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Sudetenland Reichsgau 1944
Sudetendeutsche

After France was defeated in the Battle of France, Vichy France was established as a client state of Nazi Germany, which remained as such until 1942 when it was reduced to a puppet government until its liberation in 1944. Germany also established, in its newly conquered Eastern territories, client states including the Slovak Republic, the Croatian State, and the Serbian State.

 

Czech–German Relations

Czech–German relations date back some 1,500 years. Today, the two countries share 815 km of common borders. The Czech Republic has an embassy in Berlin, 3 general consulates (in Bonn, Dresden and Munich), and 6 honorary consulates (in Dortmund, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Nürnberg, Rostock and Stuttgart). Germany has an embassy in Prague. Both countries are full members of NATO and of the European Union.

Bohemia and Moravia (the bulk of the modern Czech Republic) were settled in the 6th century by the Czechs, during the post-Roman migration of peoples. Later German settlers came to constitute a minority in the Czech lands and relations between the two communities were generally amiable during this period. After the extinction of the Czech Přemyslid dynasty, the Kingdom of Bohemia came to be ruled by the House of Luxembourg, the Jagiellonians, and finally the Habsburgs. During the Thirty Years' War, the Protestant Czechs sought to resist Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II's attempt at reintroducing Catholicism. After the Czechs' defeat at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Czech nobility and the educated Protestant population was slaughtered and exiled, the Czech lands were made a hereditary possession of the Austrian Empire and German was made the official language. The Czech language decreased in prominence, as the government and aristocracy operated in German, and became endangered until the Czech National Revival in the late 19th century. Tensions deteriorated between the Czechs and the Germans, and during World War I, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk convinced American President Woodrow Wilson to establish a Czechoslovak state in Central Europe on the principle of national self-determination, after 300 years of Austrian domination. The Czech portion of the newly-formed state consisted of the bulk of the historic Kingdom of Bohemia, which left a significant German minority (30% of the total population) in the nation's borderlands.

After Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, the Nazi German government sought to inflame nationalistic tensions in neighbouring Czechoslovakia, and Hitler instructed local Nazi leader Konrad Henlein, the leader of the German minority in the Czech borderlands, to make unreasonable demands on the Czech government and to attempt to paralyse the Czechoslovak republic. Ethnic German nationalists backed by Hitler demanded the union of German-speaking districts with Germany. At the height of Western Appeasement of Nazi Germany, the British and French-backed Munich Agreement granted the German areas, including all of the crucial Czechoslovak border fortifications, to Germany. Despite the Czech-French alliance, Czech officials were not invited to negotiate and were informed of the agreement only after its conclusion. The defenseless Czechoslovak state was forced to give up one third of Slovakia to Hungary, and the Těšínsko area, containing the only railway between the Czech lands and Slovakia, to Poland. The Czechoslovak leadership fled to London and several months later Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the occupants destroyed the Czechoslovak state, the only Central European parliamentary republic, and sought to "reintegrate" Bohemia and Moravia into the Nazi empire. This Nazi German policy took the form of so-called Grundplanung OA (Basic planning) from the summer of 1938, which included extermination of Czech nation, and later the genocidal Generalplan Ost.

At the conclusion of the war, as part of the general post-war flight and Allied expulsion of German minorities, the German population was expelled from Czechoslovakia. These expulsions were carried out by the army and wartime resistance forces. An estimated 2.4 million ethnic Germans were deported to East and West Germany, of whom several thousand perished in the population movement. There have been calls within Germany for the compensation of the refugees, which the Czech government has refused to entertain, citing the German occupation, wartime injustices, the German minority's support for the Nazi party, genocidal plans by the German government, and atrocities such as the Lidice Massacre.

Over 4,500, Czech Jews from Prague were sent to the Łódź Ghetto before May 1942. One of the sisters of author Franz Kafka, Valeria Pollakova (born 1890), died with them before mid-September.

After the end of the Cold War, relations warmed between the newly-reunified Federal Republic of Germany and the newly-free Czech Republic. On February 27, 1992, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Czechoslovak President Václav Havel signed a treaty of friendship, known as Czech-German Declaration. In 2012, German President Joachim Gauck and Czech President Václav Klaus jointly visited Lidice, a Czech village razed to the ground by German forces in 1942, heralding a leap in Czech-German rapprochement. As a result of the Schengen Agreement, there are no border checks between the two countries, and their borders are completely open to one another. Citizens from one state may also freely move to and work in the other state as a result of the European Union's freedom of movement for workers.

 

The Reich

Reich (/ˈraɪk/; German: [ˈʁaɪç]) is a German word literally meaning "realm". The terms Kaiserreich (literally "realm of an emperor") and Königreich (literally "realm of a king") are used in German to refer to empires and kingdoms respectively. As such, the term Deutsches Reich (often translated to "German Empire") continued to be used even after the collapse of the German Empire and abolition of the monarchy in 1918, without any imperial connotations. The term derives from the Germanic word meaning "realm" in general, but is typically used in German to designate a kingdom or an empire, especially the Roman Empire. The terms Kaisertum (roughly "Emperordom") and Kaiserreich are used in German to more specifically define an empire ruled by an emperor.

In the history of Germany specifically, it is used to refer to:

  • The early medieval Frankish Realm (Francia) and Carolingian Empire (the Fränkisches Reich and Karolingerreich)
  • The Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich), which lasted from the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800, until 1806, when it was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars
  • The German Empire (Deutsches Reich or Deutsches Kaiserreich), which lasted from the unification of Germany in 1871 until its collapse after World War I, during the German Revolution of 1918–1919
  • The Weimar Republic of 1919–1933 continued to use Deutsches Reich as its official name
  • Nazi Germany, the state often referred to as the Third Reich, which lasted from the Machtergreifung in 1933 until the end of World War II in Europe in 1945.
  • The current Federal Republic of Germany is sometimes regarded as the "Merkelreich" (named after Chancellor Angela Merkel), or Fourth Reich, but both terms tend to be used in Political satire. The term "Merkelreich", however, is used mainly by nationalists who oppose the European Union.

