World War II: NAZI Occupation of Czechoslavakia (1938-45)

NAZI invasion of Czechoslovakia
Figure 1.--Czechoslovakia was Hitler's first foreign conquest. In violation of his pledges made to Ptomeminister Chamberlain at Munich , Hitler occupied all of Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939). But even in Czechoslvakia there were supporters. There were few Czecg Fascusts, but ethnic Germans were a substantial minority and most fervently supported Hitler and the NAZIs. Put your cyrsor on the image. An enlarge shows men, women, a children of all ages greeting the Führer. Source: U.S. National Archives, image no. 208-AA175QQ-Z.

Hitler remiliatized the Rhineland (1935) and conducted the Anschluss bringing Austria into the Reich (April 1938). Hitler's next target was the Sudetenland. The Czechs were prepared to fight. The British and French were not. British Primeminister Nevil Chamberlin delivered the Sudetenland to Hitler at the Munich Conferece (October 1938). The Sudetenland was incorporated into the Reich. Slovakia suceeded and a pro-NAZI regime seized power. Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to seize the rest of the country (March 1939). Here Hitler step over another milestone, for the first time he seized control of non-Germans. NAZI policies varied depending on the area of Czecheslovakia (the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia). We note that some Czechs were forcibly removed from the Sudentenland, but we have few details at this time. NAZI policies in Bohemia and Moravia were much more begin that later implemented in Pland, but vecame more secere as the occupation progressed, especially after the appointment of Teynhard Heydrich as Governor. The Czechs as the first occupied country, were the first to be drafted for forced labor in Germany. The Czech arms industry played an importan role in the German war effirt. Hitler convinced that the Czeches were being treated to lightly, appointed Reinhard Heydrich to replace the first NAZI governor. His assasination by British-trained patriots ere the cause of horendous reprisals by the SS.

Munich (September 1938)

The next target was Czecheslovakia which had beeen created by the Versailles Peace Treaty. After the Anchluss, Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia, claiming that the erhnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. The NAZI rearmament program, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anchluss with Austria came as a shock to Czecheslovakia. Even more so, the lack of response from Britain and France. The Czechs who had defensive alliance with France were prepared to fight. Even with the Anchluss, many Europeans chose to see the NAZI actions as domestic German matters. This changed with Hitler's next target--Czecheslovakia. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Miniister mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." A prominent member of the British parliament displayed even more ignoramce when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not located in the Balkans. In the end, The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich. Vhamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed ny Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." Churchill was apauled. Most British anf French people were releaved. One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not at the conference drew the conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler.

Sudetenland Occupied (October 1938)

The Wehrmacht as agreed to in the Munich Agreement began moving into the Sudetenland (October 1). They were received with jubilation. Hitler followed (October 3). The Sudetenland was heavily populated by ethnic Germans. The NAZIs were greeted with enthusiam by the ethnic Germans. Wenzel Jaksch who was the leader of the Sudeten Social Democrats flew to London hoping to arrange for refugee status for leaders of his party. The German Security Services and Gestapo followed the Wehrmacht and began arresting political opponents. The Times in London published accounts of the junilation of the Sudebten Germans along with photographs showing the cascade of flowers greeting the German soldiers. The Times editor, Geoffrey Dawson, rejected photograhs of those fleeing the NAZIs. The British offered no visas to Jaksch's colleagues. Many were arrested by the Gestpo. Others who manage to hide out in Czechoslovakia were at the demand of the German Government arrested and turned over to the NAZIs by the new Prague regime. The Sudetenland which is where the Czech border defences were located. This rendered Czechoslovakia indefensible.

Slovakia Secceeds (March 14, 1939)

Slovakia seceeded from Czechoslovakia as the Wehrmacht massed on the Czech border. Hitler was not sure at first what to do with Slovakia. His Hungarian ally wanted to annex all of Slovakia. He finally decided to set a separate state under Germany control. Monsignor Jozef Tiso was the Slovak prime minister within Czecho-Slovakia. He was deposed by Czech troops. Hitler invited Tiso to Berlin to discuss the situation. Hitler ordered him to proclaim an independent Slovakia. Otherwise he told Tiso that Slovakia would be partioned between Hungary and Poland. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop told Tiso that the Hingarians were preparing to invade. Tiso refused to declare independece on his own. Hitler permitted him to call the Slovak parliament (Diet of the Slovak Country) into session. The Slovak parliament convened to hear Tiso's report. They unanimously declared Slovak independence (March 14). Historians debate Tiso's position. The Parliament appointed Tiso to be Slovakia's first Prime Minister. Tiso might be described as a clerical nationalist. Tiso was a strident nationalist, but not a NAZI. His vission was a independent nationalist, Christian, corporate state.

