History Podcasts

What was the Nature of Resistance in 1938 Czechoslovakia?

What was the Nature of Resistance in 1938 Czechoslovakia?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

I wonder if someone might help me. I'm writing a novel. My protagonist is a dual national (English born, German parents) bio chemist contracted to work for Freiburg University 1938. At the time science is deemed useful only if it is practical and he is ordered to travel regularly to Malacky, Slovakia to oversee the development of chemical warfare. His allegiance to the Reich is pragmatic and following one such trip he fails to return to his family in Freiburg. I must decide what happens to him! Or at least I must allude to what might have happened to him given his daughter returns in the 60's to retrace his steps.

I need some background on the Czechoslovakian resistance circa 1938. Specifically any information related to the structure of the resistance, notable leaders or events, any significant connections between the resistance and/or other groups such as allied intelligence agencies or governments.

There wasn't much resistance, at least compared to, e.g., Belorussia.

At first there were some lukewarm boycotts, then the resistance was reduced to intelligence gathering by former army officers directed from London. Heydrich was sent there in the Fall of 1941 and rounded up most of them; when he was assassinated next spring, his successors cracked down and eliminated all that remained.

One has to take into account that Czechs lived under the German rule for 300 years before their independence in 1918. This, of course, does not justify what Germany did, but this can help explain why the transition from independence to Protectorate was relatively peaceful.

Life During the Nazi Occupation

Adolf Hitler got his wish to conquer Czechoslovakia when German troops, fighting off a ravaging snowstorm and vehicles’ technical problems, marched into Prague March 15, 1939 and took over Bohemia and Moravia. (Earlier, at the Munich Conference in September of 1938, Hitler had acquired the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.) While German citizens of the capital city saluted and waved swastika flags, some Czechs let out heartwrenching sobs while others displayed anger as they were horrified, overcome with powerlessness and hopelessness. Czechs hurled snowballs at the vehicles and refused to give lost Germans directions. Numerous Czechs gathered in Wenceslas Square, where they sang the national anthem. A photo of first democratic president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, later destroyed by the Nazis, on Old Town Square. That day Hitler made his first and last visit to Prague. The next morning he signed a declaration that officially created the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

In 1938, German Dissidents Met with Churchill to Try and Stop World War II

Key point: If London had held its ground and helped out the German resistance, perhaps World War II would have been avoided or cut short.

Many accounts have been written about the peace mission flight of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess and his parachute landing in a farm field in Scotland in May 1941 to discuss with the Duke of Hamilton a proposal to end hostilities. Hess was also Reich minister without portfolio and leader of the Nazi Party, among other titles. He piloted his own plane from Augsburg and bailed out over the duke’s estate.

In sharp contrast, very little is known about the secret mission to England by Baron Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin that preceded the one by Hitler’s henchman. At the behest of the head of the Abwehr (German intelligence), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, this Prussian nobleman met in mid-August 1938 with Lord Lloyd, chairman of the British Council future prime minister Winston Churchill, a vocal critic of the current British government and Sir Robert Vansittart, an ardent antiappeaser in the Foreign Office. This clandestine operation was orchestrated by the Abwehr as the German military’s anti-Hitler resistance movement sought British support of the German General Staff’s plan to mount a coup d’état against the Nazi regime as the Czechoslovakian crisis was escalating.

Kleist-Schmenzin and Canaris

Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin was born on March 22, 1890, in Pomerania and had all the trappings of a typical Junker, which included owning a vast tract of land beyond the Elbe River. He was a political conservative who was an active participant in the German National People’s Party. He also supported the concept of a return to a monarchy and harbored devout Christian ideals. In the decade of 1923-1933, he was a staunch opponent of Nazism before Hitler assumed dictatorial power. In 1929, he published a manuscript on the dangers of National Socialism, thereby allowing him to take a prominent place in the ranks of the opposition to Hitler. In 1934, his political party was disbanded by Hitler however, he still had a prominent place among Germany’s industrialists and entrepreneurs. After 1934, all opposition political parties, the Catholic Church, the Wehrmacht, the financial and industrial sector, and the entire apparatus of the government became dominated by Hitler.

Although seeming very odd at first glance, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris greatly admired Kleist-Schmenzin’s courage and political convictions. Secretly, Canaris was dubious about the future of the Third Reich, and he recruited the baron into his unofficial intelligence network. The Abwehr director believed that war should be avoided at all costs, and Kleist-Schmenzin had strong connections with England, especially, among some journalists. One such journalist was Ian Colvin, a biographer of Vansittart who worked for the London News Chronicle. Kleist-Schmenzin met Colvin in July 1938 to ask him if he thought Britain would fight in defense of Czechoslovakia.

The German resistance movement began to plan for an envoy to Britain in April 1938. In May, Canaris knew of Hitler’s plan for an invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the opposition needed to know if the British would come to the defense of the Czechs. A member of the German General Staff said, “If the Allies energetically alert Hitler to the fact that they will oppose any aggression against Czechoslovakia, or any intervention whatsoever, then Hitler is certain to pull in his claws.”

“Our Visitor from Germany has just Arrived”

At this juncture, Canaris introduced Kleist-Schmenzin to General Ludwig Beck, head of the German General Staff, who was an active conspirator and in need of aligning the Western Allies against the Nazi regime and its intentions to seize Czechoslovakia by force. Beck was soon to resign—in early August 1938—as a protest against Hitler’s plans.

In the meeting among Canaris, Kleist-Schmenzin, and Beck, the general said, “If the British allow Hitler freedom of action, they will be losing their two principal allies in Germany: the General Staff and the German people. If you can bring back some concrete proof that Great Britain will go to war in the event of aggression against Czechoslovakia, then I will put an end to this regime.”

All that remained now was for Canaris to get the baron to England without the knowledge of either the Gestapo or Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). On August 13, 1938, Canaris informed Kleist-Schmenzin of his plans for the clandestine trip to London. Canaris had provided Kleist-Schmenzin with a false passport.

On August 18, the baron boarded a Lufthansa Junkers-52 that would carry him to the British capital. Accompanying the baron was an Englishman, H.D. Hanson, who solicited the customs officers at Croydon airfield to let the “civilian in the gray suit” pass without interference. Hanson then notified the SIS, “Our visitor from Germany has just arrived.”

Kleist-Schmenzin first met with Sir Robert Vansittart at the Foreign Office. On January 1, 1938, Vansittart was “kicked upstairs” and given the empty or honorary title of chief diplomatic adviser to the government of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Prior to that Vansittart was the permanent undersecretary for foreign affairs at the Foreign Office. Vansittart, though, was still an avowed enemy of the Nazi regime.

Kleist-Schmenzin’s message to Vansittart was simple. Hitler was planning to invade Czechoslovakia in mid- or late September. If Britain made it public that it was prepared to go to war with the Nazi dictator, even at the risk of starting another world conflagration, Hitler would have to shelve his plan or, perhaps, even be overthrown by anti-Nazi German officers, who would then form a new government.

Kleist-Schmenzin assured Vansittart that he spoke for “all the generals in the German Army who are friends of mine. They are all dead against war, but they will not have the power to stop it unless they get encouragement and help from outside. As I have already told you, they know the date and will be obliged to march at that date.”

Vansittart asked which date it was, and in a rare moment of laughter between the two men, Kleist-Schmenzin responded, “Why of course you know it. Well anyhow, your prime minister knows it. After the 27th September.”

As the ill-defined chief diplomatic adviser, Vansittart maintained contact both with British opponents of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy and with anti-Nazi opponents in Germany. Out of protocol and loyalty, Vansittart briefed both Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, and Chamberlain about Kleist-Schmenzin’s mission. In his letter to Halifax, Vansittart noted Kleist-Schmenzin’s observations concerning Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

“Herr von Ribbentrop keeps telling him [Hitler] that when it comes to the showdown neither France nor England will do anything,” he said.

He also informed Halifax that Kleist-Schmenzin’s recommendations for stopping the invasion of Czechoslovakia were twofold. “Firstly, since Hitler now believes that the attitude of France and England in May was entirely bluff, you must make him understand that this is not the case,” he said.

Kleist-Schmenzin’s second recommendation was, “A great part of the country [Germany] is sick of the present regime and even a part that is not sick of it is terribly alarmed at the prospect of war, and the conditions to which war will lead them. I have already told you that the army, including [Field Marshal Walther] Reichenau, is unanimous against it if they can get any support. I wish that one of your leading statesmen would make a speech which would appeal to this element in Germany, emphasizing the horrors of war and the inevitable general catastrophe to which it would lead.”

At the conclusion of his meeting with Vansittart, Kleist-Schmenzin added, “There was no prospect whatever of any reasonable policy being followed by Germany as long as Hitler was the head of affairs but … if war was avoided on this occasion, it would be a prelude to the end of the regime and a renascence of a Germany with whom the world could deal.” Lord Halifax sent the Vansittart memorandum over to the prime minister.

Churchill Heeds the Warning

After the meeting with Vansittart, Kleist-Schmenzin arrived at the Park Lane Hotel on the evening of August 18. Kleist-Schmenzin met with Lord Lloyd, chairman of the British Council and former high commissioner in Cairo, and they dined at Claridge’s that night. Lord Lloyd was receiving information from his contacts that elements within the German General Staff were becoming more threatened about Hitler’s bellicose ambitions. Lord Lloyd spoke no German, Kleist-Schmenzin no English, so they conversed in French. Kleist-Schmenzin made it clear to Lloyd that the mobilization plans for the Czechoslovakian invasion were all in place. Lord Lloyd, too, wrote a memorandum of his meeting with the baron to Halifax.

The next day Kleist-Schmenzin arrived at Chartwell to meet with Winston Churchill. Randolph Churchill, Winston’s son, took notes as the baron and the backbencher conferred. On the previous day, Churchill had warned in the London Daily Telegraph that any German attempt to crush Czechoslovakia would ultimately involve “all the greatest nations of the earth.” Churchill repeated this warning to Kleist-Schmenzin, who asked for a letter from Churchill to be given to the German General Staff.

70th anniversary special - the Czech resistance during World War II

Hello and welcome to a special programme marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Joining me in the studio today is noted historian and author Professor Jan Rychlík. Rather than simply do the obvious and discuss the end of World War II, I thought it might be interesting to focus on the efforts of the Czech resistance throughout the duration of the war.

“Well, people were very upset and dissatisfied. However, everybody essentially knew that Czechoslovakia could not win in a war against Nazi Germany. Because the Czech army would have to fight while surrounded by enemy states, with a fifth column inside the state [the Sudeten Germans]. And also a strategic defence plan signed between France and Czechoslovakia depended on the active participation of France and possibly the Soviet Union. And when France said they would not fight, then this war was lost from the very beginning. But the moral significance of armed resistance, even if it would have been a massacre, would have been enormous.”

Because there were some in the military who were saying: let’s just fight, even if we lose.