 

Franco-Soviet-Czech Pact

The Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance was a bilateral treaty between the two countries with the aim of enveloping Nazi Germany in 1935 in order to reduce the threat from central Europe. It was pursued by Louis Barthou, the French foreign minister, but he was assassinated before negotiations were finished. His successor, Pierre Laval, was skeptical of both the desirability and the value of an alliance with the Soviet Union. However, after the declaration of German rearmament in March 1935 the French government forced the reluctant foreign minister to complete the arrangements with Moscow that Barthou had begun. The pact was concluded in Paris on May 2, 1935 and ratified by the French government in February 1936. Ratifications were exchanged in Moscow on March 27, 1936, and the pact went into effect on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on April 18, 1936.

On May 2, 1935, France and the USSR concluded the pact of mutual assistance. Laval had taken the precaution of ensuring that the bilateral treaty agreement was strictly compatible with the multilateral provisions of the League of Nations Covenant and Locarno Treaties. What this meant in practice was that military assistance could be rendered by one signatory to the other only after an allegation of unprovoked aggression had been submitted to the League of Nations and only after prior approval of the other signatories of the Locarno pact (the United Kingdom, Italy, and Belgium) had been attained. The effectiveness of this pact was undermined even further by the French government's insistent refusal to accept a military convention stipulating the way in which the two armies would coordinate actions in the event of war with Germany.

The pact was no longer what Louis Barthou had originally planned, but it remained to serve the purpose of acting as a hollow diplomatic threat of war on two fronts for Germany, should Germany pursue an aggressive foreign policy. Most of the Locarno powers felt that it would only act as a means of dragging them into a suicidal war with Germany for Russia's benefit. It marked a large scale shift in Soviet policy in the Seventh Congress of the Comintern from a pro-revisionist stance against the Treaty of Versailles to a more western-oriented foreign policy as championed by Maxim Litvinov. Adolf Hitler justified the remilitarization of the Rhineland by the ratification of the treaty in the French parliament, claiming that he felt threatened by the pact. Some have regarded this justification as insincere. Former World War I Liberal British Prime Minister David Lloyd George stated in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom that Hitler's actions in the wake of this pact were fully justified, and he would have been a traitor to Germany if he had not protected his country.

 

The Sudetenland (1934–1945)

The Sudetenland (Czech and Slovak: Sudety) is the German name (used in English in the first half of the 20th century) to refer to those northern, southern, and western areas of Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by ethnic German speakers, specifically the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Czech Silesia located within Czechoslovakia, since they were part of Austria until the end of World War I.

Sudetenland is a compound word where Land means "country" and Sudeten is the German name of the Sudetes mountains, which run along the northern Czech border and Lower Silesia (now in Poland), although Sudetenland encompassed areas well beyond those mountains.

The word "Sudetenland" did not come into existence until the early 20th century and did not come to prominence until after the First World War, when the German-dominated Austria-Hungary was dismembered and the Sudeten Germans found themselves living in the new country of Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten crisis of 1938 was provoked by the demands of Nazi Germany that the Sudetenland be annexed to Germany, which in fact took place after the later infamous Munich Agreement. Part of the borderland was invaded and annexed by Poland. When Czechoslovakia was reconstituted after the Second World War, the Sudeten Germans were largely expelled, and the region today is inhabited almost exclusively by Czech speakers.

Parts of the current Czech regions of Karlovy Vary, Liberec, Olomouc, Moravia-Silesia, and Ústí nad Labem are situated within the former Sudetenland.

According to the February 1921 census, 3,123,000 native German speakers lived in Czechoslovakia—23.4% of the total population. The controversies between the Czechs and the German-speaking minority lingered on throughout the 1920s, and intensified in the 1930s.

During the Great Depression the mostly mountainous regions populated by the German minority, together with other peripheral regions of Czechoslovakia, were hurt by the economic depression more than the interior of the country. Unlike the less developed regions (Ruthenia, Moravian Wallachia), the Sudetenland had a high concentration of vulnerable export-dependent industries (such as glass works, textile industry, paper-making, and toy-making industry). 60% of the bijouterie and glass-making industry were located in the Sudetenland, 69% of employees in this sector were Germans speaking according to mother tongue, and 95% of bijouterie and 78% of other glassware was produced for export. The glass-making sector was affected by decreased spending power and also by protective measures in other countries and many German workers lost their work.

The high unemployment made people more open to populist and extremist movements such as fascism, communism, and German irredentism. In these years, the parties of German nationalists and later the Nazi Sudeten German National Socialist Party (SdP) with its radical demands gained immense popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia. After 1933 Czechoslovakia remained the only free REPUBLIC in central and eastern Europe.

The increasing aggressiveness of Hitler prompted the Czechoslovak military to build extensive border fortifications starting in 1936 to defend the troubled border region.

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1-10, 1938. The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was subsequently invaded by Germany in March 1939, with a portion being annexed and the remainder turned into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The Slovak part declared its independence from Czechoslovakia, becoming the Slovak Republic (Slovak State), a satellite state and ally of Nazi Germany.

 

German Occupation of Czechoslovakia
"Sudetenland" under the Nazi Empire

The German occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938–1945) began with the German annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, formerly being part of German-Austria known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. German leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this action was the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in those regions. New and extensive Czechoslovak border fortifications were also located in the same area.

Nazi Germany 1934–1945
Following the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany, in March 1938, the conquest of Czechoslovakia became Hitler's next ambition. The incorporation of the Sudetenland into Germany that began on 1 October 1938 left the rest of Czechoslovakia weak, and it became powerless to resist subsequent occupation. On 15 March 1939, the German Wehrmacht moved into the remainder of Czechoslovakia and, from Prague Castle, Hitler proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The occupation ended with the surrender of Germany following World War II.

Sudeten German pro-Nazi leader Konrad Henlein offered the Sudeten German Party (SdP) as the agent for Hitler's campaign. Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, where he was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government led by president Edvard Beneš. On 24 April, the SdP issued the Karlsbader Programm, demanding autonomy for the Sudetenland and the freedom to profess National Socialist ideology. If Henlein's demands were granted, the Sudetenland would then be able to align itself with Nazi Germany.

"I am asking neither that Germany be allowed to oppress three and a half million Frenchmen, nor am I asking that three and a half million Englishmen be placed at our mercy. Rather I am simply demanding that the oppression of three and a half million Germans in Czechoslovakia cease and that the inalienable right to self-determination take its place."
— Adolf Hitler's speech at the NSDAP Congress 1938

 

Munich Agreement

As the tepid reaction to the German Anschluss with Austria had shown, the governments of France, the United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia were set on avoiding war at any cost. The French government did not wish to face Germany alone and took its lead from the British government and its prime minister, Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain contended that Sudeten German grievances were justified and believed that Hitler's intentions were limited. Britain and France, therefore, advised Czechoslovakia to concede to the German demands. Beneš resisted, and on 20 May 1938 a partial mobilization was under way in response to possible German invasion. 10 days later, Hitler signed a secret directive for war against Czechoslovakia to begin no later than October 1.

