Czechs Were The Tallest Nation In Central Europe During The First Czechoslovak Republic

Research from 1939 showed Czechs were taller than Germans, and Slovaks were taller than Hungarians. Photo credit: Freepik.

Czech Republic, Dec 9 (BD) — In an article published in 1939 in the magazine “Statistický Obzor” by the chairman of the State Statistical Office, Jan Auerhan, the eminent human geographer and demographer, focused on differences in the average height of newly conscripted soldiers. He found that the geographical and social environment from which they came, as well as their nationality, had an impact on the physique of the conscripts.

Auerhan served as chairman of the Office from 1929 to 1939. He was forced to retire at the beginning of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was arrested by the Gestapo during the period of strict repression following Reinhard Heydrich’s assumption of power in the occupied Protectorate, and executed on 9 June 1942 at the Kobyly shooting range in Prague.

The source of Auerhan’s analysis was data on the physical characteristics of the recruits at the time of conscription, provided by the Ministry of National Defense. The data was broken down by district. In his work, he followed the findings of the Charles University anthropologist, Jindřich Matiega, published in the essay “The Physical Nature of the Present Czechoslovak People” in the 2nd volume of the “Czechoslovak Homeland” in 1933.

Half of Austro-Hungarian conscripts were under 166cm

Auerhan began by looking at the average height of conscripts in the past, specifically at data from 1889 to 1935. The period for which data was available went only as far back as the final period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, due to significant territorial changes in Bohemia. According to his findings, the average height of conscripts in Bohemia increased significantly. In 1889, only 22% of the recruits were over 170cm; by 1935, it was 43%. On the other hand, recruits under 166cm were half of the total (50%) at the end of the 1880s, and just over a quarter (26%) in the 1930s.
After this historical excursion, Auerhan attempted to trace differences in the height of recruits in the judicial districts of the time based on predominant ethnicity, social status, and race. He also accounted for altitude and average temperature.

The tallest Czechs were Pilsners

In 1935, the tallest conscripts were from Bohemia, where 43% of the men exceeded 170cm in height. This was followed by Moravia and Silesia (40%) and Slovakia (33%). The shortest were recruits from Subcarpathian Ruthenia (29%). In Bohemia, the highest proportion of recruits with a height over 170cm were from the judicial district of Pilsen (56%) and the capital city of Prague (55%), and in Moravia, the city of Brno (54%).

Czechs taller than Germans, Slovaks taller than Hungarians

Another topic of the study was a comparison of the heights of Czech and German recruits. In both historical countries, conscripts of Czech nationality were taller. In Bohemia, 45% of Czech-speaking recruits were over 170cm tall, in Moravia and Silesia, 41%, compared to 39% and 33% among German-speaking recruits, respectively. In Slovakia, the Slovaks were taller than the Hungarians (33% vs. 27%), and also in Subcarpathian Russia, the Slavic population were taller than their Hungarian neighbours (29% vs. 26%).

Auerhan also focused on the differences between urban and rural populations. According to him, the larger the proportion of the urban population in each district, the larger the percentage of conscripts of above-average physical height. He explained the difference mainly through the different ways of life in urban and rural areas.

One interesting criterion was the comparison of the height of conscripts from different areas of the Czech Republic, broken down according to the historical period of their settlement, i.e., from prehistoric times to the mediaeval colonisation of the peripheral areas. “The brants of the highest body height are found in Bohemia in the area of the Mound Culture, followed by the area of the Younger Stone Age, and the brants of the lowest stature are found in the areas of later settlement,” was the conclusion of this research.

The analysis also looked at the influence of the average altitude of the districts on the physical constitution of their inhabitants. Auerhan found that the more elevated the district, the lower the average height of the conscripts. Differences in the average temperatures of the districts also had an effect. The higher their average temperature, he said, the greater the average height of the conscripts. The only exception was Subcarpathian Russia.

Alleged Nordic origin did not provide a height advantage

The perception of average height in relation to the racial makeup of the districts’ populations was somewhat contentious. In doing so, it made use of the territorial demarcation proposed by Professor Matieck, who divided Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia into three areas according to which racial group predominated. According to Matiezka, the first group was a mixture of Alpine, Baltic, and Nordic races; the second was a mixture of Alpine, Baltic, and Dinaric races; and the third was a mixture of Alpine and Baltic races.

The results of this investigation were surprising to Auerhan. “The area with a Nordic component in Bohemia and Moravia with Silesia shows a lower body height than the other areas. Our data show that there is no Nordic element in the body height of the German population in the Sudetenland,” he said. In Bohemia and Moravia with Silesia, the area of mixed Alpine, Baltic, and Dinaric features, which included Prague and the surrounding districts, had the highest number of taller conscripts.

The average height of those aged 15 years and over in the Czech Republic in 2019 was 179cm for men and 166cm for women. This data comes from the results of the regular Health Examination Survey (EHIS), which is conducted by the Czech Institute of Health Information and Statistics in cooperation with the Czech Statistical Office. In addition to determining the health status of the country’s population, it also focuses on the question of health care use (visits to doctors and hospitalisations) and examines selected aspects of lifestyle closely related to health, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and smoking.

Brno Daily Subscribe
Sign up for morning news in your mail