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Prague in Danger
THE DAY OF OCCUPATION
President Hácha Travels to Berlin
Hitler never hesitated about his ultimate intent to create new "living space" (Lebensraum) for his nation in the east and to smash the liberal state of Czechoslovakia on his way. After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled twice to the Continent hoping to appease Hitler's aggressive intentions and to prevent another destructive European war, but with a distinct lack of success. Czechoslovakia had signed treaties with France in 1926 and with the Soviet Union in 1935 precisely to protect itself against German aggression--the Soviet Union promised to intervene, but only if France acted first--but it remained exposed and vulnerable. Concurrent agreements among the Little Entente of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia to defend against any aggression on the part of Hungary were of little use.
Within the Czechoslovak Republic, a virulently German nationalist movement, led by Konrad Henlein and fully supported by the National Socialists in Berlin, resisted Prague rule and demanded that the Sudetenland, where most of Czechoslovakian Germans lived, be united with the Reich. When, only two months after the Nazis' annexation of Austria, German troops readied to march across the border in May 1938, the Czechoslovaks partly mobilized, and the situation became increasingly ominous. The ambassadors of France and Great Britain delivered a note to President Edvard Beneš on September 19 demandingthat the republic hand over its Sudeten territories to Germany in exchange for a guarantee of its new borders, this to prevent an immediate occupation by the Wehrmacht, and suddenly the Czechoslovak Republic and its (few) friends were isolated. On September 23, in a desperate gesture, Czechoslovakia once more mobilized its army and air force. Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini then proposed a four-power meeting to resolve the Czechoslovak crisis.
The famous conference convened on September 29-30 in Munich with representatives of Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy in attendance, Czechoslovaks being notably absent. Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, Hitler, and Mussolini signed an agreement that conceded to all of Germany's demands. The Sudetenland was to be united with the Reich as of October 1; this and further concessions deprived the Czechoslovak Republic of a major part of its historical territory, its principal fortifications against Germany, and much of its iron, steel, and textile factories. Moreover, with the loss of the Sudetenland came the threat of further losses of border territories in the east, which Poland and Hungary coveted. A week after mobilizing, Czechoslovakia capitulated on September 30.
The Munich Conference not only deprived Czechoslovakia of defensible borders but also grievously weakened its democratic traditions. The country had emerged on October 18, 1918, from the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a liberal republic with strong parliamentary institutions, in contrast with many of its neighbors, and T. G. Masaryk, its founder and first president, together with his loyal associates, including Beneš, the young minister of foreign affairs, carefully watched out for political balances and the interplay of the different political parties. By 1926 representatives of the German liberals, Catholics, and Socialists had joined the government, and they stayed with it for more than twelve years. Masaryk's resignation in 1935 because of his old age coincided with the radical worsening of the European situation that year, and after the Munich Conference and the capitulation of the Czechoslovak government, continued German pressure forced Beneš, Masaryk's successor as president, to resign. Beneš left the country two weeks later in a private plane, on October 22, but he was as resolved as ever to renew the integrityof the Republic by monitoring changes in the European situation and by continuing to act, as Masaryk had done in his time, on the international scene. His Czechoslovak National Committee, established in Paris in 1939, was not a diplomatic success, but the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, which convened in the summer of 1940 in London, was eventually recognized by Britain and the Soviet Union and successively by all the Allies, as well as the United States.
Germany's operational plans against Czechoslovakia seemed for a while after Munich to be suspended. This hiatus was intended to reassure British public opinion and to avoid a premature conflict. But once the Sudeten question had been resolved in Hitler's favor, the Slovak problem came to the fore. The government in Prague that succeeded Beneš agreed in early October to federalize Czechoslovakia and make it the Czecho-Slovak Republic and to accept an autonomous government and legislature in Bratislava, Slovakia's capital. Hitler, with some delay, discovered the virtues of the Slovak separatists who were demanding independence and personally assured their militant leaders of his full, if belated, sympathies. Slovak nationalism surged, and by early March 1939 in Prague President Emil Hácha, acting within the constitution, had little choice but to dismiss four separatist Bratislava ministers and order army units stationed in that city to defend the republic, however hyphenated, if the separatists should revolt. His action may have played into the hands of Hitler, who promptly invited Monsignor Jozef Tiso, prime minister of the Slovak government, to Berlin and pressured, or rather blackmailed, him into choosing independence; the alternative the Germans offered to Slovakia was its occupation by Hungary, which had ever since 1918 been unable to accept the loss of Slovak territory. The trouble was that Germany's military clocks were ticking; secret marching orders had been given to the German troops massing at the borders of Bohemia and Moravia. At this juncture President Hácha asked the Führer for an interview to clarify the situation.
President Hácha's fateful trip to Berlin in March was not, for the Czechs, a matter that had been given careful diplomatic preparation, and it could not have been. The initiative and advance planning were all in the hands of the Germans, and the old man went straight into their trap. Hácha was not well informed about German intentions. Hebelieved that in Berlin he would discuss matters concerning Slovakia, and the people around him, including his cabinet, were far too confident that Czecho-Slovakia still had a chance to survive if it did not challenge Hitler directly. They did not believe the reports issued by Colonel František Moravec, head of army intelligence, that Germany's military occupation of the country was imminent. (Moravec had received information from Czech journalists, from the French Deuxième Bureau, and from an agent, A-54, an Abwehr officer who was playing both sides.) Moravec, his duty done, packed part of his archives, gathered his officers, and boarded a KLM flight from Prague via Rotterdam to London, where he and the others landed at approximately the same time as Hácha's train arrived in Berlin.
On March 14, 1939, events happened fast. At noon the Slovak parliament in Bratislava voted on the foregone conclusion of Slovak independence, fully supported if not engineered, by Germany. The Foreign Office in Berlin notified its charge d'affaires in Prague that President Hácha should come to Berlin immediately (Hitler, who originally wanted Hácha to travel by plane, gave permission that he come by train), and the signal was passed on through proper channels from the German Embassy in Prague to President Hácha, who happened to be having lunch with a Czech Catholic bishop and was looking forward to a gala performance of Dvoák's opera Rusalka at the National Theater in the evening.
The traveling party, quickly assembled after lunch, was rather small. There was the president; his daughter, Milada Rádlová (in her function as first lady); and Foreign Minister František Chvalkovský, suspected by many of political sympathies for Italian fascism, accompanied by an assistant from his office. There was also the president's secretary, Dr. Josef Kliment, who was to develop his own ideas of collaboration with Germany; the loyal butler, Bohumil Píhoda, who had served President Masaryk in better times; and a police inspector. After a few members of the government had taken leave of the president, the special train, still unheated, left the Hybernská railway station at 4:00 p.m. Mrs. Rádlová had the distinct feeling that a shot was fired at the windows of her compartment when the train left Czech territory (it might have been a stone thrown at the train). The travelers arrived a few minutes before 10:00 p.m. at the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof, to bewelcomed, strictly according to protocol, by a military honor guard; Dr. Otto Meissner, a minister of state; and Vojtch Mastný, Czech ambassador in Berlin.
About midnight German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop made a brief appearance at the Hotel Adlon. Hácha uttered a few ceremonious remarks about the difficulties of small nations facing a great power, and as soon as the foreign minister left, it was announced that Hitler was ready to see his Czech guests at the chancellery. By now it was about 1:00 a.m., because first Hitler had watched his daily movie, not a B western, as was his habit, but a rather sophisticated German comedy entitled A Hopeless Case, directed by Erich Engel, with Jenny Jugo, Karl Ludwig Diehl, and Axel von Ambesser in leading roles. In the courtyard of the chancellery, another honor guard (not army but SS) presented arms, and Hácha and Chvalkovský were received by Hitler and a motley group that included Hermann Goring, who had just returned from an Italian vacation, General Wilhelm Keitel of the Wehrmacht high command, the foreign minister and his assistants (among others, a translator, who was not needed because Hácha spoke fluent German), and Councillor Walter Hewel, whose task it was to provide a stenographic protocol of the proceedings.
Hácha, a gentleman of the old school, introduced himself to Hitler, but it is not easy to know what he really said in his quiet self-humiliation or whether he made attempts to discover if Hitler was open to argument. Journalists and historians have referred to different texts, quoting Hewel's stenogram (difficult to disbelieve, though Hewel was a Hitler loyalist who in 1945 killed himself in a Berlin street rather than be taken prisoner by Soviet soldiers), or Hácha's own aide-mémoire, written down a week later, on March 20, or an interview he granted to the Czech writer Karel Horký in April. Hácha wanted to present himself as a rather apolitical civil servant who had been long attentive to Hitler's ideas and to suggest that he had never been on intimate terms with Masaryk or Beneš. (This was true, but Masaryk had appointed him to his judicial position, and both presidents had fully trusted his handling of the law.) He also remarked that he had asked himself whether Czechoslovakia was happy to be an independent state ("ob es ein Glück fur die Tschechoslowakei war, selbstständig zusein"), not exactly a blasphemous idea if it had been articulated on another occasion; defended his recent intervention in Slovak affairs on constitutional grounds; and appealed to Hitler as someone who, being always aware of national problems, would understand the desires of the Czech people to have their own national life.
Hitler brushed aside Hácha's polite formulations, told him brusquely that he was not interested in Slovak affairs there and now, and announced that because of the Czechs' unabated ill-treatment of Germans, he had given orders to the army to march into Czech lands at exactly 6:00 a.m. the next day and to integrate what he continued to call Czecho-Slovakia into the Third Reich. Yet, he said, the Czechs would be granted "the most complete autonomy [die vollste Autonomie] and their own way of life [Eigenleben], more than they had ever enjoyed in Austrian times." The guests were unable to respond because Hitler started to shriek, declaring that any resistance would have the most terrible consequences. Hácha, still bent on an exchange of arguments, asked if disarming Czech forces could not be achieved in a different way, but Hitler insisted that his decision was irrevocable. The Czech president then expressed his doubts that it would be possible to notify all units of the Czech Army in the short time left (it must have been close to 3:00 a.m.), and Hitler told him that the telephones of his office were at his disposal. The Czech guests were brought to another room, and Hácha first called General Jan Syrový in Prague, the defense minister, to order that all possible resistance to German armed force should cease. Hácha and Chvalkovský made a number of other calls to the government in Prague, constitutionally in strange abeyance because its officers had tendered their resignations but Hácha had not yet accepted them.