In the meantime, the British government demanded that Beneš request a mediator. Not wishing to sever his government's ties with Western Europe, Beneš reluctantly accepted. The British appointed Lord Runciman and instructed him to persuade Beneš to agree to a plan acceptable to the Sudeten Germans. On 2 September, Beneš submitted the Fourth Plan, granting nearly all the demands of the Karlsbader Programm. Intent on obstructing conciliation, however, the SdP held demonstrations that provoked police action in Ostrava on 7 September. The Sudeten Germans broke off negotiations on 13 September, after which violence and disruption ensued. As Czechoslovak troops attempted to restore order, Henlein flew to Germany, and on 15 September issued a proclamation demanding the takeover of the Sudetenland by Germany.

On the same day, Hitler met with Chamberlain and demanded the swift takeover of the Sudetenland by the Third Reich under threat of war. The Czechs, Hitler claimed, were slaughtering the Sudeten Germans. Chamberlain referred the demand to the British and French governments; both accepted. The Czechoslovak government resisted, arguing that Hitler's proposal would ruin the nation's economy and lead ultimately to German control of all of Czechoslovakia. The United Kingdom and France issued an ultimatum, making a French commitment to Czechoslovakia contingent upon acceptance. On 21 September, Czechoslovakia capitulated. The next day, however, Hitler added new demands, insisting that the claims of Poland and Hungary also be satisfied.

The Czechoslovak capitulation precipitated an outburst of national indignation. In demonstrations and rallies, Czechs and Slovaks called for a strong military government to defend the integrity of the state. A new cabinet—under General Jan Syrový—was installed, and on 23 September 1938 a decree of general mobilization was issued. The Czechoslovak army—modern and possessing an excellent system of frontier fortifications—was prepared to fight. The Soviet Union announced its willingness to come to Czechoslovakia's assistance. Beneš, however, refused to go to war without the support of the Western powers.

On 28 September, Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference. Hitler met the next day, at Munich, with the chiefs of governments of France, Italy and Britain. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted. On 29 September, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain. The Czechoslovak government capitulated on 30 September and agreed to abide by the agreement. The Munich Agreement stipulated that Czechoslovakia must cede Sudeten territory to Germany. German occupation of the Sudetenland would be completed by 10 October. An international commission representing Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Czechoslovakia would supervise a plebiscite to determine the final frontier. Britain and France promised to join in an international guarantee of the new frontiers against unprovoked aggression. Germany and Italy, however, would not join in the guarantee until the Polish and Hungarian minority problems were settled.

On 5 October 1938, Beneš resigned as President of Czechoslovakia, realising that the fall of Czechoslovakia was a fait accompli. Following the outbreak of World War II, he would form a Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London.

 

First Vienna Award

In early November 1938, under the First Vienna Award, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia)—after it had failed to reach a compromise with Hungary and Poland—was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary, while Poland invaded Zaolzie territory shortly after.

As a result, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia lost about 38% of their combined area to Germany, with some 3.2 million German and 750,000 Czech inhabitants. Hungary, in turn, received 11,882 km2 (4,588 sq mi) in southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia; according to a 1941 census, about 86.5% of the population in this territory was Hungarian. Meanwhile, Poland annexed the town of Český Těšín with the surrounding area (some 906 km2 (350 sq mi)), some 250,000 inhabitants, Poles made about 36% of population, and two minor border areas in northern Slovakia, more precisely in the regions Spiš and Orava. (226 km2 (87 sq mi), 4,280 inhabitants, only 0.3% Poles).

Soon after Munich, 115,000 Czechs and 30,000 Germans fled to the remaining rump of Czechoslovakia. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees on 1 March 1939 stood at almost 150,000.

On 4 December 1938, there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for the National Socialist Party. About 500,000 Sudeten Germans joined the National Socialist Party, which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average National Socialist Party participation in Nazi Germany was 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland was the most pro-Nazi region in the Third Reich. Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and in Nazi organizations (Gestapo, etc.) The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank, the SS and police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.

 

Second Czechoslovak Republic (October 1938 to March 1939)

The greatly weakened Czechoslovak Republic was forced to grant major concessions to the non-Czechs. The executive committee of the Slovak People's Party met at Žilina on 5 October 1938, and with the acquiescence of all Slovak parties except the Social Democrats formed an autonomous Slovak government under Jozef Tiso. Similarly, the two major factions in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the Russophiles and Ukrainophiles, agreed on the establishment of an autonomous government, which was constituted on 8 October. Reflecting the spread of modern Ukrainian national consciousness, the pro-Ukrainian faction, led by Avhustyn Voloshyn, gained control of the local government and Subcarpathian Ruthenia was renamed Carpatho-Ukraine.

A last-ditch attempt to save Czechoslovakia from total ruin was made by the British and French governments, who on 27 January 1939, concluded an agreement of financial assistance with the Czechoslovak government. In this agreement, the British and French governments undertook to lend the Czechoslovak government ₤8 million and make a gift of ₤4 million. Part of the funds were allocated to help resettle Czechs and Slovaks who had fled from territories lost to Germany, Hungary, and Poland in the Munich Agreement or the Vienna Arbitration Award.

In November 1938, Emil Hácha—succeeding Beneš—was elected president of the federated Second Republic, renamed Czecho-Slovakia and consisting of three parts: Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, and Carpatho-Ukraine. Lacking its natural frontier and having lost its costly system of border fortification, the new state was militarily indefensible. In January 1939, negotiations between Germany and Poland broke down. Hitler—intent on war against Poland—needed to eliminate Czechoslovakia first. He scheduled a German invasion of Bohemia and Moravia for the morning of 15 March. In the interim, he negotiated with the Slovak People's Party and with Hungary to prepare the dismemberment of the republic before the invasion. On 13 March, he invited Tiso to Berlin and on 14 March, the Slovak Diet convened and unanimously declared Slovak independence. Carpatho-Ukraine also declared independence but Hungarian troops occupied it on 15 March and eastern Slovakia on 23 March.

