World War II: Czechoslavakia


Figure 1.--The Czechs were intensely patriotic and ready to fight when the NAZI menance appeared in Germany. Here a young Czech boy in Czechoslovakia is singing at an event to honor the dead of World War I. The photo was taken in 1928, 10 years after the founding of the Czech Republic after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire as a result of World War I (1918). The monument in the background is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War I. The typed words at the bottom of the picture read, "Louèení se stromem republiky v r . 1928/ I v pozadí pùvodní pomník obìtem I . svìtové války." (Something like, 'Louèení tree Republic in the year . 1928 / I behind the original memorial of World War I.') The reference to a "tree" has something to do with Czech national symbolism. Click on the image for more information. The boy seems to be homoring the Czech soldiers who gave up their lives for an independent Czechoslovakia. The boy seems to be about 8 years old. He is dressed in what look like school clothes--a short trousers suit with tan or light brown long stockings and hightop shoes. The scene looks rather autmnal or even wintry since the surrounding trees are bare of leaves--perhaps linden trees. I was probabnly November 11, the date World War I ended.

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 resulted in horendous reprisals by the SS.

World War I (1914-18)

The Czechs and Slovaks when World War I broke out were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were two of several restive minorities within the Empire. As Slavs they were not enthusiastic to fight with the Austrians, Germans and Hungarians against fellow Slavs (Russians and Serbs). Many Czechs and Serbs on the Eastern front defected from the Austrian-Hungarian Army and formed the Czechoslovak Legion to fight with the Russians. Thomas Masaryk who emerged as a leader in the Czech independence movement went to western Europe with his American-born wife to promote the the idea that the Austro-Hungarian Empire should be disolved after the war and the new nation of Czechoslovakia created. The Allies resisted at the time because the Russians still fighting on the Wastern front were a multi-national empire not well-disposed toward national self-determination in Eastern Europe. Masaryk along with fellow Czech Eduard Beneš and Milan Stefanik (a Slovak war hero), established the Czechoslovak National Council. Masaryk went to America to promote the idea. Beneš worked in in France and Britain. The Russian Revolution and the entrance of America into the War changed the political situation. President Wilson in his 14 Points had embraced national self-determination. Britain and France hesitated because they were involved in secret talks with Austrian Emperor Karl I (1916-18) who had replaced Emperor Franz Josef. They hoped to convince the Emperor Karl to make a separate peace. When this failed, the Allies recognized the Czechoslovak National Council (summer 1918). as the supreme organ of a future Czechoslovak government. The German German Western Front began to crack under British and American offensives (September 1918). German and Austrian officials began making peace feelers (early October). Masaryk from America declaraed Czechoslovak independence (October 18). As in other Eastern European countries, borders became a controversial issue. Many areas included mixed ethnic populations. Masaryk wanted Czechoslovakia to be built around the historic Bohemian Kingdom, but include the German-populated Sudetenland. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to desintegrate, German deputies from the Sudetenland joined other German and Austrian deputies in the Austrian parliament and declared a new German-Austrian state (October 21). Emperor Karl abdicated on the same day the armistice on the Western Front went into effect (November 11). Czech troops also occupied the Sudetenland (November 11). The Slovaks to the east had the Hungarians to deal with. Hungary officually withdrew from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (November 1). Count Michael Karolyi formed a liberal-democratic government. This Government attempted to retain control over Slovakia. The Czechs gained Allied approval and occupied Slovakia. The Hungarians withdraw. The Czechs and Allies agreed on the Danube and Ipel' rivers as aborder between Hungary and Slovakia. This meant that in the west there would be a German minority and inthe east a substantial Hungarian minority.