Czecheslovakia Invaded (March 15, 1939)

Hitler threatened the Czechs with military action on several occassions after Munich. Finally he summoned elderly President Dr. Emil Hacha to Berlin (March 14). There after midnight Hitler haranged him. No precise account exists of what Hitler said. One account reports that Hitler reminded Hacha of the beauties of Prague, and told him what a shame it would be if the Luftwaffe had to flatten the ancient Czech capital. Then Göring apparently offered a mocked applogy for having his bombers destroy Prague, but said it would be a good lesson to the British and French. Hacha fainted, perhaps a minor hear attack, and had to be revived. Hitler demanded that the Czech lands be incorporated into the Nazi Reich as a "Protectorate". A broken Hacha telephoned Prague, ordering that there should be no resistance. Göring and Ribbentrop bullied him into signing a paper asking for German intervention. [Black, p. 512.] The text "... placed the fate of the Czech people and nation in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich". Neither Hacha or the Czech people understood at the time the dully villiny of what the NAZIs planned for the Czechs. The Wehrmacht crossed the border and occupied Bohenia and Moravia in one day (March 15). This was a total violation of the Munich Agreement. Slovakia had succeeded the day before and became Hiler's most slavish puppet state. Hungary with Hitler's approval seized Ruthenia. All of Czechoslovakia was now in the NAZI orbit. The Czechs would pay a terrible price. They would be Hitler's last bloodless victory. They would not, however, be his last stunning victory.

End to Appeasement

Hitler by adding the Czechs to his empire had crossed a line. He had repeatedly told Chamberlain, "We want no Czechs. He was now no longer uniting the Germans. Bohemia and Moravia were Czech lands. It was clear to the Allies that Hitler was prepared to make one demand after another. Although facing a rearmed Germany with an unrivaled air force, British and French leaders and increasingly the public in those countries realized that there was no choice, but to confront the NAZIs with military force. Even Chamberlain realized that this meant an end to appeasement. He delivered a speed in Birmingham March 17. Although he did not admit error, he described the commitments that Hitler had made in Muich and he expressed sympathy for the Czechs. What he did not do, however, was resign. Perhaps mever before in British history had a primeminister who had failed so disaterously insisted on holding on to power. Britian did institute conscription, but under Chamberlain reluctantly prepared for war and with the same lack of determination that had markeed his dealings with Hitler. At this stage the Allies needed an ally. America was not yet available. The Soviets were, but Chamberlain gave no priority to working out arrangements with Stalin. NAZI propaganda began to focus on the Polish Corridor so it was obvious that Poland was to be the next target. And in cotrast to the Allies, Hitler moved decisively to make arrangements with Stalin.

Occupation

NAZI policies varied depending on the area of Czecheslovakia (the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia). The Sudetenland was heavily populated by ethnic Germans. The NAZIs were greeted with enthusiam by the ethnic Germans when after Munich, they entered the Sudetenland. As the Sudetenland was incorporated into the Reich, German law immediately became effctive. NAZI policies in Bohemia and Moravia were much more begin that later implemented in Poland, but became more severe as the occupation progressed, especially after the appointment of Reinhard Heydrich as Governor. The Germans created the Protecorate of Bohemia and Moravia were declared a protectorate of the Third Reich. Czech officials were maintaine as figureheads. All were directed by the NAZI appointed governor or Reich Protector, Baron Konstantin von Neurath. German officials manned all the government departments, cabinet ministries. Local German control offices were established throughout the Protecorate. The Gestapo assumed control of the police. One of the first in a series of NAZI decrees was to dimiss Jews from the civil service and made non-citizens. Slovakia seceeded from Czechoslovakia as the Wehrmact massed on the Czrch border. Slovakia declared independence as the Slovak Republic (March 14, 1939). Monsignor Tiso was elected president. Tiso might be described as a clerical nationalist. Tiso was a strident natinalist, but not a NAZI. His vission was a independent nationalist, Christian, corporative state. Tiso faced even more radical Slovak nationalists and their paramilitary Hlinka Guards--the Slovak version of the SA Storm Troopers. The radical nationalists were more clearly Fascists and cooperated with the NAZIs who also entered Slovakia (March 15). The radical nationalists worked closely with strongly NAZI German minority led by Franz Karmasin. Other areas of Czechoslovakia experienced slightly different fates. Hitler allowed the Hungarians who waned all of Slovakia to occupy a part of Slovakia. The Poles were even allowed to seize a small area.

