German occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938–1945) began with the Nazi annexation of
Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by ethnic German populations living in those regions.
Following the Anschluss of Nazi Germany and Austria, in March 1938, the conquest of
Czechoslovakia became Hitler’s next ambition. The incorporation of Sudetenland into Nazi
Germany left the rest of Czechoslovakia weak and it became powerless to resist subsequent
occupation. On March 16, 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 the Second World War.
Read More [wikipedia]
August 1939 ~ The Last Days of Peace
At Munich in September 1938 war had only been prevented by Britain and France at the expense of Czechoslovakia. The two Western powers saved their own skins by callously tossing the Sudetenland (and therefore Czechoslovakia’s independence as these areas contained her extensive border defences) to the Nazi wolves…
…While England and France (with some praiseworthy dissenting voices) celebrated peace for our time, with honour and the rest of the infamous and inaccurate clichés which Munich produced, Hitler and his henchmen were already up to no good. During the ensuing winter and early spring they devoted most of their attentions to Slovakia and set about fanning the flames of Slovak aspirations for independence from Prague. It was cleverly done and Berlin played the neatest of double games. They tipped off Prague that a coup was being engineered by Slovak separatists while simultaneously putting it about in Slovakia that Prague intended snuffing out the already far-reaching autonomy enjoyed by Slovakia.
By early March 1939 things were coming to a head. The central government in Prague became aware that their now seemingly friendless state was subject to such stresses that there was a danger of it breaking up. With the aim of preventing this, President Emil Hácha [Emil Hácha 1872 – 1945 wikipedia] dismissed Monsignor Tiso [Josef Tiso 1887 – 1947 wikipedia], the Prime Minister of Slovakia, and three of his most blatantly separatist-minded ministers, including the pro-Nazi Minister of Transport, Ferdinand Ďurčanský [Ferdinand Ďurčanský 1887 – 1947 wikipedia]. All four were put under house arrest and Prague attempted to thwart the separatist movement by proclaiming the continuation of Slovak autonomy. Hacha appointed Karol Sidor [Karol Sidor 1901 – 1953 wikipedia], a Slovak member of the central government in Prague, to take Tiso’s place, but the state of instability continued. Ďurčanský, no doubt with the connivance of the Nazis, broke out of house arrest and slipped across the border to Vienna, where he began to broadcast inflammatory speeches.
With arms coming in from Germany, widespread Nazi subversion, bomb outrages and general unrest in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, the central government on March 10th imposed martial law. A leading pro-Nazi Slovak, Voytech Tuka [Voytech Tuka 1880 – 1946 wikipedia], who had only recently been in Berlin to urge Hitler to ‘liberate’ Slovakia, was arrested. Confusion ensued. It was just the kind of volatile situation from which the Nazis knew how to extract the maximum benefit. The German propaganda machine devoted all its considerable energies to encouraging Slovakia to break with Prague. German diplomacy played a similar role and on March 11th, against a background of claims in the German press that Tiso had appealed to Berlin to intervene, the new Cabinet met in Bratislava under the premiership of Sidor. While their deliberations were in progress, Arthur Seyss-Inquart [Arthur Seyss-Inquart 1892 – 1946 wikipedia], the Nazi Governor of Austria, flanked by five German generals muscled in on the meeting.
The Germans ‘suggested’ that the time was now ripe for the Slovak Government to set about proclaiming its independence. Sidor courageously tried to prevaricate, whereupon it had to be pointed out to him that Adolf Hitler had made up his mind to settle the question of Czechoslovakia once and for all; Slovakian independence must be proclaimed. The Führer ‘would otherwise disinterest himself in (Slovakia’s) fate’. Chilling thought! Sidor, who had been appointed by Hacha for the very reason that he was opposed to an independent Slovakia, played for time and said that he would have to talk the matter over with the central government. This was nothing like the alacrity that Nazi diplomacy demanded. Berlin turned their attention to Tiso who, like Ďurčanský, seems to have had little trouble in escaping from house arrest. Tiso was honoured with an invitation to put in a prompt appearance in Berlin and talk things over with the Führer himself. In case this invitation did not sound sufficiently enticing on its own it was reinforced by the threat that failure to comply would result in two German divisions coming across the Danube and occupying Bratislava. In addition, Hungary would be given the green light to seize all of Eastern Slovakia – as well as the province of Ruthenia on which she had already been offered first refusal.