Czechoslovakia (1918-38)

The Republic of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed in 1918 after the Hapsburg Ausro-Hungarian Empire. The first president was Tomas Masaryk. The creation of Czecheslovakia had been urged by President Wilson and was associated with the Versailles Treaty--making the country with a large German minority an anethma to the NAZIs. The two major ethnic groups comprising Czecheslovakia weee the Czechs and the Slovaks. The Slovaks like the Czechs desired independence from the Austo-Hungarian Empire, but there were substantial cultural differences. The Slovak areas of the country were not as developed economically and thus found it dificult to compete. The Czech lands were highly industrialized and ejoyed a standard of living comparable to Western Europe. Slovakia was a largely agrarian society. The Czechs were highly secular while most Slovaks were strongly Catholic. The Czechs were generally better educated than the Slovaks and mre experience with self-government than the Slovaks. Czecheslovakia tried o pomote the industrialization of Slovakia, but these efforts achieved little success in the 1920s and the world-wide Depression in the 1930s made further efforts difficult. The open, dmocratic Czech state, however, offered considerable freedom for Slovaks in a Czech-dominated country. Czechoslovakia was the only east European country to remain a parliamentary democracy during the inter-War era. Even so, there were problems, not only the Czech-Slovak conflict but also problems in the substantial German minority. Especially in the 1930s with the advent of he Great Depresion, resntment grew in Slovakia over the Czech-dominated Government. Right wing groups began agitating or independence. Some Slovak Church leaders participated in the independemnce movement. mmigration increased. Another problrem was the German minority. Over 20 percent of the population was German who were mostly concentrated in the German/Austrian border regions called the Sudetenland. After the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933, they began to promote unrest and the German press reported real and imagined invcidents, accusing the Czechs of brutally supressing the German minority. President Masaryk was succeeded as president by Edvard Beneš in 1935.

Early German Aggressions

Germany path to World War II can be seemn in a series of steps begun even before the seizure of power by the NAZIs. The Germany military even in Weimar Republic was violating the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Many Germans and not just NAZIs viewed the Versailles Treaty as unfair and affornt to national honor. NAZI Germany withdrew from the Laeague of Nations soon after Hiltler seized power in 1933, but the next few years were spent in supressing domestic oppositon and steadily excluding Jews from national life. The NAZIs next proceeded with a series of steps aimed a regaining control of parts of Gernmany that had been occupied or of German populations placed under non-German rule. The NAZIs renounced the provisions of the Versailles Treaty limiting arms production in 1935. The NAZIs remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 and carried out the Anchluss with Austria in early 1938. These actions could be seen as domestic German matters. The next target was Czecheslovakia which had been created by the Versilles Peace Treaty.

Anschluss (March 1938)

There was considerable sentiment in both Germany and Austria after World War I to join the two German-speaking states. France adamently refused. Hitler after seizing power revived the issues. Austrain NAZIs were encouraged to promote the idea. Hitler and Austrian NAZIs throughout 1937 demanded an Anschluss with Austria. Belaegered Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg on March 9, 1938, announced plans to hold a plebiscite on the independence of Austria. Hitler used this opportunity to take action against the Austrian state. The NAZIs with the Wehrmacht on the border pressed Schuschnigg was pressed to resign. The NAZI surrogate, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, took over the chancellorship and formed a new government dominated by the Austrian NAZIs. The German Wehrmacht and the SS, armed with list of NAZI opponents, crossed the German-Austrian frontier (March 12). Hitler the following day on March 13, speaking before a jubilent crowd in Linz, announced the "Anschluss" (Annexation) of Austria into the German Reich. Joyous celebrations occurred throught Austria. Even while the celebrations were going on, the SS and local NAZIs began rounding up those who had opposed the NAZIs. Violence occured against the Jews. Jewish students and professors were attacked in universities. Jews at random were dragged into the streets to scrub the sidewalks on their hands and knees--surounded by taunting crowds. The Anschluss which added Austria to the German Reich irrevocably changed the European ballance of power. NAZI Germany had been violating the Versailles Treaty. The question was would Britain and France force the treaty which would have required an invasion. The union of Austria and Germany was expressly prohibited by the Versailles Treaty. Hitler by this time had demonstrted the new Luftwaffe (alsp prohibited by Versailles) in Spain. The prospect of Germany bombing mjor cities terrified British and French political figures. As a result, neither Britain or France resisted the Anschluss.

