The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

By Livia Rothkirchen | Go to book overview

4
Under German Occupation
(1939–45)

Ever since the late thirties Hitler's tirades against Czechoslovakia had continued unabated. However, unlike in many other countries, in this enclave his threats signaling the day of reckoning were listened to with the closest of attention. Mein Kampf, Hitler's writ spelling out his expansionist policy (the so-called Lebensraumprogramm) had been available since 1936 both in German and in an abridged Czech version (M ů j boj) and was widely read.1 Czechoslovakia being in close geographic proximity—bordered on two sides by Nazi Germany—and harassed from inside by a fifth column, the country's vulnerability peaked in the autumn of 1938.2 Nevertheless, the sudden occupation by the Wehrmacht on March 15, 1939, not six months after the Munich Dictate, took the population by surprise.

On March 16 Hitler himself came to Prague. Eager to be the first to reach Hradčany Castle, he raced with his entourage and SS guards “through the night at breakneck speed over icy roads, passing the advancing columns on the way.”3 His wish came true: posing triumphantly at the alcove window used by the presidents of Czechoslovakia on state occasions, he could look down over a defeated Prague. While staying at the castle he signed the decree incorporating the Czech historic lands into the Reich under the euphemistic designation the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

The French-Tunisian agreement (1881) provided to a certain extent the structure for the occupied territory's administration. Czechs became citizens of the Protectorate, whereas all citizens of German nationality were granted citizenship of the German Reich. The Sudeten German Party merged with the NSDAP.

Germany took charge of defense and foreign relations, the communications system, customs, and currency matters. However, internal administration was left in the hands of the Czech authorities. Formalities were preserved. Emil Hácha was permitted to retain the title of president; he himself, however, and

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