Sudetenland

The Sudetenland was heavily populated by ethnic Germans. The German population totaled about 3.25 million people. There was a Czech populattion, but Germans were strongly in the majority. The NAZIs were greeted with enthusiam by the ethnic Germans when after Munich, they entered the Sudetenland. As the Sudetenland was incorporated into the Reich, German law immediately became effctive. As a propaganda exercize, the NAZIs staged a refendum (December 4). Voter participation was heavy. Over 97 percent endorsed the NAZI seizure. It is believed that most of the disenters to the extent the votes were counted correctly were Czechs. Sudenten Germans joined the NAZI Party in large numbers--about 0.5 million. This was 17 percent of the population, double the average proportion in the Reich. Most Czechs fled the Sudentenland before the German occupation (October 1938). As part of the Munich Agreement they were not allowed to take many of their possessions with them. About 0.25 Czechs remained in the Sudentland when the Germans seized cobntrol. The NAZis subsequently expelled many of these Czechs from the Sudentenland, but we have few details at this time. The Sudetenland was annexed and became part of the Reich, its people became German citizens. As the Sudeten Germans spoke Czech and were familiar with Czechoslovakia, many participated in the brital German occupation of the country as part of the administration or the security forces of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. After the War, the Czechs proceeded to expell the Germans from the Sudetenland. Accounts vary as to the actual number.

Protecorate of Bohemia and Moravia

NAZI policies in Bohemia and Moravia were much more begin that later implemented in Poland, but became more severe as the occupation progressed, especially after the appointment of Reinhard Heydrich as Governor. The Germans created the Protecorate of Bohemia and Moravia were declared a protectorate of the Third Reich. Czech officials were maintaine as figureheads. All were directed by the NAZI appointed governor or Reich Protector, Baron Konstantin von Neurath. German officials manned all the government departments, cabinet ministries. Local German control offices were established throughout the Protecorate. The Gestapo assumed control of the police. One of the first in a series of NAZI decrees was to dimiss Jews from the civil service and made non-citizens. The NAZIs banned Communists. The Communists and Jews who could fled the country. NAZI authorities mobilized labor for the German war effort. Occupation officials established special offices to supervise the management of industries found to be useful for the war effit. Czechs were drafted to work in keys industies such as coal mines, the iron and steel industry, and armaments production. Some conscripts were sent to Germany for work there. Production of consumer goods was shgarply curtailed and production when possible reoriented toward war poduction. While a small country, Czechoslovakia had heavy industry and played an important role in the German war effort. Authorities instituted very strict rationing. The Czechs as the first occupied country, were the first to be drafted for forced labor in Germany. Czech protests in 1941 angered the NAZIs. Hitler convinced that the Czeches were being treated to lightly, appointed Reinhard Heydrich to replace the first NAZI governor. His assasination by British-trained patriots were the cause of horendous reprisals by the SS.

Slovakia

Slovakia seceeded from Czechoslovakia as the Wehrmact massed on the Czrch border. Slovakia declared independence as the Slovak Republic (March 14, 1939). Monsignor Tiso was elected president. Tiso might be described as a clerical nationalist. Tiso was a strident natinalist, but not a NAZI. His vission was a independent nationalist, Christian, corporative state. Tiso faced even more radical Slovak nationalists and their paramilitary Hlinka Guards--the Slovak version of the SA Storm Troopers. The radical nationalists were more clearly Fascists and cooperated with the NAZIs who also entered Slovakia (March 15). The radical nationalists worked closely with strongly NAZI German minority led by Franz Karmasin. As a result, radicals dominated the Slovak government. Vojtech Tuka gad been released from prison and became prime minister. An ally Ferdinand Durcansky was appointed foreign minister. Hlinka Guard commander Alexander Mach was appointed propaganda minister. Slovakia became a compliant NAZI puppetstate. A NAZI "advisory mission" was installed in each Slovak ministry. The Wehrmact had entered Slovakia (March 15) and soon was stationed throughout the country. Slovakia became the most slavishly obedient of all the NAZI satellite regimes.

Other areas

Other areas of Czechoslovakia experienced slightly different fates. Hitler allowed the Hungarians who wanted all of Slovakia to occupy a part of Slovakia--Carpathian Ruthenia. Ruthenia was the Ausro-Hungarian term for Ukrania. The Austo-Hungarian Empire had been a joint monarchy. Hungarian nationalists saw themselves as an imperial power and the rightful inheritor of formerly Hungarian lands no matter what the nationality of the population. Hungarians attitutudes were further fueled by Hungarian minorities in those lands. Hungary after Munich annexed the southern part of Slovakia and Ruthenia which had a Hungarian minority of 750,000. The arrangement was approved by Hitler as part of the Vienna Award. This was difficult for Slovak nationalists to take because it amounted to a third of the country's area. Slovakian officials appealed to Hitler to reverse the Vienna Award. Hitler would not budge. Even afterwards further difficulties occurred because of Hungarian treatment of Slovaks in the territory acquired. The Poles were even allowed to seize a small area. Poland took advantage of the situation to annex the Tesin region in the north of Czechoslovakia. Tesin had a Polish minority of 75,000. Polish leaders even at this stagev do not seem to have understood that they were to be Hitler's next target. After the Germans seized the Czech lands--Bohemia and Moravia (March 15, 1939), the Hungarians did invade Slovakia (March 23). The Slovaks had to ceede another 1,697 km² of territory with about 70,000 people to Hungary.