“Yes, definitely. A fight in 1938 would have brought together the Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians. There were no differences between these groups during the mobilisation. Half of the Czechoslovak German population deserted or fled to Germany. Of course, the Hungarian and Polish reservists in the country were not very happy, but joined the army nonetheless. But there was enormous enthusiasm among the Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians, who welcomed the war and wanted to fight against Germany.”

In the brief period in which the Munich Agreement was functional, and the reduced Czechoslovakia existed – before the establishment of the Protectorate following the Nazi invasion in March 1939 – were the Czechs willing to learn to live with it? I saw a map containing the slogan “Malá, ale našě”, meaning “It’s small, but it’s ours. ”. So was there a sense of: we hate it but we’ll learn to live with it?

“Yes, I’m convinced that the Czechs would probably have swallowed the fact that part of the historical Bohemian territories were lost to Germany if they still had a Czechoslovak, or Czech state after the separation of Slovakia. You must understand that the Czech state existed here for more than one-thousand years. And now for the first time it disappeared. Because the Germans didn’t consider the Protectorate to be a Czech state. Not even an occupied state. It was not state at all it was a form of colonial administration. And this was unacceptable to the Czechs. So in the spring of 1939, the Czechs were probably the only ones who wished for war – and a major war – as soon as possible. Peace was very dangerous, because it would have set in stone the new reality, which I believe was simply unacceptable for every Czech.”

How did the resistance build up? Was there already a resistance during the 1938-39 period?

And in March 1939, the Nazis breached the new indefensible borders of Czechoslovakia.

“Slovakia proclaimed independence, under German protection, on March 14. And the next day, March 15, the German army entered what remained of the Bohemian lands and incorporated this into the German Reich as the so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. From the point of view of international law, this was now an integral part of Germany. Which meant that if Czechs went abroad, they were technically on the same level as German citizens. Despite the fact that inside Germany, they were not considered to be Reich citizens. The advantage of this was that Czechs did not have to serve in the German army.”

We know that despite the lack of fighting by Czechs, in the early days of the occupation there were boycotts, student demonstrations – the most famous of which led to the death of Prague student Jan Opletal.

“This was at the end of October 1939. It means already after the outbreak of the War [in September]. October 28 is a national holiday marking the Czech Independence Day of 1918. And of course, during the German occupation, there were no celebrations – it was banned. Despite this, in Prague and other large cities, spontaneous demonstrations against the Germans erupted. Because the Czech police did not interfere, the German Schutzpolizei, and then the army, intervened and shot two people: one worker, labourer Vojtěch Sedláček, and one medical student Jan Opletal, who later died in hospital. And his funeral, which took place on November 15, turned into another demonstration, and the end result was that two days later, all Czech universities were shut. Nine students were shot without trial. And about 1,200 were taken as hostages to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen [in north-east Germany].

“By the way, the fall of communism fifty years later, started as a memorial to the events of 1939 and then turned into an anti-communist demonstration. That is why we have it today as a double national holiday.”

The initial Nazi plan for the Protectorate was nowhere near as radical as, say, the plan for Russia or Poland. The Czechs were going to be slaves, gradually Germanised, and for the duration of the war, they were to work to help the Reich. Under the first Reichsprotektor, Konstantin von Neurath, it wasn’t a hugely oppressive regime, was it?

Allowed to speak a different language? Not being Germanised?

“Officially. In fact, the Germans were aware that this was not something which would be attractive for the Czechs. They had no illusions about that. The real plan, which was secret, was worked out by Konstantin von Neurath. He was an old diplomat in the imperial mould, and at one time he was even Minister of Foreign Affairs. But he was a nobleman, who had a relatively light hand in terms of his relations with the Czech administration. He said: part of the people will be gradually Germanised part of them moved out and part of them will be exterminated. But, this plan will only be realised after the victorious war. Because right now, we need the Czechs to work. We had very important machine factories, industrial works, munitions factories, like Škoda works in Pilsen. And, of course, Nazi Germany didn’t have German workers available to work there, because they had been sent to the eastern or western fronts.

“But, after the war, Neurath, planned that the Czechs as a nation – not necessarily in the physical sense – would be destroyed. That was in contrast to the Slovaks, or Hungarians, or Bulgarians. Of course, when compared with an openly oppressive regime, such as was established in Reichskommissariat Ukraine (RKU), or in Poland, or even in Greece, it was relatively mild. But I would stress the adjective ‘relatively’. Because there was no doubt that any resistance to the German occupation was immediately punished. And especially after 1941, when Konstantin von Neurath was substituted by Reinhard Heydrich.”

Why was it felt by Hitler that the Czechs needed a firmer hand? Was it the resistance, or were they doing a proverbial slow-walk and not being enthusiastically productive enough?

“It is important to remember that Hitler personally hated the Czechs, because he knew them from his pre-First World War life in Vienna. He realised that the Czechs were skilled, intelligent people. And consequently, he considered them to be dangerous to the German cause. The second point is that in Hitler’s eyes, Konstantin von Neurath proved to be too soft, too mild.”

Meaning what? What was he allowing?

Because before then, the communists viewed the conflict merely as an imperialist war.

“They were passive until then. ‘Imperialist war’ was the official line from the Comintern, but the communists here knew very well that they could not agitate in Czechoslovakia with such nonsense. No one would take that line seriously. So what could they do? They did nothing. Which, from their point of view, in that situation, was probably the only option. There were some communists who opposed the official line [meaning Soviet-Nazi friendship following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939], but they were, of course, immediately expelled from the party.”

President Beneš set up a government in exile in the United Kingdom. And in the Protectorate, the resistance established the ÚVOD (The Central Leadership of Resistance at Home), which was an umbrella group of various other resistance organisations. So how did they operate? Because the most effective thing they did was not sabotage or blowing things up, but rather it served as an intelligence network, is that correct?

“Exactly. ÚVOD came to into being in February 1940, after the arrests of the members of three previous resistance networks. These three previous non-communist organisations – the first was called Obrana národa (Defence of the Nation), which was a military organisation created by former officers, both active and reserve. This was set up mainly for intelligence purposes, and preparing for a military uprising at the appropriate moment. The second was called Politické ústředí (Political Centre), which was a kind of shadow, clandestine government, comprised of the main pre-war Czech political parties. This was set up to have a political purpose – at the appropriate moment they would assume power in the Protectorate. And the third was a left-wing, mainly Social Democratic and trade unionist organisation, Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme (We Remain Faithful). In the beginning, this was simply a group of people signing petitions against the capitulation to Germany, and then they continued as an illegal clandestine group.

“In February 1940, all of these came to operate as ÚVOD. But the main activities for this group remained intelligence gathering. Because the Czechoslovak secret service [military intelligence], the second department of the General Staff, had a very good service before the war, including many high German officers and German Abwehr [Germany’s military intelligence organisation] working for the Czechoslovaks. This included, for example, the famous agent Paul Thümmell [German double agent who spied for Czechoslovakia], codenamed A-54. This provided some very important classified information, including, for example, advance notice of the Nazi invasions of the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway.”

So Czechs were listening-in in cafes establishing relationships so Nazis might talk or were there women getting drunk with German officers in bars. How did the network collect intelligence?

“But, of course, even the things you mentioned occurred. We know that women use ‘female weapons’ – sex mainly – to get clandestine information. That has always existed and will always exist.”

How did the information then make its way back to London? Were there specific resistance members who had hidden radio transmitters and receivers, sending coded messages?

“There were several options. At the beginning of the war, they mostly used a courier service or sent secret messages via neutral countries like Sweden or the Netherlands. From 1940 on, they also had short wave radios, which were used to transmit information to London. However, it is important to point out that during the terror which occurred following the first martial law, which was imposed when Reinhard Heydrich came to Prague on September 27 1941, and especially after he was assassinated by the resistance on May 27, 1942. Due to these two waves of blanket terror, most of these clandestine short-wave radios were discovered and destroyed.”

The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich is certainly seen as being the finest hour for the Czech resistance. Two Czechs, trained in Britain, were parachuted into the country.

“I would like to correct you. For propaganda purposes there was one Czech and one Slovak, which was symbolic. Jan Kubiš was a Czech and Jozef Gabčík was a Slovak.”

The story of the two men is well-known. But what about those Czechs who assisted them. As soon as they parachuted into Nazi-occupied Bohemia, they had to make contact with the underground.

“The whole action went under the name Operation Anthropoid. It was worked out in London, especially by the head of the Czech military intelligence, Colonel, later General František Moravec. The original plan was that they would act separately from the domestic resistance network. And only after they had carried out their action would the network help them go into hiding. But they were, of course, informed in advance that there was very little chance that they would survive. They were aware that most likely, they would die.”

They volunteered anyway. They were prepared to do that.

Sokol is a kind of sporting organisation.

“Yes, before the war, and then it was banned by the Nazis. But it existed as part of ÚVOD. They helped them and also assisted them in the preparation of the action against Heydrich. This, despite the fact that they never talked about it openly. But, of course, step by step, the people at OSVO figured out that the probable target was going to be Heydrich.”

So they just knew that two Czechoslovaks had parachuted in. But they didn’t know what they were doing, so there was no risk of leaks.

“Step by step. It was also this group who helped them find the contacts to the relevant people who told them about the everyday programme of Reinhard Heydrich. Because he was travelling everyday by car from Panenské Břežany, which is a castle north of Prague, to Prague Castle, where he had his headquarters. Of course it was not so easy to find the appropriate place where they could shoot him.”

So once the assassination was carried out [in Prague’s Libeň] the two men went into hiding. And they ended up in the Cyril and Methodius Cathedral.

“Yes, this was an Orthodox church. And they were hidden there with the assistance of an Orthodox priest, who was part of the resistance. Of course, Father Vladimír Petřek later denied being in the resistance during his trial [he was executed by firing squad in September 1942]. But he had good reason – no defendant in such a scenario is obliged to tell the truth. There was also clandestine assistance from an Orthodox bishop, Bishop Gorazd – Matěj Pavlík was his given name [also executed in 1942].

“The assassins were only discovered because one of the parachutists from another group – because there were several groups operating in the country – simply gave himself in. He voluntarily went to the Gestapo and disclosed part of the network he knew [Karel Čurda of the ‘Out Distance’ group – rewarded by the Gestapo, later executed for treason in 1947]. And very quickly the Gestapo figured out the people who were aiding Heydrich’s killers and surrounded the church in Prague. The church was not only concealing Gabčík and Kubiš, but also five other men parachuted in to carry out resistance activities. They fought to the bitter end, and when they had no other choice, they committed suicide – all of them.”

Is it fair to say that after 1942 the domestic Czech resistance was essentially smashed as a result of the post-Heydrich assassination reprisals?

What were some of the other major resistance acts other than the assassination of Heydrich? Were there any acts of sabotage or anything like that?

