The two World Wars of the 20th century remodeled Central Europe’s map entirely and also the status of many diverse Central European societies was changed drastically. Here, we shine some light on a few German and Hungarian minorities that lived in Slovakia at that time and in what way their troublesome historical past is represented in museums in contemporary Slovakia. Today, it seems like ethnic issues play a big role again and actually we are rather skeptical that past horrific events may be repeated in a not-so-far future. Check out also this John Oliver video about Europe. Is he far besides the truth?
In this post, we will address in what way and to what extent the fate of Germans, Hungarians, and Slovaks is represented in modern-day museums, and in particular in the exhibit Exchanged Homes that’s on display in Bratislava. It is this exhibit’s aim to commemorate these peoples and the way they were affected by the immense population transfers that occurred after World War II.
It is interesting to see how different exhibitions are portraying the traumatic past and effects of the most forceful resettlements that took place after World War II. Many of these exhibits try to avoid the idea of “perpetrators” and “victims” as they offer usually multifaceted memories that relate to this so troubled and traumatic past and avoid to go along ethnic or national lines.
Thus, the components and concepts components of this sort of exhibitions cannot be analyzed extensively or correctly as the context of many of these postwar events may vary drastically. Often, we hear orally transferred historically important interviews or see everyday objects that are meant to bring the viewer in closer contact with the way these people must have experienced the atrocities as they were forced, often brutally, to leave the land where they had lived for generation upon generation. For a broader historic perspective, see also: “Immigration from Muennichwies to Charleroi, Pennsylvania”
It is generally accepted knowledge, that this sort of exhibitions may strongly challenge the way the past is conceived and are likely to influence the historical narrative which strongly focuses on specific national aspects of “Slovak” history to the reconciliation process between the majority of Slovak society and the German and Hungarian minorities. See also the post: The Carpathian Germans Slovakia after WW II.
All through the 20th Century, Central and Western Europe and all of its diverse communities, countries, and societies have seen significant changes in their borders, political regimes, and other major shifts. Like many Germans that emigrated to America over the past centuries, many went to the New World in pursuit of freedom and a better life.
Nationally, ethnically, or religiously defined and varied groups of individuals found themselves tossed between disadvantaged or favored social positions. And sometimes, these groups could be seen identifying with a minority or, at other times, with a minority. What happened to the Hungarian and German populations in what we now know as Slovakia is no exception to these practices and perhaps, together with what happened to the Jews and gypsies under Hitlers’s dictatorship, among the worst atrocities of the last century.
After World War II has come to an end, the Czechoslovak Republic held both of these ethnic groups responsible for and collectively guilty of the state’s destruction and all of the nation’s suffering during World War II. Consequently, the state subjected the ethnic Hungarian and German population groups to resettlement by force. To read more about Carpathian Germans and their emigration to the US, check out this article.
Under the communistic regime, these events were silenced and after the 1980s, that situation only changed slowly. Though several academics started to address the topic fully during the years that followed the revolution, the problematic historical past of the German and Hungarian minorities in Slovakia remained a highly sensitive issue in the public Slowakian sphere.
So let’s take a closer look at how contemporary museums represent this highly controversial episode in the Slovakian history and in what way cultural institutions, such as art galleries and museums shine a light on that period of time, particularly when it concerns issues related to German and Hungarian minorities.
Here, we mainly focus on museums, as they generally are considered to be public sites of cultural significance that aim primarily to support and enhance the ideas of the nation and to boost and build up a sense of national identity.
The origins of the Carpathian Germans (also called Karpatendeutsche) goes back to the 12th. century when these people came to live in the Carpathian mountains’ northern part. These Germans shouldn’t be confused with another group of settlers, the Transylvanian Saxons, who were living in the great Carpathian arc’s southern portions. Sometimes, these Transylvanian Saxons are (mistakenly) called Carpathian Germans as well.
State museums, and in particular state historical museums, generally present the so-called official discourse of how the state wants the past to be seen. They do so via diverse remembrance practices like commemorating specific events for reinforcing a state’s legitimacy. Just look at how official Slovak cultural institutions organized remembrance events as they tried to demonstrate the official Slovak history narrative in cultural institutions during the years that followed the fall of the country’s communist regime.
These cultural institutions also portrayed controversial issues from Slovakia’s often troubled past. Several exhibits commemorate the terrible fate of Slovaks, Hungarians, and Germans that were all affected by the country’s population transfers. The exhibition Exchanged Homes is explicitly stating that its main goal is “establishing a memorial of that period”. In Bratislava, you can also find the Museum of Carpathian German Culture, a great place to brighten up your historical memories and awareness.
Well, as memorial museums have as a major mission “the illumination, commemoration, and education about particular significant historical events”, we may argue that the memorial exhibition Exchanged Homes will be helpful in all processed related to reconciliation and cooperation within the modern-day Slovak society as it is presenting the country’s postwar period of atrocities.