Next NAZI Victim: Czechoslovakia

Quickly after annexing Austria, Hitler turbed to his next victim. Czecheslovakia like Austria was a creation of the hated Versailles Peace Treaty. Hitler was very careful. As with his domestic enenies, he went after one at a time. While focusing on Austria, he muted criticism of Czrechoslovaki and Poland, ywo new states hecplanned to destroy. After the Austrian Anchluss, Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia. His major claim was that the ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. This was, however, not the limit of the tirades aginst the Czechs. The propaganda campaign over seen by Propaganda Minister Goebbels portrayed the Czechs as racially inferior and because of this the Czechs lived in povery and want, unable to createarosperous state abd civilization. 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, a border region with a majority German population. Thus durung the resulting crisis. The tenions that Hitler steadily esclted would led to the Munich Conference. And at Munich Hitler insisted that he just wanted to unite Germans and did not threaten the Czechs. And he would personally assure Chmberlin that he wanted no Czechs--only Germans.

Munich Conference (September 1938)

Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister 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. It looked in September as if war was imminent. Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference in a last minute effort to prevent war (September 28, 1938). The conference was held at Berchegarten, Hitler's mountain top refuge. Hitler and his ally Mussolini met with Primeminister Chmberlain and Premier Daladier. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted about the discussions. The British and French gave in to Hitler's demands. The result was the Munich Agreement which was signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain (September 29). The Czechoslovak government, deserted by its allies, capitulated the following day and agreed to abide by the agreement forced upon (September 30). Chamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed by Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." Churchill was apauled. The British and French people were releaved. One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not invited to attend the conference drew the inescapable conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler.

Results of the Munich Conference

The Munich Conference had immediate results. Even after the British and French capitulated at Munich, many Czechs still wanted to resist. There was some sentiment for this among both political and military leaders. Mass meetings in Prague protested the Munich Accord. Many demanded that the Government resist. Both the nationalist and Communists wanted the Government to resist. Workers came out in force. The Czech Army had been mobilized and was ready to fight. President Beneš decided to accept the terms of the Munich accords. He looked on the bloodletting that would have resulted. The power of the Luftwaffe was undoubtedly a major factor. 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). 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. Capitulation to the NAZIs is not what the Czechs in the Sudetenland or beyond had expected. They thought the Czech Army aided by the Allies would resist. Thus the Czechs in the Sudetenlnd stayed put and few made plans to leave. Nir did the Czech Government make plans to care for refugees. As a result, when the Czechs announced compliance with the terms of the Munich Conference , the Czechs were surprises. And the Czechs in the Sudetenland had few options. They poured across the border with barely the shirts on their backs. They left homes, shops, and farms where their familes had lived for centuries. And along with them came Jews and anti-NAZI Germans having few illusions about what awaited them. Some 115,000 Czechs and 30,000 Germans fled across the border into what was left of Czech Bohemia. It was not just the Sydetenland that was lost. The rest of the country began to unravel. 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 do not seem to have understood that they were next. Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia/Carpatho-Ukraine demanded utonomy.

Slovakia Secceeds (March 14, 1939)

The NAZIs used the same tactics in Slovakia that had proiven so effective in the Sudetenland. The stirred up nationalist resistance to the Prague givernment. This time the appeal was to Slovak nationlism. 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, byt 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 connander 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.