Tiso not unnaturally found the invitation and attendant threats impossible to resist. Therefore, on March 13th, with Ďurčanský and Franz Karmasin [Franz Karmasin 1901 – 1970 de-wikipedia] (the leader of the German minority in Slovakia) accompanying him to make sure that he was not assailed by second thoughts, Tiso took the train to Vienna intending to spend the night there and complete his journey the next day. This again was nothing like fast enough for the Nazis. An aircraft was despatched and he and his party were whisked to Berlin where that evening they found themselves ushered into the Reich Chancellery and confronted by a formidable array of Nazi brass headed by Hitler and including Ribbentrop [Joachim von Ribbentrop 1893 – 1946 wikipedia], Brauchitsch [Walter von Brauchitsch 1881 – 1948 wikipedia] (Commander-in-Chief of the German Army) and Keitel [Wilhelm Keitel 1882 – 1946 wikipedia] (Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)) [Oberkommando der Wehrmacht wikipedia].
Hitler, as was normal practice at such gatherings, retained the lion’s share of the conversation for himself. He worked himself up into a rage about Czechoslovakia which he described as in a ‘turmoil’ – that turmoil being chiefly of course his own handiwork. Then he announced that he had had the misfortune of suffering a double disappointment. First, the Czechs had seen fit to ill-treat the Germans living amongst them. (This complaint was merely a rehash of similar ones made prior to Munich.) The second disappointment – and here Tiso’s heart must have sunk – lay in Slovakia, which had fallen short of his expectations. He had been under the impression that they (the Slovaks) desired independence, but now they were unaccountably dragging their feet. Therefore ‘the question was, did Slovakia want to lead an independent existence or not?… It was a question not of days but of hours . . .. If Slovakia wished to become independent he would support and even guarantee her efforts in that direction . . . if she hesitated or refused to be separated from Prague, he would leave the fate of Slovakia to events for which he was no longer responsible.
Tiso tried ineffectually not to be rushed, but it was no good. Clutching a telegram which had been drafted for him by the Nazis and which proclaimed Slovakia’s independence while simultaneously (and in contradiction) begging Berlin to take the new state under the Nazi wing, Tiso was bundled back to Bratislava.
The affair had to be given a sheen of legality, and on March 14th Tiso invited the Slovak Parliament to vote on the independence question. The deputies tried to register dissent, but all Karmasin had to do to make them see where their duty lay was to remind them that hesitation would lead to the entry of German troops into the country. They all then voted grudgingly in favour of independence and shortly afterwards Tiso duly dispatched the telegram to Berlin.
Thus, with the Sudetenland and Slovakia under his belt, Hitler turned this attention to what was now contemptuously termed in Nazi parlance as ‘Czechia’, but before he could act President Hacha played into his hands. Egged on by the German diplomats in Prague, Hacha committed the almost unbelievable folly of enquiring whether he might come to Berlin to discuss the parlous state of his country. Hitler can barely have been able to believe his luck.
Whilst Hacha, an elderly and infirm man of a non-political and jurist background, made his way to Berlin with his daughter and František Chvalkovský [František Chvalkovský 1885 – 1945 wikipedia] , his Foreign Minister in tow, the Nazis set the scene. The Czech President, having been unable to fly due to his weak heart, reached Berlin by train shortly before eleven in the evening. At the station he was greeted not only with full military honours by a crack SS detachment from Hitler’s bodyguard but also by Ribbentrop who was on hand with a bouquet of flowers for Hacha’s daughter. Hacha, although aware of the fact that German troops were massing on his state’s new and almost defenceless borders, can have had little inkling of what he was letting himself in for. [Some German troops had in fact already crossed the frontier during the day]. ..
