On 15th March 1939 - six months before the war had even broken out -
Prague was occupied by German troops. On 8th May 1945 - over six years
later - Prague was the last major European city to be liberated by the Red
Army. In the course of this long occupation, the so-called
"Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" gradually came under the
complete control of the Gestapo, one of the most vicious regimes in the
whole of occupied Europe.
The sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war is a time of mixed emotions
in the Czech Republic. On the one hand memories of the liberation are a
reason for celebration, but the anniversary also brings back painful
memories of the occupation itself: the murder of over 70,000 Czech Jews,
the arbitrary executions, the destruction of the Czech villages of Lidice
The liberation - by the Red Army from the east and by General Patton's
Third Army from the west - brought great hopes, but it was a bittersweet
moment. Only three years later a further tyranny took power in
Czechoslovakia, and for over forty years the country was under hard line
communist rule. In one sense the war did not really end for Czechs until
November 1989, when the Iron Curtain was finally breached.
How do we remember the events of the Second World War today? What does
this legacy mean for today's Czech Republic? What taboos still remain?
Jaroslava Moserova is a woman of many talents. She is best known to many Czechs for her translations, in particular the novels of Dick Francis. For several years she was also a Czech senator and prior to that a member of the lower house of parliament, and also Czech ambassador to Australia and New Zealand. As if that weren't enough she has also had a long career as a burns specialist and was the first doctor to treat Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself alight on Wenceslas Square in 1969. But here Jaroslava Moserova remembers back to a time before all that, when she was a little girl, growing up in wartime occupied Prague.
WWII on Radio Prague
There are two widely held stereotypes of Czechs during the war: while some see a plucky little nation that heroically struggled to survive under the Nazi jackboot, others have argued that Czechs buckled and failed to resist the force of Hitler's Germany. But inevitably history is a great deal more complicated than the stereotypes, and in the course of today's programme, we'll be trying to unravel some of these complexities.
During the German occupation of the Czech Lands more than 77,000 Czech and Moravian Jews were murdered. Today we can read the names and dates of birth of all the known victims on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. At least 6,000 Czech Roma were also murdered. Only a small percentage of Jewish and Romany Czechs survived the Holocaust.
Before the Second World War, roughly one-third of the population in the Czech lands had been ethnic Germans. After the war, these Sudeten Germans, mostly living in the border regions of the former Czechoslovakia, were treated as Nazi collaborators and the great majority were expelled from the country; thousands died violent deaths during the expulsions, especially in the first months after the end of the war, and many more died from hunger and untreated illnesses contracted during or after the massive exodus. To this day the fate of the Sudeten Germans is the subject of heated debate.