NAZI Invasion (March 15, 1939)

Hitler threatened the Czechs with military action on several occassions after Munich. Finally he called elderly President Dr. Emil Hacha to Berlin (March 14). There after midnight Hitler haranged him. Then Göring 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 and had to be revived. He telephoned Prague ordering that there should be no resistance. Göring and Ribbentrop bullied him into signing a paper asking for German interbention. [Black, p. 512.] Thus independent, democratic Czechoslovakia became the NAZI Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Hacha told the Czech people on the radio, "I have entrusted our country to the Fuhrer and have been promised his trust." 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 (1939-45)

NAZI policies occupation policies in Czechoslovakia varied depending on the individuals ethnic background and the area of Czecheslovakia (the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia). There were also smaller areas annexed by Poland and Hungary. 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. 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 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. NAZI policies in Slovakia were more benign because the Slovaks were so slavishly supported of the NAZIS. The Slovaks took an active role in assisdting the NAZIs muder the Jewish population.

Skoda Iron Works

The Austrian Empire rose as one of the great powers in Europe and continued to be so for several centuries. Austria itself was a very small country, but the Hapsburgs turned their patrimony into a major European power. They managed to dominate the imperialmoffice of the Holy Roman Empire. They failed to expand into Swizterlands, but suceeded in expanding south into Italy and the Balkans and west into Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland. And with this multi-ethnic empire they maintained great power status. Prussia prevented them from uniting the Germans, but the reorganized austro-Hungarin Empire was stilla major European power. What the leadership of the Empire and especially Emperor Franz Joseph failed to appreciate that with the industrial revolution, power was no longer based on meerly on population, territory, and resources. The British and Germans grasped this, but not the Austrians. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had an imptant economy, but not a major industrial component. The Empire produced quality manufactured goods and charming arrisan goods like glasswear, porselin, silverd tableware, leather goods, furniture and decorative domestic pieces. The craftsmanship was recognized throyghout Europe and America. The priduction methods were, however, antiquated, little changed for centuries. They were appreciated by the connoisseur of fine workmanship. Not ionly were the industrial methods producing low-cost goods in quanity not developed, but they were actually frowned on, by those more interested in hand produced quality and craftsmanship. The very idea of industrial capitalism and the standardization and mass production to produce cheap goods which was reshaping Europe was not in keeping with very ethos of the Hapsburg Empire. This included both halfs of the Empire, Austria and Hungary. There was one exception to this mind set and it rose in Bohemia. The Skoda Works was one of the very few exceptions to the previling Imperial mindset. Firward thinking Czech financiers played a major role in the development of heavy industry wihin the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And because if it, Emil Skoda (1839-1900) became the major arms producer in the Empire. Emil Skoda, Tomas Bata (who began as a shoemaker), amd other Czech capitalists with little support from Imperial authorities began to convert Bohemia into the industria powerhouse of the Empire.

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 Whermacht occupation authorities detailed just what was in store for the Czechs.

"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."


Notice the document is signed by a Wehgrmacht officer and not a SS commander. Erich Friderici was Wehrmacht-Plenipotentiary with the Reichs Protector of Bohemia And Moravia, at the same time Commanding General in Military-District Bohemia And Moravia (1939-1941). 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 persue their diobolical plans. Friderici was never procecuted for war crimes. Only the need to maintain war production vital to the NAZI war effort prevented the NAZIs from putting their plans in opetration. We know that Heydrich on the 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 not gone wrong for Hitler, the infrastructure and expertise used to murder the Jews would have been available for the millions of Czech, Poles, Serbs and Soviet Slavs ad other target people to be eliminated or reduced as part of the effoirt to remake the ethnic map of Europe. The plans here are similar to the plans prepared for thge Soviet Union--Generalpln Ost.