Hitler summoned President Hácha to Berlin and during the early hours of 15 March, informed Hácha of the imminent German invasion. Threatening a Luftwaffe attack on Prague, Hitler persuaded Hácha to order the capitulation of the Czechoslovak army. Hácha suffered a heart attack during the meeting, and had to be kept awake by medical staff, eventually giving in and accepting Hitler's surrender terms. Then on the morning of 15 March, German troops entered Bohemia and Moravia, meeting practically no resistance (the only instance of organized resistance took place in Místek where an infantry company commanded by Karel Pavlík fought invading German troops). The Hungarian invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine encountered resistance but the Hungarian army quickly crushed it. On 16 March, Hitler went to Czechoslovakia and from Prague Castle proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Thus, independent Czechoslovakia collapsed in the wake of foreign aggression and internal tensions. Subsequently, interwar Czechoslovakia has been idealized by its proponents as the only bastion of freedom surrounded by authoritarian and fascist regimes. It has also been condemned by its detractors as an artificial and unworkable creation of intellectuals supported by the great powers. Interwar Czechoslovakia comprised lands and peoples that were far from being integrated into a modern nation-state. Moreover, the dominant Czechs—who had suffered political discrimination under the Habsburgs—were not able to cope with the demands of other nationalities; however, some of the minority demands served as mere pretexts to justify intervention by Germany. Czechoslovakia was able to maintain a viable economy and a democratic political system under the adverse circumstances of the inter-war period.

 

World War II

Division of Czechoslovakia

Protectorate of Bohemia & Moravia, Slovak Republic (1939-1945), Carpathian Ukraine

Shortly before World War II, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Its territory was divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the newly declared Slovak State and the short lived Carpathian Ukraine. While the considerable part of Czechoslovakia was directly joined to the Third Reich, the Carpathian Ukraine was swiftly overrun by the Hungarian Forces and aided by Poland. Some parts (e.g., Zaolzie, Southern Slovakia) were annexed by Poland and Hungary in the fall of 1938. The Zaolzie region was directly joined to the Third Reich after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

The German economy—burdened by heavy militarisation—urgently needed foreign currency. Setting up an artificially high exchange rate between the Czechoslovak Koruna and the Reichsmark brought consumer goods to Germans (and soon created shortages in the Czech lands).

Czechoslovakia was a major manufacturer of machine guns, tanks, and artillery, most of which were assembled in the Škoda factory and had a modern army of 35 divisions. Many of these factories continued to produce Czech designs until factories were converted for German designs. Czechoslovakia also had other major manufacturing companies. Entire steel and chemical factories were moved from Czechoslovakia and reassembled in Linz, Austria which incidentally remains a heavily industrialized sector of the country. In a speech delivered in Reichstag, Hitler stressed also the military importance of occupation, noting that by occupying Czechoslovakia, Germany gained 2,175 field cannons, 469 tanks, 500 anti-aircraft artillery pieces, 43,000 machine guns, 1,090,000 military rifles, 114,000 pistols, about a billion rounds of ammunition and three millions of anti-aircraft grenades. This amount of weaponry would be sufficient to arm about half of the then Wehrmacht. Czechoslovak weaponry later played major part in the German conquest of Poland and France, the countries that pressured the country's surrender to Germany in 1938.

 

Czechoslovak Resistance

Czech resistance to German Nazi occupation during World War II is a scarcely documented subject, by and large a result of little formal resistance and an effective German policy that deterred acts of resistance or annihilated organizations of resistance. In the early days of the war, the Czech population participated in boycotts of public transport and some mass protest demonstrations took place.

Beneš—the leader of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile—and František Moravec—head of Czechoslovak military intelligence—organized and coordinated a resistance network. Hácha, Prime Minister Alois Eliáš, and the Czechoslovak resistance acknowledged Beneš's leadership. Active collaboration between London and the Czechoslovak home front was maintained throughout the war years. The most important event of the resistance was Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, SS leader Heinrich Himmler's deputy and the then Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Infuriated, Hitler ordered the arrest and execution of 10,000 randomly selected Czechs. Over 10,000 were arrested, and at least 1,300 executed. According to one estimate, 5,000 were killed in reprisals. The assassination resulted in one of the most well-known reprisals of the war. The Nazis completely destroyed the villages of Lidice and Ležáky; all men over 16 years from the village were murdered, and the rest of the population was sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all the children were killed.

The Czechoslovak resistance comprised four main groups:

  • The army command coordinated with a multitude of spontaneous groupings to form the Defense of the Nation (Obrana národa, ON) with branches in Britain and France. Czechoslovak units and formations with Czechs (c. 65–70%), and Slovaks (c. 30%) served with the Polish Army (Czechoslovak Legion), the French Army, the Royal Air Force, the British Army (the 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade), and the Red Army (I Corps). Two thousand eighty-eight Czechs and 401 Slovaks fought in 11th Infantry Battalion-East alongside the British during the war in areas such as North Africa and Palestine. Among others, Czech fighter pilot, Sergeant Josef František was one of the most famous Czech personalities as being among The Few's top aces in the Battle of Britain.
  • Beneš's collaborators, led by Prokop Drtina, created the Political Center (Politické ústředí, PÚ). The PÚ was nearly destroyed by arrests in November 1939, after which younger politicians took control.
  • Social democrats and leftist intellectuals, in association with such groups as trade unions and educational institutions, constituted the Committee of the Petition that We Remain Faithful (Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme, PVVZ).
  • The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) was the fourth major resistance group. The KSČ had been one of over 20 political parties in the democratic First Republic, but it had never gained sufficient votes to unsettle the democratic government. After the Munich Agreement, the leadership of the KSČ moved to Moscow and the party went underground. Until 1943, however, KSČ resistance was weak. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, had left the KSČ in disarray. But ever faithful to the Soviet line, the KSČ began a more active struggle against the Germans after Operation Barbarossa, Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The democratic groups—ON, PÚ, and PVVZ—united in early 1940 and formed the Central Committee of the Home Resistance (Ústřední výbor odboje domácího, ÚVOD). Involved primarily in intelligence gathering, the ÚVOD cooperated with a Soviet intelligence organization in Prague. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the democratic groups attempted to create a united front that would include the KSČ. Heydrich's appointment in the fall thwarted these efforts. By mid-1942, the Germans had succeeded in exterminating the most experienced elements of the Czechoslovak resistance forces.

