German occupation of Prague, 15 March 1939
On 10 October 1938, when Czechoslovakia was forced to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement, Germany incorporated the Sudetenland, on the Czechoslovak border with Germany and Austria proper, with its majority of ethnic German inhabitants, directly into the Reich. Five months later, when the Slovak Diet declared the independence of Slovakia, Hitler summoned Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha to Berlin and intimidated him into accepting the German occupation of the Czech rump state and its reorganisation as a German protectorate.
Hácha remained as technical head of state with the title of State President, but Germany rendered him all but powerless, vesting real power in the Reichsprotektor, who served as Hitler's personal representative. To appease outraged international opinion, Hitler appointed former foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath to the post. German officials manned departments analogous to cabinet ministries, and small German control offices were established locally. The SS assumed police authority; Reichsführer-SS and Reich police chief Heinrich Himmler named the former Sudeten German leader Karl Hermann Frank as the protectorate's police chief and ranking SS officer. The new authorities dismissed Jews from the civil service and placed them outside of the legal system. Political parties and trade unions were banned, and the press and radio were subjected to harsh censorship. Many local Communist Party leaders fled to the Soviet Union.
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. The Germans drafted Czechs to work in coal mines, in the iron and steel industry, and in armaments production. Consumer-goods production, much diminished, was largely directed toward supplying the German armed forces. The protectorate's population was subjected to rationing.
First issue of currency in Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (an unissued 1938 Czech note with a validation stamp for use in 1939).
German rule was moderate by Nazi standards during the first months of the occupation. The Czech government and political system, reorganized by Hácha, continued in formal existence. The Gestapo directed its activities mainly against Czech politicians and the intelligentsia. The eventual goal of the German state under Nazi leadership was to eradicate Czech nationality through assimilation and deportation and to exterminate the Czech intelligentsia; the intellectual élites and members of the middle class made up many of the 200,000 people who were sent to concentration camps and of the 250,000 who died during the German occupation. In 1940, in a secret plan on Germanization of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, it was declared that those considered to be racially Mongoloid and the Czech intelligentsia were not to be Germanized, and that about half of the Czech population were suitable for Germanization. Generalplan Ost assumed that around 50% of Czechs would be fit for Germanization. The Czech intellectual élites were to be removed from Czech territories and from Europe completely. The authors of Generalplan Ost believed it would be best if they emigrated overseas, as even in Siberia, they were considered a threat to German rule. Just like Jews, Poles, Serbs, and several other nations, Czechs were considered to be untermenschen by the Nazi state.
1939 amended Czechoslovakian passport to a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia sample.
The Czechs demonstrated against the occupation on 28 October 1939, the 21st anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. The death on 15 November 1939 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 17 November, all universities and colleges in the protectorate were closed, nine student leaders were executed, and 1,200 were sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp within Nazi Germany; further arrests and executions of Czech students and professors took place later during the occupation. (See also Czech resistance to Nazi occupation)
Announcement of the execution of Czechs
, who improved radio receivers to listen to foreign broadcasts, 1944
During World War II, Hitler decided that Neurath was not treating the Czechs harshly enough and adopted a more radical policy in the protectorate. On 29 September 1941, Hitler appointed SS hardliner Reinhard Heydrich as Deputy Reichsprotektor (Stellvertretende Reichsprotektor). At the same time, Neurath was relieved of his day-to-day duties so for all intents and purposes, Heydrich replaced Neurath as Reichsprotektor. Under Heydrich's authority Prime Minister Alois Eliáš was arrested (and later executed), the Czech government was reorganized, and all Czech cultural organizations were closed. The Gestapo arrested and killed people. The deportation of Jews to concentration camps was organized, and the fortress town of Terezín was made into a ghetto way-station for Jewish families. On 4 June 1942, Heydrich died after being wounded by Czechoslovak Commandos in Operation Anthropoid. Directives issued by Heydrich's successor, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Kurt Daluege, and the martial law en force brought forth mass arrests, executions and the obliteration of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. In 1943 the German war-effort was accelerated. Under the authority of Karl Hermann Frank, German minister of state for Bohemia and Moravia, within the protectorate, all non-war-related industry was prohibited. Most of the Czech population obeyed quietly until the final months preceding the end of the war, when thousands became involved in the resistance movement.
For the Czechs of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, German occupation represented a period of oppression. Czech losses resulting from political persecution and deaths in concentration camps totalled between 36,000 and 55,000. The Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia (118,000 according to the 1930 census) was virtually annihilated, with over 75,000 murdered. Of the 92,199 people classified as Jews by German authorities in the Protectorate as of 1939, 78,154 perished in Holocaust, or 84.8 percent.
Many Jews emigrated after 1939; 8,000 survived at Terezín concentration camp, which was used for propaganda purposes as a showpiece. Several thousand Jews managed to live in freedom or in hiding throughout the occupation. The extermination of the Romani population was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became totally extinct. Romani internees were sent to the Lety and Hodonín concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau for gassing. The vast majority of Romani in the Czech Republic today descend from migrants from Slovakia who moved there within post-war Czechoslovakia. The Theresienstadt concentration camp was located in the Protectorate, near the border to the Reichsgau Sudetenland. It was designed to concentrate the Jewish population from the Protectorate and gradually move them to extermination camps, and it also held Western European and German Jews. While not an extermination camp itself, the harsh and unhygienic conditions still resulted in the death of 33,000 of the 140,000 Jews brought to the camp while a further 88,000 were sent to extermination camps, and only 19,000 survived.