…The Times correspondent considered that Hacha ‘looked rather depressed’ on arrival in Berlin, but if, as seems likely in view of his poor health, he was also exhausted, the Nazis had no intention of allowing him to rest. He was kept on tenterhooks for an hour or so in the hotel before being summoned to the Chancellery shortly after one in the morning. (At this period the Nazis had latched on to the valuable fact that their brand of diplomacy was best undertaken at dead of night when their victims’ powers of resistance were at their lowest ebb.) The irony in the official greeting for the Czech president now culminated in a ceremony in the Chancellery’s ‘Courtyard of Honour’ where a second SS company was drawn up and Hacha, in his last hours as anything more thn a puppet of state, was put through his paces and obliged to go through the motions of inspecting it while its band played the regimental march. This gruesome performance over, Hacha was ushered into the great man’s presence where he cut ‘a wretched figure . . when he entered the room’. Like Tiso a little over twenty-four hours before, Hacha found himself up against a grim display of Nazi talent – this time including Göring [Hermann Göring 1893 – 1946 wikipedia] who had broken off an Italian holiday in order to play a leading role in the drama.
Wretched Hacha was not the man for this kind of contest and it cannot really be claimed that he put up any kind of show at all against the Germans. In a dark-panelled room, illuminated only by a few bronze lamps, he opened the proceeding by announcing his pleasure at meeting for the first time ‘the man whose wonderful ideas he often read about and followed with interest’. He rambled on in similar sycophantic vein, talking of his conviction that ‘the destiny of Czechoslovakia lay in the Führer’s hands’. Hitler, to whom listening to other peoples monologues did not come easily, permitted this fawning speech to continue for a while but soon was unable to contain himself any longer. The moment had come to let Hacha in on the latest of his wonderful ideas, namely the destruction of what remained of Czechoslovakia. He brusquely informed Hacha that ‘he given the order for invasion by the German troops and for the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the German Reich’. Hitler felt obliged to trot out a number of empty excuses for this terrible deed: the Czechs had manifested hostility towards Germans and had provocatively refused to reduce the size of their armed forces. But all this would shortly be changed. ‘Tomorrow morning (i.e., that very morning) at six o’clock the German Army was to enter Czechia from all sides and the German Air Force would occupy the Czech airfields.’ Hitler then said that there were two possible consequences, neither of which was remotely inviting to Hacha. One was that the German forces would be resisted; in that case the resistance would be rapidly crushed and no measure of autonomy would be granted to Czechia. If, however, the German troops were permitted to march in unopposed, then ‘it would be easy for the Führer . . . to accord Czechoslovakia a generous way of life of her own, autonomy, and a certain measure of national liberty’.
Hacha and Chvalkovský listened to this ‘as though turned to stone . . . . Only their eyes showed that they were alive’. There was worse to follow. Hitler, having dispensed with what for him was the subtle and unspoken threat with which he had put the wind up Tiso, resorted to his more customary bludgeoning variety. He warned that ‘the hours were passing. At six o’clock the troops would march in. He was almost ashamed to say it but for every Czech battalion there was a German division’. Faced with these unpromising odds, Hacha felt forced to agree that resistance would indeed be a mistake but could not help reflecting how, in the space of four hours, the Czech nation was going to be prevented from opposing the invasion. Hitler was not interested in other people’s headaches and in reply confined himself to reminding Hacha that the German Army was already on the march and could not be halted; he went on to suggest that the Czech President contact his Cabinet in Prague and off-load on to their plates the problem of preventing resistance. Hitler then withdrew from the proceedings, leaving his two guests at the mercy of Ribbentrop and Göring, both of whom, according to Robert Coulondre [Robert Coulondre 1885 – 1959 wikipedia], the well-informed French Ambassador in Berlin, proved equal to the task allotted them: ‘For hours on end Dr Hacha and M. Chvalkovský protested against the outrage done to them, declared that they would not sign the document presented to them, pointed out that were they to do so they would forever cursed by their people . .
. . The German ministers were pitiless. They literally hunted Dr Hacha and M. Chvalkovský round the table on which the documents were lying, thrusting them continually before them, pushing pens into their hands, incessantly repeating that if they continued in their refusal, half Prague would lie in ruins from aerial bombardment within two hours, and that this would only be the beginning.
Inadvertently, before capitulating, Hacha did manage to pull off one stunt which for a moment struck fear into his tormentors. Dr Hacha suddenly passed out – or possibly suffered a minor heart attack. And it seemed briefly as though the Nazis might be confronted with the exquisitely embarrassing job of having to explain how the head of the Czech state came to die while in their hands. But Dr Morell [Theodor Morell 1886 – 1948 wikipedia], the quack to the Court of Adolf Hitler, was soon on the scene and brought Hacha back to consciousness. Morell rather overdid the strength of the injection and this had the unwelcome side-effect of suddenly putting fight into the old man. (The latter was so impressed by the doctor’s medical prowess that the following day in Prague he asked Morell for the name of the prescription.)
