The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in rare photographs, 1938-1939

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany.

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, Romain, 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.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Getting ready to slice Czechoslovakia.

The ambassadors of France and Great Britain delivered a note to President Edvard Beneš on September 19 demanding that 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. Hiter’s ally Benito Mussolini then proposed a four-power meeting to resolve the Czechoslovak crisis.

The famous conference convened on September 29-30 (1938) in Munich with representatives of Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy in attendance, Czechoslovaks being notably absent.

Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Edouard 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.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Hácha, Hitler and Göring meeting in Berlin, 14-15 March 1939.

The incorporation of the Sudetenland into Germany that began on 1 October 1938 left the rest of Czechoslovakia weak. Moreover, a small northeastern part of the borderland region known as Zaolzie was occupied and annexed to Poland ostensibly to “protect” the local ethnic Polish community and as a result of previous territorial claims (Czech-Polish disputes in the years of 1918–20).

Furthermore, by the First Vienna Award, Hungary received the southern territories of Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, which was largely inhabited by Hungarians.

As the Slovak State was proclaimed on 14 March 1939, the next day Hungary occupied and annexed the remainder of Carpathian Ruthenia. After fearing a Hungarian invasion, the Czech Prime Minister asked the German Wehrmacht to protect the remainder of the Czech lands.

On the morning of 15 March, German troops entered the remaining Czech parts of Czechoslovakia (Rest-Tschechei in German), meeting practically no resistance (the only instance of organized resistance took place in Místek where an infantry company commanded by Karel Pavlík fought invading German troops).

The Hungarian invasion of Carpatho-Ukraine encountered resistance but the Hungarian army quickly crushed it. On 16 March, Hitler went to Czech lands and from Prague Castle proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) (front row, second right) walks with past an honor guard at his reception upon arriving at Oberwiesenfeld airport on the way to a meeting with Adolf Hitler over the latter’s threats to invade Czechoslovakia, September 28, 1938. Pictured are, from left, German politician Gauleiter Adolf Wagner (1890-1944), German SA-Obergruppenführer Franz Ritter von Epp (1868-1947), German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946), Chamberlain, and British Ambassador to Germany Sir Neville Henderson (1882-1942).

Besides violating his promises at Munich, the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia was, unlike Hitler’s previous actions, not described in Mein Kampf.

After having repeatedly stated that he was interested only in pan-Germanism, the unification of ethnic Germans into one Reich, Germany had now conquered seven million Czechs. Hitler’s proclamation creating the protectorate claimed that “Bohemia and Moravia have for thousands of years belonged to the Lebensraum of the German people”.

British public opinion changed drastically after the invasion. Chamberlain realized that the Munich Agreement had meant nothing to Hitler. Chamberlain told the British public on 17 March during a speech in Birmingham that Hitler was attempting “to dominate the world by force”.

There are sources that highlighted the more favorable treatment of the Czechs during the German occupation in comparison to the treatment of the Poles and the Ukrainians.

This is attributed to the view within the Nazi hierarchy that a large swath of the populace was “capable of Aryanization,” hence, the Czechs were not subjected to a similar degree of random and organized acts of brutality that their Polish counterparts experienced.

Such capacity for Aryanization was supported by the position that part of the Czech population had German ancestry.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Tanks of the Hungarian occupation forces enter into the streets of the Czechoslovak city Hust (now part of the Carpathian region of Ukraine).

Aside from the inconsistency of animosity towards Slavs, there is also the claim that the forceful but restrained policy in Czechoslovakia was partly driven by the need to keep the population nourished and complacent so that it can carry out the vital work of arms production in the factories.

By 1939, the country was already serving as a major hub of military production for Germany, manufacturing aircraft, tanks, artillery, and other armaments.

In March 1944, during Operation Margarethe Hungary was occupied by Germany, while beginning at the end of August 1944 with the Slovak National Uprising, Slovakia shared the same fate.