NAZI Plans

The NAZI occupation regime was harsh in Czechoslovakia. What the Czechs experienced during the NAZI occupsation, especially after Heydrich was made Givernor General, was exceedingly harsh, although not as severe as in Poland. It was in fact nothing like what the NAZIs planned in Czechoslovakia had they won the War. Documents uncovered after the War detail just what the NAXIs had in mind. We know the Jews were killed. But this was just to be the beginning. NAZI racial policies were tempered somewhat by the need to maintain industrial production duing the War. Some information emerged during the Nuremburg Trials about NAZI plans. Available evidence suggest that draconian measures were to be used to Germanize Bohemia and Moravia. About half the Czech population was to be assimilated, the other half was to be killed and large numbers of Germans were to be introduced to colonize Bohemia and Moravia. . One document drafted by occupsation authorities detailed just what was in store for the Czechs. Accoding to this documnt,

"On 9th October of this year [1940], the office of the Reich Protector held an official conference in which State Secretary S.S. Lt. General K. H. Frank [ S.S. Gruppenfuehrer K. H. Frank was Secretary of State under von Neurath, who was the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. von Neurath was subsequently replaced by Heydrich because he was considered too leniant toward the Czechs.] Since creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Party agencies, industrial circles, as well as agencies of the central authorities of Berlin, have considered a solution for the Czech problem. After ample deliberation, the Reich Protector expressed his views about the various plans in a memorandum. In this, three ways of solution were indicated:

(a) German infiltration of Moravia and confinement of the Czech nationals to a residual Bohemia. This solution is considered unsatisfactory, because the Czech problem, even if in diminished form, will continue to exist.

(b) Many arguments can be brought up against the most radical solution, namely, the deportation of all Czechs. Therefore, in the memorandum it is concluded that it cannot be carried out within a reasonable period of time.

(c) Assimilation of the Czechs, i.e., absorption of about half of the Czech nationals by the Germans, in so far as this is of racial or other value. This can also be effected in other ways, e.g., by increased employment of Czechs in the Reich territory (with the exception of the Sudeten-German border districts), in other-words, by dispersing the concentrations of Czech nationals.

The other half of the Czech nationals must be deprived of their power, eliminated and shipped out of the country by all sorts of methods. This applies particularly to the racially Mongoloid part and to the major part of the intellectual class. The latter can scarcely be converted ideologically and would become a burden by constantly making claims for the leadership over the other Czech classes, and thus interfering with a rapid assimilation. Elements which counteract the planned Germanisation ought to be handled roughly and eliminated. The above development naturally presupposes an increased influx of Germans from the Reich territory into the Protectorate.

After a discussion, the Fuehrer has chosen solution (c) (Assimilation) as a directive for the solution of the Czech problem and decided that, while keeping up the autonomy of the Protectorate on the surface, the Germanisation will have to be carried out in a centralised way, by the office of the Reich Protector, for years to come.

From the above no particular conclusions are drawn by the Armed Forces. This is the line which has always been taken here. In this connection I refer to my memorandum submitted to the Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces, dated 12th July, 1939, file No. 6/39, top secret, entitled: The Czech Problem (Attached as annex).

The Representative of the Armed Forces with the Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia.

Signed, Friderici, General of Infantry."

It is chilling how cavaliearly the NAZIs dicussed the fate of millions of men women and children. And we know how quickly and efficently these men could persuee their diobolical plans. Only the need to maintain war production prevented the NAZIs from putting their plans in opetration. We know that Heydrich on tghe day he was asasinated (1942) was headed to the airport in Prague for a flight to Berlin where he was to discuss the plans that were being develooped for the Czechs. Had the War no gone wrong for Hitler, the infrastructure used to murder the Jews would have been available for the millions of Czech, Poles, and Soviets Serbs that were to be eliminated.

Sources

Black, Conrad. Franklin Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs: New York, 2003), 1280p.

Friderici, General. Memorandum, October 15, 1940. This doument was top secret and only four copies were made. It was written by General Friderici, Deputy General of the Wehrmacht in Bohemia and Moravia. The document was found among the captured files of the O.K.W. (Germam Army General Staff). This document was initialed "K" and "J" on the first page on the left-hand side. These were the initials of Keitel and Jodl. This document was entered into evidence at the Nuremberg triakls. Document 862-PS, and it is Exhibit USA 313. T






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Created: August 24, 2003
Last updated: 1:29 AM 5/25/2013