Czechoslovak forces regrouped in 1942–1943. The Council of the Three (R3)—in which the communist underground was also represented—emerged as the focal point of the resistance. The R3 prepared to assist the liberating armies of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In cooperation with Red Army partisan units, the R3 developed a guerrilla structure.

Guerrilla activity intensified with a rising number of parachuted units in 1944, leading to establishment of partisan groups such as 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of Jan Žižka, Jan Kozina Brigade or Master Jan Hus Brigade, and especially after the formation of a provisional Czechoslovak government in Košice on 4 April 1945. "National committees" took over the administration of towns as the Germans were expelled. More than 4,850 such committees were formed between 1944 and the end of the war under the supervision of the Red Army. On 5 May, a national uprising began spontaneously in Prague, and the newly formed Czech National Council (Česká národní rada) almost immediately assumed leadership of the revolt. Over 1,600 barricades were erected throughout the city, and some 30,000 Czech men and women battled for three days against 37,000–40,000 German troops backed by tanks and artillery. On 8 May, the German Wehrmacht capitulated; Soviet troops arrived on 9 May.

 

International Students' Day

International Students' Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague after demonstrations against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Nazi Germany closed all Czech universities and colleges, sent over 1200 students to Nazi concentration camps, and had 9 student leaders executed (on November 17).

 

Consolidation of Resistance Groups: ÚVOD

The Czech resistance network that existed during the early years of the Second World War operated under the leadership of Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš, who together with the head of Czechoslovak military intelligence, František Moravec, coordinated resistance activity while in exile in London. In the context of German persecution, the major resistance groups consolidated under the Central Leadership of Home Resistance (Ústřední vedení odboje domácího, ÚVOD). It served as the principal clandestine intermediary between Beneš and the Protectorate, which was in existence through 1941. Its long-term purpose was to serve as a shadow government until Czechoslovakia's liberation from Nazi occupation.

The three major resistance groups that consolidated under ÚVOD were the Political Centre (Politické ústředí, PÚ), the Committee of the Petition "We Remain Faithful" (Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme, PVVZ), and the Nation's defense (Obrana národa, ON). These groups were all democratic in nature, as opposed to the fourth official resistance group, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). Most of their members were former officers of the disbanded Czechoslovak Army. In 1941, ÚVOD endorsed the political platform designed by the leftist group PVVZ, titled "For Freedom: Into a New Czechoslovak Republic”. In it, ÚVOD professed allegiance to the democratic ideals of past-Czechoslovak president Tomáš Masaryk, called for the establishment of a republic with socialist features, and urged all those in exile to stay in step with the socialist advances at home.

In addition to serving as the means of communication between London and Prague, the ÚVOD was also responsible for the transmission of intelligence and military reports. It did so primarily through the use of a secret radio station, which could reach the Czech population. However, the ÚVOD was known to transmit inaccurate reports, whether false intelligence data or military updates. Sometimes this was intentional. Beneš often urged the ÚVOD to relay falsely optimistic reports of the military situation to improve morale or motivate more widespread resistance.

While the ÚVOD served a principal aid to Beneš, it did sometimes depart from his policies. During the summer of 1941, the ÚVOD rejected Beneš' proposals for partial expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the conclusion of the war and instead demanded their complete expulsion. The ÚVOD succeeded in changing Beneš' official stance on this issue.

 

ÚVOD and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ)

The ÚVOD's relationship with the KSČ was an important aspect of its daily functions, as Soviet-Czech relations became a central part of their resistance efforts. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 marked a turning point in Soviet-Czechoslovak relations. Before the invasion, "the main Communist objective was to stop the imperialist war" and was often sympathetic to the German workers of the Reich. After the invasion, the Resistance began to rely on communist support both within Czechoslovakia and from Moscow. In a broadcast from London on 24 June 1941 via the ÚVOD, Beneš informed his country that "the relationship between our two states thus returned to the pre-Munich situation and the old friendship".

While the KSČ was not an official part of the ÚVOD and kept its organisational independence, it called for unity of action with all anti-Fascist groups. Leaders of the KSČ ingratiated themselves with the ÚVOD by helping to maintain Soviet-Czechoslovak relations. Beneš often used these KSČ leaders to arrange meetings in Moscow to expand the Soviet-Czechoslovak partnership. There is some evidence that the ÚVOD may have warned the Russians about the German invasion in April 1941. In March 1941, Beneš received intelligence regarding a German build-up of troops on the Soviet Union's borders. According to his memoirs, he immediately passed on that information to the Americans, British and Soviet Union. The KSČ's fate was also closely linked with the ÚVOD's. It too suffered annihilation after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, unable to rebound until 1944.

 

The Czech Resistance + Heydrich Assassination

Operation Anthropoid

The most famous act of Czechoslovak resistance was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich on 27 May 1942 by Czechoslovak soldiers Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík. In many ways, the ÚVOD's demise was forecast with Heydrich's appointment as the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia in the autumn of 1941. By the end of September, Heydrich had organised the arrest of nearly all members of the ÚVOD and successfully cut off all links between the ÚVOD and London.

The Nazi reaction to Heydrich's assassination is often credited with the annihilation of an effective Czech underground movement after 1942. The Nazis exacted revenge, razing to the ground the two villages of Lidice and Ležáky. In October 1942, 1,331 people were sentenced to death by German courts in the Protectorate, one thousand Jews were sent directly from Prague to Mauthausen concentration camp, and an additional 252 people were sent to Mauthausen for involvement with the assassination plot. Finally, in the wake of the Nazi revenge, the last remaining members of the ÚVOD were arrested.

 

Slovak National Uprising

The Slovak National Uprising ("1944 Uprising") was an armed struggle between German Wehrmacht forces and rebel Slovak troops August–October 1944. It was centered at Banská Bystrica.

The rebel Slovak Army, formed to fight the Germans, had an estimated 18,000 soldiers in August, a total which first increased to 47,000 after mobilisation on 9 September 1944, and later to 60,000, plus 20,000 partisans. However, in late August, German troops were able to disarm the Eastern Slovak Army, which was the best equipped, and thus significantly decreased the power of the Slovak Army. Many members of this force were sent to concentration camps in the Third Reich; others escaped and joined partisan units.

The Slovaks were aided in the Uprising by soldiers and partisans from the USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, and Poland. In total, 32 nations were involved in the Uprising.