By that time the text of a joint declaration had been circulated. The sixty-seven-year-old Hácha, totally exhausted, at first refused and then accepted a fortifying glucose injection administered by Dr. Theo Morrell, Hitler's personal physician and a great believer in injections of all kinds. Playing the good cop, Goring took Hácha aside and, rather than scream at him, told him quietly and almost delicately that he would really regret having to order the German Luftwaffe to bomb Prague and destroy that beautiful city, die schöne Stadt, just to show the French and British what German pilots could do.
Hácha at least said that he could not sign the joint declaration in the name of the government. It may be a somewhat later invention that a philological dispute developed about whether the fate of the Czech people actually lay in [liegt in ... ] the hands of the Führer or whether Hácha was putting it [legt ... ] there. Ultimately, Hácha, Chvalkovský, Hitler, and his foreign minister signed the formal declaration at about 3:55 a.m. The Czech president, who continued to believe that Germany's military occupation of his country would be only temporary, put the fate of his nation into the hands of the Führer (the rhetorical formulation had also been used by Slovak functionaries earlier that week). The text was immediately transmitted by telephone to Prague, and an additional protocol, based on a document prepared by General Keitel four days earlier, defined seven points of capitulation. There was to be no resistance by the army or police to Germany's occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, all aircraft were to be grounded and all antiaircraft batteries removed, public and economic life was to continue, and utter restraint on public media was imposed. Witnesses do not say how Hácha and his entourage spent the time until their special train left the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof shortly after 11:00 a.m. on March 15, 1939, but it is clear that their journey was deliberately delayed by the German authorities (citing bad weather) for many hours to make sure that Hitler (who relied on a special train and his motorcade) arrived in Prague earlier than Hácha.
Emil Hácha: Judge and President
A protracted discussion of whether Hácha was a Fascist collaborator or a heroic patriot or both has long delayed a more nuanced historical analysis, but this has emerged in the writings of Tomáš Pasák and Robert Kvaek more than fifty years after the events. Yet the drama of March 1939, throwing Hitler, that vicious destroyer of all legal and humane order, against Emil Hácha, the highest judge and lawyer of his nation, has a Shakespearean dimension in which tragedy and the most cruel ironies are not absent. The more I have learned from Vít Machálek's resolutely defensive biography (1998) about Hácha's virtues and blindness, about his stubbornness and helpless self-pity, the moreI am inclined to see the fortitude of an aging jurist trying to save his nation rather than its state (as he said) and to sympathize with the terrible physiological and mental changes he went through in the last years of his life, spent in the castle of the Czech kings.
Hácha's forebears were southern Bohemian peasants and small landowners, master brewers and foresters, and it was his father who was the first in the family to leave the land to make a steady career in the tax service. His firstborn, Emil (July 12, 1872, at Trhové Sviny), went quickly through the schools, including a small-town gymnasium, and, exceeding his father's aspirations, became a student at the Prague Czech Faculty of Law, while his younger brother, Theodor, went to the United States, studied engineering at Cooper Union in New York (living on Long Island), and returned, a U.S. citizen, to a job in Prague (1904). Photographs of the time show the student Emil as a handsome and elegant young man, with his mother's full lips and energetic nose (they do not reveal that he was noticeably short), and considering his times, it is not much of a surprise that he did not neglect his literary and musical interests, listening carefully when Marie, a cousin on the maternal side and his future wife, played the piano and sang Wagner (Isolde).
Emil and Marie, later called Queen Mary by her intimate friends, were married on February 2, 1902, in Prague, and Milada, their only daughter, was born in early 1903. The young lawyer, at least in the first years of his marriage, was powerfully attracted to writing his own poetry and to studying literature (preferably English) even before he began to publish professional legal studies in the appropriate journals. His poems, commendable accomplishments rather than masterpieces, were attuned to the advanced art of the moment, whether it was called symbolism or fin de siècle. He cultivated Jaroslav Vrchlický and Jií Karásek ze Lvovic, among the decadents, and admired the Belgian symbolist Émile Verhaeren from his Prague distance. In his poems, always addressed to Marie, he contrasted his dreams with the prose of his profession--"Two crutches, instead of wings/ my journey leads to ordinary plains/ I do not drink from sources rare/ and only gather dew drops in my hand"--and confessed how deeply enchanted he was by his bride: "Pre-Raphaelite women had your body/ your grand eyes and your hair's old gold/ I am imprisoned by your beauty and the music ofyour voice." In 1902 Hácha traveled to England to study both the legal system, so different from that of old Austria, and contemporary literature, and together with his brother, "the American," he translated Jerome Klapka Jerome's popular novel Three Men in a Boat (published by 1902 in Prague by Topic), Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" (by coincidence, also the favorite of Edvard Beneš), and Robert Louis Stevenson's essay on Villon, all published at about the same time. In 1903 he was busy reporting about current British writing for respectable Prague magazines, and in 1904 he published a long article on Conan Doyle, Kipling, Wells, and Bram Stoker, informing the educated Czech reader about what was happening on the British scene.
Yet a literary career was not to be--professional duties and legal researches intervened--and while Hácha retained a lifelong sympathy for British jurisprudence and literature (in an early letter to Beneš in London, after his own election to the presidency of Czechoslovakia on October 30, 1938, he respectfully promised on November 10, 1938, in English, that he "would do his best"), he was not to become a literary man, as he had perhaps hoped, but at least he tried to combine his legal work with an interest in modern sculpture, painting, and the graphic arts, which he collected as long as he could. It is less known that he liked to hike through the woods and swim in the waters of Bohemian rivers, the colder the better, far beyond his middle age. A cousin of his, a parish priest in Prague-Žižkov (on the wrong side of the tracks), inspired him to become a mountain climber who liked to spend many vacation days in the Austrian and Slovene Alps and to become a founding member of the Czech Society of Alpinists, all male and serious about their business.
After finishing his studies, Hácha had worked for three years in a lawyer's office, but he felt restricted there, and by 1898 he had joined the august administrative Council of the Bohemian Kingdom, where he worked, originally under the supervision of Prince Jií of Lobkovicz, for nearly eighteen years, steadily advancing in duties and rank. His idea was to be a true "civil servant" of the British kind, loyal to the law but not to any political party. (A civil servant would feel offended if somebody asked him about his allegiance to any political party, he later wrote, during the time of the republic.) He was called to Vienna in 1916, made aHofrat (court counselor), and appointed a member of Austria-Hungary's High Administrative Court. Yet the loyalty to his homeland was not in question, and when the Czechoslovak Republic was established in 1918, he returned from Vienna to Prague to join the High Administrative Court of Czechoslovakia. It was President Masaryk who appointed him, on January 22, 1925, to be its chief justice, guarding the legal privileges of the nation's political, administrative, and economic institutions and of those individuals who felt deprived of their constitutional rights and turned to the court for redress.
By 1909 Hácha's legal studies had begun to appear in the appropriate professional journals, e.g., an essay on "Procedures of British Parliamentarism"; he had joined the Prague Czech Faculty of Law as docent and member of examination commissions; and after 1926, together with a committee of distinguished professors he edited the massive Dictionary of Czechoslovak Public Law, writing more than a dozen entries himself, among them the one on labor law. He also wrote in 1934 a comparison of new Prussian and Czech laws concerning the administration of communes, suggesting in no uncertain terms that whoever believed in democracy and representative institutions would be forever unable to accept the dictates of a führer.
The terrible events of the Munich Conference in late September 1938 affected the life of every citizen of the liberal republic, perhaps none more so than Emil Hácha, for they prevented him from retiring, as he had hoped, to be a lawyer's lawyer in a little town in southern Bohemia, dedicating himself to his studies, his art collection, and the memory of his beloved wife, who had died in February. The republic, or what was left of it, underwent momentous changes, especially when it became the federal state of Czecho-Slovakia. Its political parties, earlier thirty-two and more in number, agreed to constitute what was paradoxically called an authoritative democracy based on the consensus of only two party organizations, the Party of National Unity (conservatives and right-wingers) and the Party of National Labor (left-wing liberals, Social Democrats, and a few Communists). The army, having capitulated, was demobilized following German orders. When under German pressure President Beneš abdicated on October 5 and left the country for England on October 22, the constitution requiredthat the Parliament (still functioning) elect a new president. Most people agreed that the candidate should be somebody of real stature, and the list was long and colorful; some people thought of the industrialist Jan Bat'a, Czechoslovakia's wealthiest capitalist, others of the famous composer J. B. Foerster.
It was Rudolf Beran, seasoned head of the conservative Agrarians and now chief of the Party of National Unity, who, believing that the new president would have to face important questions of law, order, and reconstitution, nominated (perhaps manipulated) Hácha, who originally resisted the nomination but was quickly accepted by others, including the Party of National Labor. On November 9, 1938, both houses of Parliament gathered, as they had in Masaryk's republic, in Prague's great concert hall, the Rudolfinum, and by noon it was announced that 272 ballots in favor of Hácha (including 39 Slovak ones) had been cast. Hácha was ceremoniously invited to the hall, sternly took the oath of his new office, and was immediately driven to Hradany Castle, his new seat. He remained there, or at nearby Lány Castle, until May 13, 1945, when a dying man, he was carried out on a stretcher by Czech police and taken to Pankrác Prison, where he was to be tried for his crimes. His daughter, Milada, who was taken with him, was let go, suddenly and less ceremoniously, at Letná Park; being without a roof over her head, she went to the apartment of her half Jewish ex-husband, who took her in, no questions asked.
Yet there was one occasion (little known but for the researches of the untiring Vít Machálek) when the civil servant and high judge, at a dramatic moment, tried to intervene in the political process. A few days before the Munich Conference, Hácha had remarked in a private letter that Chamberlain's attempt to save the peace might, unfortunately, succeed at Czechoslovakia's expense; the republic had been fortunate in past years, but now? Hácha anxiously telephoned Beneš, apologized that he was using his valuable time, and suggested that the president interrupt his discussions with the French and British and send a representative to Berlin to discuss matters with Hitler personally, in the hope that the worst could be prevented. Beneš politely answered that he would consider Hácha's suggestion, though it ran counter to many years of Czechoslovakia's foreign policies. When theconference was over, Hácha remarked in another private letter that Beneš should have weighed his suggestion, because history itself would judge whether sending a delegate to Berlin was at least something to have pondered seriously: "one would say that he confronted the raging monster face to face." Hácha did not dream that he himself would confront that raging monster only five months later.