“Yes. But of course it is very difficult to evaluate this, because after the war, as often happens, every theft or misunderstanding was claimed to be an act of sabotage against the Nazis. It is like today – everybody who was prosecuted during the communist regime says that they were persecuted, when very often they were common criminals who would be arrested anyway, because no state can tolerate that kind of criminality. But at the end of the war, I think that the most important resistance activities were found in a partisan movement, which started in the Beskydy mountains on the borders of Slovakia.

“The Czech Republic has mountains, but we must keep in mind that these mountains are in the Sudetenland. There were no mountains in the Protectorate. And no woods where partisans could hide-out. But there are mountains at the Slovak border. On August 29, 1944 the Slovak National Uprising began. Initially, around 2,000 people from the Protectorate crossed over into Slovakia [to aid the uprising] despite the fact that anyone caught was tried and shot. And then one Slovakian brigade crossed from the border into the Czech Beskydy mountains. This was the guerrilla 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of Jan Žižka. And then another brigade, the 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik [both trained and deployed from Ukrainian territory through the Czechoslovak government in exile].

“And they started to fight and organise acts of sabotage in eastern Moravia and in the Ostrava district, which is highly industrial, full of mines and so on. This was certainly militarily significant. This was the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945, which for the Germans was a bad time. Because they were retreating and needed roads and railways, which were now being partly destroyed, especially in March and April of 1945.”

Czechs never stopped hating the Nazi occupation. It was clear that they would never accept it spiritually. The more the Germans oppressed or punished the Czechs the more they were despised by them. So a clear majority were just waiting for the occupation to end.

“In the Ukraine, Reichskommissar Erich Koch ignored such a strategy. Because he was not only a fanatical Nazi, but he was also a primitive with no intelligence. And because he pressed the Ukrainians, who at the beginning mostly supported the Germans [as liberating them from Stalinist oppression], and because he robbed them of all property so they ended up starving, and they were really hunting Ukrainians like slaves to be sent to Germany – then the people had no other choice but to flee to the nearest forest and join a partisan group. Either a communist partisan group, or an Ukrainian insurgent army, or something along those lines. Because they had to defend themselves and their families.

“So here in the Protectorate it never reached those kinds of levels. Which simply meant that most of the population remained passive. But that doesn’t mean that they were happy. Everybody believed – even the ones who were afraid of communism and the Soviet army – everybody preferred to have the Soviets here, at least temporarily, rather than the Nazis.”

Let’s shift to May 1945. Hitler is already dead. World War II is almost over across Europe. Except in the Protectorate. This becomes the last location where we see active fighting. We also have the Prague Uprising, and Czechs having the opportunity to openly vent against their Nazi occupiers. But, as is often the case in Czech history, it ends up tinged with tragedy because many people wanted the Americans to come in, and instead is it is the Red Army, which entered Prague.

“First of all, it was not only the Prague Uprising. Because it started back on May 1 in Přerov in eastern Moravia. This then sparked off other uprisings moving westward – Olomouc, Nymburk, Lysá nad Labem, and on Saturday May 5, 1945 it started in Prague. There were, of course, military reasons, and political reasons. The military reason was that in the German plan, the Protectorate was to be the last fortress. The army of General Ferdinand Schörner was located here with more than one million men still available. And after the death of Hitler, they simply wanted to defend this space against the advancing Soviet army. And, if possible, to move westward and to surrender to the advancing American army.

“To do this, they had to pass through Prague, because it is a communications centre. All main railways and roads connected through Prague. And that is why they wanted at any price to have it under their control. Of course there was also a political significance, because here we had a centre of resistance known as the Česká národní rada or Czech National Council [established in February 1945], which was a coalition of communists, socialists, trade unionists, and leftist Social Democrats. And these wanted to show at the end that the Czechs were fighting, and to provide some political support to the already established Czechoslovak government [now relocated from London] in Košice, eastern Slovakia.

So the Czechs could have done it by themselves. Or were doing it by themselves?

“They were doing it by themselves, at the cost of allowing the Germans to leave. The Soviet army entered Prague on May 9. But I must say that I don’t like the people who today spit on the graves of those Soviet soldiers. We may not like communists we may not like Putin – I certainly don’t like him – but the Russians, and not only Russians, as there were others within the Soviet army who died in the struggle, not only for our freedom, but the freedom of Europe, they deserve to be honoured. But the fact is that on the 9th, when they entered Prague, the Germans were not here because they left the previous day. They went west. And the American army was already in Plzeň.”

And was not going to go any further.

“Well, it was a political agreement. And also a decision made by General Eisenhower. We know that General George S. Patton, the commander of the Third United States Army, wanted to go further, but was told that he must stop at the demarcation line. And military orders are military orders. ”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Professor Jan Rychlík thank you very much for joining us.


The process of de-Stalinization in Czechoslovakia had begun under Antonín Novotný in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but had progressed more slowly than in most other states of the Eastern Bloc. [3] Following the lead of Nikita Khrushchev, Novotný proclaimed the completion of socialism, and the new constitution [4] accordingly adopted the name Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The pace of change, however, was sluggish the rehabilitation of Stalinist-era victims, such as those convicted in the Slánský trials, may have been considered as early as 1963, but did not take place until 1967. [5]

In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn. [6] The Soviet model of industrialization applied poorly to Czechoslovakia since the country was already quite industrialized before World War II and the Soviet model mainly took into account less developed economies. Novotný's attempt at restructuring the economy, the 1965 New Economic Model, spurred increased demand for political reform as well. [7]

1963 Liblice Conference Edit

In May 1963, some Marxist intellectuals organized the Liblice Conference that discussed Franz Kafka's life, marking the beginning of the cultural democratization of Czechoslovakia which ultimately led to the 1968 Prague Spring, an era of political liberalization. This conference was unique because it symbolized Kafka's rehabilitation in the Eastern Bloc after having been heavily criticized, led to a partial opening up of the regime and influenced the relaxation of censorship. It also had an international impact as a representative from all Eastern Bloc countries were invited to the Conference only the Soviet Union did not send any representative. This conference had a revolutionary effect and paved the way for the reforms while making Kafka the symbol of the renaissance of Czechoslovakian artistic and intellectual freedom. [8]

1967 Writers' Congress Edit

As the strict regime eased its rules, the Union of Czechoslovak Writers (Cz: Svaz československých spisovatelů) cautiously began to air discontent. In Literární noviny, the union's previously hard-line communist weekly, members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine. [9]

In June 1967, a small fraction of the union sympathized with radical socialists, especially Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Jan Procházka, Antonín Jaroslav Liehm, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma. [9]

A few months later, at a meeting of Party leaders, it was decided that administrative actions against the writers who openly expressed support of reformation would be taken. Since only a small group of the union held these beliefs, the remaining members were relied upon to discipline their colleagues. [9] Control over Literární noviny and several other publishers was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, [9] and even some leaders of the Party who later became major reformers—including Dubček—endorsed these moves. [9]

As President Antonín Novotný was losing support, Alexander Dubček, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Slovakia, and economist Ota Šik challenged him at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Party. Novotný then invited the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, to Prague that December, seeking support [10] Brezhnev, however, was surprised at the extent of the opposition to Novotný and so he rather supported his removal. Dubček replaced Novotný as First Secretary on 5 January 1968. [11] On 22 March Novotný resigned and was replaced by Ludvík Svoboda, who later gave consent to the reforms. [12]

Literární listy Edit

Early signs of change were few. In an interview with KSČ Presidium member Josef Smrkovský published in the Party journal Rudé Právo with the title "What Lies Ahead", he insisted that Dubček's appointment at the January Plenum would further the goals of socialism and maintain the working class nature of the Party. [13]

However, right after Dubček assumed power, the scholar Eduard Goldstücker became chairman of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers and thus editor-in-chief of the Literární noviny, [14] [15] which under Novotny had been filled with party loyalists. [15] Goldstücker tested the boundaries of Dubček's devotion to freedom of the press when on 4 February he appeared in a television interview as the new head of the union. During the interview he openly criticized Novotny, exposing all of Novotny's previously unreported policies and explaining how they were preventing progress in Czechoslovakia. [16]

Goldstücker suffered no repercussions, Dubček instead began to build a sense of trust among the media, the government, and the citizens. [15] It was under Goldstücker that the journal's name was changed to Literární listy, and on 29 February, the Union published the first copy of the censor-free journal. [14] By August, Literární listy had a circulation of 300,000, making it the most published periodical in Europe. [17]

Dubček Speech Edit

At the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's "Victorious February", Dubček delivered a speech explaining the need for change following the triumph of socialism. He emphasized the need to "enforce the leading role of the party more effectively" [18] and acknowledged that, despite Klement Gottwald's urgings for better relations with society, the Party had too often made heavy-handed rulings on trivial issues. Dubček declared the party's mission was "to build an advanced socialist society on sound economic foundations . a socialism that corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia, in accordance with the experience of other communist parties . " [18]

One of the most important steps towards the reform was the reduction and later abolition of the censorship on 4 March 1968. It was for the first time in Czech history the censorship was abolished and it was also probably the only reform fully implemented, although only for a short period. Changing from an instrument of party propaganda, media quickly became the instrument of criticism of the regime. [19] [20]

Action Programme Edit

In April, Dubček launched an "Action Programme" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement, with economic emphasis on consumer goods and the possibility of a multiparty government. The programme was based on the view that "Socialism cannot mean only liberation of the working people from the domination of exploiting class relations, but must make more provisions for a fuller life of the personality than any bourgeois democracy." [21] It would limit the power of the secret police [22] and provide for the federalization of the ČSSR into two equal nations. [23] The programme also covered foreign policy, including both the maintenance of good relations with Western countries and cooperation with the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations. [24] It spoke of a ten-year transition through which democratic elections would be made possible and a new form of democratic socialism would replace the status quo. [25]

Those who drafted the Action Programme were careful not to criticize the actions of the post-war Communist regime, only to point out policies that they felt had outlived their usefulness. [26] For instance, the immediate post-war situation had required "centralist and directive-administrative methods" [26] to fight against the "remnants of the bourgeoisie." [26] Since the "antagonistic classes" [26] were said to have been defeated with the achievement of socialism, these methods were no longer necessary. Reform was needed for the Czechoslovak economy to join the "scientific-technical revolution in the world", [26] rather than relying on Stalinist-era heavy industry, labour power, and raw materials. [26] Furthermore, since internal class conflict had been overcome, workers could now be duly rewarded for their qualifications and technical skills without contravening Marxism-Leninism. The Programme suggested it was now necessary to ensure important positions were "filled by capable, educated socialist expert cadres" in order to compete with capitalism. [26]

The programme of "socialism with a human face" Edit

Although it was stipulated that reform must proceed under KSČ direction, popular pressure mounted to implement reforms immediately. [27] Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press on 26 June 1968, [25] the Social Democrats began to form a separate party, and new unaffiliated political clubs were created. Party conservatives urged repressive measures, but Dubček counselled moderation and re-emphasized KSČ leadership. [28] At the Presidium of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April, Dubček announced a political programme of "socialism with a human face". [29] In May, he announced that the Fourteenth Party Congress would convene in an early session on 9 September. The congress would incorporate the Action Programme into the party statutes, draft a federalization law, and elect a new Central Committee. [30]

