The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

By Livia Rothkirchen | Go to book overview

2
Years of Challenge
and Growth
The Jewish Minority in
Czechoslovakia (1918–38)

A national state or a state of nations? This question touches the core and the essence of the First Republic and its fate and as such lends itself to various interpretations. The Czechs constituted but half the population of the new state; however, together with the Slovaks, they made up the decisive majority, the raison d'être of the “Czechoslovak nation,” which in a broader context was embraced by the “Czechoslovak Jews” as well.1

Aside from Czechs and Slovaks, the new democratic Czechoslovakia established on October 28, 1918, in the wake of the collapse of the multinational Austro-Hungarian monarchy included a number of other ethnic groups: Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenes, Jews, Poles, and Gypsies. It was the thirteenth largest state in Europe, with an area of 54,244 square miles, incorporating the provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, part of Silesia, Slovakia, and Subcarpathian Ruthenia.2

According to the Declaration of Independence issued by President Masaryk on October 18, 1918, in Washington, the new state was to “guarantee complete freedom of conscience, religion and science, literature and art, speech and press, and the right of assembly and petition. The Church shall be separated from the State The rights of the minorities shall be safeguarded by proportional representation. National minorities shall enjoy equal rights. The Government shall be parliamentary in form and shall recognize the principles of initiative and referendum.”3

The main feature of future foreign policy of the Czechoslovak state was outlined by the president in his first message (December 22, 1918) to the members of the Prague National Assembly: “The Republic will be a barrier against the German plan of conquest toward the East,” and for this purpose a

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