March 15, 1939: The Day of Occupation
The plan for occupation of the Czech lands by the German army and police had been well prepared on secret orders of October 10 and December 17 from Hitler, who told the army to get ready for an action of "pacification" without any mobilization of additional troops, and it went off without a real hitch, though the weather was inclement, with occasional squalls of snow. The Czecho-Slovak Republic disintegrated; on the morning of March 15 the Prague newspapers reported that Slovakia had declared its independence; it was followed by Carpathian Ruthenia, which was immediately occupied by Hungarian troops.
The actual invasion of the country had started in the early evening of March 14 and continued through the night and the morning of March 15, with German troops marching in from the north and the northeast as well as from the Ostmark--that is, Austria--through southern Bohemia and Moravia. Regular troops and SS crossed the border in the far northeast near Koblov, Petkovice, and Svinov to take the important coal and steel town of Ostrava, though these actions were roundly denied by German diplomats or explained away as a step to keep open communication to Slovakia. After 6:00 p.m. the Germans also took the nearby town of Místek, where lonely Czechoslovak troops of the Third Battalion of the Eighth Infantry Regiment at the Czajanka barracks, a former factory, close to the bridge over the Ostravica River, opened fire on the invaders, the only instance of spontaneous resistance by regular troops during that evening and night. By the early morning of March 15 German divisions, possibly as many as 350,000 men belonging to the Third and Fifth Heereskommando, and a few sundry units of other corps, were sweeping in four columns throughthe country. At approximately the same time, units of the German Luftwaffe, under command of Generals Kesselring, Speerle, and Löhr, moved into Czech airspace and occupied Prague's airfield, Ruzyn. The invaders did not know that Josef Mašín, commander of the First Czech Artillery Regiment stationed nearby (and later shot as a member of the resistance), had been ready to disobey orders and to defend the airfield with his men but was overpowered in a confrontation with his superiors willing to give in.
By 7:45 a.m. German troops coming from the north had reached the Mlník radio station (established by the Czechoslovak Republic some years earlier to counteract Nazi propaganda and make more liberal views known to Sudeten Germans) and begun broadcasting as Prager Volkssender II (Prague People's Broadcasting Station II), announcing that they would soon reach Prague. A few German university students in Prague marched out to the city limits to be the first to welcome the Wehrmacht soldiers. German columns reached Prague shortly before 9:00 a.m., with an advance of police cars seizing the central police station, and behind them motorized infantry, motorcycles, and armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. Meanwhile, at the main railroad station, heavy artillery pieces and tanks were unloaded and positioned at nearby Wenceslas Square, in the heart of the city and in front of the saints' and patrons' monument, at exactly 10:42 a.m., as the Lidové noviny, a once liberal paper, reported with mock exactitude. Other columns appeared at the Ministry of National Defense in Dejvice and at Hradany Castle, still watched over by a Czech military honor guard, though the president was absent.
"V Praze je klid [Prague is calm]," the newspapers said unanimously, a recurrent phrase that revealed nothing of the confusion, despair, and shock of the city's Czech citizens (or the resolve of the Fascists to take power immediately). Extant photographs show black masses of people gathering in the streets and on the squares to watch the German columns roll by. A few enthusiastic German women, forming pockets in the crowds, threw little bouquets of violets and forget-me-nots, as Czech women and men (children were in school) watched in silence. Pictures show tears, grim faces, many clenched fists raised in the air, but also, especially later in the day, a good deal of curiosityabout German weapons and motorcycles. Czech policemen in their dark coats and bobby helmets, often barely hiding their feelings, were out in force, holding people back on the sidewalks and directing traffic; Germans were driving on the right side, as in the Reich, but willingly switched to the left, in the Czech fashion, for the time being.
General Johannes Blaskowitz, chief of Army Group Three and now of occupied Prague, issued a declaration (printed with red borders, multiple copies were affixed everywhere around the city) telling the citizens in both German and correct Czech that public and economic life was to go on undisturbed. The Czech chief of police immediately declared a curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., affecting all public places, including cafés, theaters, and movie houses, but allowed working people to proceed to and from work by the shortest route. (The curfew was lifted within twenty-four hours.) German officers were polite, and rapidly a number of white glove and heel-clicking visits were made. General Hermann Geyer, of the infantry, visited the commanding officer at the Ministry of National Defense, another general called on Dr. Jií Havelka, chief of President Hácha's office at the castle, and still another ranking officer paid his compliments to the lord mayor of Prague, who was later executed.
Observers in foreign embassies noted that the occupation of Prague was, in the first days, a military affair, at least in comparison with what had happened in Vienna a year earlier. In Vienna, Jews had been beaten and forced by their Nazi fellow citizens to clean the pavements (occasionally with toothbrushes), but in Prague the armed forces dominated the scene for the time being, and while in Austria advance units of the Gestapo had quickly arrested 70,000 people on their lists, the Czech police, bound to cooperate with the German security service by a little-known agreement of January 6, 1938, and eager to get rid of German anti-Nazi émigrés and Communists, had a list of 4,639 people, of whom the Gestapo, in its so-called Aktion Gitter, kept 1,228 because they had been active recently, it was said.
Two short notices buried in the newspapers among the military and world news on March 16 and 18 revealed what was to come. These notices reported on meetings of lawyers and doctors, both of whose organizations had recently introduced undisguised anti-Jewish resolutions,although for the time being the Czech government wanted to avoid the Jewish question for as long as it possibly could. The Czech Bar Association announced that its non-Aryan members (the term "Jewish" was carefully avoided) must name acceptable Aryan substitutes to take over their affairs, and if they did not do so within twenty-four hours, the association would simply take care of the matter by its own authority. The organizations of the Czech medical profession did not hesitate either and declared that being aware of their duties to the nation and recalling the many ways in which Czech and German doctors had loyally worked together in the past, all non-Aryan doctors must be removed immediately from their jobs in public health institutions.
These announcements had been anticipated by the unchecked activities of small Fascist groups within the bar association and the medical organizations, especially the ANO (Akce národní obrody, Action of National Renewal) people, and though the occupiers had not yet exerted any pressure, these two professions, called to safeguard the justice and health of Czechoslovak society, did not hesitate to take matters into their own hands. The Gestapo, at any rate, noted in its internal report that apart from a few incidents, the Czech population did not show any resistance worth speaking of. That was to change.
Hitler In Prague
Hitler had talked to Hácha about the "autonomy" (Eigenleben) of the Czechs, whom he personally despised, but formal terms of the future had yet to be defined. As soon as Hácha left Berlin, Friedrich Gauss, head of the legal department of the German Foreign Office, compiled a memorandum suggesting that there be two "protectorates," one for Bohemia and one for Moravia, and a "general resident" appointed to represent the interests of the German Reich in both. Clearly, as Vojtch Mastný has shown in his analysis, the Foreign Office wanted to avoid having this issue come up in another international conference like that in Munich the year before and "to preserve the fiction," as Gauss put it, that the arrangement was based on an agreement with the Prague government.
On the spur of the moment Hitler decided in the morning of March 15 that he wanted to go to Prague himself. He gathered a group of party functionaries, military men, and experts from the Foreign Office and further surprised his entourage by switching in the Sudeten region (Böhmisch-Leipa) from his special train to a motorcade that took him along icy roads to Prague. The procession was headed by Karl Hermann Frank, one of the leaders of the Sudeten German Party and soon to be an indispensable part of Hitler's administration. It was dark when the group arrived at Hradany Castle at 8:00 p.m. A splendid buffet prepared by the fashionable restaurateur Lippert had been gobbled up by a group of German occupation officers who thought that it had been prepared for them, but Lippert was flexible; new provisions were sent immediately, and Hitler had a repast of Czech beer and ham, against all his principles. When President Hácha, unaware that Hitler had arrived earlier, later met with members of the Czech government in another wing of Hradany Castle, he was informed about the presence of the unwelcome guest under the same castle roofs.
During that night of March 15-16 the German Foreign Office experts set to work to prepare the final version of the Führer's decree on the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The text was ultimately edited by Wilhelm Stuckart, a Nazi Party member since 1922, participant in Hitler's putsch in Munich in 1923, organizer of the storm troops, and, as secretary of state in the Ministry of the Interior, an old hand at incorporating occupied territories.
The decree, which did not dwell on President Hácha's presence in Berlin the day before, in its thirteen articles defined the legal status of the newly occupied territories and enabled the authorities of the Reich to abrogate the rights and privileges accorded to the occupied if they considered it useful or necessary. Article 1 stated that Bohemia and Moravia, occupied by the Wehrmacht, now "belonged to the territories of the Reich." Its German nationals would become Reichsbürger whose German blood and German honor would be protected by law, while all other citizens would be nationals (Staatsangehörige) of the protectorate (Article 2). The protectorate was to be "autonomous and administer itself" (3), and its president would (4) "enjoy the rights of a head of state." (Later it was even confirmed that he was to be commander inchief of a small national militia, mostly charged with being his guard of honor.) The Czech government had tried to insist on the legal idea of the nation's autonomy, but the decree, asserting that the Reich would take over the territories' foreign policy and defense (6 and 7), also declared that a Reichsprotektor, with the seat of authority in Prague (5), would be appointed and charged by the Führer with guarding the interests of the Reich and seeing to it "that the lines of policy laid down by the Führer and the Reichschancellor be observed"; he would be authorized "to object to measures that are calculated to injure the Reich," to stop the promulgation of laws, decrees, and other orders harmful to its interests or as far as they "contradict the spirit of protection undertaken by the Reich" (12).
