International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The Lost History of IVU
by John Davis, IVU Webmaster

The report from the 1947 Congress, the first after the war, said that all IVU's pre-war records had been lost and they had to start all over again. This would have referred to the formal minutes etc., though many IVU reports would have been available in old copies of 'The Vegetarian Messenger' (the magazine of the UK Vegetarian Society which is archived in full from 1847).

It is noticeable that all the Vegetarian Messenger reports up to 1938 all had comments about how IVU had begun and some brief notes about what had happened since 1908. The post-war reports have seem to have lost that history completely. They never explained why the records were lost and it took some research to understand it.

In 1929 the Congress was held in Czechoslovakia, in a town called Steinschönau. I looked for that on the map but it's not there...

The congress appears to have been so successful that Hans Feix, from a neighbouring town, Warndorf (also no longer on the map) became the IVU General Secretary and remained in post until the second world war. Herr Durr, from the same region became President in the later 1930s.

The region they came from was the Sudetenland, which may be familiar to anyone who knows a bit about pre-war European history. This is in the north-west of Czechoslovakia, northern Bohemia, bordering Germany and quite
close to Dresden where IVU began. The majority of the Sudetenland population were ethnic Germans, a result of border changes after WWI.

Hans Feix was still very active at the 1938 IVU Congress, in Denmark, and presumably he still had all the IVU records in his home-office. Later in 1938 the world leaders agreed to hand over the Sudetenland to Hitler in the
hope that it would stop him from invading anywhere else, the policy known as appeasement.

At first this would have made little difference to IVU as no further Congress could be held anyway during wartime. The IVU President and General Secretary were now German instead of Czech and vegetarian societies were banned by the Nazis. Obviously things became even more difficult in 1939 but the Sudentenland was relatively quiet during the war and the IVU records were probably kept somewhere safe.

The real problem came in 1945 - when the aftermath of the war lead to 'ethnic cleansing' of the Germans from the Sudetenland. They were expelled and replaced with Czechs - a small part of displacements happening all over central and eastern Europe at that time, but disastrous for IVU. The names of all the towns were changed from German to Czech, which is why I couldn't find Steinschönau, it's now called Kamenicky Senov. In 1948 the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, the expulsion of ethnic Germans was reinforced and vegetarianism was suppressed.

The 1947 congress noted that the former president had died during the war, but no mention of the General Secretary, Hans Feix - who presumably still had all the IVU records. Some of the Sudetenland Germans ended up in the USA, and many in Germany. At present we still do not know what happened to the IVU General Secretary and the records of everything since 1908.

Copyright © John Davis 2003

My thanks to Jan Stastny from Prague for assistance with some of the points above, Jan adds:

I have to mention, that one of our famous vegetarian leaders, Premysl Pitter, was protecting German children and teens and saving them in his children's home (as well as the young victims of concentration camps, Jews and Czechs and other). At that time it was critisized, because the majority had lost the social feelings in the name of vengeance and he was forced to leave Czechoslovakia in 1951. Some other vegetarian leaders (and participants of the IVU congres in Steinschönau) such as Prof. Ruzicka, were helping him with his benefitial activity, which is really gladsome for me.

The vegetarianism was one of a few ideas which holds together the diverse people of our country (Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks and Jews) together, the politicians were nationalist, but the vegetarians had true friendships also during the war. And the German vegetarians were one of few German groups loyal to the Czechoslovakia (because they knew, that Hitler did not let the vegetarians from Germany go to the world congress in 1935, and they knew about the situation in German vegetarian movement)