The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust

The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust


Published by the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

"We were both small nations whose existence could never be taken for granted," Vaclav Havel said of the Czechs and the Jews of Israel in 1990, and indeed, the complex and intimate link between the fortunes of these two peoples is unique in European history. This book, by one of the world's leading authorities on the history of Czech and Slovak Jewry during the Nazi period, is the first to thoroughly document this singular relationship and to trace its impact, both practical and profound, on the fate of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust.

Livia Rothkirchen provides a detailed and comprehensive history of how Nazi rule in the Czech lands was shaped as much by local culture and circumstances as by military policy. The extraordinary nature of the Czech Jews' experience emerges clearly in chapters on the role of the Jewish minority in Czech life; the crises of the Munich agreement and the German occupation, the reaction of the local population to the persecution of the Jews, the policies of the London-based government in exile, the question of Jewish resistance, and the special case of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto. The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia is based on a wealth of primary documents, many uncovered only after the 1989 November Revolution. With an epilogue on the post-1945 period, this richly woven historical narrative supplies information essential to an understanding of the history of the Jews in Europe.


For several decades now I have been pursuing extensive research on Nazi policy in East-Central Europe, perusing the mammoth accumulation of records, documentation, and literature: the degradation of humanity and the machinery of genocide. I came to realize that Germany's system of ruling in conquered Europe varied from country to country, as did the persecution of Jews. This meant ultimately that the toll of Jewish lives was by and large determined by the nature and extent of German control, by the Führer's postwar global aims, and in a certain measure by the attitude of the local population.

I sensed a definite need to approach this subject with a panoramic view and in a broader context, delving into earlier history such as the Czech-German conflict.

Two issues that seem diametrically opposed are examined in detail: the traditional sources of empathy and solidarity of the host nation with the Jewish community, and Czech anti-Semitism in the recent past. Ivan Klíma, the noted Czech-Jewish writer, has commented on the latter issue: “If we speak of the magnificent surge of Jewish culture that Prague witnessed more than anywhere else, we must recognize also that there has never been a long period here without some sort of anti-Semitism.” I presumed that this two-pronged enquiry might serve my exploration, broadening intellectual horizons and providing new insights for the scope of this study.

One of the cardinal questions requiring elucidation is why even in this enclave, known as the most democratic country “east of the Rhine” and perceived as markedly philo-Semitic, the losses suffered by the Jewish population were numerically so high. Josef Korbel in his standard Twentieth-Century Czechoslovakia made this significant point concerning the victims of the “Final Solution” in the so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: “The grim reality remains that in the Czech lands, in the former Republic of T. G. Masaryk who had fought anti-Semitism throughout his long life, the results were the same as all over Hitler's Europe.”

Korbel's statement encapsulates several interconnected questions historians have thus far avoided formulating. I shall venture to ask the following: Was the interwar republic's approach toward the Jewish entity outright positive? To what degree did Nazi ideology influence Czechs? Did the long tradition of Jewish presence in this enclave and the Jews' unique role in economy and . . .

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