The decree was read over the radio by Foreign Minister Ribbentrop in midmorning of March 16. (Hácha heard the proclamation in his room in the castle.) Hitler appeared on a balcony of some building for a moment to greet jubilant Germans; inspected, in the castle courtyard, a group of Nazi students (in their role as victims of Czech terror); briefly received members of the Czech government and President Hácha in audience; and was gone again immediately. Magic Prague did not attract the Führer; he slept over in the Sudetenland and the next day went by way of Olomouc and Brno to Vienna, where he took lodgings at the Hotel Imperial and announced two appointments: Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath became Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, and K. H. Frank his second-in-command as secretary of state.
The Third Reich, Suddenly
The Third Reich started for me when somebody outside our apartment in Brno, the capital of Moravia, shouted "Herr Pol[l]ak, hängens die Fahne raus; die Daitschn sind da! [Mr. Pol[l]ak, run up the flag; the Germans are here!]" I still don't know whether his name was spelled with two l's (possibly Jewish) or one (probably Czech), but I learned later that day that the local Nazi Germans, with a good deal of help from outlying districts, had seized power in the city in advance of the Wehrmacht, which hadmarched in by midmorning. On the preceding day Nazis had clashed with Czechs in the streets, and the night had been full of confused and restless noises. My stepfather, a surgeon and active Social Democrat of Jewish origin, had hurriedly left, and I did not know whether he had told my mother that he was going to try to reach London, as I suspected, rather than Prague, as he told me; he left her to her lonely and courageous insistence that she did not wish to go abroad anyway because she wanted to stay close to the members of her Jewish family, above all her mother, in Prague.
I was sixteen, going on seventeen, inquisitive about politics, girls, movies, and jazz (in that order approximately) but old enough to grasp that the harsh and dangerous times about which everybody had been talking had suddenly arrived. I did not love my stepfather (being appalled by his clinical way of talking about sexual matters), but I liked his political ideas and his practical commitment. He came from a little Moravian town but had learned his socialism during his student years in Vienna and was personally close to many Austrian Socialists who had escaped to Moravia after the Austrian civil war of 1934. He helped edit their newspapers and other secret publications in a Brno suburb and smuggled these publications in his doctor's car over the border to Austria, my presence in the little Tatra auto suggesting that we were merely on a family outing. I read the papers he subscribed to--the Moravian Volksbote, which was close to the traditionalist Dr. Ludwig Czech, then a member of the Czechoslovak government, rather than to Wenzel Jaksch, of nationalist leanings, as well as the monthly Der Kampf, in which Otto Bauer, the most famous theoretician of Austrian socialism, untiringly analyzed the situation in terms beyond my comprehension--and I was very proud when he received a postcard from fighting Madrid in which Julius (Julio) Deutsch, once commanding the armed Socialist Austrian Schutzbund and now a general in the Spanish Republican Army, sent his greetings. My middle-class Czech school friends did not know what I was talking about when I told them of this.
My political education was much advanced by the war in Spain and by the Munich Conference; I went to demonstrate in the streets in support of Republican Spain, and when Czechoslovakia mobilized against Germany after Munich, I immediately enlisted in the National Guard as a volunteer (I was too young to join the army), was given a 1918 rifle, wasinstructed how to present arms (evidently of essential importance in the situation), and marched up and down a hill not far from an outlying tram station to train for guard duty. My new Czech friends in school, including the girls, were rather astonished when I appeared one morning in early September 1938 in a shabby guard uniform, a long Russian czarist bayonet dangling from my belt. My mother had just transferred me from a German to a Czech school, and some of my Czech verb forms were still a bit deficient, so I had a hard time explaining how it was that I had joined the guard, well known for its Czech nationalism. I said I had joined up not because of my national persuasion but because the Czechoslovak Republic was in danger. I am still proud of that decision, which instinctively put the idea of the democratic republic before language and ethnicity, and when we in the guard were demobilized after a few days, I went again to demonstrate in the streets, demanding that the government in Prague, which had ordered the army to leave the border fortifications without defending them, immediately resign and give way to another, more courageous and soldierly body.
As soon as I received permission from my school, we moved to Prague to join my grandmother and all the aunts and uncles on my mother's and father's sides. We moved with Grandmother into a modern penthouse apartment near Charles Square, my mother and grandmother sleeping in the bedroom, I on the couch in the living room; there was space enough because my uncle, who rented the apartment, had left with my stepfather on the last train to London via Holland (I had guessed right), where he was to work in an ammunitions factory and as an inspector of the London Midland railways throughout the war. At a time when it was important to belong to a distinct group, Czech or German (we did not yet know anybody professing Jewish nationality), I did not have much of a chance to align with a definite ethnic group with a proper identity (never mind my week in the National Guard), and I was satisfied to be accepted by most of my new Czech school friends, whose political attitudes I shared (more or less), as a kind of irregular guy who tried to fit in.
It would have been exceedingly difficult to explain my special ethnicity (if I had one) in those years of either-or simplifications or requirements. My mother's Jewish family had moved from a Bohemian village to the small town of Podbrady (the birthplace of Kafka's mother) and shortly after 1900 to the more secure city of Prague. (After an unemployed man named LeopoldHilsner had been falsely charged with the "ritual" murder of a Czech servant girl, provincial Jewish shops were subject to attacks by Czech mobs.) My father's family had left the Gardena Valley in the South Tyrol, now a center of fashionable German and Italian tourism, because they had nothing to eat. They were not South Tyroleans in the traditional sense but Ladin peasants, a minority group speaking their own language who, little anticipating the historical consequences of this decision, began to speak German when they migrated first to Linz in Upper Austria and, by 1885, to Prague; only my paternal grandmother continued to speak Ladin there.
These two families, so different in origin, religion, and idiom, went on living in mutual distrust and condescension, the Jewish one in the New Town, where a few of my uncles assimilated to Czech culture, and the Ladini, with their baroque Catholicism, in a rabbit warren flat in the most ancient part of the Old Town (where, paradoxically, Franz Kafka's family lived around the corner). When as a boy staying with the Ladins, I did not come back home from a visit to my mother's family, my Ladin aunt was ready to call the police. She feared that Christian boys (I had been baptized) might be killed "by the Jews" because Christian blood was needed. If she had known that there was a Seder that evening and that I was reciting (or trying to recite) the first lines of a Hebrew prayer at the supper table, she would have gone out of her mind.
Improvisation and Accommodation: Czech Fascists and National Solidarity
A good deal of improvisation was the order of the day during the first weeks of the occupation. The curfew was lifted, young people had the chance to go to the movies again (at the elegant cinemas downtown, six American movies were shown, and one German musical), and German soldiers and officers in their greenish uniforms flooded Prague shops to buy, at an advantageous exchange rate, candy, cakes with whipped cream (a particular hit), souvenirs, and textiles. Some shops adjusted their business hours to deal with the new masses of customers. Czechs had reasons to laugh at the affair of the Bayrischer Hilfszug, a caravan of soup kitchens that came from Bavaria to feed"the starving elements of the population until the new order could provide work and bread for everyone," as George F. Kennan of the U.S. Embassy remarked. The Czech poor were ready to bite the German hand that wanted to feed it, and Czech authorities sold to the Germans at a profit all the provisions that they previously had distributed free of charge to the 180,000 Czech, Jewish, and German refugees displaced from the Sudetenland just months before, at the time of Munich. Prague was not a hungry city. Most German soldiers went for the beer garden U Flek on Kemencová Street, where Czech and Germans competed, though at different tables, to down gargantuan meals and to quaff liters of freshly brewed beer ("pivo jako ken," beer as tasty as horseradish, the Czech adage goes).
The new administrators were in no hurry. They traveled to Berlin and returned again, discussing the question whether the new supervisory jobs should go to people from the Reich or to Sudeten Germans (preferably the former). President Hácha, suddenly changing into an active politician of considerable skill, as if he wanted to undo what he had done in his night with Hitler, had his chance to deal with the Czech Fascists, also pushing for power. Occupiers and occupied came to agree, within forty-eight hours, that Czech Fascists and other extreme groups of the right must be excluded from political life. Berlin wanted a Czech administration based on a broad consensus rather than on the activities of "adventurers" (a term that both Germans and Czechs used). In the past Czech Fascists had been radically anti-German and pro-Italian, and only after Hitler had come to power had they been willing to deal with German National Socialists. The essential political issue was to deflect, absorb, or paralyze the political energies of General Radola Gajda, hero of the Czechoslovak Legion that, in Russia and Siberia, had fought in 1914-18 on the Allied side for a free Czechoslovakia, and the rabid Vlajka (Banner) people.
Among Czech generals, often inclined to sedentary careers, Gajda (originally, Rudolf Geidl) was a colorful bird, if not an adventurous condottiere of sorts, and even his friendly biographers believe that in the Prague context, he was an outsider shaped by his early experience in the Balkans and in Siberia. It may have been the constant and not entirely unjustified misgivings of the liberal establishment that ultimatelypushed him to become the leader of the Czech Fascists. Born in 1892 of a Czech father, who was serving as a noncom at the Austro-Hungarian Navy base at Kotor in Croatia, and of a possibly Italian mother, Gajda dropped out of school, desultorily trained as a chemist, and volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian Army. But at the beginning of the Great War Gajda crossed the lines to join the Montenegrin Army, soon in total disarray, and was saved by a group of amiable Serb officers who helped him enlist in the Serbian division of the Russian Army. In 1917 he joined the Czechoslovak legions, bravely fought at Zborov and Bachma against Austrian Army units, quickly rose through the ranks, and after 1918 defied Masaryk's order to refrain from fighting the Bolsheviks. It must have been surprising to many that he served in Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak's left-wing Siberian government and then, after Kolchak had established his own local dictatorship in Vladivostok in 1919, conspired against him in a failed revolt of disappointed Socialists.
One year later Gajda was home again. He bought a villa in íany, near Prague, where he settled down with his Russian wife (technically he was a bigamist, but he paid off his Czech wife, who promptly married a small-town lawyer) and his art collections, only to discover that the new independent republic of Czechoslovakia did not really know what to do with him. He was first sent to the French War College in Paris, where as a student he condescendingly lectured to his military teachers, then as commander of an infantry division, to eastern Slovakia, facing hostile Hungary, before, allegedly to be under closer scrutiny, being appointed deputy chief of staff in Prague. Gajda's adversaries, including Masaryk, Beneš, and the officers of the French military mission in Prague, did not cease to distrust him. Suddenly rising and spectacularly falling, by 1926 he was (on wobbly evidence) accused of spying for the Soviet Union and of organizing a revolt to destroy the republic. Against the findings of an investigating commission of generals, he was stripped of his rank and most of his pension. He responded by donning the uniform of a czarist general, adorning it with the highest military decorations awarded him by France and Great Britain (he returned the decorations after Munich), and assuming the leadership of the National Fascist Community, which he brieflycame to represent, twice, in Parliament. (In national elections in 1935 the Fascists received 167,433 votes.)