 

Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile

Edvard Beneš had resigned as president of the first Czechoslovak Republic on 5 October 1938 after the Nazi coup. In London, he and other Czechoslovak exiles organized a Czechoslovak government-in-exile and negotiated to obtain international recognition for the government and a renunciation of the Munich Agreement and its consequences. After World War II broke out, a Czechoslovak national committee was constituted in France, and under Beneš's presidency sought international recognition as the exiled government of Czechoslovakia. This attempt led to some minor successes, such as the French-Czechoslovak treaty of 2 October 1939, which allowed for the reconstitution of the Czechoslovak army on French territory, yet full recognition was not reached. (The Czechoslovak army in France was established on 24 January 1940, and units of its 1st Infantry Division took part in the last stages of the Battle of France, as did some Czechoslovak fighter pilots in various French fighter squadrons.)

Beneš hoped for a restoration of the Czechoslovak state in its pre-Munich form after the anticipated Allied victory, a false hope. The government in exile—with Beneš as president of republic—was set up in June 1940 in exile in London, with the President living at Aston Abbotts. On 18 July 1940, it was recognised by the British government. Belatedly, the Soviet Union (in the summer of 1941) and the U.S. (in the winter) recognised the exiled government. In 1942, Allied repudiation of the Munich Agreement established the political and legal continuity of the First Republic and de jure recognition of Beneš's de facto presidency. The success of Operation Anthropoid—which resulted in the British-backed assassination of one of Hitler's top henchmen, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich, by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš on 27 May—influenced the Allies in this repudiation.

The Munich Agreement had been precipitated by the subversive activities of the Sudeten Germans. During the latter years of the war, Beneš worked toward resolving the German minority problem and received consent from the Allies for a solution based on a postwar transfer of the Sudeten German population. The First Republic had been committed to a Western policy in foreign affairs. The Munich Agreement was the outcome. Beneš determined to strengthen Czechoslovak security against future German aggression through alliances with Poland and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, however, objected to a tripartite Czechoslovak-Polish-Soviet commitment. In December 1943, Beneš's government concluded a treaty just with the Soviets.

Beneš's interest in maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet Union was motivated also by his desire to avoid Soviet encouragement of a post-war communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Beneš worked to bring Czechoslovak communist exiles in Britain into cooperation with his government, offering far-reaching concessions, including nationalization of heavy industry and the creation of local people's committees at the war's end. In March 1945, he gave key cabinet positions to Czechoslovak communist exiles in Moscow.

Especially after the German reprisals for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, most of the Czech resistance groups demanded, with eerie irony and based on Nazi terror during the occupation, ethnic cleansing or the "final solution of the German question" (Czech: konečné řešení německé otázky) which would have to be "solved" by deportation of the ethnic Germans from their homeland. These reprisals included massacres in villages Lidice and Ležáky, although these villages were not connected with Czech resistance.

These demands were adopted by the government-in-exile, which sought the support of the Allies for this proposal, beginning in 1943. During the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Government-in-Exile promulgated a series of laws that are now referred to as the "Beneš decrees". One part of these decrees dealt with the status of ethnic Germans and Hungarians in postwar Czechoslovakia, and laid the ground for the deportation of some 3,000,000 Germans and Hungarians from the land that had been their home for centuries (see expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, and Hungarians in Slovakia). The Beneš decrees declared that German property was to be confiscated without compensation. However, the final agreement authorizing the forced population transfer of the Germans was not reached until 2 August 1945 at the end of the Potsdam Conference.

 

Theresienstadt Concentration Camp

Theresienstadt concentration camp, also referred to as Theresienstadt ghetto, was a concentration camp established by the SS during World War II in the garrison city of Terezín (German: Theresienstadt), located in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.

Approximately 144,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt. Most inmates were Czech Jews, but 40,000 were from Germany, 15,000 from Austria, 5,000 from the Netherlands, and 300 from Luxembourg. In addition to the group of approximately 500 Jews from Denmark, Slovak and Hungarian Jews were deported to the ghetto. 1,600 Jewish children from Białystok, Poland, were deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz; none survived. About a quarter of the inmates (33,000) died in Theresienstadt, mostly because of the deadly conditions, which included hunger, stress, and disease. The typhus epidemic at the very end of war took an especially heavy toll.

About 88,000 prisoners were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps, including Treblinka. At the end of the war 17,247 had survived. An estimated 15,000 children lived in the ghetto. Willy Groag, one of the youth care workers, 'mistakenly' claimed after the war that only 93 survived.

Tens of thousands of people died there, some killed outright and others dying from malnutrition and disease. More than 150,000 other persons (including tens of thousands of children) were held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps in occupied Poland, as well as to smaller camps elsewhere.

The fortress of Theresienstadt in the north-west region of Bohemia was constructed between the years 1780 and 1790 on the orders of the Austrian emperor Joseph II. It was designed as part of a projected but never fully realised fort system of the monarchy, another piece being the fort of Josefov. Theresienstadt was named for the mother of the emperor, Maria Theresa of Austria, who reigned as archduchess of Austria in her own right from 1740 until 1780. By the end of the 19th century, the facility was obsolete as a fort; in the 20th century, the fort was used to accommodate military and political prisoners.

After Germany invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, on June 10, 1940, the Gestapo took control of Terezín and set up a prison in the "Small Fortress" (kleine Festung, the town citadel on the east side of the Ohře river). The first inmates arrived June 14. By the end of the war, the small fortress had processed more than 32,000 prisoners, of whom 5,000 were female; they were imprisoned for varying sentences. The prisoners were predominantly Czech at first, and later other nationalities were imprisoned there, including citizens of the Soviet Union, Poland, Germany, and Yugoslavia. Most were political prisoners.

By November 24, 1941, the Nazis adapted the "Main Fortress" (große Festung, i.e. the walled town of Theresienstadt), located on the west side of the river, as a ghetto. Jewish survivors have recounted the extensive work they had to do for more than a year in the camp, to try to provide basic facilities for the tens of thousands of people who came to be housed there.

In the spring of 1942, the Nazis expelled the 7,000 non-Jewish Czechs living in Terezín, and closed off the town. The Nazis established the ghetto and concentration camp in the main fortress on the east side of the river.

From 1942, the Nazis interned the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, elderly Jews and persons of "special merit" in the Reich, and several thousand Jews from the Netherlands and Denmark. Theresienstadt thereafter became known as the destination for the Altentransporte ("elderly transports") of German Jews, older than 65. Although in practice the ghetto, run by the SS, served as a transit camp for Jews en route to extermination camps, it was also presented as a "model Jewish settlement" for propaganda purposes.