Attempts were meanwhile being made by the Nazis to establish contact with Prague by telephone but without success, causing Ribbentrop angrily to demand that the Postmaster-General put in an appearance and account for himself. He made pained remarks about: ‘Ministers who sleep during such a situation while we’re hard at work here!’ But the connection was then made and the two Czechs spoke to their Cabinet colleagues and ordered them to allow the German troops a peaceful entry into the country.
It was all over. At 3.35 a.m. Hacha finally signed the document which ‘confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich’.
At five in the morning the radio station in Prague went on the air to announce that at six o’clock German troops would cross the border and half an hour later would occupy Prague. No resistance was to be offered and Czech aircraft were to remain on the ground…
…By 9.30 a.m. on March 15th motorized units of the Wehrmacht had reached Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague. Snow was falling. The troops were observed by sullen crowds of Czechs, many of whom were in tears. Some sang the Czech national anthem.
It did not take the Germans long to digest their new conquest. The Gestapo quickly made itself at home and concentration camps were set up – the first one being at Milovice sixteen miles from Prague. Jews were forced to divest themselves of their businesses. Some committed suicide; the fortunate ones fled the country. There were many arrests, one of the first being the editor of a paper which ill-advisedly published an unflattering picture of Hitler. Small-scale refinements were not overlooked: Tomáš Masaryk Square in Prague [Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1850 – 1937 wikipedia], named after the founder of Czechoslovakia, was renamed Adolf Hitler Square.
Aside from the obvious strategic advantage of effortlessly conquering a potential enemy, Germany at the same time reduced unfriendly neighbouring frontiers by some 900 miles. There was also the booty: a wealth of military equipment of the forty Czech divisions plus the aircraft of the Czech Air Force.
taken from ‘August 1939 ~ The Last Days of Peace’
[Peter Davies Ltd ~ 1979]
Resistance: The Early Days ~ Czechoslovakia
The regrouping of the moral forces of the future resistance in Czechoslovakia took place immediately after the Munich crisis in September 1938. The independent right-wing parties, as well as the Communists, expressed their will to oppose the Nazi peril. Feeling in danger, President Beneš fled from Prague in October and kept in touch with the opposition from London.
In March 1939 the German army invaded the country, forcing the anti-Nazis underground. Two resistance movements were born, one composed chiefly of officers, the other of politicians and intellectuals; and in August 1939 they renewed contact with President Beneš’ [Dr. Edvard Beneš 1884 – 1948 wikipedia] group of emigrants, created escape lines to Hungary and Poland, and distributed leaflets.
The declaration of war by the British and the French at the beginning of September 1939 set off a series of organised demonstrations – strikes of public transport in Prague, banners and flags, mass meetings of students – but the Germans reacted violently: 1,200 students were deported by the Gestapo, and universities were closed down.
From then on the Allies granted the Czechs moral support, and by the end of the year they recognized the Czech Representative Committee in London. In the occupied country the movements amalgamated in January 1940 into a Central Committee of the Home Resistance (UVOD); passive resistance and demonstrations became more vigorous, and so did the underground press. In the spring of 1940 strikes broke out in Bohemia and Slovakia.
However, there were no large-scale sabotage or guerrilla activities; the government in exile and the underground leaders had called for patience. They considered that action should be limited to the setting up of intelligence nets, which did indeed provide valuable information: from August 1939 to June 1941, radio station ‘Sparta 1’ sent from Bohemia directly to London more than 20,000 radiograms; 6,000 were sent through other countries. Through an informer in the Abwehr (Nazi Secret Service) [Abwehr wikipedia], this station revealed the plans for the invasion of Great Britain (and their cancellation), the organisation of a German net in the USSR, and even the date of the German attack on Russia – information which Moscow ignored.
Dr Jean-Lèon Charles
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]
Czech Resistance to Nazi Occupation
Czech resistance to German Nazi occupation or Jewish 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.
Read More [wikipedia]