Dismemberment of Czechoslovakia
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Although Sudetenland in northwestern Czechoslovakia had been occupied by the Germans through diplomatic means during Sep and Oct 1938, it was actually a misstep by Adolf Hitler. He had unreasonably demanded Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, believing that it was likely to be rejected, thus he would have the excuse to move his troops into the whole of Czechoslovakia. The acts of appeasement by the United Kingdom and France, therefore, provided Germany only part of what Hitler ultimately wanted. In the first week of Oct, even prior to the occupation of Sudetenland being complete, Hitler was already conferring with his top military commanders to prepare a new plan for the invasion given the new circumstances. In the mean time, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop actively engaged in the funding of various groups in Czechoslovakia to stir sentiments against the ruling government based in Prague, Czechoslovakia; Slovakia and Ruthenia, for example, were among those receiving covert support.
In Mar 1939, Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha decided to clamp down on the nationalist sentiments to consolidate power. On 6 Mar, he suspected the Ruthenian local government, followed by a similar move on 9 Mar in Slovakia. On 10 Mar, he ordered Slovakian nationalist Jozef Tiso arrested. These moves forced Germany to move up the timetable. Arthur Seyß-Inquart was immediately dispatched to demand Slovakian leaders to proclaim independence immediately, while Emil Hácha was asked to allow German troops to occupy Bohemia and Moravia. Hácha traveled by train to Berlin, Germany during the night of 14 Mar 1939 in an attempt to dissuade German aggression, but instead faced what amounted to as bullying by Adolf Hitler, Wilhelm Keitel, Hermann Göring, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, who told him that German troops were marching across the border at 0600 hours on 15 Mar regardless of what Hácha might decide to do, but if Hácha chose to peacefully accept German entrance, Prague would be saved from devastating aerial bombing and many of his countrymen's lives would be saved. Even while the meeting was taking place, German SS troops already infiltrated the Moravian Ostrau strip to safeguard the modern steel mill at Witkowitz against potential Polish interference should a war between Germany and Czechoslovakia break out the next day. During the heated discussions, Hácha fainted twice, and both times Dr. Theodor Morell, Hitler's personal physician, revived him with injections to continue the negotiations. Hácha gave in at 0355 hours and signed the documents to allow German occupation, and telephoned his troops to stand down. After daybreak on 15 Mar 1939, German troops marched under a cold wintry sky into Czechoslovakia, taking control of Prague before the end of the day. Hitler entered Prague later on the same day, parading through Prague streets in his open-top Mercedes, few stiff-armed salutes were seen from the onlookers.
On 16 Mar, Hitler received the Czech government's official surrender in Prague, with Hácha (who had been brought back to Prague by a special train arranged by the Germans) at the head of the surrendering delegation; Hitler also installed Konstantin von Neurath as the head of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. On 17 Mar, Hitler and his entourage reached Vienna, Austria, where they he installed Jozef Tiso as the head of the puppet government of the Slovak Republic; that puppet state occupied the southeastern half of Czechoslovakia. Ruthenia, which had previously been encouraged to declare independence, was betrayed; less than a day after the region had proclaimed the independent nation of Carpatho-Ukraine, Germany allowed Hungary to occupy and annex the region.
Although the Czech army was relatively small, it was highly modernized and was backed by a large industry base producing machine guns, tanks, and artillery. With this annexation, the German Army gained immediate access to these troops and the industrial capabilities. Some of the munitions plants were literally picked up and moved to Austria during the course of the occupation due to Hitler's distrust for the Czechs.
The United Kingdom and France, who had failed to act to save fellow ally Czechoslovakia, failed to even lodge a formal protest until 18 Mar 1939. Nevertheless, anti-appeasement sentiments finally began to be influential within the two western powers. After the war, Lord Boothby noted how Britain's appeasement policy damned Europe to war.
As Germany publicized a peaceful annexation, the Czechs knew the real truth behind the propaganda. 250,000 Czechs were killed within the next month, with half of them being Jews. Young Jewish males were forced to register, and Nazi thugs used the registers to track down Jewish businesses to harass, vandalize, and sometimes destroy. One of Churchill's anonymous informants in Czechoslovakia reported, with purposeful dark humor, that Czech Nazi Party members wished to watch the Nazi propaganda film "Olympia" at the Capitol Cinema, but only to be disappointedly turned back because the Jewish-owned business was being boycotted by a Nazi picket. "There was no blinking the fact that this time Hitler had acted not as the champion of Germans living in a neighboring country but as a Genghis Khan bent upon pillage, enslavement, slaughter, and destruction", wrote William Manchester.
Beneš, who resigned and left Czechoslovakia in Oct 1938, established a government-in-exile in London, England, United Kingdom as the central rallying point of resistance against the German occupation.