Displaced Children

We do not know a great deal about displaced children in World War II Czechoslovakia. Czechoslobakialong wih Poland wre two countries created after World war I anwere Slavic countries Hitler hated. An the country was partioned rather complicating the story. Czechoslovakis was the first non-German country occupied by the NAZIs. Austria was the first country, but the great majority of Austrians wanted to be part of the Reich. The Czech Sudetenland was annexed to the Reich. Bohenmia and Moravia became a Reich Protectorate. Slovakia declared independence and became a NAZI puppet. Hungary annexed far eastern Czechoslovakia. The fate of different groups varied depending on their etnicity and where they lived. The Jews fared very badly. The NAZI Holocaust was more effective in Czechoslovakiahan most other countries because the country was occupied for such a long period. The NAZIs had time to round up almost all the Jews and find those who battempted to hide. About 90 percent of the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia perished and almost all of the children except for the few who were taken in and hidden. Some fair complexuoned children were collected as part of the SS Lebensborn program. The NAZI ethnic cleansing program aimed at Slavs launched in Poland did not occur in Czechoslovakia, except in the Sudetenland. It was something that NAZI officials were thinking about, especially Reich Protector Heydrich. The Reich Protectorate was, however, an important part of the NAZI war economy. Czech industry, especially the Skoda Works, produced needed armaments for the Germans. Thgus the NAZIs did not wantto launch a disruptive ethnic cleansing effort until after the War. We are not sure to what extent workers were seized for firced labor, but because there were armaments plants in Czechoslavkia. We suspect this was less a factor than in other countries. After the War an ethnic cleansing campaign did occur. The Czechs expelled ethnic Germans (1945-46). Losses during World War II, however, were not as great as in many other countries, especially Poland to the north. The major exception were the Czech Jews.

The Holocaust in Czechoslovakia

The Einsatzgruppen which murdered so ruthlessly in Poland and the Soviet Union were to my knowledge not employed in Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was, however, the foreign country occupied by the NAZIs for the longest period. Few Czech and Slovakian Jews survived. More than 70,000 were killed by the NAZIs. A concentration camp was set up at Thereisenstadt which the NAZIs used as a model camp to show the Red Cross and Western journalists on fact-finding missions. Hitler appointed Heydrich Reichsprotector when he preceived that Neurath was being too lenient. [Michaelis and Schraepler, p. 244.] The SS conducted operations against Slovakian Jews and were assisted by the Slovakian puppet government (March-September 1942).

Government in Exile

After the siggning of the Munich Agreement, President Beneš ordered the Czech Army not to resist the occupation of the Sudetenland. He then resigned (October 5, 1938). He flew to exile in London and with other exiles organized a Czechoslovakian Government-in-exile. The British hoping that Hitler had been apeased did not recognize Beneš. Even after Hitler violated the Munich Agreement and invaded Czecheslovakia (March 1939), the British still did not recognize him. This only came with Hitler's invasion of Poland and the start of World War II (September 1939). The British organized Czech military units including a RAF detachment for those Czechs who managed to get to England. Beneš was sensitive to the charge that the Czechs were cooperating with the German war effort. He suported a plan to asasinate Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich with British-trained agents, knowing that massive reprisals against civilians would occur. The Allies recognized the exiled government (Summer 1941) and repudiated the Munich Agreement (1942). Beneš worked toward ensuring that the country's pre-War borders would be restored. He also sought to resolve the German minority problem. He received consent from the Allies for a solution based on the transfer of the Sudeten German population after the War.

Czechs Fighting with the Allies

Some Czechs managed to reach the West and fight with the Allies. Other reached the Soviet Union and fought with on the Eastern Front. A Czech squadrin was formed in the RAF and foughtbin the Battle of Britain. The British problem during the Battle of Britain was never planes, but rather experienced pilots. Thus the Czechs and two Polish squadrons made a valuable contribution. The Czechs also participated in the North African campaign. A Czechoslovak battalion was formed in the Red Army The Battalion made an important contribution in fighting at Kharkov.