Czech Fascism was never a mass movement, but its small and agitated groups were in constant motion, collaborating with and opposing one another, trying to build unified organizations and splitting up again. In the late 1930s there were at least three of them: the National Fascist Community, gathered around Gajda; the ANO group (Akce národní obrody, Action of National Renewal), particularly aggressive among intellectuals; and the Vlajka (Banner) group, with which the ANO made common cause after February 1939. On March 3, 1939, days before the German occupation, Gajda was received by President Hácha, and this completed his rehabilitation. He was to be reinstated to his former military rank, and his pension paid back in full, but in return Gajda had to sign a document swearing that he would be loyal to the government; a trip to Germany, where he was to defend the Czech cause, was even discussed. But the situation changed rapidly, and he did not feel bound by his promise, or not immediately. On the eve of the German invasion Gajda presented himself at the German Embassy as its coming man, declared publicly he was the leader of the new nation, and after the Germans had arrived, he invited the Prague Fascists to meet at the Uhelný (Coal) Market for further action. Only three hundred showed up.
Gajda immediately paid a visit to General Eccard Freiherr von Gablenz, deputy commander of Germany's occupying force, who encouraged a Fascist committee in abstract terms. Within twenty-four hours, however, Gajda found himself outflanked by the concerted action of Hácha and the Germans. On March 17 he was invited to the office of the president, where he was informed that a unified new Czech citizens' organization, called National Solidarity, was being created, and that he was welcome to join it. (He was never appointed to the guiding committee, reserved for those who had served in the liberal First Republic.) On the next day, March 18, a joint communique of General Blaskowitz and the Czech government noted that public power was in the hands of the occupying forces and the legitimate Czech government; private organizations or groups of whatever kind (meaning the Fascists or the Vlajka people) were not allowed to intervenein public affairs. It surprised many that Gajda, who basically did not like Germans, wisely withdrew to a country mill, which he bought with his pension, and honorably helped Czech officers hostile to the occupation to escape via Poland to the west.
The Vlajka people had no scruples about collaborating actively with the occupying forces and serving as informers to the Gestapo. Originally a club of right-wing students at the faculties of philosophy and law at Charles University in Prague, established in April 1930, the Vlajka group and its periodical had emerged during the Depression years, enjoying the fleeting sympathies of the conservative poet Viktor Dyk and resolutely opposing the liberal establishment. Led by Jan Vrzalík, later a professor at a small-town school, it was at first demonstrably Fascist in the Italian sense, opposing Germans, Jews, Marxists, Freemasons, and nearly everybody else, but as soon as Hitler became chancellor in Germany, Vrzalík began to admire his power and turned the Vlajkas' spite against German, and often Jewish, left-wing émigrés in Prague. Vlajka students were among the ringleaders of the street battles that broke out in the fall of 1934, when Czech nationalists of all colors demanded that the ancient insignia (and medieval Carolinum Hall) of Prague's divided university, still in possession of the German faculties there, be handed over to the Czech faculties.
In the days of Munich and after they had played their cards as superpatriots, the Vlajka people flooded Prague with leaflets, demolished a few village synagogues, hunted down Jewish guests in city cafés, and firebombed Jewish shops and apartment buildings. When the Germans marched in, the Vlajkas entertained high hopes of assuming power immediately, meeting at the Prague restaurant Bumbrlíek and the Café Technika (a traditional student haunt) to work on a list of their people who would take over (among them Jan Rys-Rozséva, their leader, as putative head of government). But together with Gajda, they were pushed to the sidelines, where the occupation regime used them to exert pressure on the government and to denounce, in their newspapers, liberals and Jews.
Hácha announced in his first speech that he was thinking of a unified organization that would represent all Czechs, and by March 26 he hadappointed a steering committee to establish it and to guide its activities. The Národní souruenství (National Solidarity) was to be defined by its rather diffuse program of national togetherness and Christian morality, and this was enough to split the Fascist groups into those who wanted to join and those who did not. In practice, Hácha shrewdly relied on the strength of Czechoslovakia's republican traditions, and after consulting with the chiefs of the Party of National Unity and the Party of National Labor, now in the process of self-liquidation, he appointed people who had had strong records during the pre-Munich First Republic. The Agrarian Party leader Adolf Hrubý was chairman; Captain Simon Drgá, formerly of army intelligence, was secretary-general (within months, he was arrested by the Gestapo because of his work in the resistance); and Professor Miloslav Hýsek was appointed by Hácha to preside over the Kulturní rada (Board of Culture). Hýsek was a man who celebrated the Czechs as a "nation of readers" but as time went on, he had to pay for his illusion of his nation's cultural autonomy (as the critic Vincenc ervinka suggested) by praising the Nazi idea of a new Fascist Europe. People rightly perceived the Národní souruenství as a defense organization, dominated on the regional and local level by second-tier functionaries of the old Czechoslovak parties. In Moravia, Catholics were running the show (though Fascist pressure was heavy), and in Prague the local organization was dominated by officers of Beneš's National Liberal Party, continuing to exert massive influence through its Melantrich Publishing House and its newspaper eské slovo (Czech Word), with a print run of more than a million copies a day.
The German Sicherheitsdienst (SD, the Security Service), remarkably candid in its internal evaluations of what was going on, reported that the Národní souruenství was not a movement of revolutionary renewal but relied on personalities well known from the past. That was exactly what attracted citizens to join it, of course, and within a month, it was reported, 97 percent of all Czech male adults had signed applications to become members. (If you wore the badge of the NS upside down, people whispered, it suggested SN, or Smrt Nmcm [Death to the Germans].) Jews were excluded, and Vlajka informers discovered early that the NS considered it a task of honor to support the familiesof people whom the Germans imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. Although the NS did all this skillfully by using inconspicuous accounts at local bank branches to make support payments, the Gestapo in the course of events arrested 137 of its functionaries and executed 43 of them. Later it was announced that the NS would concentrate on cultural, not political, affairs, and by June 1940, after the arrests of the lord mayor of Prague, Otakar Klapka, and of the Prague secretary of the NS, Dr. Josef Nestával (who had successfully established a communications link via Bratislava and Budapest to Belgrade), all National Solidarity activities in Prague were quashed, though the national organization dragged on, its own shadow, until the days of open revolt.
Haven and Hell for Refugees
"We drove through the town around midnight," George F. Kennan of the U.S. Embassy noted early on March 16. "It was strange to see these Prague streets, usually so animated, now completely empty and deserted. We were acutely conscious ... that the curfew had indeed tolled the knell of a long and distinctly tragic day." Kennan had watched fearful crowds seeking protection in the courtyards of the British and American embassies earlier that day, and he knew that among the people suddenly affected, none were more in danger than German-speaking anti-Nazi refugees (as the Aktion Gitter was demonstrating). Prague had once been their haven and was now their hell--whether they were Jews who had sought rescue in Masaryk's republic, or non-Jewish intellectuals and writers whose books had been burned in the Third Reich, or functionaries of the German left, Communists, or Social Democrats (defeated Austrian Socialists came to Brno after 1934).
In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the frontier between Bohemia and Germany had been porous, and in Moravia, railway lines were occasionally operated by Socialist crews. The Czechoslovak Republic then, with its strong parties of the left and its many German-language newspapers, theaters, and schools, was more attractive to Hitler's Germanenemies than Pilsudski's Poland or Horthy's Hungary. Unofficial estimates put the number of refugees from Germany at fifteen hundred (not all of them registered) every year after 1933. Efficient support committees had almost spontaneously sprung up in Prague right away. Among them were the Demokratische Flüchtlingshilfe (Democratic Refugees Support Organization) and the Jüdische Flüchtlings-hilfe (Jewish Refugees Support Organization), and two years later the Communist Rote Hilfe (Red Help). These offered food, lodging, and meager pocket money in legal and sometimes in many illegal ways; they also helped German-speaking refugees confront Czechoslovakia's formidable bureaucracy.
Among the first wave of refugees were many who in the 1920s had left their native Czechoslovakia to write, publish, or edit important newspapers in liberal Germany and who now returned to Prague, cherishing their Czechoslovak citizenship, which enabled them to earn a kind of living in their profession, if they were lucky, and again to blend into the German literary world of Prague to which they had originally belonged. Most of these writers came early in 1933 and by 1937-38 or 1939 at the latest had left for England, the United States, or Palestine, where they usually continued to publish in German. The roaming reporter Egon Erwin Kisch, for example, close to the Comintern apparatus, often came to Prague to look after his aging mother in the old family home on Melantrichova Street; Bruno Adler published an important novel about the so-called Hilsner affair (the turn-of-the-century "ritual" murder) before going to England; the critic Willy Haas continued to edit literary magazines (he went to India in time); the novelist Hans Natonek was published in the liberal Prager Tagblatt and ultimately went, via Paris, to Arizona; Walter Tschuppik, who put out a weekly newspaper in Prague that was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reached London only in 1940. Others less fortunate did not manage to escape in time and died by their own hand or in the camps. Ernst Weiss, novelist, playwright, and medical doctor, escaped to France only to commit suicide when Paris fell to the Germans in 1940; the newspaper editor Emil Faktor died in Lodz in 1941; and the poet Camill Hoffmann, long a member of the Czechoslovak diplomatic service in Vienna and Berlin, was deported to Terezín and, later,to Auschwitz, where he died in 1944. It was not merely a matter of sitting in the refugee café Continental exchanging the latest news.
