Protectorate of Bohemia and MoraviaThe Protectorate (of) Bohemia and Moravia (in German: Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren, in Czech: Protektorát Čechy a Morava) was a German protectorate that arose in central parts of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939 when Hitler’s Germany invaded the western part of former Czechoslovakia and ceased on May 8/9 1945 when Germany capitulated and World War II ended.
For the Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia, German occupation was a period of brutal oppression, made even more painful by the memory of independence and democracy. Legally, Bohemia and Moravia were declared a protectorate of the Third Reich and were placed under the supervision of the Reich protector, Baron Konstantin von Neurath. German officials manned departments analogous to cabinet ministries. Small German control offices were established locally. The Gestapo assumed police authority. Jews were dismissed from the civil service and placed in an extralegal position. Communism was banned, and many Czech communists fled.
The population of the protectorate was mobilized for labor that would aid the German war effort, and special offices were organized to supervise the management of industries important to that effort. Czechs were drafted to work in coal mines, the iron and steel industry, and armaments production; some were sent to Germany. Consumer goods production, much diminished, was largely directed toward supplying the German armed forces. The protectorate's population was subjected to strict rationing.
German rule was moderate during the first months of the occupation. The Czech government and political system, reorganized by Emil Hacha, continued in existence. Gestapo activities were directed mainly against Czech politicians and the intelligentsia. Nevertheless, the Czechs demonstrated against the occupation on October 28, the anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. The death on November 15 of a medical student, Jan Opletal, who had been wounded in the October violence, precipitated widespread student demonstrations, and the Reich retaliated. Politicians were arrested en masse, as were an estimated 1,800 students and teachers. On November 17, all universities and colleges in the protectorate were closed, and students were sent to work.
In the fall of 1941, the Reich adopted a more radical policy in the protectorate. Reinhard Heydrich was appointed Reich protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Under his authority Prime Minister Alois Elias was arrested, the Czech government was reorganized, and all Czech cultural organizations were closed. The Gestapo indulged in arrests and executions. The deportation of Jews to concentration camps was organized, and the fortress town of Terezin was made into a ghetto way station for Jewish families. On June 4, 1942, Heydrich died after being wounded by an assassin. Heydrich's successor, Colonel-General Kurt Daluege, ordered mass arrests and executions and the destruction of the village of Lidice. In 1943 the German war effort was accelerated. Under the authority of Karl Hermann Frank, German minister of state for Bohemia and Moravia, some 30,000 Czech laborers were dispatched to the Reich. Within the protectorate, all non-war-related industry was prohibited. The Czech population obeyed quiescently up until the final months preceding the liberation.
Czech losses resulting from political persecution and deaths in concentration camps totaled between 36,000 and 55,000, relatively minor losses compared with those of other nations. But the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia (118,000 according to the 1930 census) was virtually annihilated. Many Jews emigrated after 1939; more than 70,000 were killed; 8,000 survived at Terezin. Several thousand Jews managed to live in freedom or in hiding throughout the occupation.
In exile, Eduard Benes – the leader of the Czechoslovak government-in –exile - organized a resistance network. Hacha, Prime Minister Elias, and the Czech resistance acknowledged Benes's leadership. Active collaboration between London and the Czechoslovak home front was maintained throughout the war years.
The Czech resistance comprised four main groups:
- The army command coordinated with a multitude of spontaneous groupings to form the Defense of the Nation (Obrana národa--ON) with branches in Britain and France.
- Benes's collaborators, led by Prokop Drtina, created the Political Center (Politicke ústredí--PU). The PU was nearly destroyed by arrests in November 1939, after which younger politicians took control.
- Social democrats and leftist intellectuals, in association with such groups as trade-unions and educational institutions, constituted the Committee of the Petition We Remain Faithful (Peticni vybor Verni zustanme--PVVZ).
- The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia(KSC) was the fourth resistance group. The KSC had been one of over twenty political parties in the democratic First Republic, but it had never gained sufficient votes to unsettle the domocratic government. After the Munich Agreement the leadership of the KSC moved to Moscow and the party went underground. Until 1943, however, KSC resistance was weak. The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939 had left the KSC in disarray. But ever faithful to the Soviet line, the KSC began a more active struggle against the Nazis after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941
Czech forces regrouped in 1942 and 1943. The Council of the Three (R3), in which the communist underground was strongly represented, emerged as the focal point of the resistance. The R3 prepared to assist the liberating armies of the United States and the Soviet Union. In cooperation with Red Army partisan units, the R3 developed a guerrilla structure.
Guerrilla activity intensified after the formation of a provisional Czechoslovak government in Kosice on April 4, 1945. "National committees" took over the administration of towns as the Germans were expelled. Under the supervision of the Red Army, more than 4,850 such committees were formed between 1944 and the end of the war. On May 5 a national uprising began spontaneously in Prague, and the newly formed Czech National Council (Ceska narodni rada) almost immediately assumed leadership of the revolt. Over 1,600 barricades were erected throughout the city, and some 30,000 Czech men and women battled for three days against 37,000 to 40,000 German troops backed by tanks and artillery. On May 8 the German Wehrmacht capitulated; Soviet troops arrived on May 9.