German occupation of Czechoslovakia

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Events leading to World War II
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  7. Corfu incident 1923
  8. Occupation of the Ruhr 19231925
  9. Mein Kampf 1925
  10. Pacification of Libya 19231932
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  13. Young Plan 1929
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  18. World Disarmament Conference 19321934
  19. Defense of the Great Wall 1933
  20. Battle of Rehe 1933
  21. Nazis' rise to power in Germany 1933
  22. Tanggu Truce 1933
  23. Italo-Soviet Pact 1933
  24. Inner Mongolian Campaign 1933–1936
  25. German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact 1934
  26. Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance 1935
  27. Soviet–Czechoslovakia Treaty of Mutual Assistance 1935
  28. He–Umezu Agreement 1935
  29. Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935
  30. December 9th Movement
  31. Second Italo-Ethiopian War 19351936
  32. Remilitarization of the Rhineland 1936
  33. Spanish Civil War 19361939
  34. Anti-Comintern Pact 1936
  35. Suiyuan Campaign 1936
  36. Xi'an Incident 1936
  37. Second Sino-Japanese War 19371945
  38. USS Panay incident 1937
  39. Anschluss Mar. 1938
  40. May crisis May 1938
  41. Battle of Lake Khasan JulyAug. 1938
  42. Undeclared German-Czechoslovak War Sep. 1938
  43. Munich Agreement Sep. 1938
  44. First Vienna Award Nov. 1938
  45. German occupation of Czechoslovakia Mar. 1939
  46. German ultimatum to Lithuania Mar. 1939
  47. Slovak–Hungarian War Mar. 1939
  48. Final offensive of the Spanish Civil War Mar.Apr. 1939
  49. Danzig Crisis Mar.Aug. 1939
  50. British guarantee to Poland Mar. 1939
  51. Italian invasion of Albania Apr. 1939
  52. Soviet–British–French Moscow negotiations Apr.Aug. 1939
  53. Pact of Steel May 1939
  54. Battles of Khalkhin Gol MaySep. 1939
  55. Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Aug. 1939
  56. Invasion of Poland Sep. 1939

The German occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938–1945) began with the German annexation of Czechoslovakia's border regions 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.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Annexation Acquisition of a states territory by another state

Annexation is the administrative action and concept in international law relating to the forcible acquisition of one state's territory by another state and is generally held to be an illegal act. It is distinct from conquest, which refers to the acquisition of control over a territory involving a change of sovereignty, and differs from cession, in which territory is given or sold through treaty, since annexation is a unilateral act where territory is seized and held by one state. It usually follows military occupation of a territory.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Contents

Following the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938, the conquest and breakup 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. Moreover, a small northeastern part of the borderland region known as Zaolzie was occupied and annexed to Poland ostensibly to "protect" the local ethnic Polish community and as a result of previous territorial claims (Czech-Polish disputes in the years of 1918–20).

<i>Anschluss</i> annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938

Anschluss refers to the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938. The word's German spelling, until the German orthography reform of 1996, was Anschluß and it was also known as the Anschluss Österreichs.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a land-locked country in Central Europe composed of nine federated states (Bundesländer), one of which is Vienna, Austria's capital and its largest city. Austria occupies an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi) and has a population of nearly 9 million people. It is bordered by Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. While German is the country's official language, many Austrians communicate informally in a variety of Bavarian dialects.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

On 15 March 1939, one day after the proclamation of the Slovak State the German Wehrmacht moved into the remainder of Czechoslovakia and from the Prague Castle, Hitler proclaimed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after the negotiations with Emil Hácha, who remained as technical head of state with the title of State President. However, he was rendered all but powerless; real power was vested in the Reichsprotektor, who served as Hitler's personal representative. [1] The occupation ended with the surrender of Germany following World War II. [2]

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

Prague Castle castle complex in Prague, Czech Republic, dating from the 9th century

Prague Castle is a castle complex in Prague, Czech Republic, built in the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia former country

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was a protectorate of Nazi Germany established on 16 March 1939 following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. Earlier, following the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Nazi Germany had incorporated the Czech Sudetenland territory as a Reichsgau.

