Hundreds of thousands of documents were recently added to the website of the Arolsen Archives organisation, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection on Nazi persecution. Not only do they offer new opportunities to find out what happened to victims, but they also provide details on some of the leading figures of 20th century Czechoslovakia.
November 11 is the 80th anniversary of the death of Jan Opletal, a Prague student who had been gunned down at an anti-Nazi demonstration in the city a fortnight earlier. Opletal became a symbol of Czech resistance to the German occupation and a march held in his honour helped spark the Velvet Revolution five decades after his death.
Though little-known today, Marie Schmolka was for several years one of Prague’s key organisers helping Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, while she also helped arrange transports of children to the UK that saved hundreds of lives. On Monday Schmolka is receiving, in memoriam, honorary citizenship of Prague 1, as officials finally honour the heroic work she carried out in her native city.
The Czech Radio archives give us a rich and nuanced picture of the months leading up to the Munich Agreement of September 1938 that resulted in Nazi Germany annexing huge areas of Czechoslovakia. So many recordings survive that we can reconstruct the events leading up to Munich almost day by day. They include insights from many different angles, not least the perspective of the German-speakers of Czechoslovakia, those who supported, but also those who opposed Hitler. The archives offer a sober warning of how easily a democratic state can be shattered
After the end of the Second World War it was often very difficult to catch and bring Nazi war criminals and their collaborators to justice. Historian Vojtěch Kyncl from the Czech Academy of Sciences has written a new book called Beasts: Czechoslovakia and the Persecution of Nazi Criminals, which explores the Czechoslovak side of this endeavour. I began by asking him when the allies, including Czechoslovakia, first committed to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.
Eighty years ago today, on March 15 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction. After Hácha reluctantly agreed to give up his country’s independence the German army started moving in. It was the beginning of six long years of occupation.
In 1941, Nazi Germany turned the centuries-old Czech garrison town of Terezín into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp. Over the next few years, some 155,000 people were held there in desperate conditions awaiting transport to the death camps further east. And yet, there was a well-documented flourishing of cultural life in the ghetto. Many artists also risked their lives to depict the harsh reality of daily life. But this is a story of the traces left behind by more ordinary people who endured those extraordinary times.
With the 80th anniversary of the Munich agreement coming soon, Tom McEnchroe focused on the Czech side of Munich. Talking to the deputy director of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Ondřej Matějka, about what it was like to live in the region that lay at the heart of the conflict, as well as how Munich is remembered in the Czech Republic today.
This Sunday will mark the 80th anniversary of the infamous Munich agreement - the deal between Hitler, Mussolini and the two western European powers, which cut off the German speaking borderlands from Czechoslovakia, including a significant part of its industry and protective ring of forts, thus rendering the young republic defenceless to any future German invasion. Munich is often seen as a betrayal of the Czechoslovak state by western powers and the French were famously ashamed for breaking their alliance. But why did the Great powers act as they