On November 11, 1943, commandant Anton Burger ordered the entire camp population, approximately 40,000 people at that time, to stand in freezing weather during a camp census (sometimes referred to as the "Bohušovicer Kessel Census"). About 300 prisoners died of hypothermia as a result.

During a 1944 Red Cross visit, and in a propaganda film, the Nazis presented Theresienstadt to outsiders as a model Jewish settlement, but it was a concentration camp. More than 33,000 inmates died as a result of malnutrition, disease, or the sadistic treatment by their captors. Whereas some survivors claimed that the prison population reached 75,000 at one time, according to official records, the highest figure reached (on September 18, 1942) was 58,491. They were crowded into barracks designed to accommodate 7,000 combat troops.

In the autumn of 1944, the Nazis began the liquidation of the ghetto, deporting more prisoners to Auschwitz and other camps; in one month, they deported 24,000 victims (about 18,000 in 11 transports between September 28 and October 28).

Ilse Weber, a noted Czech poet, writer and musician for children, was held in the camp from February 1942, and worked as a night nurse in the camp's children's infirmary. She volunteered to join a transport of children to Auschwitz in November 1944, where she, her son Tommy, and all the children with her were murdered in the gas chambers immediately on arrival. Esther Adolphine, sister of Sigmund Freud, died 29 September 1942. Alice Herz-Sommer, Czech pianist; the focus of the documentary The Lady in Number 6. Died at 110 years old, February 23, 2014, oldest known survivor of the Holocaust.

On February 5, 1945, SS chief Heinrich Himmler allowed a transport of 1,210 Jews, most of them from the Netherlands, from Theresienstadt to freedom in neutral Switzerland. Himmler and Jean-Marie Musy, a pro-Nazi former Swiss president, had arranged the transport. Jewish organisations working in Switzerland deposited a ransom of $1.25 million in Swiss banks for the Germans.

As the war turned against Nazi Germany, the Danish king Christian X secured the release of the Danish internees from Theresienstadt on April 15, 1945. The White Buses, organised in cooperation with the Swedish Red Cross, collected the 413 who had survived and took them home.

In April 1945, after the Dutch Jews had been transported to Switzerland, the International Red Cross visited the camp twice. The relief agency took over administration of the camp on May 2, 1945, as Soviet troops approached from the east. Commandant Rahm and the rest of the SS fled on May 5 and 6. On May 8, 1945, Terezín was liberated by Soviet troops.

  • Transport from Paradise (Transport z Raje) (1962), Czech
  • Holocaust (1978), television mini-series
  • War and Remembrance (1988), TV mini-series; part of the Winds of War adaptation
  • The Last Butterfly (Poslední motýl) (1991), in Czech and English, dubbed, with actor Tom Courtenay
  • Where Death Wears a Smile (1985). Produced by Australian journalist Paul Rea, the film alleges that dozens of Allied POWs were murdered at Terezín, where they had been illegally held. These claims were refuted by Alexander McClelland, an Australian veteran and former prisoner at the Small Fortress, in his book The Answer – Justice.
  • Paradise Camp (1986)
  • Voices of the Children (1997), American, made for television
  • A Story about a Bad Dream (2000)
  • Prisoner of Paradise (2002)
  • Defiant Requiem: Voices of Resistance (2013). Film of a multi-media concert-drama performance in New York City; broadcast on PBS.
  • The Last of the Unjust (2013) directed by Claude Lanzmann, about Benjamin Murmelstein, a surviving elder of Theresienstadt
  • Berlin Calling (2013), follows a second generation Holocaust survivor who retraces her father's footsteps to Theresienstadt; directed by Nigel Dick
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (2014), the story of Alice Herz-Sommer
  • Terezín – Theresienstadt, 2008 music album by Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter

 

Lidice Massacre

The Lidice massacre was a complete destruction of the village of Lidice, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, now in the Czech Republic, in June 1942 on orders from Adolf Hitler and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. In reprisal for the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich in the late spring of 1942, all 173 men over 15 years of age from the village were executed on 10 June 1942. Another 11 men who were not in the village were arrested and executed soon afterwards, along with several others already under arrest. The 184 women and 88 children were deported to concentration camps; a few children considered racially suitable for Germanization were handed over to SS families and the rest were sent to the Chełmno extermination camp where they were gassed to death. The Associated Press, quoting German radio received in New York, said: "All male grownups of the town were shot, while the women were placed in a concentration camp, and the children were entrusted to appropriate educational institutions." About 340 people from Lidice died because of the German reprisal (192 men, 60 women, and 88 children) and after the war ended, only 153 women and 17 children returned.

88 Lidice children were transported to the area of the former textile factory in Gneisenau Street in Łódź. Their arrival was announced by a telegram from Horst Böhme's Prague office which ended with: the children are only bringing what they wear. No special care is desirable. The care was minimal and they suffered from a lack of hygiene and from illnesses. By order of the camp management, no medical care was given to the children. Shortly after their arrival in Łódź, officials from the Central Race and Settlement branch chose seven children for Germanization. The few children considered racially suitable for Germanization were handed over to SS families. The furore over Lidice caused some hesitation over the fate of the remaining children but in late June Adolf Eichmann ordered the massacre of the remainder of the children. On July 2, all of the remaining 82 Lidice children were handed over to the Łódź Gestapo office, who sent them to the Chelmno extermination camp 70 kilometers (43 miles) away, where they were gassed to death in Magirus gas vans. Out of the 105 Lidice children, 82 died in Chełmno, 6 died in the German Lebensborn orphanages, and 17 returned home.

The village was set on fire and the remains of the buildings destroyed with explosives. All the animals in the village—pets and beasts of burden—were slaughtered as well. Even those buried in the town cemetery were not spared; their remains were dug up, looted for gold fillings, jewellery and destroyed. A 100-strong German work party was then sent in to remove all visible remains of the village, re-route the stream running through it and the roads in and out. They then covered the entire area the village had occupied with topsoil and planted crops. A film was made of the process by Franz Treml, a collaborator with German intelligence. Treml had run a Zeiss-Ikon shop in Lucerna Palace in Prague and after the Nazi occupation, he became a film adviser for the Nazi Party.