Dubček's reforms guaranteed freedom of the press, and political commentary was allowed for the first time in mainstream media. [31] At the time of the Prague Spring, Czechoslovak exports were declining in competitiveness, and Dubček's reforms planned to solve these troubles by mixing planned and market economies. Within the party, there were varying opinions on how this should proceed certain economists wished for a more mixed economy while others wanted the economy to remain mostly planned. Dubček continued to stress the importance of economic reform proceeding under Communist Party rule. [32]

On 27 June Ludvík Vaculík, a leading author and journalist, published a manifesto titled The Two Thousand Words. It expressed concern about conservative elements within the KSČ and so-called "foreign" forces. Vaculík called on the people to take the initiative in implementing the reform programme. [33] Dubček, the party Presidium, the National Front, and the cabinet denounced this manifesto. [34]

Publications and media Edit

Dubček's relaxation of censorship ushered in a brief period of freedom of speech and the press. [35] The first tangible manifestation of this new policy of openness was the production of the previously hard-line communist weekly Literární noviny, renamed Literární listy. [14] [15]

Freedom of the press also opened the door for the first honest look at Czechoslovakia's past by Czechoslovakia's people. Many of the investigations centered on the country's history under communism, especially in the instance of the Joseph Stalin-period. [14] In another television appearance, Goldstücker presented both doctored and undoctored photographs of former communist leaders who had been purged, imprisoned, or executed and thus erased from communist history. [15] The Writers' Union also formed a committee in April 1968, headed by the poet Jaroslav Seifert, to investigate the persecution of writers after the Communist takeover in February 1948 and rehabilitate the literary figures into the Union, bookstores and libraries, and the literary world. [36] [37] Discussions on the current state of communism and abstract ideas such as freedom and identity were also becoming more common soon, non-party publications began appearing, such as the trade union daily Prace (Labour). This was also helped by the Journalists' Union, which by March 1968 had already persuaded the Central Publication Board, the government censor, to allow editors to receive uncensored subscriptions to foreign papers, allowing for a more international dialogue around the news. [38]

The press, the radio, and the television also contributed to these discussions by hosting meetings where students and young workers could ask questions of writers such as Goldstücker, Pavel Kohout, and Jan Prochazka and political victims such as Josef Smrkovský, Zdenek Hejzlar, and Gustáv Husák. [16] Television also broadcast meetings between former political prisoners and the communist leaders from the secret police or prisons where they were held. [15] Most importantly, this new freedom of the press and the introduction of television into the lives of everyday Czechoslovak citizens moved the political dialogue from the intellectual to the popular sphere.

Initial reaction within the Communist Bloc was mixed. Hungary's János Kádár was highly supportive of Dubček's appointment in January, but Leonid Brezhnev and the hardliners grew concerned about the reforms, which they feared might weaken the position of the Bloc in the Cold War. [39] [40] [41]

At a meeting in Dresden, East Germany on 23 March, the leaders of the "Warsaw Five" (USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and East Germany) questioned the Czechoslovak delegation over the planned reforms, suggesting any talk of "democratization" was a veiled criticism of the Soviet model. [42] The Polish Party leader Władysław Gomułka and János Kádár were less concerned with the reforms themselves than with the growing criticisms levelled by the Czechoslovak media, and worried that the situation might be "similar to. the "Hungarian counterrevolution". [42] Some of the language in the Action Programme may have been chosen to assert that no "counterrevolution" was planned, but Kieran Williams suggests that Dubček was perhaps surprised at, but not resentful of, Soviet suggestions. [43]

In May, the KGB initiated Operation Progress, which involved Soviet agents infiltrating Czechoslovak pro-democratic organizations, such as the Socialist and Christian Democrat parties. [44]

The Soviet leadership tried to stop, or at least limit the changes in the ČSSR through a series of negotiations. The Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks with Czechoslovakia in July at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Soviet border. At the meeting, from 29 July to 1 August, with attendance of Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgorny, Mikhail Suslov and others on the Soviet side and Dubček, Svoboda, Oldřich Černík, Smrkovský and others on the Czechoslovak side, Dubček defended the proposals of the KSČ's reformist wing while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. [24] The KSČ leadership, however, was divided between vigorous reformers (Smrkovský, Černík, and František Kriegel) and hardliners (Vasil Biľak, Drahomír Kolder, and Oldřich Švestka) who adopted an anti-reformist stance. [45]

Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSČ delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "anti-socialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party and control the press more effectively. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their armed forces still in Czechoslovakia after manoeuvres in June and permit the 9 September Party Congress. [45]

On 3 August representatives from the "Warsaw Five" and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration. The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces. [46] The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in any Warsaw Pact country if a "bourgeois" system—a pluralist system of several political parties representing different factions of the "capitalist classes"—was ever established. After the conference, the Soviet troops left Czechoslovak territory but remained along its borders. [47]

Invasion Edit

As these talks proved unsatisfactory, the Soviets began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the Eastern Bloc (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. [48] On the night of 20–21 August, Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries—the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary—invaded the ČSSR. [49] [50]

That night, 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. [51] They first occupied the Ruzyně International Airport, where air deployment of more troops was arranged. The Czechoslovak forces were confined to their barracks, which were surrounded until the threat of a counter-attack was assuaged. By the morning of 21 August Czechoslovakia was occupied. [50]

Romania, Yugoslavia, and Albania refused to take part in the invasion. [52] Soviet command refrained from drawing upon East German troops for fear of reviving memories of the Nazi invasion in 1938. [53] During the invasion 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia), 266 severely wounded and another 436 slightly injured. [54] [55] Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. [55] Nevertheless, there was scattered resistance in the streets. Road signs in towns were removed or painted over—except for those indicating the way to Moscow. [56] Many small villages renamed themselves "Dubcek" or "Svoboda" thus, without navigational equipment, the invaders were often confused. [57]

On the night of the invasion the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without the knowledge of the ČSSR government, but the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request—allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders—for "immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces". [58] At the 14th KSČ Party Congress (conducted secretly, immediately following the intervention), it was emphasized that no member of the leadership had invited the intervention. [59] More recent evidence suggests that conservative KSČ members (including Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek) did send a request for intervention to the Soviets. [60] The invasion was followed by a previously unseen wave of emigration, which was stopped shortly thereafter. An estimated 70,000 citizens fled the country immediately with an eventual total of some 300,000. [61]

Until recently there was some uncertainty as to what provocation, if any, occurred to make the Warsaw Pact armies invade. Preceding the invasion was a rather calm period without any major events taking place in Czechoslovakia. [30]

Reactions to the invasion Edit

In Czechoslovakia, especially in the week following the invasion, popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. [62] Civilians purposely gave wrong directions to invading soldiers, while others identified and followed cars belonging to the secret police. [63] On 16 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest against the renewed suppression of free speech. [64]

The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust the First Secretary. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of 20 August, was taken to Moscow for negotiations. There, he and several other leaders (including all the highest-ranked officials, President Svoboda, Prime Minister Černík and Chairman of the National Assembly Smrkovský) signed the Moscow Protocol, under heavy psychological pressure from Soviet politicians, and it was agreed that Dubček would remain in office and a programme of moderate reform would continue.

On 25 August citizens of the Soviet Union who did not approve of the invasion protested in Red Square seven protesters opened banners with anti-invasion slogans. The demonstrators were brutally beaten and arrested by security forces, and later punished by a secret tribunal the protest was dubbed "anti-Soviet" and several people were detained in psychiatric hospitals. [65]

A more pronounced effect took place in Romania, where Nicolae Ceaușescu, General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, already a staunch opponent of Soviet influences and a self-declared Dubček supporter, gave a public speech in Bucharest on the day of the invasion, depicting Soviet policies in harsh terms. [52] Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in opposition, calling the invasion an act of "social imperialism". In Finland, a country under some Soviet political influence, the occupation caused a major scandal. [66]

Like the Italian and French [67] Communist parties, the majority of the Communist Party of Finland denounced the occupation. Nonetheless, Finnish president Urho Kekkonen was the very first Western politician to officially visit Czechoslovakia after August 1968 he received the highest Czechoslovakian honours from the hands of President Ludvík Svoboda, on 4 October 1969. [66] The Portuguese communist secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal was one of few political leaders from western Europe to have supported the invasion for being counter-revolutionary. [68] along with the Luxembourg party [67] and conservative factions of the Greek party. [67]

Most countries offered only vocal criticism following the invasion. The night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom and the United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. [69] At the meeting, the Czechoslovak ambassador Jan Mužík denounced the invasion. Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik insisted the Warsaw Pact actions were "fraternal assistance" against "antisocial forces". [69]

One of the nations that most vehemently condemned the invasion was China, which objected furiously to the so-called "Brezhnev Doctrine" that declared the Soviet Union alone had the right to determine what nations were properly Communist and could invade those Communist nations whose communism did not meet the Kremlin's approval. [70] Mao Zedong saw the Brezhnev doctrine as the ideological basis for a Soviet invasion of China, and launched a massive propaganda campaign condemning the invasion of Czechoslovakia, despite his own earlier opposition to the Prague Spring. [70] Speaking at a banquet at the Romanian embassy in Beijing on 23 August 1968, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai denounced the Soviet Union for "fascist politics, great power chauvinism, national egoism and social imperialism", going on to compare the invasion of Czechoslovakia to the American war in Vietnam and more pointedly to the policies of Adolf Hitler towards Czechoslovakia in 1938–39. [70] Zhou ended his speech with a barely veiled call for the people of Czechoslovakia to wage guerrilla war against the Red Army. [70]

The next day, several countries suggested a United Nations resolution condemning the intervention and calling for immediate withdrawal. Eventually, a UN vote was taken with ten members supporting the motion Algeria, India, and Pakistan abstained the USSR (with veto power) and Hungary opposed. Canadian delegates immediately introduced another motion asking for a UN representative to travel to Prague and work toward the release of the imprisoned Czechoslovak leaders. [69]

By 26 August a new Czechoslovak representative requested the whole issue be removed from the Security Council's agenda. Shirley Temple Black visited Prague in August 1968 to prepare for becoming the US Ambassador for a free Czechoslovakia. However, after the 21 August invasion she became part of a U.S. Embassy-organized convoy of vehicles that evacuated U.S. citizens from the country. [71] In August 1989, she returned to Prague as U.S. Ambassador, three months before the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule. [72]

In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "normalization" began. [73] Dubček was expelled from the KSČ and given a job as a forestry official. [23] [74]

Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of its liberal members, and dismissed from public office professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political transformation. [75] Husák worked to reinstate the power of the police and strengthen ties with the rest of the Communist bloc. He also sought to re-centralize the economy, as a considerable amount of freedom had been granted to industries during the Prague Spring. [75] Commentary on politics was forbidden in mainstream media, and political statements by anyone not considered to have "full political trust" were also banned. [31] The only significant change that survived was the federalization of the country, which created the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969. In 1987, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Dubček's "socialism with a human face". [76] When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and Gorbachev's own reforms, a Foreign Ministry spokesman replied, "Nineteen years." [77]

Dubček lent his support to the Velvet Revolution of December 1989. After the collapse of the Communist regime that month, Dubček became chairman of the federal assembly under the Havel administration. [78] He later led the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and spoke against the dissolution of Czechoslovakia before his death in November 1992. [79]

Normalization and censorship Edit

The Warsaw Pact invasion included attacks on media establishments, such as Radio Prague and Czechoslovak Television, almost immediately after the initial tanks rolled into Prague on 21 August 1968. [80] While both the radio station and the television station managed to hold out for at least enough time for initial broadcasts of the invasion, what the Soviets did not attack by force they attacked by reenacting party censorship. In reaction to the invasion, on 28 August 1968, all Czechoslovak publishers agreed to halt production of newspapers for the day to allow for a "day of reflection" for the editorial staffs. [81] Writers and reporters agreed with Dubcek to support a limited reinstitution of the censorship office, as long as the institution was to only last three months. [82] Finally, by September 1968, the Czechoslovak Communist Party plenum was held to instate the new censorship law. In the words of the Moscow-approved resolution, "The press, radio, and television are first of all the instruments for carrying into life the policies of the Party and state." [83]

While this was not yet the end of the media's freedom after the Prague Spring, it was the beginning of the end. During November, the Presidium, under Husak, declared that the Czechoslovak press could not make any negative remarks about the Soviet invaders or they would risk violating the agreement they had come to at the end of August. When the weeklies Reporter and Politika responded harshly to this threat, even going so far as to not so subtly criticize the Presidium itself in Politika, the government banned Reporter for a month, suspended Politika indefinitely, and prohibited any political programs from appearing on the radio or television. [84]

The intellectuals were stuck at an impasse they recognized the government's increasing normalization, but they were unsure whether to trust that the measures were only temporary or demand more. For example, still believing in Dubcek's promises for reform, Milan Kundera published the article "Cesky udel" (Our Czech Destiny) in Literarni listy on 19 December. [37] [85] He wrote: "People who today are falling into depression and defeatism, commenting that there are not enough guarantees, that everything could end badly, that we might again end up in a marasmus of censorship and trials, that this or that could happen, are simply weak people, who can live only in illusions of certainty." [86]

In March 1969, however, the new Soviet-backed Czechoslovakian government instituted full censorship, effectively ending the hopes that normalization would lead back to the freedoms enjoyed during the Prague Spring. A declaration was presented to the Presidium condemning the media as co-conspirators against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in their support of Dubcek's liberalization measures. Finally, on 2 April 1969, the government adopted measures "to secure peace and order" through even stricter censorship, forcing the people of Czechoslovakia to wait until the thawing of Eastern Europe for the return of a free media. [87]

Former students from Prague, including Constantine Menges, and Czech refugees from the crisis, who were able to escape or resettle in Western Countries continued to advocate for human rights, religious liberty, freedom of speech and political asylum for Czech political prisoners and dissidents. Many raised concerns about the Soviet Union and Red Army's continued military occupation of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Moscow and Eastern Europe.

Cultural impact Edit

The Prague Spring deepened the disillusionment of many Western leftists with Soviet views. It contributed to the growth of Eurocommunist ideas in Western communist parties, which sought greater distance from the Soviet Union and eventually led to the dissolution of many of these groups. [88] A decade later, a period of Chinese political liberalization became known as the Beijing Spring. It also partly influenced the Croatian Spring in Communist Yugoslavia. [89] In a 1993 Czech survey, 60% of those surveyed had a personal memory linked to the Prague Spring while another 30% were familiar with the events in another form. [90] The demonstrations and regime changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East from December 2010 have frequently been referred to as an "Arab Spring".

The event has been referenced in popular music, including the music of Karel Kryl, Luboš Fišer's Requiem, [91] and Karel Husa's Music for Prague 1968. [92] The Israeli song "Prague", written by Shalom Hanoch and performed by Arik Einstein at the Israel Song Festival of 1969, was a lamentation on the fate of the city after the Soviet invasion and mentions Jan Palach's Self-immolation. [93] "They Can't Stop The Spring", a song by Irish journalist and songwriter John Waters, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. Waters has described it as "a kind of Celtic celebration of the Eastern European revolutions and their eventual outcome", quoting Dubček's alleged comment: "They may crush the flowers, but they can't stop the Spring." [94]

The Prague Spring is featured in several works of literature. Milan Kundera set his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being during the Prague Spring. It follows the repercussions of increased Soviet presence and the dictatorial police control of the population. [95] A film version was released in 1988. The Liberators, by Viktor Suvorov, is an eyewitness description of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, from the point of view of a Soviet tank commander. [96] Rock 'n' Roll, a play by award-winning Czech-born English playwright Tom Stoppard, references the Prague Spring, as well as the 1989 Velvet Revolution. [97] Heda Margolius Kovály also ends her memoir Under a Cruel Star with a first hand account of the Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion, and her reflections upon these events. [98]

In film there has been an adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and also the movie Pelíšky from director Jan Hřebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský, which depicts the events of the Prague Spring and ends with the invasion by the Soviet Union and their allies. [99] The Czech musical film, Rebelové from Filip Renč, also depicts the events, the invasion and subsequent wave of emigration. [99]

The number 68 has become iconic in the former Czechoslovakia. Hockey player Jaromír Jágr, whose grandfather died in prison during the rebellion, wears the number because of the importance of the year in Czechoslovak history. [100] [101] A former publishing house based in Toronto, 68 Publishers, that published books by exiled Czech and Slovak authors, took its name from the event.

The anarchist Colin Ward argues that a significantly anarchist street culture developed during the Prague Spring as citizens became increasingly defiant of government authorities and began to occupy workplaces and created mutual aid networks between telephone workers, truck drivers and university students. Furthermore, during the Soviet invasion, anarchists took to the streets and battled tanks and soldiers with rocks, Molotov cocktails and improvised weapons. [102]

Places and historical sites Edit

The photographs were taken in Vinohradská Avenue and Wenceslas Square are widely represented in the photographic archive of the 1968 invasion while other sites of protests are missing. The memory of the Prague Spring is marked by the Czech republic's and Slovakia's desire to avoid unpleasant collective memories leading to a process of historical amnesia and narrative whitewashing. Photographs taken by Josef Koudelka portray memories of the invasion such as a memorial to the victims set up in Wenceslas Square. There are many omnipresent signs of memorial of the Soviet invasion in the city of Prague. [103]

During the invasion, protesters set up several memorials to record the location of the victims’ death. The Jan Palach memorial is a monument remembering the suicide of a student in 1969. This place is often called the "boulevard of history" Palach was the first to kill himself in Wenceslas Square but was not the last, he was belonging to a student pact of resistance. [104] There is also the memorial for the victims of communism in Prague is a narrowing staircase along which seven male bronze silhouettes descend. The first one, the one at the bottom, is complete, while the others gradually disappear. It aims at representing the same person at different phases of the destruction caused by communist ideology. [105]

Conflicted memories Edit

The Prague Spring has deeply marked the history of communism in Eastern Europe even though its outcomes were modest. Rather than remembering the cultural democratization, the opening of the press and its impact on the emergence of a new form of socialism, history textbooks consider Prague Spring as one of the major crises of Socialism in the Soviet bloc [ according to whom? ] . The memory has acquired a negative significance as marking disillusion of political hopes within Eastern European communism. Indeed, long hidden and rejected from the collective memory, the Prague Spring of 1968 is rarely commemorated in Prague and is often considered a painful defeat, a symbol of disappointed hope and surrender that heralds twenty years of 'normalisation' [ citation needed ] . It was not until the 2000s, following the publication of texts dating from 1968, such as Milan Kundera, "Cesky udel" (The Czech Fate), and Vaclav Havel, "Cesky udel?" published in 2007 in the weekly magazine Literarni Noviny (52/1) , that the debate on the Prague Spring resumed. Indeed, the posterity of the Prague Spring remains first and foremost the memory of the military intervention of the Warsaw Pact as well as the failure of reform within a communist regime, which definitely discredited the Dubcekian "revisionist" perspective in the East [ citation needed ] . The memory of the Prague Spring is thus largely obscured and often overviewed [ by whom? ] . Indeed, the Prague Spring also deeply impacted the Czech society and should also be remembered for the cultural momentum that accompanied and illustrated this movement, of which there are still films, novels, and plays [ specify ] . The Prague Spring also influenced a renewal of the Prague artistic and cultural scene as well as a liberalization of society which deeply marked the following years. The 1960s indeed saw the emergence of a major shift in Czechoslovakia with cultural changes and movement coming from the West, notably rock music and sub-cultural movements which are the symbol of cultural renewal for Czechoslovakia [ citation needed ] . The Czech sixties were thus a process of emancipation of culture from the constraints of existing political structures and were the prelude to the upheavals of 1968. In fact, the regime's political crisis did not begin with Dubcek's election as party leader on 5 January 1968, but with the break-up speeches delivered at the Writers' Congress in June 1967 by Ludvik Vaculik, Milan Kundera and Antonin Liehm. In addition, the revitalization of society was also an essential component of the Prague Spring. Indeed, the great achievements of the Prague Spring, i. e. the abolition of censorship, the restoration of individual and collective freedoms. have revitalized society, which has begun to express itself more freely. Although the Prague Spring only restored what had existed thirty years earlier in Czechoslovakia, the spring of 1968 had a profound and long-lasting impact on the society. [103] [ failed verification ]

Recently, the anniversary of the 50 years of the conflict raised the question of the memory of the Prague Spring. The European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, himself a Slovak, reminded us on the occasion that "we should never tolerate a breach of international law, crushing people's legitimate yearning for freedom and democracy". The European justice commissioner Věra Jourová also made a speech. However, the memory is still very conflicted as demonstrated when the Czech Republic's pro-Russian President Miloš Zeman refused to attend any ceremony remembering the Prague Spring and didn't give any speech in memory of the numerous deaths. [106]

The memory of the Prague Spring is also transmitted through testimonies of former Czechoslovak citizens. In a 2018 article, Radio Free Europe collected testimonies of four women who witnessed the Warsaw Pact troops invasion and bravely acted. Stanislava Draha who volunteered to help some of the 500 wounded testifies says that the invasion had a major impact on her life. Besides, Vera Homolova, a radio reporter broadcasting the invasion from a covert studio testifies " I experienced the Soviet-led troops shooting recklessly into the Czechoslovak Radio's building, into windows" . In the aftermath, Vera Roubalova, who reacted as a student to the occupation by demonstrating posters, that tensions were still present towards the countries that occupied Czechoslovakia. On the night of August 20–21, 137 Czechoslovaks died during the invasion. [107]

Czechoslovakia resistance

Czechoslovakia’s resistance movement, like others in Europe, was split between those loyal to Stalin and those loyal to their government in exile. Like other resistance units in Europe, they played an important part in World War Two – if only for the intelligence they gathered for the Allies.

Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist when Hitler sent in his forces to Slovakia in March 1939 in defiance of the Munich Agreement. A Czech representative council had been established in London. In early 1940 it had made contact with elements of the resistance movement within Czechoslovakia and amalgamated the various units together into the Central Leadership of Resistance at Home (UVOD). Communist groups within Czechoslovakia did not join UVOD as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939. However, this approach ended with Operation Barbarossa in June 1941.

Occupied Czechoslovakia had been treated as other occupied countries were – cruelly. Collaborators had helped the Germans in enforcing its authority over the Czech people. Many thousands had been deported to Germany as forced labourers, rationing gave the people the barest amounts of food and those in work had their salaries drastically cut. Reinhard Heydrich was sent to Prague in September 1941 to enforce Nazi rule. Within a few weeks, the Gestapo rounded up nearly 5000 people thought to be associated with the resistance movement within Czechoslovakia. The majority were murdered.

If anything, this action by Heydrich seemed to spur on those in UVOD. Sabotage was used with increasing success. According to German records, factory production went down by 33% during the second half of 1941. Heydrich wrote to Martin Bormann, that his attempts to put down the resistance movement in Czechoslovakia had not been as successful as he would have wished.

In May 1942, Heydrich was assassinated by two Czech agents trained and sent out by the British. It seems that UVOD did not support this move as they feared the consequences. They had good reason to do so as the villages of Lidice and Lezaky were destroyed along with their inhabitants, thousands of hostages were shot and many more sent to concentration camps. UVOD suffered badly as a result of Heydrich’s assassination. It continued to operate but as separate units within Czechoslovakia. The government in exile in London ordered what remained of UVOD to operate on a “defensive basis” only.

This meant in essence the collection of intelligence for the Allies as opposed to sabotage, killings etc that were bound to result in savage reprisals. UVOD was very good at intelligence gathering and their network even collected intelligence on German operations in the Balkans and it passed on to the Allies intelligence on the V1 and V2 laboratories at Peenemünde.

The Czech communist resistance groups wanted a more direct approach. Their loyalty was to Stalin and not to the government in exile. As the Red Army advanced west and the German Army retreated, groups of Czech communist resistance fighters joined either the advancing Red Army to fight or joined Russian resistance fighters. Their work as resistance fighters also continued in Czechoslovakia itself. Russian trained agents operated in Slovakia and as the Red Army became more and more successful, these agents within Slovakia encouraged more and more people to involve themselves in an armed uprising. As the German Army started to retreat and the Red Army started to assert itself in Eastern Europe, the Czech communist resistance movement effectively dominated all the key posts in the resistance movement in Czechoslovakia. Any co-operation between the communists and other groups within UVOD ended.

Munich and Its Alternative: The Case for Resistance

“You have only to look at the map…to see that nothing that France or we could do could possibly save Czechoslovakia from being overrun by the Germans, if they wanted to do it. I have therefore abandoned any idea of giving guarantees to Czechoslovakia, or to the French in connection with her obligations to that country.”
—Neville Chamberlain to his sister, 20 March 1938

“How erroneous Mr. Chamberlain’s private and earnest reasoning appears when we cast our minds forward to the guarantee he was to give to Poland within a year, after all the strategic value of Czechoslovakia had been cast away, and Hitler’s power and prestige had almost doubled!”
—Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 1948

“In consequence of Wehrmacht demands and unlimited construction on the Westwall, so tense a situation in the economic sector occurred that the continuation of the tension past October 10 would have made a catastrophe inevitable.”
—Reich Defense Committee, October 1938

The theory that Neville Chamberlain saved Britain from a military and strategic defeat by his surrender to Adolf Hitler’s demands at Munich has been around for decades, and was cited by a professor at the last Churchill conference. In terms of the strategic and military situation in 1938, this theory could not be more incorrect.

Like most people, too many historians possess linear minds, and seem to believe that were one historical event changed, everything else would remain the same. Thus many defenders of the Munich surrender argue that, had war broken out in autumn 1938, the Germans would have conquered the Czechs just as quickly as they did the Poles the following year. Then, in spring 1939, they would have destroyed the French as quickly as in 1940, turning on a defenseless Britain, which would have had an insufficient number of Hurricanes and Spitfires to defend itself against the Luftwaffe.

What such reasoning misses are the enormous changes in the balance of military power and the overall strategic situation that actually occurred between autumn 1938 and when war actually broke out in September 1939. At the time of Munich, the Germans were extraordinarily weaker than they would be a year later. Here then is a modest lesson for scholars and others who are contemptuous of military and strategic history, but happy to comment on it when the occasion suits them.

To judge the question properly, we must consider the preparedness of the three German military services for a major war in 1938 the overall economic and strategic situation at the time of Munich and the results of Western policies in the months following Munich. None of this will suggest that the Western Powers in 1938 confronted a desperate strategic situation leading inexorably to defeat. What really matters is the actual context within which the military power of the West would have confronted war and Nazi Germany in 1938. 1

German Vulnerabilities

The German army in late summer 1938 was just completing the first stages of its rearmament programs. It possessed only three armored divisions, all of which were equipped with light tanks, obsolete even by standards of the time. One year later, it would possess six panzer divisions, which it would buttress with the first runs of Mark III and IV medium tanks.

The Germans would find the Czech tanks they seized in March 1939 quite useful three of the ten panzer divisions that invaded France in May 1940, including Rommel’s famous Seventh Panzer Division, would be equipped with Czech tanks. In May 1940, those ten panzer divisions would just manage to break through the French defenses in the Ardennes. It is hard to see how 1938’s three divisions of light tanks could have achieved the smashing victories Hitler wanted in either autumn 1938 or spring 1939.

While in a strategic sense the Czech position seemed hopeless, tactically their country was far more defensible than Poland would prove the following year, surrounded as Czechoslovakia was by major mountain chains.

Moreover, Czech equipment was much more up-to-date than that of the Poles, while the German army was far smaller and less robust than it would be the following year. In 1938, the Germans had barely enough divisions to handle a major campaign against Czechoslovakia. Only a handful of divisions were available to defend against any French incursion—there would undoubtedly have been few of those—and if the Poles intervened they would have tied up von Rundstedt’s army in Silesia. 2

Hitler’s seizure of the rump of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 made for dramatic changes in the situation over the following year. Captured Czech armaments allowed the Wehrmacht to equip no fewer than four of its infantry divisions, as well as all of the Waffen SS divisions that would invade France in 1940. In addition, the Germans would sell a substantial portion of the arms dumps they seized to the Balkan countries for the hard currency their economy desperately needed. Czech defense industries such as the Skoda Works, and Czech stockpiles of raw materials and foreign exchange, would significantly aid the Germans in their continued armament efforts. Ironically, the Skoda Works would remain the last major industrial concern still producing armaments for the Wehrmacht in 1945. 3

If the German army was unprepared for war in 1938, the other two services were in even worse condition. That summer, the Luftwaffe’s combat squadrons were evolving a new generation of aircraft—the stress-winged monoplanes that would dominate World War II. But its operationally-ready rates were barely over 50 percent, while its pilots were still largely untrained. The result was 1937-38’s accident rate, horrendous even by the standards of the time. After the crisis was over, the Luftwaffe’s chief of supply noted that the consequence of these circumstances was “a) a constant, and for first line aircraft, a complete lack of reserves both as accident replacements and for mobilization b) a weakening of the aircraft inventory in the training schools in favor of regular units and c) a lack of necessary reserve engines, supplies for the timely equipment of airfields, supply services, and depots both for peacetime needs as well as for mobilization.” 4

Strategically, the Germans were also unprepared to launch major bombing attacks against the United Kingdom. One member of the air staff of Second Air Force noted that his service only possessed the ability to inflict pinpricks on the British. 5 Based in Germany, far from the English Channel, and possessing only obsolete twin-engine bombers, the Luftwaffe was in no position to match the efforts it made in summer 1940 during the Battle of Britain—and it is well to remember how dismally those efforts failed.

The German navy was worse off than the Luftwaffe. No major fleet units, on which Hitler was lavishing so many resources, were ready for deployment in 1938 the only combat-ready units were three pocket battleships, in fact nothing more than glorified heavy cruisers. As for submarines, the navy possessed only a handful, none of which were fully combat-ready. They could have made only a few desperate forays against British trade, which would not have had serious impact on the overall strategic situation. The German navy could not even execute an invasion of Norway, which succeeded only by the barest margins in April 1940, and at a cost of virtually the entire German fleet.

As dubious as Germany’s military situation in 1938 was the Reich’s overheated economy, a result of the massive rearmament Hitler had launched when he took power in 1933. This in turn posed serious difficulties in accessing raw materials crucial to a major armaments program. One does not wage a major war without access to raw materials or at least significant stockpiles yet this is what Hitler threatened to do at Munich, much to the consternation of his generals (see following article).

The only raw material Germany had in abundance was coal. It did have some deposits of iron ore, most of it with a low percentage of iron content. Imported high-grade French and Swedish ore was essential to the functioning of a steel industry on which the war effort would depend. But war with the West would cut off the French supply, while Swedish ore would be problematic unless the Germans could seize Norway, which they were in no position to do in 1938.

Every other major raw material, including oil, rubber, manganese and aluminum, was either in short supply or non-existent on German territory. In peacetime Germany bought those materials with its limited hard currency: thus, German industry was unable to supply 59 percent of the Wehrmacht’s orders in the period before the war.

In 1939-40 the Germans would receive considerable help from the booty they seized in Czechoslovakia, as well as supplies received from the Soviet Union. In 1938 those stockpiles were not at their disposal. Russian aid only began to accelerate after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939.

The Anschluss with Austria in March 1938 brought a mild improvement in the German economic picture, but Hitler’s massive war preparations—mobilization against the Czechs, and the Westwall to protect the Franco-German frontier—created what was close to an economic crisis. By October 1938 the lack of foreign exchange had forced many rearmament industries to begin using emergency stockpiles. Petroleum stocks were almost exhausted when the Rumanians indicated at the end of September that they were about to shut off exports to the Reich. In early October the Reich Defense Committee reported that “in consequence of Wehrmacht demands and unlimited construction on the Westwall, so tense a situation in the economic sector occurred (coal, supplies for industries, harvest of potatoes and turnips, food supplies) that the continuation of the tension past October 10 would have made a catastrophe inevitable.” 6

Armament decisions by Hitler and his advisers underline the seriousness of Germany’s economic situation. In January 1939 Hitler announced a great export drive, but his speech was really a smokescreen to cover his massive cuts in the allocation of raw materials to the armed services. The Führer cut Wehrmacht steel allocations by 30 percent, copper by 20 percent, aluminum by 47 percent, rubber by 14 percent, and cement by 25-45 percent. 7

Not only was the 1938 German economy unprepared to bear the burdens of a major conflict, but war with the West would inevitably entail a British naval blockade that would halt the great majority of German imports. In 1939, the Germans would find the Soviets willing to help them avoid the full impact of a British blockade. But there was little chance of Russian assistance in 1938.