As a way station of exile or a place to stay for a while before going on, Prague attracted many of the writers hated by Hitler's Reich. Some of them, like Bertolt Brecht, stayed just a few days, weeks, or months to breathe freely again. Erich Maria Remarque later wrote a novel about his Prague experiences. Others came to offer public lectures to friendly audiences; they included Lion Feuchtwanger and Heinrich Mann and his brother Thomas, who acquired Czechoslovak citizenship in 1936 and said then he would consider it a happy task to be a good German and a citizen of Czechoslovakia at the same time (he later became a U.S. citizen). Many others stayed for years in close and creative solidarity with their fellow refugees and Czech intellectuals and artists; among them were Friedrich Burschell, the German translator of Proust; the novelist Bruno Frank; young Stefan Heym, much liked by the brothers apek and later prominent in East Germany; Franz Pfemfert, defender of the avant-garde; and the Viennese writer Friedrich Torberg, who had grown up in Bohemia and knew Czech well.
Writers were joined by artists of the most different temperaments. From Berlin came John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfelde), master of the satirical photomontage, who stayed for six years and helped edit the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung, distributed all over non-Fascist Europe and the Soviet Union. From Austria came Oskar Kokoschka, who acquired Czechoslovak citizenship in 1935, had long conversations with President Masaryk, and painted his most famous modern portrait of Masaryk. Young Peter Weiss came to Prague to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, watched Masaryk's funeral (about which he wrote a moving essay), and left after four years for Sweden, where he later became one of the most important German playwrights of the postwar age.
The situation was complicated by the uncertain, if not divided, attitude of the Czechoslovak authorities toward this considerable group of German-speaking, politically active refugees, often organized by the Communist Party or manipulated by it. In Prague it was evident that the liberal Ministry of Foreign Affairs differed, in its views, from the conservative and nationalist Ministry of the Interior, run by the AgrarianParty. Masaryk, Beneš, and the Foreign Ministry were eager to demonstrate Czechoslovakia's democratic virtues on the international scene and often supported refugee writers, employing them on weeklies or periodicals subsidized by the government, while the police, directed from the Ministry of the Interior, looked askance at the political activities of so many foreigners in Prague and promptly intervened when German "neighbors" complained too vociferously.
As early as April 1933, the police prohibited preparation for an anti-Fascist workers' congress in Prague (it had to shift to Copenhagen and Paris) and later eagerly watched over an international exhibit of political caricatures arranged by the Czech artists' Club Manes, removing everything that offended the sensibilities of the Third Reich. Their police actions were fully backed by the Czech conservative and right-wing press, in which anti-German and anti-Semitic arguments curiously alternated. As the 1930s wore on, pressure increased, and the Ministry of the Interior and the police began checking on the refugees' political activities, arrested many for a while, and prepared a new administrative ruling to restrict them to several districts in the interior of Bohemia and Moravia. (Liberal counterpressure was too heavy, and it was never promulgated.)
In spite of all the economic and mounting political difficulties, the refugees in Prague, whether living with friends, in collective apartments, or in the run-down castle of Mšec, which they restored with their own hands but had to vacate in 1937 to make room for the Czechoslovak Army, were remarkably headstrong and productive. Their presence in the city, much maligned by their enemies, constitutes a largely forgotten chapter of cultural solidarity between German and Czech intellectuals and writers. If in the short Germinal of 1848 Czechs and Germans had worked together for the revolution, which had then split into national branches by May 1848, in the mid-1930s they worked together for many years with a firm purpose in mind and learned from each other.
The cause of the refugees was supported, on the Czech side, by F. X. Šalda, the most important literary critic of his generation, who mobilized an efficient Czech Committee of Aid (with an office at the Fénix Palace on Wenceslas Square), and he was readily supported byProfessor Otokar Fischer, translator of Goethe's Faust into Czech; the writers Josef Kopta and Marie Pujmanová; the actor Václav Vydra of the National Theater; the painter Emil Filla, as well as Jií Voskovec and Jan Werich of the Liberated Theater and many others. E. F. Burian, an inventive left-wing producer, introduced in his theater the renowned Voice Band, or collective recitation; it was taken over by the German Studio 34, organized by the refugees Hedda Zinner and Fritz Erpenbeck, who were important in the theater of the GDR after the war. The Bert Brecht Club, though strictly Communist-organized, in the name of the Popular Front arranged lectures on the Czech poet Jií Wolker and even Masaryk, while the Club of Czech and German Theater Folk programmatically shared languages, texts, actors, and theaters. On May 23, 1936, the latter produced the (originally) bilingual comedy The Czech and the German, written in 1812 by the playwright Jan Nepomuk Štpánek (1783-1844), in the Czech Theater of the Estates (President Beneš attended); the performance was repeated a week later in the Neues Deutsches Theater (New German Theater). This heroic feat had never been attempted before and was not ever duplicated in the long, uneasy history of Czech-German cultural relations.
Life was difficult for German-speaking refugees in Prague, but after Munich, when so many more Czechs, Jews, and Germans hurriedly left the Sudeten regions to seek protection in what was left of the republic, the situation turned desperate, and it was not made easier by the conservative, nationalist turn of the new Czecho-Slovak government. People tried to leave, legally and illegally. (A few young Jews even joined a group of Viennese going to the Dominican Republic to establish an agrarian collective there.) Some refugees left by way of the Beskid Mountains to Poland and thence to France, for the time being, or Great Britain (especially Czechoslovak Army officers and Air Force personnel), or down the Danube via Hungary and Romania to creaking freighters bound for Palestine, though strict British military rules prohibited this. Kafka's friend Max Brod took the last train heading to the Polish border on the evening of March 14, discovered the next morning that the railway station at Ostrava had been occupied by German troops during the night, but succeeded in crossing to Poland, andreached Jerusalem. It is said that he always kept the Prague telephone directory of 1938 on his desk.
The Destruction of Prague's Liberal German Institutions
The dramatic events of the years 1938-39 in Prague have rarely been described fully because views are often obscured by exclusive national sympathies, Czech or German, ignoring, if not obliterating, the Jewish contribution to the achievements of Prague's liberal institutions, especially those emerging from German cultural traditions. If the late 1930s were the most productive time of Czech-German cultural cooperation because of the presence of so many German-speaking intellectuals and artists (all, Jewish or not, agreeing with liberal Czechs and their antinationalist assumptions), they were also the years of the rapid breakdown and destruction of Prague's liberal German institutions. Their rise and tragic fall, among so many collective and individual tragedies, have left only a few traces in the consciousness of a fading generation and almost none in the written history. Munich was the beginning of the end of it; after it, the German theater closed, and the German university in Prague underwent its own Anschluss to the Reich. The Prager Presse, having been the German voice of the liberal Czechoslovak government associated with Masaryk, and the national-liberal Bohemia both ceased publication on December 31, 1938, and the Prager Tagblatt, famous for its economic reports and literary contributions, went through its own agony until it too was silenced by the occupation authorities on April 4, 1939.
It is little known that the New German Theater, built in 1888 and run by the Swiss Paul Eger since 1932, had closed its doors forever five days before the Munich dictate had been accepted by the Czechoslovak government. The Prager Theaterverein had been in debt for a while and was unable to support the institution any longer. It had produced plays by many authors forbidden in Nazi Germany, from Arthur Schnitzler to Bertolt Brecht, as well as important Czech plays in German translation by František Langer, Frána Šrámek, and Karel apek (for example, his anti-Fascist play The Mother, with the famous TillaDurieux in the lead), and could pride itself on employing some of the best actors and actresses of the time, émigrés or not. But it was its uneasy fate that it had to perform for a language island of only ten thousand potential ticket buyers, and state subsidies were substantially lower (12 percent) than those awarded to theaters playing in the language of the state. The difference had to be made up by private sponsors, big and small, many of whom were Jewish--for example, the family that owned the Petschek Bank and the heroic optician Moritz Deutsch, who had supported the theater for decades out of his own pocket. But times were uncertain, and when the theater ran out of money and stopped paying salaries and wages (actors and stagehands rightly protested in the press, but to no avail), immediate bankruptcy proceedings were avoided only because it sold its building to the state. President Hácha was wise enough to extend these proceedings ad infinitum; after the German Army had marched in by early spring, a new German theater was organized there by the Office of the Reichsprotektor.
The German university in Prague changed within a year to an institution of the Third Reich, while its Czech sister, inasmuch as it functioned under the occupation at all, remained loyal to the republic. The original university in Prague had been established by Emperor Charles IV in 1348, intending his universitas to serve "all inhabitants of his kingdom." Its two components, Czech and German, had parted ways in 1882--83, however, and the national conflicts were only intensified by the republican "Lex Mareš" of 1920 that declared the Czech faculties true heir to Charles's university. A strike of anti-Semitic German students in 1922 against the Jewish rector, Samuel Steinherz, and street battles in Prague about the university insignia in 1934 markedly intensified national and political tensions.
The days before and after Munich showed that the situation was untenable. When on September 18, 1938, the Czechoslovak minister of education requested the university's German professors to take a stand against the nationalist Henlein and his like, nearly half of them left Prague for Vienna and Bavaria, where they waited for orders from the Nazi organizations. There was much talk of shifting the university to the Sudetenland, but Hitler himself decided it should stay in Prague. OnNovember 9 the German professors, who had disregarded all requests by the Czechs to come back, returned triumphantly and immediately began remaking the university in their own image. Though the Czech government was to declare on January 27, 1939, that Jews no longer could serve the state, the German university did not wait so long and on its own, mostly through the deans, went about removing Jewish faculty and students (about 10 percent of the enrollment) during the fall and winter of 1938. Seventy-seven teachers were furloughed or dismissed, and since nearly half of these were members of the medical faculty, the university clinics were left in a deplorable state. On September 1, 1939, the German university became by law an educational institution of the Reich, and ten weeks later, after student demonstrations on November 15, the Czech university was closed down.
