Czechoslovakia’s Jews & the Munich Conference

CzechMap

By September 1938, Hitler had already been welcomed with open arms by the Austrian government. He wanted to seize control of Czechoslovakia, too, but was shrewd enough to know that Western European powers, namely France and Great Britain, would not sit idly by and watch while his armies marched southeastward. With great cunning, Hitler convened the Munich Conference, shunning both the Czech and Russian governments. He sought the approval of the Western powers to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, which was primarily occupied by ethnic Germans (Sudetendeutsche) and held industrial resources, like Uranium. The Sudetenland included the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia and portions of Silesia which had belonged to Czechoslovakia since 1918. The Western powers gave in to Hitler’s demands, ultimately sealing the fate of Czechoslovakia and the 120,000 Jews living peacefully in that country.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips writes on OrthodoxEngland.org, “…when Czechoslovakia had been invaded [in 1938], nothing had happened. Then France and Great Britain had cowardly backed down in the face of Nazi bullying, thus sacrificing the three peoples of Czechoslovakia, Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians, to Austrian-led oppression once more. However, it is also argued that this act of unprincipled moral cowardice occurred because the governments of Great Britain and France needed more time to arm for the war which by then they realised was inevitable. Even if that is the case, Czechoslovakia is still the country which they were selfishly willing to sacrifice.” While the Archpriest fails to mention the Jewish population, presumably because they were fully assimilated into democratic Czech society, they too were sacrificed by the Western European powers.

“On the eve of the German occupation, 118,310 Jews lived in the region, centralized mostly in Prague. Immediately after the occupation, a wave of arrests began, mostly of refugees from Germany, Czech public figures, and Jews. Fascist organizations began harassing Jews: synagogues were burnt down and Jews were rounded up and attacked in the streets.”

“As early as November 3, 1938, the immediate expulsion of Czechs and Jews from the region became a daily occurrence and groups of Czech nationals were forced from the Sudetenland towards the Czech frontier. Some of these managed to escape to Prague or Brno, but all Jews were turned back by the Czech boarder guards” (Source: The Holocaust Project).

Some Jews escaped to Poland not realizing that their fate would be the same in another year. For a more personal perspective, watch Howling With The Angels: a film by Jean Bodon or visit this NYU School of Medicine blog.

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