Longing to belong: musical practices in the expulsion of the Germans from the Bohemian lands
Präger, Ulrike Christa
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In 1945/46, after the surrender of Germany in the Second World War, approximately twelve million German civilians living in Central and Eastern Europe were expelled (or fled before they received the inevitable expulsion order) mostly to Germany in what R.M. Douglas termed the "largest forced population transfer [...] in human history." Even though these events occurred over sixty years ago, the recollections of these expellees suggest the ongoing immediacy of their experiences. For this phenomenological-historical ethnography, I collected more than eighty life stories and oral histories specifically from ethnic Germans expelled from Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia (Sudeten Germans). Through the lenses of musical practice and musical repertoire, I investigate how these Sudeten Germans used and still continue to use music as a tool for both remembrance and adaptation in their new environments. I seek to understand music's significances for social and political integration in the Sudeten-Germans' "new sounding homeland" in West Germany. Taken one at a time, these recollections disclose the various ways in which music and musical practices retrieve memories of their Bohemian homelands and are able to mitigate both the loss of those homelands and the distressing overall effects of expulsion. Woven together, these recollections reveal how music offers emotional solace and facilitates the building of a new sense of belonging in the face of geographic displacement and material dispossession. I then compare these recollections to memories of Sudeten Germans expelled to the former East Germany as well as to the memories of Germans who were forced to stay in Czechoslovakia. This comparison highlights how the reframing and even silencing of musical practices in these environments affected processes of social identity reconstruction until the 1989 Velvet Revolution. I suggest that the analysis of the Sudeten Germans' individual musical experiences reveals new perspectives of how they used and still use musical practices to negotiate intercultural power relations and rebuild a sense of Heimat (notion of belonging to a place of origin). Broadly speaking, the results of this study facilitate an understanding of the phenomenon of forced migration and how music is able to reflect, reframe, and renegotiate it.