It did not come as a surprise to knowledgeable people that the Prager Presse, a newspaper established in 1921 and closely associated with Masaryk, was unable to survive Munich. Its editor in chief, Arne Laurin, was a critical mind of the first rank, and he had been valiantly supported by the translator Otto Pick (a friend of Franz Kafka's), who succeeded in persuading some of the best European minds, among them Albert Einstein, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Hermann Hesse, to contribute and to make its feuilleton pages instrumental in showing the German reader, if he would only open his eyes, the richness and vitality of liberal Czech and Slavic culture in the 1920s and 1930s. It may have helped, at least initially, that the Prager Presse, subsidized by the government, was paying in hard Czech crowns when inflation raged in Germany and Austria. In its melancholy leave-taking from its readers, the Prager Presse looked back on eighteen years in the service of the republic and rightly extolled its intentions of impartiality, its efforts to balance political opposites, and, above all, its systematic resolve to demonstrate the many virtues of Czech intellectual life.1
On the black day of December 31, 1938, simultaneously with the Prager Presse, the Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia, owned by the old PragueHaas family, ceased publication too. Its national-liberal orientation, so productive in 1828, when it was founded, and above all, in the revolutionary days of 1848, ninety years later had become a liability, if not an anachronism. Liberals were suspicious of the new nationalism, and new nationalists were turning to the Reich to fulfill their political demands; the difficulty of combining these increasingly divergent ideas was fully reflected in the Bohemia's twentieth-century history. In 1919 it had been briefly silenced by Czechoslovak censors because it supported the idea of autonomy for the Sudetenland, and after 1933 it was confiscated in Germany because many anti-Nazi refugees contributed to its pages. The novelist and editor Ludwig Winder (later an exile in London) defined its loyalty to the Czechoslovak Republic "as being without any illusions but true and genuine."
The Bohemia left the scene with dignity and without bending its knees to anybody. "In the midst of the tragic fatalities of our time," the editors declared, "we should not bury ourselves in sentimentalities." It was the oldest newspaper in Czechoslovakia, the second oldest in the ancient dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, and now many people--its writers, editors, printers, and machinists--who had been working for it for thirty or even fifty years were losing not only their daily bread but part of their lives' meaning. The editors were proud that the Bohemia had been the first "activist" paper to defend the participation of liberal and Socialist parties in the government of the republic, and those who called it a chauvinist publication were as wrong as those who believed it had become disloyal to German interests. "Activism was only the most recent shape of Bohemism," or the living community of the two nations, German and Czech, the editors said. It is moving to read that in its last issue the newspaper quoted to its readers the warning of the early-nineteenth-century German political philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte against false national self-aggrandizement, celebrated the German belief in liberty and the justice of laws, and predicted that the spark of freedom, now almost dying, would never be extinguished completely.
The Prager Tagblatt was younger than the venerable Bohemia, but it had early developed an efficient network of European correspondents who used the new technological possibilities of the telephone to reporton political and economic developments at home and abroad, including the stock exchanges of Zurich, London, and New York. It had appeared as a fully fledged newspaper for the first time on December 24, 1875, and its original owner, a southern German named Heinrich Mercy, who had come to Prague via Milan, left it to his brother Wilhelm, and he in turn to his two daughters, one of whom became Countess Nostitz and the other Baroness Benies. The two were not absolutely resistant to the political pressures of the 1930s, for they did not renew the contract of the Jewish editor in chief, Sigismund Blau. Yet the Prager Tagblatt had a splendid history of editors and contributors, starting with Karl Tschuppik (after 1910) and continuing with Egon Erwin Kisch; Kafka's most loyal friend, Max Brod (1924-39); Emil Ludwig; Richard Katz; and Rudolf Thomas, and it always opened its pages readily to T. G. Masaryk, publishing his speeches, in and out of Parliament, and commenting on his political decisions with particular care and sympathy.
In the tragic months after Munich, the Prager Tagblatt loyally identified with Masaryk's republic, even long after the liberal German parties had dissolved, and it soberly reported on the inevitable changes, including President Beneš's abdication and his first days in exile. The editors tried to assuage its readers' justified fears and, on October 1, 1938, keenly analyzed the possibly "good side" of the "amputation of the republic," which would now become nationally and politically more integrated. Openly speaking about the "defection" of the "antidemocratic Sudeten Germans," they suggested that the new situation would ultimately strengthen the "democratic character of the republic" and that after a high tide of Fascism, democracy would emerge victorious again. The editors did not see any reason to change their cultural policies; the literary pages surveyed the production of the anti-Fascist publishers Berman-Fischer, Allert de Lange, and, in Amsterdam, Querido; discussed new books by Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, and Stefan Zweig; and respectfully published a thoughtful commentary on the death on December 28, 1938, of the internationally celebrated Czech writer Karel apek, whom many perceived as symbolic of the First Republic, mentioning President Hácha's compassionate telegram to his widow.
The efforts of the paper to calm any fears ran counter to the beliefs of many readers, Jewish or not, that they must try to leave the country as soon as possible. The gap between the last pages of the paper, devoted to advertisements, and the editorial part was striking. The former made it clear that many readers wanted to be reeducated in crafts or technologies useful beyond the oceans, while on page three the Prague Jüdischer Freitisch-Verein (which gave free meals to the Jewish poor) undisturbedly announced its regular general meeting. Among the advertisements were one looking for a producer of handkerchiefs for overseas; one for the Meadow School, Bucks, England, which promised reduced fees for younger Jewish girls (only twenty-eight pounds, approximately $115, quarterly); one for a South American settlement looking for "capitalists" and artisans; and one from people ready to go to Panama and Palestine that offered commercial services. By mid-autumn these realities had penetrated to the middle of the paper, where Joseph Wechsberg (who later wrote for The New Yorker) wrote a number of instructive articles on how to book inexpensive passage to the United States, how to deal with questions about the necessary affidavits, and how to go about finding a first job there, always relying on the power of positive thinking and a clean suit. The most revealing signal of the terrible events to come was the suicides of the editor in chief, Rudolf Thomas, only recently appointed, and his wife, who, despairing of the future, took poison on October 10. While the published eulogies extolled his erudition and his universal interests, they were careful not to reveal that he and his wife had died by their own hands.
It was as if Thomas had had an inkling of what would happen to his newspaper on March 15, 1939, and after his Jewish colleagues no longer showed up in their offices. On the day of the occupation, the Prager Tagblatt, instead of being true to its distinguished past, immediately switched allegiance and, at the top of page one, printed a declaration addressed to the Reichspressechef, Otto Dietrich, saying that its editors and employees (Gefolgschaft) accepted his leadership, signing off with an unusual "Heil Hitler!" For at least two weeks the Prager Tagblatt, suddenly a kind of Nazi specter, represented the views of the occupiers, praised the occupation as an act of German history, reported on the Führer's trip from Berlin to Prague, and immediately registeredthe initial moves for the removal of Jews from public positions, the Entjudung. In the literary pages, instead of a writer from the Prague group, an Austrian blood-and-soil author named Karl Heinrich Wagged made an ominous appearance (opening the gates to Bruno Brehm, Heinrich Zillich, and their like), and even in the ads unemployed "Aryans" now looked for loans or positions in industry. Paradoxically, the business pages remained unchanged, and while Hitler dominated page one, business people and economists had a good chance to study what was happening on the stock exchanges of Budapest, Paris, and New York and how cotton and oil were faring in Chicago. But if the management of the Prager Tagblatt, spitting in its own eyes, had hoped to preserve its paper in Nazi shape, it was mistaken, because the occupation authorities had other plans. On April 4 the Prager Tagblatt ceased to exist, and on April 5 the Office of the Reichsprotektor used its facilities to publish issue number one of the new daily Der neue Tag (The New Day), the official voice of the occupiers. The premises and printing presses of the Mercy enterprise were quickly taken over by the new Bohemia-Moravian Publishing and Printing Corporation. The last vestige of Prague's last liberal institution had been obliterated.
In My New School
The Academic Gymnasium, my new school, was an elite institution with a distinguished past, whether the language of instruction had been German, as in the old monarchy, or Czech, in the republic, and it was still located in the monastery of the Piarists, an old teaching order, in the center of town. My fellow students came from important families (one, an amiable and quietly elegant nerd, was the son of the chief of police; others were daughters and sons of lawyers and surgeons), and commuting proletarians from the outlying industrial suburbs were rare. More than ever, the old school prided itself on being a bastion of patriotism, tradition, and learning, with daily cultivation of Greek and Latin, and it was especially concerned with intense instruction in Czech literature, the most modern not excluded; the German occupation was not considered worth mentioning.
I was totally ignored by my math teacher, who knew about my background but did not want to create difficulties for me. Sensing that I would not understand his algebraic formulas in any language, he gave me a passing grade without ever speaking to me. I enjoyed reading new Czech literature in a class taught by a young and scholarly professor who noticed that I once compared Otokar Bezina's mystical poetry to that of R. M. Rilke. Our teacher of German and history, fresh from Charles University, silently suggested a private truce with me as far as German was concerned; whenever she explicated a new German syntactical rule, she would briefly glance in my direction to see whether I would nod imperceptibly in agreement. Besides, she rarely ventured among us back-benchers because my friend Vladimir, sitting next to me, always stroked her hand softly when she put it on our desk. Fortunately for my academic career, my classmate Kari (Prince) Lobkovicz was graciously inclined to let me crib from his math examinations, and we became friends for life.
One day our professor of Czech literature announced that the school was continuing its tradition of encouraging students to write long essays on questions of literature or history to vie for prizes to be awarded by the school principal, and I quickly decided that I should compete. But I needed an appropriate topic. On my way home I remembered the writer Johannes Urzidil, who had paid my mother a visit before escaping to England. While paging through his book on Goethe and Bohemia, I had noted that Goethe had corresponded with a number of distinguished Prague intellectuals, among them Count Kaspar Sternberg, founder of the National Museum, and I decided to write my paper on Goethe and Prague, the "and" being rather fragile because Goethe, who went often to Bohemia's elegant spas, never ventured to Prague, rightly assuming that a trip to the Bohemian capital would only create political difficulties: Germans and Czechs would be watching too closely to see to whom he would be paying his respects. When my paper received second prize (the first going to a more patriotic one), I felt strengthened in my resolve to become a literary historian; I also learned from my professor that the principal had welcomed a paper on Goethe, greatest of German poets, in case the Nazi school inspector might check on the competition. (I could only pray that when he did, he would not proceed to my bibliography, consisting of the lonely name of Urzidil, who had just established himself in his Londonexile.) Sixty-five years later I gave a speech at an international Prague Urzidil conference and was present when a tablet reminding the world that Urzidil had attended the famous gymnasium in the times of old Austria was unveiled near the school gate, next to the new Prague branch of Jean Paul Gaultier, which had recently opened its shop in the building.