The occupation ended with the surrender of Germany following World War II. During the German occupation between 294,000 to 320,000 citizens (including Jews, making up most of the casualties) were murdered.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish and Hungarian officers shake hands in Czechoslovakia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Locals give flowers to Hungarian soldiers.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Ruler (regent) of the Hungarian kingdom, Admiral Miklos Horthy (on a white horse) led a parade of Hungarian troops in occupied Czechoslovakia city Kosice.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish troops enter the Czechoslovak city Tesín.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

A Czech line of bunker fortifications in the Sudetenland, known as the “Benes” line – Czechoslovakia’s version of the Maginot Line.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Funeral for Carpathian Czechoslovak troops and soldiers who died in battle with the Hungarian troops who invaded Czechoslovakia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Residents of the Czech town of Ash welcome German troops.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Ruler (regent) of the Hungarian kingdom, Admiral Miklos Horthy (on a white horse) led the parade of Hungarian troops in occupied Czechoslovakia Kosice after its occupation by November 2, 1938.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Hungarian and Polish soldiers embrace during their occupation of Czechoslovakia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Admiral Miklos Horthy visits a hospital of soldiers wounded in battle against the defenders of Carpatho-Ukraine.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Funeral for Carpathian Czechoslovak troops and soldiers who died in battle with the Hungarian troops who invaded Czechoslovakia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

On October 25, 1938, the Prague government dissolved political parties. Dismissing all political parties, Prime Minister autonomous Carpathian Ukraine Augustine Voloshin gave permission “to establish a political party called” Ukrainian national unity “(DNA)” which violated the decision of the Prague authorities.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

A Czechoslovak soldier kisses his daughter before leaving to fight.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

American restaurateur Fred Horak, an ethnic and Czech native of Prague, at the window of his dining room.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

A column of captured Czechoslovak tank LT vz. 35 being sent to Germany.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Bridge over the River Odra (Oder), where German troops are entering the Czech city of Ostrava, 15 March 1939

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Germans occupy Prague.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish armor occupies the Czechoslovak village Jorg.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish soldiers at the Czech border station in Bogumin.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

German officers watching the capture of Bogumin by Polish troops.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

A monument to the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Masaryk, in Bogumin. It was broken, during “Operation Zaluzha,” the Polish occupation of its portion of Czechoslovakia.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish troops occupy the Czech city Carwin.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish soldiers in the post office in the Czech village Ligotka cameral.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

German column goosesteps in Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia, as pro-German Slovaks extend their arms in the Hitler salute, 1939. Slovakia was a “co-combatant” of Germany under a collaborationist regime.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Residents of Tesin tear down the Czechoslovak border post.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

“The invasion of the German troops in Sudetenland. The youth of Hainspach held on tirelessly; over and over they welcomed the German soldiers with enthusiastic cheers.”

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish tanks enter the Czech city Tesín, October 1938.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Handshake between Polish Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly and German attache, Major-General von Studnitz Bogislava at the “Independence Day” Parade in Warsaw November 11, 1938. They would be fighting each other less than a year later.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish tank breaks through Czechoslovak border fortifications.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Part of the Polish 10th Infantry Regiment equestrian 10th Mechanized Brigade preparing for solemn parade before the commander of the regiment at the end of the operation “Zaluzha.”

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Soldiers of the Czechoslovak border detachment (“State Protection Groups), battalion number 24, at the Maria Valeria bridge over the Danube in Parkano (current Stúrovo) in southern Slovakia. They are prepared to repel Hungarian aggression.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Burned during the fighting in the night from 21 to 22 September 1938, this is the customs building in the Czechoslovak village Hnanice.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Sudeten Germans tear down the Czechoslovak border post.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

German Colonel-General von Brauchitsch oversees a parade to celebrate the annexation of the Sudetenland to Germany.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian children of Jewish descent were permitted to leave their countries and families on the Kindertransport; a train bound for Britain.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Adolf Hitler looks out over Prague.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Polish troops substitute out the Czech name for the Polish name of the city on the railway station of the city Tesín.

german occupation czechoslovakia photographs

Adolf Hitler at Prague Castle.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Bundesarchiv / Polish National Archives / Captions by James Bjorkman / Hitler and Czechoslovakia in World War II: Domination and Retaliation / Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45).