Liberation (August 1944-May 1945)

Czechoslovakia is a long, but relatively narrow country. Thus the liberation of the country was prolonged and was accomplished by the most diverse forces of any country during the War. Stalin's focus was to the north in the drive through Poland to Berlin. The Red Army moving from east to west thus took some time to liberate the country. The process began even before the Red army reached the Czech border. The Beneš Government-in exile signed an agreement with the Soviets providing that that Czech territory liberated by the Red Army would be turned over to Czech civilian control (May 8, 1944). Czech troops and the Resustance participated in the process as did the RussianLiberation Army (RLA). The Red Army destruction of Army Group Center opened up the liberation of Czechoslovakia (July-August 1944). The Slovaks rose up as the Red Army approached (August 1944), but as in Warsaw, Stalin ordered the Red Army to hild to allow the Germans to eliminate non-Communist nationalist groups. Czech troops fighting with the Red army reached Czechoslovakia (September 1944). The Soviets detached Sub-Carpathean Ruthenia. The toughest fighting was in Prague (May 1945). Hitler commited an SS Armored Division to hold Prague, a division which could hsve been used to defend Berlin. Pattons Third Army also reached Bohemia in the west. Except for the fighting in Prague in the final days of the War, Czechoslovakia suffered relstively little damage in the War.

Czech Expulsion of Germans (1945-47)

Ethenic cleaning had bee a major concern of the NAZIs. Murdering Jews was just the beginning. Expelling Poles occurred immediately after the invasion of Poland. The NAZI Generalplan Ost spelled out in chilling detail what there were intentions were. In the protectorate ethnic Germans including Sudetetn Germans played a major role in the brutal NAZI occupation regime. After the War, the large numbers of ethnic Germans living in Eastern German became targets for the people abused by the NAZIs. This was especially the case in Czechoslovakia and Poland. The Beneš decrees were the legal basis for the expulsions in Czechoslovakia. The result was a humanitarian disaster, especially during the the summer months of 1945, after the NAZI surrender and before authorities had established control. Czech soldiers, security forces, and local militias expelled more than 0.7 million Sudeten Germans to Allied occupied Germany and Austria. One report claims that 30,000 Germans died as a result of forced marches, concentration camps (facilities originally built by the NAZIs), summary executions, and massacres. By the end of the year, Czech authorities has regularized the expullsions. The Czechs began organizing train transports (January 1946). The train trasports consisted of forty wagons with 30 passengers per wagon. (NAZI transports were much more crowed.) The trains left Czech stations for the American occupation zone. This was because the American zone was in the south. We are not sure why there were no transports to the Soviet zone. Czech authorities by the end of the year had finished with expullsion of 2 milluon Sudenten and other Czech Germans. Some estimates are as high as 2.6 million. The Potsdam Agreements had endorsed the "organized transfer" of populations. The Czechs generally met this requirement in 1946, but the expulsions in 1945 had certainly not met the Potsdam mandate that they be “orderly and humane". [Glassheim]

Personal Experiences

We are interested in collecting personal experiences of Czechs in the War. One boy in Bruno reports, "My memory of WWII goes back to the time I was a young boy living in Brno, Czechoslovakia. As the war was coming closer to our village, my mother shipped me off to a friend's house in the countryside. When the sky was clear we could see U.S. Army Air Corps planes, which looked like small silver crosses, flying over our little village. One day, a friend and I were standing in the middle of the village street goggling up at the silver crosses. We were fascinated by what looked like even smaller crosses weaving in and out of each formation. Out of nowhere, a single engine plane flew several hundred feet above our heads at a steep angle and crashed about a kilometer away. Arriving at the crash site, we saw a partially burned American fighter plane surrounded by jubilant German soldiers. I wish I could express my condolences and gratitude to that brave pilot who gave his life for what at that time was my homeland." [Schejbal]

Sources

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

Czech Institute for Refugee Assistance.

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.

Glassheim, Eagle. "National Mythologies and Ethnic Cleansing: The Expulsion of Czechoslovak Germans in 1945," Central European History (2000), Vol. 33, pp. 463-86. This journal is published by the Cambridge University Press.

Schejbal, Dusan. "Gratitude to an unknown pilot," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.






CIH







Navigate the CIH World WarII Pages:
[Return to Main NAZI occupied East page]
[Return to Main lebensborn page]
[Return to Main World War II country C-F page]
[Return to Main Czechoslovakia history page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Main World War II page]




Created: 5:21 AM 12/6/2005
Last updated: 11:04 PM 3/13/2016