Demands for Sudeten autonomy

From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R69173, Munchener Abkommen, Staatschefs.jpg
From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany

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.

Konrad Henlein Czechoslovak german nation politician

Konrad Ernst Eduard Henlein was a leading Sudeten German politician in Czechoslovakia. Upon the German occupation he joined the Nazi Party as well as the SS and was appointed Reichsstatthalter of the Sudetenland in 1939.

Sudeten German Party political party

The Sudeten German Party was created by Konrad Henlein under the name Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront on 1 October 1933, some months after the First Czechoslovak Republic had outlawed the German National Socialist Workers' Party. In April 1935, the party was renamed Sudetendeutsche Partei following a mandatory demand of the Czechoslovak government. The name was officially changed to Sudeten German and Carpathian German Party in November 1935.

Edvard Beneš 20th-century Czechoslovak politician

Edvard Beneš, sometimes anglicised to Edward Benesh, was a Czech politician and statesman who was President of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938 and again from 1945 to 1948. He also led the Czechoslovak government-in-exile 1939 to 1945, during World War II. As President, Beneš faced two major crises which both resulted in his resignation.

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

Undeclared German-Czechoslovak war

Munich Agreement

Edvard Benes, the second President of Czechoslovakia and leader of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Edvard Benes.jpg
Edvard Beneš, the second President of Czechoslovakia and leader of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile.

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. It is suggested that mobilization could have been launched on basis of Soviet misinformation about Germany being on verge of invasion, which aimed to trigger war between Western powers. [3] On 30 May, Hitler signed a secret directive for war against Czechoslovakia to begin no later than 1 October.

Neville Chamberlain former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Arthur Neville Chamberlain was a British Conservative statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his foreign policy of appeasement, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany. When Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, the UK declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, and Chamberlain led Britain through the first eight months of the Second World War.

Mobilization assembling and readying troops and supplies for war

Mobilization, in military terminology, is the act of assembling and readying troops and supplies for war. The word mobilization was first used, in a military context, to describe the preparation of the Imperial Russian Army during the 1850s and 1860s. Mobilization theories and tactics have continuously changed since then. The opposite of mobilization is demobilization.

Fall Grün was a German plan for an aggressive war against Czechoslovakia before World War II. Some of the plan's psychological warfare and use of paramilitary actions were carried out, but the planned open war failed to occur because of the Munich Agreement.

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.

Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford British politician

Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford, was a prominent Liberal and later National Liberal politician in the United Kingdom between the 1900s and 1930s.

The Karlsbader Programm was an eight-point series of demands presented by Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten German Party (SdP), to the government of the First Czechoslovak Republic on 24 April 1938 in Karlsbad. The Karlsbader Programm demanded complete equality between the Sudeten Germans and the Czech people, self-government and the legal recognition of the Sudeten Germans. Following pressure from Nazi Germany, Britain and France during the Sudeten crisis of 1938, the President of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, gave in to the demands of the Sudeten Germans.

Ostrava Statutory City in Czech Republic

Ostrava is a city in the north-east of the Czech Republic, and the capital of the Moravian-Silesian Region. It is 15 km (9 mi) from the border with Poland, at the meeting point of four rivers: the Odra, Opava, Ostravice and Lučina. In terms of both population and area Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic, the second largest city in Moravia, and the largest city in Czech Silesia. It straddles the border of the two historic provinces of Moravia and Silesia. The population is almost 300,000 people. The wider conurbation – which also includes the towns of Bohumín, Doubrava, Havířov, Karviná, Orlová, Petřvald and Rychvald – is home to about 500,000 people, making it the largest urban area in the Czech Republic apart from the capital, Prague.

