At the end of the Second World War in 1945, people in the now-liberated Czechoslovakia began reacting to the hardships suffered during the Nazi annexation and occupation of Czechoslovakia since 1938. This resulted in a wave of attacks against Sudeten Germans – the German-speaking inhabitants of the Sudetenland, the border areas of Czechoslovakia, since its formation in 1918-20. As a result of these attacks, many of the approximately 3 million Sudeten Germans were expelled (Czechs preferred the word ‘transfer’ to expulsions) and were resettled elsewhere, mostly in Austria and Germany.
Since the 16th century, the provinces of Bohemia-Moravia had been part of the Habsburg Empire. The land-owning aristocracy and the towns were overwhelmingly Germanic in character, as were the border areas settled by German colonists from the 12th century onwards. German was the language of administration, with Czech the lingua franca of the peasantry which formed the bulk of the population. BY 1848 – the Year of Revolutions in Europe - a number of Czech-speaking intellectuals were beginning to agitate for recognition both of Czech political rights and of Czech language and culture.
Increasing industrialisation, particularly in Bohemia, led to migration of Czech peasants into the towns to serve the needs of the emerging and expanding industries. Whereas most towns in 1850 had German-speaking majorities, by 1914 the situation had been totally reversed (apart from in the border regions, which remained overwhelmingly German).
The outcome of the 1914-18 War was a disaster for Germans living in Bohemia-Moravia and also for the Magyars in Slovakia, which had been under Magyar rule for some 900 years. The Habsburg Monarchy had collapsed. Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia became part of the newly-created Czechoslovakia. The German and Magyar populations were now minorities in the new country. The resentment against this was particularly acute in those border regions which had overwhelming German and Magyar majorities.
The economic depression of the 1930s hit the industrialised border regions of Bohemia particularly hard and support grew in these German-speaking regions for the newly-formed Sudeten German Party (which campaigned for autonomy for the areas with German-speaking majorities within Czechoslovakia. There were similar separatist movements amongst Hungarians in Slovakia. In 1938 the Czech government , under pressure from Hitler and without international support, agreed to the transfer of its border areas to Germany, Hungary and Poland (Munich Agreement and First Vienna Award) in return for an international guarantee of its new borders. Six months later , Germany occupied what was left of Bohemia-Moravia, and Slovakia broke away to become in effect a German satellite state.