empirical regional information, the author attempts to reveal more general factors which might be easily overlooked or not regarded as important from the power center. He examines the post-war transformation of the Communist party into a mass organization, analyzes the development of its membership, and personal changes in the party hierarchy. He comes to a conclusion that its victory in the 1946 elections was primarily influenced by internal political factors, in particular a moderate programme and flexible tactics. However, the reviewer regards the proposition of the existence of two post-war Communist Parties of Czechoslovakia – one of party functionaries, the other of members who did not wish a dictatorship and felt cheated after the party had usurped power – as overly simplifying.

Non-Democratic Elections in the “Normalization” Czechoslovakia and Their Significance

Petr Anev

VILÍMEK, Tomáš. „Všichni komunisté do uren!“ Volby v Československu v letech 1971–1989 jako společenský, politický a státněbezpečnostní fenomén. (Česká společnost po roce 1945, Vol. 12.) Prague: Institute for Contemporary History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, v. v. i., 2016, 354 pp., ISBN 978-80-7285-198-0.

According to the reviewer, the elections to representative bodies in Czechoslovakia between the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the democratic revolution in 1989 may at first sight seem to be a formal ritual. However, the authorʼs empirically well-founded work “All Communists to the Polls!” Elections in Czechoslovakia in 1971–1989 as a Phenomenon of Society, Politics and State Security demonstrates that they had a number of important functions, albeit different from those in a democratic state. The author captured common features and differences of different election acts taking place in five-year cycles, and examined related activities of security forces and elements. In his account of the elections, he described important aspects of the operation of the Communist regime, noticed different forms of the opposition against it, and also mentioned stories of ordinary people which were somehow related to the elections. He presented the 1970s and 1980s from a different angle, making a substantial contribution to better knowledge of that period.

Everydayness of Filmmaking as a Challenge to Film History

Alena Šlingerová

SZCZEPANIK, Petr. Továrna Barrandov: Svět filmařů a politická moc 1945–1970. Prague: National Film Archive 2016, 420 pp., ISBN 978-80-7004-177-2.

According to the reviewer, the book The Barrandov Factory: The World of Filmmakers and Political Power 1945–1970 revolves around a conflict between traditional interests and values of the world of filmmaking and political efforts to reform it within the Czechoslovak state socialism system during the twenty-five years after the war, mainly in the 1950s. The authorʼs starting assumptions include not only the subordination of cinematography to the ruling elite, but also a variable degree of the film industry´s autonomy. He builds on an extremely rich source base and employs various theoretical concepts in an effective manner. Thanks to the above, he can provide a vivid and plastic picture of micro-worlds in the Barrandov film studios in Prague, their informal relations, as well as the birth of a movie. He wrote a captivating book for more knowledgeable readers looking for a methodologically inspired and open account with ample references and self-reflection.

All over Slovakia by Rail, Road, and Air

Pavel Szobi

SABOL, Miroslav. Dejiny dopravy na Slovensku 1938–1948 (1950): Jej hranice a limity. Bratislava: Veda 2015, 299 pp., ISBN 978-80-224-1459-3.

The publication History of Transportation in Slovakia 1938–1948 (1950): Its Boundaries and Limits characterizes in a fairly detailed manner the development of the Slovak economy since the mid-1800s, although its core deals with the independent Slovak Republic (1939–1945) and the first three years after the war. In the reviewerʼs opinion, it is a very solid and comprehensive work the greatest contribution of which consists in the use of a large amount of hitherto unprocessed sources and a capture of remarkable differences in the development of transportation infrastructure, technologies, and modes of travel between Slovakia and the Czech Lands in various periods of time.

The Gestapo Rid of Myths?

Karel Černý

McDONOUGH, Frank. Gestapo: Mýtus a realita Hitlerovy tajné policie. Translated from English by Jindřich Manďák. Prague: Vyšehrad 2016, 292 pp., ISBN 978-80-7429-742-7.

The publication is a translation of the original title The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret Police (London: Hodder & Stoughton 2015). According to the reviewer, the British historian attempts to present a new, revisionist interpretation of the role of the political police in a totalitarian society. He claims that the Nazi Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei – Gestapo) was not the omnipotent, fearsome, and brutal apparatus it is purported to have been, but rather an undermanned, overworked, and underfinanced police organization staffed mostly by former detectives, reacting mainly to denunciations submitted by citizens, using lengthy and not very effective investigation methods, and sticking to legal procedures. According to the reviewer who provides a fairly detailed account of the authorʼs interpretations, the above picture is sometimes relatively credible (in relation to churches), but not very convincing in other places (in particular in relation to Jews). Moreover, the author depicts only the situation in the Third Reich, and his generalizing conclusions are thus unfounded.

Police in Marseille and the Vichy Regime

Dalibor Vácha

KITSON, Simon. Police and Politics in Marseille, 1936–1945. Leiden: Brill 2014, 326 pp., ISBN 978-90-04-24835-9.

The reviewer provides an account of interpretations of the British historian; he sees their main contribution in rich facts based on a thorough study of French archival documents and a novel angle of view unburdened by extensive and often heated discussions over phenomena of resistance and collaboration in the French historiography and society. In the reviewerʼs opinion, the book´s strengths also include an interdisciplinary approach combining social history, everyday history and police history with the so-called great political history. The author drafts a much more diverse and disparate picture of reality than that suggested by established myths about the police force extensively and voluntarily collaborating both with Germans and the Vichy regime, about the cowardice of police officers and their permanent links to the world of crime.

Soudobé dějiny 4 / 2017

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