Would the German economy have collapsed under the pressures of war in 1938? Undoubtedly not, but it certainly could not have supported a major war. Indeed these prevailing economic difficulties convinced Hitler to occupy the remainder of Czechoslovakia six months after the signing of the Munich Agreement, finally awakening the British and French, although not necessarily their leaders, to the fact that Nazi Germany represented an unavoidable danger.

The Anglo-French

If Germany was not ready for war in 1938, neither were the Western Powers. Nonetheless, the Allies would be in an even more dangerous situation by 1939. At the time of Munich, their navies were unchallenged. In terms of air power, the French were considerably behind the Germans, 8 while the RAF was beginning serial production of both Hurricanes and Spitfires. Although the British had not yet built up their defensive forces to provide the solid shield they would possess in 1940, it did not matter, because the Luftwaffe as yet lacked the means to launch effective strikes against the British Isles.

In terms of preparedness and doctrine, the French Army remained firmly mired in the First World War. Again, that was less of a problem in 1938, when modern German armored forces were so few in number, incapable of striking a deep and effective blow. German military leaders were well aware of their weakness. A memorandum by one senior naval officer warned: “A war against England and France means, militarily speaking, a lost war for Germany with all its consequences.” 9 The chief of the German General Staff, General Ludwig Beck, was equally forthright in his warnings.

Two factors contributed mightily to the surrender at Munich. First, the terrible impact of the First World War’s losses weighed heavily on the British and French people—so much so that their leaders simply couldn’t believe Hitler would actually consider war as a realistic option. Second, a series of strategic appreciations which the French and British military ground out in large numbers during spring and summer 1938 uniformly bemoaned how desperate was the strategic situation. The British chiefs of staff, I suspect, painted a gloomier picture than they need have, hoping to push the government to greater defense allocations.

These dark military forecasts certainly encouraged the policy of appeasement, though on several occasions that arch-appeaser, Lord Halifax, told his colleagues that if it came to war, the Allies would probably win. Yet, in their almost endless discussions of the strategic situation, Chamberlain’s Cabinet left out perhaps the most important question of all: what would the strategic situation look like if the British and French handed over Czechoslovakia, and then had to fight the Germans a year later? Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Trade, actually raised that question, but so late that the chiefs of staff never completed a study of the matter, and it was never discussed in Cabinet.

What happened after Munich underlines the weaknesses in Allied understanding of how dangerous a situation they now confronted. Politically, Chamberlain found himself in a conundrum. Through the summer of 1938, he and his supporters had cited British military unpreparedness to persuade waverers among their supporters, who were finding further appeasement repugnant. Having done so, the Prime Minister found himself under pressure to repair those deficiencies. Publicly, he announced that that was precisely what the government would do. But one of his chief advisers, Sir Horace Wilson, told him the government should make no changes in defense policies lest it provoke the Germans. Defense thus fell between two stools: promises of more, but little change at a crucial time.

Only minimal increases in defense spending occurred in the six months following Munich. Although the army had been capable of sending only two under-equipped divisions to the continent in September 1938, Chamberlain resisted all efforts to increase its budget until late February 1939, when it became clear that the French might not be willing to stand by the British should the Germans invade Holland as a precursor to launching attacks on the British Isles. The navy received funding for a few minesweepers and twenty escort vessels the dredging of Dover and Rosyth harbors an airfield at Scapa Flow and permission to order armor plating from Czechoslovakia—hardly impressive increases in spending.

Supporters of Chamberlain’s action at Munich have argued that it allowed Britain to repair its weakness in fighter aircraft. In fact, the Cabinet increased the number of fighters on order only by extending the two-year contract to three years. There were no production increases of Hurricanes and Spitfires after Munich, even though British factories were turning out fighters at a faster rate than contracts called for. In effect, the six months after Munich represented a wasting period that did nothing to repair the deficiencies of Britain’s defenses. All the while, the Germans were urgently attempting to increase military production in spite of their economic difficulties.

It has often been claimed, as recently as at the 2013 Washington conference, that Churchill, confronted by the gloomy prognostications of the chiefs of staff, would have taken the same path at Munich as Chamberlain. But on 23 September 1938, the British chiefs of staff produced a far more optimistic paper than they had earlier. “Until such time as we can build up our fighting potential,” they wrote, “we cannot hope for quick results. Nevertheless, the latent resources of the Empire and the doubtful morale of our opponents under the stress of war give us confidence as to the ultimate outcome.” 10

Their newfound optimism probably reflected intelligence coming out of the Third Reich as to how badly prepared for war the Germans really were in 1938. Some of that intelligence had come from representatives of the German general staff itself—intelligence that Neville Chamberlain dismissed.

Had Churchill been prime minister, based on his habits when he did come to lead, there is no doubt that he would have paid closer attention. He would certainly have challenged the pusillanimous, worst-case staff studies produced by various military committees that made up the British high command. But in 1938 Churchill was neither prime minister nor a member of the Cabinet. He was still in the wilderness, a frustrated observer as his country lurched toward disaster.

Dr. Murray is professor emeritus at Ohio State University, adjunct professor at Marine Corps University, and author or editor of many books on military history, strategy and theory. His latest book, Moment of Battle, with James Lacey, covers twenty crucial battles in history. His next book, on the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, will appear this summer.


1. For a more detailed discussion of the military and strategic issues involved in the Czech crisis see Williamson Murray, The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938- 1939: The Path to Ruin (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), especially chapters 6, 7, and 8.

2. The Poles were on the fence. If the French and British came in, they hoped to attack the Germans. If the French and British stayed out, they hoped to grab some of Czechoslovakia (and did: see page 29), but this might have involved them in a war with the Soviets. The political-diplomatic situation was precarious in autumn 1938 and no one can predict how the dominoes might have fallen in the various scenarios.

3. Chris Bishop, Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (New York: Sterling, 2002), 128.

4. Milch Collection, Imperial War Museum, Reel 55, vol. 57, Der Chef des Nachschubamts, Nr. 3365/38, 3 November 1938.

6. National Archives and Records Service Microfilm T-1022/3048/PG33272, Reichsverteidigungsausschuss, 15 December 1938.

8. The French, who had invested minimal sums in aircraft development, were two years behind the Germans and a year behind the British. Introducing revolutionary aircraft invariably leads to high accident rates and low commission rates. The Germans went through that process in 1937-38, the British in 1939, the French in 1940 Thus France had two outstanding fighter aircraft in May 1940 but their squadrons were 50-70 percent out of commission with lots of accidents. It all goes back to the disastrous industrial and defense policies of Leon Blum. See Murray, passim.

9. Bundesarchiv/Militärarchiv, K10-2/6, Captain Heye, “Beurteilung der Lage Deutschland-Tschechei,” July 1938.

10. National Archives (formerly Public Records Office) CAB 53/41, COS 773, COS Committee, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” 24 September 1938.

Soviets invade Czechoslovakia

On the night of August 20, 1968, approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring”𠅊 brief period of liberalization in the communist country. Czechoslovakians protested the invasion with public demonstrations and other non-violent tactics, but they were no match for the Soviet tanks. The liberal reforms of First Secretary Alexander Dubcek were repealed and “normalization” began under his successor Gustav Husak.

Pro-Soviet communists seized control of Czechoslovakia’s democratic government in 1948. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin imposed his will on Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders, and the country was run as a Stalinist state until 1964, when a gradual trend toward liberalization began. However, modest economic reform was not enough for many Czechoslovakians, and beginning in 1966 students and intellectuals began to agitate for changes to education and an end to censorship. First Secretary Antonin Novotny’s problems were made worse by opposition from Slovakian leaders, among them Alexander Dubcek and Gustav Husak, who accused the central government of being dominated by Czechs.

In January 1968, Novotny was replaced as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, who was unanimously elected by the Czechoslovakian Central Committee. To secure his power base, Dubcek appealed to the public to voice support for his proposed reforms. The response was overwhelming, and Czech and Slovak reformers took over the communist leadership.

In April, the new leadership unveiled its �tion Program,” promising democratic elections, greater autonomy for Slovakia, freedom of speech and religion, the abolition of censorship, an end to restrictions on travel, and major industrial and agricultural reforms. Dubcek declared that he was offering “socialism with a human face.” The Czechoslovakian public greeted the reforms joyously, and Czechoslovakia’s long stagnant national culture began to bloom during what became known as the Prague Spring. In late June, a popular petition called the “Two Thousand Words” was published calling for even more rapid progress to full democracy. The Soviet Union and its satellites Poland and East Germany were alarmed by what appeared to be the imminent collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned Dubcek to halt his reforms, but the Czechoslovakian leader was buoyed by his popularity and dismissed the veiled threats. Dubcek declined to attend a special meeting of the Warsaw Pact powers in July, but on August 2 he agreed to meet with Brezhnev in the Slovakian town of Cierny. The next day, representatives of European Europe’s communist parties met in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, and a communiquÉ was issued suggesting that pressure would be eased on Czechoslovakia in exchange for tighter control over the press.

However, on the night of August 20, nearly 200,000 Soviet, East German, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops invaded Czechoslovakia in the largest deployment of military force in Europe since the end of World War II. Armed resistance to the invasion was negligible, but protesters immediately took to the streets, tearing down streets signs in an effort to confuse the invaders. In Prague, Warsaw Pact troops moved to seize control of television and radio stations. At Radio Prague, journalists refused to give up the station and some 20 people were killed before it was captured. Other stations went underground and succeeded in broadcasting for several days before their locations were discovered.

Dubcek and other government leaders were detained and taken to Moscow. Meanwhile, widespread demonstrations continued on the street, and more than 100 protesters were shot to death by Warsaw Pact troops. Many foreign nations, including China, Yugoslavia, and Romania, condemned the invasion, but no major international action was taken. Much of Czechoslovakia’s intellectual and business elite fled en masse to the West.

On August 27, Dubcek returned to Prague and announced in an emotional address that he had agreed to curtail his reforms. Hard-line communists assumed positions in his government, and Dubcek was forced gradually to dismiss his progressive aides. He became increasingly isolated from both the public and his government. After anti-Soviet rioting broke out in April 1969, he was removed as first secretary and replaced by Gustav Husak, a “realist” who was willing to work with the Soviets. Dubcek was later expelled from the Communist Party and made a forest inspector based in Bratislava.