Movie Dates and Our "Corso"
In my new school, movie dates were important, and they followed a strict ritual from which a well-educated seventeen-year-old gentleman did not dare deviate. The young women, all from our school, sixteen or seventeen years old, and well coiffed, expected a tie, jacket, and clean shirt and tickets (only middle to back rows) to a fashionable movie (American, French, or Czech), preferably shown at the Cinema Juliš, at Wenceslas Square, or the expensive Cinema Broadway, nearby. Any sharing of expenses was considered unenlightened or a sign of inappropriate and unbridled intimacy, and the young man was also expected to buy the ice-cream treat, elegantly called Eskimo Brick, sold by the neatly uniformed usherettes during the long intermission. One could hardly touch the hand of the lady (or only fleetingly), admire her when she smoked a bold cigarette on the darkened street, and accompany her home by tram (another 2,40 Czech crowns [less than eight cents]).
Fortunately I was not entirely constrained by this middle-class ritual because there was always Libushka circling the box offices before the four-thirty showing of the less stylish cinemas--in the arcades of Wenceslas Square, for instance, the Aleš, or the Bio Skaut, in the upper reaches of Vodikova Street (that's where I saw my first Marx Brothers movie). She was sixteen or less, pale, clad in a dress borrowed from her mother, looked a little older, but the ushers at the entrance were, in the afternoon, tolerant about age, as long as everybody had a valid ticket. It was a kind of blind date because Libushka was there to find any high school kid who would pay for a ticket and, equally important, for a little paper bag of cheap chocolates, which she munched incessantly. Whatever film it was mattered more than the escort. She sat in her seat erect, concentrated on what was happening on the screen with her almost protuberant eyes, anddid not care at all whether I (hesitatingly) touched her knees or breasts--a case of perfect mutual understanding. Years later I came to read Jan Neruda's late-nineteenth-century story "At the Three Lilies" (in his Tales), about a working-class girl of almost innocent sensuality haunting a cheap Prague dance hall just to have the feeling of being alive. Neruda's fiction and my memories of guileless Libushka (anno 1939) are one in my mind.
Hitler was threatening Poland, demanding Danzig, and we walked up and down, preferably between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. along our student "Corso," the block that extended from the Café Juliš, an architectural monument of Czech constructivism of the early 1920s, down to the Bat'a corner on the left of Wenceslas Square, to parade our new ties and to cast fiery glances at the girls in their newly ironed blouses with, perhaps, a daring flower in their hair. Yet a visiting flaneur, once he had left our "Corso" and turned around to Národní Tída, on the left, or to Píkopy, on the right, would have immediately noticed that people differed in their outfits, and not only because of the many German uniforms in sight. Ethnicity and ideology defined the dress code, and only those who tried to disappear in neutral garb had something to hide (I knew).
German girls, with their short hair or long braids and their hefty shoes, hefty at least in Czech eyes, did not wear rouge in the streets ("eine deutsche Frau schminkt sich nicht [a German woman does not use makeup]" the Führer had said), and if they came from the Sudeten region, they more often than not wore dirndls or at least dirndl skirts of the Bavarian or Austrian kind, totally out of place in the industrial Bohemian metropolis, or the light brown uniform jackets of the Bund deutscher Mädchen, with a black triangle on the sleeve indicating to which regional organization they belonged. Younger Sudeten Germans, in the first months of the occupation, continued to wear white shirts and black ties, once part of Henlein's Sudeten Party uniform, and proudly walked in a sportif or nearly military outfit of plump knickerbockers and ostentatious white stockings (originally this was part of peasant attire, or so they thought). Czechs preferred more formal wear, dark shades in suits and hats, except on their weekend excursions to the Vltava woods, when they pretended to be "tramps" or cowboys of the Wild West and dressed precisely according to the theatrical descriptions they had found in the dime novels of the early 1920s.
Czech girls wished to be well turned out, like the young women in French and American movies, and for them a little rouge was not a sin but rather de rigueur, and so were high heels and expensive stockings; in the first years of the occupation they adorned their dresses and blouses with folklore Slavic motifs, or what was considered Slavic, called Svéráz (Our Own Way), in symbolic opposition to the German dirndls. Young Czech men of the lower classes developed their own burly elegance, with double-breasted jackets and extremely tight-fitting trousers; they called themselves potápky (diving birds) and congregated at the swing band cafés. They were later shipped off to forced labor in Germany.
Ethnic divisions were rather strict, and a Czech girl would not be caught dead dating a German. Veit Harlan, a less gifted ally of Leni Riefenstahl's, produced a film (never shown to Czech audiences) warning German girls from the provinces (the heroine played appropriately by his Swedish wife, Kristina Söderbaum) of poisonous young Czechs in Prague (impersonated in this case by a sleek Austrian actor) who want to rob them of their most precious possession and then leave them in the lurch. Needless to say, pregnant Kristina drowns herself, as she did in most of her movies; for good reason she was called, even by German moviegoers, the Reichswasserleiche (Reich's water corpse).
Yet these people often went to the same movie houses, were seen in the same expensive restaurants, though at different tables, and frequented other popular and attractive restaurants like the Zlatá Studn (Golden Fountain), a small roof garden high up on Malá Strana, where you could have a simple meal and admire the lights of the city below. (Veit Harlan had that right, but not entirely: in his movie the German girl and the Czech cavalier go there together, yet first he has to clear the place of all other guests before the hapless couple can be seated at the same table, all alone.) Prague, with its different ethnic and religious groups, had always been, at least latently, a double or triple city, Czechs and Germans and Jews preferring this or that café or living in this or that quarter. Czechs would have never gone to the Deutsches Casino (later Deutsches Haus); few Germans ever visited the Café Slavia, where Czech intellectuals congregated for decades; and members of the traveling Yiddish theater, so much admired by Franz Kafka, were certain to find a ready audience in the old Café Savoy. The occupation hardened the dividing lines into fatalfrontiers, and when, in the early summer of 1939, the first anti-Jewish city ordinances were published, the modern city of Prague, which had been a living space open to all only yesterday, again turned into a disorderly, if not medieval, quilt of topographical restrictions and brutal exclusions.
The Appointment of the Reichsprotektor
Hitler's appointment of Neurath as Reichsprotektor was not much liked by the Nazi functionaries, but it assuaged some of the misgivings of the old guard in the Foreign Office by offering a seasoned diplomat, well known internationally, a chance to return to a visible and responsible position--or so they and Neurath thought. On March 9, 1939, Neurath had had a private supper with Hitler and used the extraordinary occasion to present his views on the Czech question: he recommended to Hitler that Germany be satisfied with controlling the Czech economy and Czech foreign relations, granting in return a kind of autonomy to the Czech nation.
When President Hácha, on March 16, asked Hitler not to appoint a Reichsprotektor from the ranks of the Sudeten Germans, Hitler was still undecided on who would get the job. He possibly made his decision late on the same day or early on the next one; the story of the appointment has been reconstructed by John L. Heineman, Neurath's American biographer, from postwar interviews and reports about Neurath's private telephone conversation after his meeting with Hitler. Heinrich Lammers, chief of the Office of the Reichschancellor, and Hitler himself were concerned about the international, especially British, response to the establishment of the protectorate, and in order "to calm the angry storm of indignation in foreign lands," according to Lammers, Hitler was inclined to appoint "a personality who possessed an importance and reputation abroad ... who would be able to master cleverly, in diplomatic fashion and with a certain quiet hand, the task of bringing about the future peaceful cooperation of Czechs and Germans within the Greater German empire." Against Goebbels's strong opposition, he concluded that "only Herr von Neurath was such a personality." Neurath was immediately notified that Hitler wanted to talkto him in Vienna, at the Hotel Imperial, and met him there in private conference on March 18.
Neurath came to this conversation with Hitler with a few illusions of his own, and he dangerously underrated Hitler's cynical skills in using power. When Hitler offered him the position to assure calm and peace, Neurath at first declined (he later said), suggesting that he was advancing in age and lacked the administrative experience that was needed in Prague. After a few polite exchanges, Hitler impatiently remarked that he would have to offer the position to a Sudeten German, then, or to somebody from Ribbentrop's crew, if Neurath did not accept. But Neurath did, asking, however, for promises that he would be on his own and that other agencies of the Reich (he meant the SS and the SD) would not interfere. Hitler read him the essential sentences of the Führer's decree asserting that the protector would be the Führer's sole representative. Neurath did not ask for further guarantees, and he was promptly introduced to his new second-in-command and state secretary, waiting in the anteroom. This was K. H. Frank, the most radical functionary of Henlein's Sudeten Party and a rabid hater of Czechs.
On April 5 Neurath visited Prague for the first time to survey the scene and to demonstrate to the occupied people and to foreign observers that his appointment was not an empty, formal gesture. He was welcomed at the railroad station by General Walther von Brauchitsch, commander in chief of the armed forces, who had been flown in for the occasion, a gun salute was heard, the Czech lord mayor of Prague welcomed the protector, who would assure "the free development of all the rich talents of the Czech people," and a military parade was held, with heavy artillery, tanks, and representatives of the Czech government (not legally functioning) in attendance.
The day was not a real success. Children were kept at home from school rather than line the streets with their teachers. Their little paper flags, given to them to welcome the Reichsprotektor, were floating in the river, and rather than watch the proceedings, people animatedly promenaded along the fringes of Wenceslas Square and programmatically ignored what was going on. At a formal banquet the next evening the protector told his Czech guests that he had come to secure the happiness and well-being of Bohemia and Moravia within the Lebensraumof the German Reich, and he asked them to help him fulfill his "difficult task."
In private Neurath was more skeptical; to Gerhard Röpke, a friend and correspondent, he wrote that he had to restrain both the German anti-Czech elements and the Sudeten Germans, and when his daughter asked why he had accepted the job after "everything Hitler had done to him," he answered that "duty came first," that Ribbentrop was incompetent, and that he wanted to prevent the situation "from erupting into war." It was not to be, and only a few days after he had taken over administrative authority from the military, on April 16, the first signs of resolute opposition to the German occupation began to appear for all in the city to see.
Copyright © 2008 by Peter Demetz