The village was set on fire and the remains of the buildings destroyed with explosives. All the animals in the village—pets and beasts of burden—were slaughtered as well. Even those buried in the town cemetery were not spared; their remains were dug up, looted for gold fillings, jewellery and destroyed. A 100-strong German work party was then sent in to remove all visible remains of the village, re-route the stream running through it and the roads in and out. They then covered the entire area the village had occupied with topsoil and planted crops. A film was made of the process by Franz Treml, a collaborator with German intelligence. Treml had run a Zeiss-Ikon shop in Lucerna Palace in Prague and after the Nazi occupation, he became a film adviser for the Nazi Party.

Learn More About The Lidice Massacre

 

End of World War II

On 8 May 1944, Beneš signed an agreement with Soviet leaders stipulating that Czechoslovak territory liberated by Soviet armies would be placed under Czechoslovak civilian control.

On 21 September, Czechoslovak troops formed in the Soviet Union liberated the village Kalinov, the first liberated settlement of Czechoslovakia near the Dukla Pass in northeastern Slovakia. Czechoslovakia was liberated mostly by Soviet troops (the Red Army), supported by Czech and Slovak resistance, from the east to the west; only southwestern Bohemia was liberated by other Allied troops from the west. Except for the brutalities of the German occupation in Bohemia and Moravia (after the August 1944 Slovak National Uprising also in Slovakia), Czechoslovakia suffered relatively little from the war. Even at the end of the war, German troops massacred Czech civilians, as was for example in Massacre in Trhová Kamenice or Massacre in Javoříčko.

A provisional Czechoslovak government was established by the Soviets in the eastern Slovak city of Košice on 4 April 1945. "National committees" (supervised by the Red Army) took over the administration of towns as the Germans were expelled. Bratislava was taken by the Soviets on 4 April. Prague was taken on 9 May by Soviet troops during the Prague Offensive. When the Soviets arrived, Prague was already in a general state of confusion due to the Prague Uprising. Soviet and other Allied troops were withdrawn from Czechoslovakia in the same year.

On 5 May 1945, in the last moments of the war in Europe, the Prague uprising (Czech: Pražské povstání) began. It was an attempt by the Czech resistance to liberate the city of Prague from German occupation during World War II. The uprising went on until 8 May 1945, ending in a ceasefire the day before the arrival of the Red Army and one day after Victory in Europe Day.

It is estimated that about 345,000 World War II casualties were from Czechoslovakia, 277,000 of them Jews. As many as 144,000 Soviet troops died during the liberation of Czechoslovakia.

 

Annexation of Subcarpathian Ruthenia by the Soviet Union

In October 1944, Subcarpathian Ruthenia was taken by the Soviets. A Czechoslovak delegation under František Němec was dispatched to the area. The delegation was to mobilize the liberated local population to form a Czechoslovak army and to prepare for elections in cooperation with recently established national committees. Loyalty to a Czechoslovak state was tenuous in Carpathian Ruthenia. Beneš's proclamation of April 1944 excluded former collaborationist Hungarians, Germans and the Rusynophile Ruthenian followers of Andrej Brody and the Fencik Party (who had collaborated with the Hungarians) from political participation. This amounted to approximately ⅓ of the population. Another ⅓ was communist, leaving ⅓ of the population presumably sympathetic to the Czechoslovak Republic.

Upon arrival in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the Czechoslovak delegation set up headquarters in Khust, and on 30 October issued a mobilization proclamation. Soviet military forces prevented both the printing and the posting of the Czechoslovak proclamation and proceeded instead to organize the local population. Protests from Beneš's government were ignored. Soviet activities led much of the local population to believe that Soviet annexation was imminent. The Czechoslovak delegation was also prevented from establishing a cooperative relationship with the local national committees promoted by the Soviets. On 19 November, the communists—meeting in Mukachevo—issued a resolution requesting separation of Subcarpathian Ruthenia from Czechoslovakia and incorporation into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. On 26 November, the Congress of National Committees unanimously accepted the resolution of the communists. The congress elected the National Council and instructed that a delegation be sent to Moscow to discuss union. The Czechoslovak delegation was asked to leave Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Negotiations between the Czechoslovak government and Moscow ensued. Both Czech and Slovak communists encouraged Beneš to cede Subcarpathian Ruthenia. The Soviet Union agreed to postpone annexation until the postwar period to avoid compromising Beneš's policy based on the pre-Munich frontiers.

The treaty ceding Carpathian Ruthenia to the Soviet Union was signed in June 1945. Czechs and Slovaks living in Subcarpathian Ruthenia and Ruthenians (Rusyns) living in Czechoslovakia were given the choice of Czechoslovak or Soviet citizenship.

 

Expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia

In May 1945, Czechoslovak troops took possession of the borderland. A Czechoslovak administrative commission composed exclusively of Czechs was established. Sudeten Germans were subjected to restrictive measures and conscripted for compulsory labor. On 15 June, however, Beneš called Czechoslovak authorities to order. In July, Czechoslovak representatives addressed the Potsdam Conference (the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union) and presented plans for a "humane and orderly transfer" of the Sudeten German population. There were substantial exceptions from expulsions that applied to about 244,000 ethnic Germans who were allowed to remain in Czechoslovakia.

The following groups of ethnic Germans were not deported:

  • anti-fascists
  • persons crucial for industries
  • those married with ethnic Czechs

It is estimated that between 700,000 and 800,000 Germans were affected by "wild" expulsions between May and August 1945. The expulsions were encouraged by Czechoslovak politicians and were generally carried out by the order of local authorities, mostly by groups of armed volunteers. However, in some cases it was initiated or pursued by assistance of the regular army.

The expulsion according the Potsdam Conference proceeded from 25 January 1946 until October of that year. An estimated 1.6 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone of what would become West Germany. An estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany). Several thousand died violently during the expulsion and many more died from hunger and illness as a consequence. These casualties include violent deaths and suicides, deaths in "internment camps" and natural causes. The joint Czech-German commission of historians stated in 1996 the following numbers: The deaths caused by violence and abnormal living conditions amount to approximately 10,000 persons killed. Another 5,000–6,000 people died of unspecified reasons related to expulsion making the total amount of victims of the expulsion 15,000–16,000 (this excludes suicides, which make another approximately 3,400 cases).

Approximately 225,000 Germans remained in Czechoslovakia, of whom 50,000 emigrated or were expelled soon after.

Lidice Children Memorial 2007
Petschek Palace Resistance Memorial
Kobylisy Shooting Range
Lidice Massacre
Czech Resistance Map

 

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