Wilhelm Keitel, In the Service of the Reich
William Manchester, The Last Lion
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Dismemberment of Czechoslovakia Timeline
|21 Oct 1938||Adolf Hitler issued the order to his top military commanders noting that German forces must be ready to seize the remainder of Czechoslovakia and Memel in Lithuania with minimal notice.|
|17 Dec 1938||Wilhelm Keitel ordered that the invasion of the remainder of Czechoslovakia must be done by a peacetime German Army that was not reinforced by mobilization.|
|21 Jan 1939||Czechoslovakian foreign minister visited Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Germany; Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia to decrease the size of its military, to hand over a large portion of its gold reserves to be stored in Germany, and to begin excluding Jews in society.|
|27 Jan 1939||Britain and France pledged a Ł8,000,000 loan and a Ł4,000,000 gift for Czechoslovakia in an attempt to save the country from falling apart.|
|8 Feb 1939||The United Kingdom and France inquired Germany on why no German guarantee of Czechoslovakian sovereignty has been signed as agreed upon in the Munich Agreement.|
|12 Feb 1939||Slovakian nationalist leader Vojtech Tuka met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Germany, seeking support for Slovakian independence. Hitler answered in the affirmative.|
|28 Feb 1939||Germany responded to the British and French inquiry of 8 Feb 1939 regarding why Germany had not yet guaranteed Czechoslovakian sovereignty, noting that Germany must "await first a clarification of the internal development of Czechoslovakia".|
|6 Mar 1939||Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha dismissed the Ruthenian government in an attempt to quell nationalist sentiments that was breaking apart his country.|
|9 Mar 1939||Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha suspended Jozef Tiso's Slovakian government and placed Slovakia under martial law.|
|10 Mar 1939||Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha ordered the arrest of Slovakian political leader Jozef Tiso.|
|11 Mar 1939||In response to Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha's sudden moves to consolidate power within Czechoslovakia, thus threatening German attempts to divide the nation, Adolf Hitler issued a ultimatum for Czechoslovakia to hand over Bohemia and Moravia, moving up the German schedule for the occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia. At 2200 hours, Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyß-Inquart visited Slovakian leaders, demanding them to proclaim independence immediately, otherwise Germany would no longer support their movement.|
|12 Mar 1939||German leaders demanded Slovakian leader Jozef Tiso to visit Berlin, Germany, where he was told to declare Slovakian independence immediately otherwise Germany would withdraw its support for such a movement.|
|13 Mar 1939||At 1900 hours, Adolf Hitler once again demanded Jozef Tiso to declare Slovakian independence from Czechoslovakia; meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop presented him reports of Hungarian troop movements on its border, hinting that Hungary, friendly to Germany, was ready to strike should the negotiations in Berlin, Germany fail.|
|14 Mar 1939||Slovakia and Ruthenia declared independence from Czechoslovakia; as Czechoslovakia had fallen into pieces, the United Kingdom and France considered it to be the evidence that Czechoslovakia no longer existed as a nation, thus they no longer had any alliance obligations to the now defunct nation. During the day, Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha traveled by train to Berlin, Germany to conduct last-minute negotiations with Adolf Hitler to save his country.|
|15 Mar 1939||At 0115 hours, Czechoslovakian President Emil Hácha met with Adolf Hitler, who was accompanied by Wilhelm Keitel, Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Theodor Morell, in Berlin, Germany. Hitler threatened Hácha that German forces were poised to invade Czechoslovakia at 0600 hours, so it was up to Hácha to either agree to a peaceful occupation or face a destructive invasion. At 0215 hours, Hitler left the conference room, and Göring and Ribbentrop continued to threaten Hácha with, among other things, the bombing of Prague. Hácha fainted twice during the negotiations, and both times were revived by injections by Dr. Morell. Hácha gave in at 0355 hours, and German troops marched across the borders at 0600 hours unopposed. In the evening, Adolf Hitler entered Prague in a grand parade. During the day in eastern Czechoslovakia, Hungarian forces marched into Ruthenia, ending the one-day-old nation of Capatho-Ukraine.|
|16 Mar 1939||In eastern Czechoslovakia, Slovakian leader Jozef Tiso sent a telegram, originally authored by Hermann Göring, to ask for German troops to enter Slovakian borders. In western Czechoslovakia, Germany declared the formation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, with Konstantin von Neurath as the German Protector, immediately enacting anti-Semitic laws.|
|18 Mar 1939||France, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union lodged official protests regarding German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, in Vienna in German-occupied Austria, Adolf Hitler approved the formation of a German protectorate in Slovakia.|
|23 Mar 1939||Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vojtech Tuka signed the official document in Berlin, Germany that declared Slovakia as an independent nation under German protection.|
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» Blaskowitz, Johannes
» Chamberlain, Neville
» Göring, Hermann
» Hácha, Emil
» Hitler, Adolf
» Jodl, Alfred
» Morell, Theodore
» Ribbentrop, Joachim von
» Tiso, Jozef
» No. 10: Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords
» No. 11: Question and the Prime Minister's answer in the House of Commons
» No. 12: Message from Sir N. Henderson to Viscount Halifax
» No. 9: Speech by the Prime Minister at Birmingham
» The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
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George Patton, 31 May 1944