Ethnic Germans in Saaz, Sudetenland, greet German soldiers with the Nazi salute, 1938 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-005-28, Anschluss sudetendeutscher Gebiete.jpg
Ethnic Germans in Saaz, Sudetenland, greet German soldiers with the Nazi salute, 1938

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. Romania was also invited to share in the division of Carpathian Ruthenia, but refused, because of being an ally of Czechoslovakia (see Little Entente). [4]

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.[ citation needed ]

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

Neville Chamberlain, 27 September 1938, 8 p.m. radio broadcast

Hitler gave a speech in Berlin on 26 September 1938 and declared that the Sudetenland was "the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe". [5] He also stated that he had told Chamberlain, "I have assured him further that, and this I repeat here before you, once this issue has been resolved, there will no longer be any further territorial problems for Germany in Europe!" [5]

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

The partition of Czechoslovakia. First Vienna Award in red. Czechoslovakia 1939.SVG
The partition of Czechoslovakia. First Vienna Award in red.

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 making up about 36% of population, [6] 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. [7]

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. [8] 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 such as the Gestapo. The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank, the SS and police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.

Second 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. In 1939, during the occupation, the Nazis banned Russian ballet. [9]

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. [10]

Hacha, Hitler and Goring meeting in Berlin, 14/15 March 1939 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F051623-0206, Berlin, Besuch Emil Hacha, Gesprach mit Hitler.jpg
Hácha, Hitler and Göring meeting in Berlin, 14/15 March 1939
First German poster in Prague, 15 March 1939. English translation: "Notice to the population. By order of the Fuhrer and Supreme Commander of the German Wehrmacht. I have taken over, as of today, the executive power in the Province of Bohemia. Headquarters, Prague, 15 March 1939. Commander, 3rd Army, Blaskowitz, General of infantry." The Czech translation includes numerous grammatical errors (possibly intentionally, as a form of disdain). Poster Protektorat - Rozkas pro obyvatele 1939 (01).jpg
First German poster in Prague, 15 March 1939. English translation: "Notice to the population. By order of the Führer and Supreme Commander of the German Wehrmacht. I have taken over, as of today, the executive power in the Province of Bohemia. Headquarters, Prague, 15 March 1939. Commander, 3rd Army, Blaskowitz, General of infantry." The Czech translation includes numerous grammatical errors (possibly intentionally, as a form of disdain).

In November 1938, Emil Hácha, who succeeded 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.

After the secession of Slovakia and Ruthenia, British Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Basil Newton advised President Hácha to meet with Hitler. [11] When Hácha first arrived in Berlin, he first met with the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop prior to meeting with Hitler. Von Ribbentrop testified at the Nuremberg trials that during this meeting Hácha had told him that "he wanted to place the fate of the Czech State in the Führer's hands." [12] Hácha later met with Hitler, where Hitler gave the Czech President two options: cooperate with Germany, in which case the "entry of German troops would take place in a tolerable manner" and "permit Czechoslovakia a generous life of her own, autonomy and a degree of national freedom..." or face a scenario in which "resistance would be broken by force of arms, using all means." [13] Minutes of the conversation noted that for Hácha this was the most difficult decision of his life, but believed that in only a few years this decision would be comprehensible and in 50 years would probably be regarded as a blessing. [14]

According to Joachim Fest, Hácha suffered a heart attack induced by Göring's threat to bomb the capital and by four o'clock he contacted Prague, effectively "signing Czechoslovakia away" to Germany. [13] Göring acknowledged making the threat to the British ambassador to Germany, Neville Henderson, but said that the threat came as a warning because the Czech government, after already agreeing to German occupation, couldn't guarantee that the Czech army would not fire on the advancing Germans. [15] Göring however doesn't mention that Hácha had a heart attack because of his threat. French Ambassador Robert Coulondre reported that according to an unnamed, considered a reliable source by Coulondre, by half past four, Hácha was "in a state of total collapse, and kept going only by means of injections." [16] However, Hitler's interpreter Paul Schmidt (interpreter), who was present during the meeting, in his memoirs denied such turbulent scenes ever taking place with the Czechoslovak President. [17]

On the morning of 15 March, German troops entered remaining Czech parts of Czechoslovakia (Rest-Tschechei in German), 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 Czech lands and from Prague Castle proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Viktor Pick's 1939 visa used to escape Prague on the last train out on 15 March. Later, he arrived safely in British Palestine. Last train out of Prag on German invasion.jpg
Viktor Pick's 1939 visa used to escape Prague on the last train out on 15 March. Later, he arrived safely in British Palestine.

