Story: Central and South-eastern Europeans

Page 3. Czechs, Slovaks and Slovenes

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The Czechoslovak Republic

The Czechoslovak Republic was formed in 1918 out of the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia. A group which settled in Pūhoi near Auckland in the 19th century identified itself as Bohemian after anti-German hysteria took hold in New Zealand during the First World War. However, these ‘Bohemians’ were in fact ‘Sudetenland’ Germans and not ethnically Czech.

Among other 19th-century arrivals from territories that became part of Czechoslovakia were the cabinetmaker Anton Seuffert, a German-speaking Bohemian, and the artist Gottfried Lindauer, a Czech who trained in Vienna.

A cabinet fit for a queen

New Zealand’s best 19th-century cabinetmaker and inlayer, Anton Seuffert, was born in Bohemia and arrived in Auckland in the late 1850s. In 1861–62, about the time he became a naturalised New Zealander, Seuffert made a writing cabinet inlaid with New Zealand woods, which was valued at 300 guineas. The citizens of Auckland bought the cabinet and gave it to Queen Victoria. It is still in use in Buckingham Palace.

Czech refugees and displaced persons

The number of New Zealand residents who were born in Czechoslovakia shrank from 118 in 1921 to 72 in 1936. After this the number started to grow again. Notable among approximately 120 Czech refugees from Nazism in the late 1930s was Fred Turnovsky. He succeeded in business, but is better remembered for fostering music in a country which lacked the cultural life he had enjoyed in Prague.

After the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, between 300 and 400 Czechs came to New Zealand – a tiny fraction of the 240,000 who left their homeland at that time. Their number rose from 166 in 1945 to 548 in 1956. The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 led to another exodus of about 240,000, but fewer than 200 came to New Zealand. The number of Czechoslovakian-born people in New Zealand peaked at 663 in 1976. After the fall of Communism, Czechs did not come in the same numbers as people from other former Communist states.

Czech clubs in New Zealand did not flourish for long, mainly because of divisions among people who had left Czechoslovakia at different times and for different reasons.

Slovaks and Slovenes

Slovaks went to the United States in large numbers, but relatively few came to Australia and even fewer to New Zealand. Some who were recorded in earlier censuses as Czechoslovakian-born were Slovaks. In 2013 they numbered only 333.

Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then an independent state when Yugoslavia itself broke up. Slovenes have come to New Zealand in very small numbers. By 2013 there were just 204.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Central and South-eastern Europeans - Czechs, Slovaks and Slovenes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015