In 1989, as communist governments collapsed across Eastern Europe, Prague again became the scene of demonstrations for democratic reform. In December 1989, Gustav Husak’s government conceded to demands for a multiparty parliament. Husak resigned, and for the first time in nearly two decades Dubcek returned to politics as chairman of the new parliament, which subsequently elected playwright and former dissident Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. Havel had come to fame during the Prague Spring, and after the Soviet crackdown his plays were banned and his passport confiscated.

Why didn't Czechoslovakia resist the German invasion in 1938?

Question came up after a very late night at our country house over far too many shots of hard stuff with the fam.

Czechoslovakia's president staunchly negotiated with Germany to stop an invasion, despite the Munich Conference. If I remember correctly, he even suffered a heart attack over how tense the negotiations went. The president pulled every diplomatic connection he had to allay the invasion, reach common ground on the terms, and prolong negotiations. However, when push came to shove, no one made a peep. Was it fear? Austria did not resist because they felt themselves part of the resurgent Great Teutonic Nation™, and beckoned on the Anschluss. But the Czechs weren't part of said Great Teutonic Nation™, they were slavs, and, as far as I know, did not feel privy of the festivity. Why was there no resistance, then. were they just afraid, as I mentioned before, or was there some other factor that warmed them up to the Germans?

The Czechoslovaks didn't "warm up" to the Germans. The threat of war against a stronger opponent with no allies of their own dissuaded them from resisting. FR/UK had made it clear they wouldn't support them, and possibly consider them at fault for sparking the conflict should they resist the Germans militarily. The USSR had made some overtures but if memory serves, Poland refused to allow them access (which doesn't sound entirely unreasonable, seeing what happened a short while later).

Even the CZSK military plans acknowledged the situation as hopeless and relied on a fighting retreat eastwards to Slovakia's mountainous terrain where they would wait for relief from western allies - which wouldn't come.

Also there were a few minor instances of armed resistance but nothing major. For example one of the garrison units in Northern Moravia/Silesia fought the Germans, if memory serves.

Oh and the heart attack part - you're mixing up two things, the Munich Conference was in 1938, then in 1939 Hacha suffered a heart attack when Germany decided to invade the rest of CZSK.

The British may have forgotten it, but Czechs don't forget the 30 Years' War, when they expected the support of their Protestant allies and received jack and squat. Their forces were wiped out at the Battle of White Mountain where they were vastly outnumbered, 27 leaders of the insurrection were summarily executed in Prague's Old Town Square, and there followed 2 centuries of forced recatholicization known as the Czech Dark Age. Now I ask you.

Poland take their share of Czechoslovakia too. Tesin, if my memory right.

No other country "had their back." Czechoslovakia was a small, new, and weak country. It could not hope to fight off the germans. So, their gov't did the realistic thing and gave up.

Historical background is fine but then there is the real world of the moment. People are naive when they think of war. Those of us whio have been in the military know that streets become eerily empty when a bullet is fired.

People are not stupid and do not want to die. Even more so if you see a pile of bloody flesh on the street. The Czechs, Dutch, Danes, etc. are humans like everyone and do not fight a tiger with a stick. Not fighting is not the same as collaborating. Unlike in the movies a gang of bullies aren't defeated by a brave individual refusing to cooperate. the individual is thrown to the ground and his head blown off. with villagers watching.

I wish everyone whose question is inspired by gaming (not this post, to clarify) could read this. The 1939 generation could well remember the brutal mass slaughter and home front starvation of World War One. Hitler's bluffing and bullying worked well for this reason and is a reason why the Nazis and militarists of the time were such pure evil. They wanted all that again.

Appeasement by the British and French governments to avoid war was one of the main reasons for this.

Chamberlain was more worried about the rise of Stalin and communism and wanted to stop it at all costs. The French government has equal concerns and internal pressures.

At this time both France and Britain wanted to keep the status quo in Europe and to remain powerful players. Therefore to keep Hitler at bay they merely sat back and allowed Germany under Hitler to invade and take territory.

I’m a Historian as of last week and wrote the above for my exam.

Sudetenland fortifications weren't finished. Without them, Czechs didn't stand a single chance to face German, Polish and Hungarian armies accompanied by german minority and Slovak fascism.

Not saying that finished fortification would guarantee success, but there would be at least small chance. Without them, there was none.

Without help from the French and the British, resistance was seen as futile. Czechoslovakia had also already agreed to give up the Sudetenland where they had their strongest fortifications on the border with Germany.

Didn't they try but had 3 damn armies invading them so they lost.

Czechoslovakia wanted to fight and mobilized twice in 1938. The population was willing to defend the country however, even the most optimistic scenario thought that Czechoslovakia could not withstand the German invasion for more than several days. There were several issues that were put in front of the Czechoslovak leadership:

Country had only defense treaty with France, which refused to help Czechoslovakia.

The country was disintegrating. You had 27% of population that was German and was not loyal to the Czechoslovak state.

The country was surrounded by hostile Germany from three sides. Poland and Hungary was not a friend and both countries wanted a piece of the territory.

Slovakia was not interested to be a battleground for retreating Czech units, which was a key in the defense planning. To retreat to Slovak mountains and wait for the French and Little Entente to mobilize.

Czechoslovakia was democracy and not militarized society. The government did not want to be put into position that they were war mongers. Additionally, Benes was scared that Czechs will be forever singled out as the nation that started the war in Europe.

Little Entente was also not interested to help Czechoslovakia due all its proclamation about friendship. Only Romania was helping Czechoslovakia to its final occupation in March 1939. Yugoslav government sent memorandum to Prague in January 1939 where it retrace any guarantees for help in case of war with Hungary.

Czechoslovakia was totally isolated on the diplomatic scene.

The defense was based on obsolete doctrine that the German invasion will come up from north, following the traditional invasions of Prussia into Bohemia and Moravia. Czechoslovak defenses were the largest and strongest in the north. However, Germany was planning to invade the country from the west via Pilsen-Tabor-Jihlava-Brno where there are almost no obstacles. In 1938 the weakness of the border fortification in the north versus less defended West became prevalent.

Even in 1938, there was disagreement in the military leadership that all the fortifications was wasteful. Couple years ago, there was a term in the Czech media that described the insistence on fortification as an expensive need from the concrete building lobby.

Nobody in 1938 were aware of the extend of horrors of the WWII. Czechs were a part of the larger German civilization for almost 1000 years, and they did not expect genocide. Many Czech intellectuals believed that occupation of the country was a just another German incursion, so the history was just repeating itself and saw the future of the Czech nation to only coexist within the larger German nation. Proponents of this ideology came both from the Czech left and right.

Czechs were not afraid of Germans, you do not see scared faces in 1939, but rather pissed people. Like in 1968, half million of Soviet soldiers have not intimidated the population.

Czechoslovakia had a significant middle class that was less willing to risk destruction of their living standard and their material possession. In case of what seemed to be another German occupation versus possible widespread devastation, the middle class choose the path of the minimal destruction.

Communist Czechoslovakia

It was thus with Soviet assistance that President Beneš and his government returned to Prague on May 16, 1945, after nearly seven years of exile. It was believed that his intention was to restore in Czechoslovakia the liberal democratic regime that had collapsed under Nazi assault in 1938. It would not be an exact replica but an “improved” version adapted to the new circumstances. In particular, the Czechoslovak state was to be more ethnically homogeneous: the problem of minorities was to be resolved by large-scale expulsions of Germans and Hungarians from the country. (In the end Beneš did not achieve the expulsion of the Hungarians, merely the confiscation of their property.) The country was to remain a republic whose president would retain considerable constitutional and executive power a government based on the electoral performance of select political parties would run the country by means of a professional civil service, while the judiciary would enforce laws passed by parliament—the National Assembly. In his search for improvement, Beneš decided to limit the number of political parties to six. (Subsequently, two additional parties were permitted in Slovakia, but too late for the election in 1946.) In the autumn of 1945 Beneš nominated the Provisional National Assembly, which reelected him president and confirmed in office the provisional government, headed by Fierlinger, that he had appointed in April. The vice premier was Gottwald, and the leaders of the other political parties also held vice premierships. A general election was scheduled to legitimize the provisional regime as well as to test the nation’s acceptance of this new order, in compliance with the agreement of the Allies at the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

On May 26, 1946, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won a great victory in the general election, polling 2,695,293 votes—38.7 percent of the total. Several factors contributed to the success of the communists, particularly the Western powers’ betrayal of Czechoslovakia in the Munich agreement and a resuscitated sense of Pan- Slavic solidarity, fed by strong anti-German feelings. Gottwald became premier, and the communists took control of most of the key ministries, including interior, information, agriculture, and finance. Jan Masaryk (the son of Tomáš Masaryk) retained foreign affairs, however, and Gen. Ludvík Svoboda remained minister of defense.

Although the political parties formed a coalition called the National Front, collaboration between the communists and noncommunists was difficult from the beginning. While all parties agreed that economic recovery should remain the priority, and while a two-year plan was launched to carry it out, they began to differ as to the means to be employed. The noncommunists wanted no further nationalizations or land confiscations, no special taxation of the rich, raises in pay for the civil service, and, above all, economic aid from the United States by way of the Marshall Plan. The conflict sharpened in the summer of 1947 when the government first accepted Marshall Plan aid but then rejected it because of pressure from the Soviet Union. Although the noncommunists blocked communist policies within the government throughout 1947, they had no common strategy regarding the next election—only a common desire to defeat the communists decisively. The communists, on the other hand, envisioned gaining an absolute majority in the next election with the help of the Social Democrats.

The tension between the two factions developed into a crisis over the question of who was to control the police. The communist interior minister objected to the appointment of noncommunist officials for senior police posts. In protest, most of the noncommunist ministers resigned on Feb. 20, 1948 they hoped the government paralysis would force Gottwald and the communist ministers to resign as well. Instead, the communists seized the ministries held by the resigning ministers as well as the headquarters of the parties now in opposition.

Following mass demonstrations in the streets of Prague of communist-led workers, many armed with rifles, President Beneš yielded. On February 25 he allowed the formation of a new government, in which the communists and left-wing Social Democrats held the key posts. The other parties of the National Front were nominally represented by individual members chosen not by the parties themselves but by the communists. The Provisional National Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed the new government and its program.

Most of the noncommunist political leaders, risking imprisonment, fled the country they were joined by many ordinary people who headed to the West to avoid living under communism. As a sign of their triumphant strength, the communists retained Masaryk as foreign minister, but on March 10 his body was found beneath a window of the foreign ministry. Overnight the Communist Party had become the only organized body left to run the country.

Watch the video: History - Czechoslovakia 1938 (July 2022).


  1. Garamar

    Let's talk, to me is what to tell.

  2. Hrypa

    Nice sentence

  3. Beornet

    Agree, a useful idea

  4. Leman

    I'd better be silent

  5. Airleas

    I to you will remember it! I will pay off with you!

  6. Rickey

    Thanks for the help in this question, can, I too can help you something?

Write a message