Besides violating his promises at Munich, the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia was, unlike Hitler's previous actions, not described in Mein Kampf . After having repeatedly stated that he was interested only in pan-Germanism, the unification of ethnic Germans into one Reich, Germany had now conquered seven million Czechs. Hitler's proclamation creating the protectorate claimed that "Bohemia and Moravia have for thousands of years belonged to the Lebensraum of the German people". [18]

Subsequently, interwar Czechoslovakia has been idealized by its proponents as the only bastion of democracy 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 interwar period.[ citation needed ]

Second World War

First issue of a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia 1 koruna note (1939). An unissued series of 1938 Republic of Czechoslovakia notes were marked with an identifying oval stamp on the front left side until regular issue could be circulated. BOH&MOR-1-Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia-1 Koruna-(1939)ND.jpg
First issue of a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia 1 koruna note (1939). An unissued series of 1938 Republic of Czechoslovakia notes were marked with an identifying oval stamp on the front left side until regular issue could be circulated.

Division of Czechoslovakia

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 Republic of Carpathian Ukraine. While much of the former Czechoslovakia came under the control of the Third Reich, Hungarian forces (aided by Poland[ citation needed ]) swiftly overran the Carpathian Ukraine. Poland and Hungary annexed some areas (e.g., Zaolzie, Southern Slovakia) in the autumn of 1938. The Zaolzie region became part of 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 had fielded a modern army of 35 divisions and was a major manufacturer of machine guns, tanks, and artillery, most of them assembled in the Škoda factory in Plzeň. Many Czech factories continued to produce Czech designs until converted for German designs. Czechoslovakia also had other major manufacturing companies. Entire steel and chemical factories were moved from Czechoslovakia and reassembled in Linz (which incidentally remains a heavily industrialized area of Austria). In a speech delivered in the Reichstag, Hitler stressed 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 million anti-aircraft grenades. This amount of weaponry would be sufficient to arm about half of the then Wehrmacht. [19] Czechoslovak weaponry later played a major part in the German conquests of Poland (1939) and France (1940)—countries that had pressured Czechoslovakia's surrender to Germany in 1938.

Czechoslovak resistance

The relatives of Czech paratroopers Jan Kubis and Josef Valcik and their fellows in total 254 people were executed en masse on October 24, 1942 in Mauthausen concentration camp. Koncentracni tabor Mauthausen Praha 2012 7934.JPG
The relatives of Czech paratroopers Jan Kubiš and Josef Valčík and their fellows in total 254 people were executed en masse on October 24, 1942 in Mauthausen concentration camp.
Czechoslovak soldiers of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps on the Eastern Front in 1943. Legie - slavnostni nastup.jpg
Czechoslovak soldiers of the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps on the Eastern Front in 1943.

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 names of executed Czechs, 21 October 1944 Bekanntmachung cz.jpg
The names of executed Czechs, 21 October 1944

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 (cs) almost immediately assumed leadership of the revolt. Over 1,600 barricades were erected throughout the city, and some 30,000 [21] Czech men and women battled for three days against 40,000 [21] German troops backed by tanks, aircraft and artillery. On 8 May, the German Wehrmacht capitulated; Soviet troops arrived on 9 May.

German policy

There are sources that highlighted the more favorable treatment of the Czechs during the German occupation in comparison to the treatment of the Poles and the Ukrainians. This is attributed to the view within the Nazi hierarchy that a large swath of the populace was "capable of Aryanization," hence, the Czechs were not subjected to a similar degree of random and organized acts of brutality that their Polish counterparts experienced. [22] Such capacity for Aryanization was supported by the position that part of the Czech population had German ancestry. On the other hand, the Czechs/Slavs were not considered by the Germans as a racial equal due to its classification as a mixture of races with Jewish and Asiatic influences. [23] This was illustrated in a series of discussion, which denigrated it as less valuable [24] and, specifically, the Czechs as "dangerous and must be handled differently from Aryan peoples." [25]

