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Czechs remember ethnic Germans who died in postwar expulsion

Participants take part in a 20-mile walk between the town of Pohorelice and the city of Brno, Czech Republic, Saturday, May 30, 2015. In a rare gesture of reconciliation, hundreds took part in a walk on Saturday to commemorate some 1,700 ethnic Germans who died 70 years ago during their expulsion from the second largest Czech city of Brno. On May 30, 1945, city authorities of the then liberated Brno herded more than 20,000 local ethnic Germans, including children, women and elderly, to escort them on foot out of the country in what is now known as the Brno death march. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

BRNO, Czech Republic (AP) — In a rare gesture of reconciliation, hundreds of Czechs participated on Saturday in a 20-mile walk to remember some 1,700 ethnic Germans who died 70 years ago during their expulsion from the Czech city of Brno.

When the German World War II occupation ended in 1945, Brno city authorities escorted over 20,000 ethnic Germans, including children, women and elderly, on foot out of the country in what has become known as the Brno death march.

They belonged to around 3 million ethnic Germans who had lived in the country for centuries but were expelled from post-war Czechoslovakia as enemies and had their property confiscated.

Decrees issued after the war by Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes, with the blessing of the victorious allies, provided for the move to be widely seen as an act of revenge for the Nazi occupation of the country.

Saturday’s commemoration took place after Brno’s government approved a declaration of reconciliation earlier in May in which the city representatives expressed regret about what happened.

“According to witnesses, many were dying on the way of exhaustion, some succumbed to epidemics that spread in the Pohorelice camp, some were beaten to death or shot to death by armed guards,” the declaration said.

“It’s good to talk about what happened to prevent it from repeating in the future,” said Matej Hollan, Brno’s deputy mayor.

Participants of the reenactment hit the road in the village of Pohorelice where the Germans were kept for a month and a half.

“Of course, it was unjust,” said Barbara Edith Breindl, one of the survivors who returned to live in Brno after spending 50 years in Austria and Germany. “It was only revenge.”

But not everyone was happy with the reconciliation gesture.

A Brno branch of an organization of those who were fighting the Nazis during the war condemned the declaration.

“We can see no reason … to apologize for anything,” it said in a statement.

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