Aside from the inconsistency of animosity towards Slavs, [26] there is also the claim that the forceful but restrained policy in Czechoslovakia was partly driven by the need to keep the population nourished and complacent so that it can carry out the vital work of arms production in the factories. [25] By 1939, the country was already serving as a major hub of military production for Germany, manufacturing aircraft, tanks, artillery, and other armaments. [27]

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 Soviet Union, United Kingdom, USA, France, the Czech Republic, and Poland. In total, 32 nations were involved in the Uprising.

Czechoslovak government-in-exile

Reward poster for Josef Valcik, one of the assassins of Reinhard Heydrich. Valcik za 100 000 Kc.jpg
Reward poster for Josef Valčík, one of the assassins of Reinhard Heydrich.

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.

Nazi massacre of civilians in Lidice, 10 June 1942 Lidice massacred men.jpg
Nazi massacre of civilians in Lidice, 10 June 1942

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. [28] These reprisals included massacres in villages Lidice and Ležáky, although these villages were not connected with Czech resistance. [29]

These demands were adopted by the government-in-exile, which sought the support of the Allies for this proposal, beginning in 1943. [30] [31] 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.

End of the war

Residents of Prague greet the Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev. Prague liberation 1945 konev.jpg
Residents of Prague greet the Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev.

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; the Massacre in Trhová Kamenice and the Massacre at Javoříčko are examples of this.

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. [32]

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.[ citation needed ] 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

Sudeten Germans are forced to walk past the bodies of 30 Jewish women starved to death by German SS troops VolarydeadJews.jpg
Sudeten Germans are forced to walk past the bodies of 30 Jewish women starved to death by German SS troops
Czech districts with 50% or more ethnic German population in 1935 Sudetendeutsche.png
Czech districts with 50% or more ethnic German population in 1935

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. [34] 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:

It is estimated that between 700,000 and 800,000 Germans were affected by "wild" expulsions between May and August 1945. [34] :17 The expulsions were encouraged by Czechoslovak politicians and were generally carried out by the order of local authorities, mostly by groups of armed volunteers. [35] However, in some cases it was initiated or pursued by assistance of the regular army. [35]

The expulsion according to 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). [36] 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 [37] and natural causes. [38] 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 number of victims of the expulsion 15,000–16,000 (this excludes suicides, which make another approximately 3,400 cases). [39] [40]

Approximately 225,000 Germans remained in Czechoslovakia, of whom 50,000 emigrated or were expelled soon after. [41] [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Munich Agreement 1938 cession of German-speaking Czechoslovakia to the Nazis

The Munich Agreement or Munich Betrayal was an agreement concluded at Munich on 30 September 1938, by Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and the Kingdom of Italy. It provided "cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory" of Czechoslovakia. Most of Europe celebrated the agreement, because it prevented the war threatened by Adolf Hitler by allowing Nazi Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland, a region of western Czechoslovakia inhabited by more than 3 million people, mainly German speakers. Hitler announced it was his last territorial claim in Europe, and the choice seemed to be between war and appeasement.

The First Czechoslovak Republic emerged from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in October 1918. The new state consisted mostly of territories inhabited by Czechs and Slovaks, but also included areas containing majority populations of other nationalities, particularly Germans, who accounted for more citizens than the state's second state nation of the Slovaks, Hungarians and Ruthenians. The new state comprised the total of Bohemia whose borders did not coincide with the language border between German and Czech. Despite initially developing effective representative institutions alongside a successful economy, the deteriorating international economic situation in the 1930s gave rise to growing ethnic tensions. The dispute between the Czech and German populations, fanned by the rise of National Socialism in neighbouring Germany, resulted in the loss of territory under the terms of the Munich Agreement and subsequent events in the autumn of 1938, bringing about the end of the First Republic.

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Carpatho-Ukraine Short-lived autonomous region and unrecognized state

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First Czechoslovak Republic 1918-1938 republic in Central/Eastern Europe

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