Czech Attitudes towards the Jews during the Nazi Regime
Czech–Jewish relations throughout the centuries were marked by clashes occurring in times of social ferment. In the nineteenth century national independence with Masaryk at the helm brought about a positive change in attitudes. Church antisemitism weakened. By 1930 liberal Czechs had abandoned prejudice and Jews were becoming assimilated into Czech society. In the 1930s the rise of Nazism in Europe bypassed the Czechs until the Austrian Anschluss reinforced rightist groups. Following the Munich Agreement, Czechoslovakia drifted towards German power, and liberalism and democracy were discredited. The arrival of German-speaking Jews fleeing from the Sudetenland led to virulent antisemitism. Yet, in 1939 some 2,500 Jews were permitted to leave for Palestine together with £500,000 from the Bank of England. Following the German occupation, raging antisemitism was disseminated and many synagogues were burned down. Jews began to be ousted from economic and public life. Nazi efforts to isolate the Jews succeeded only partially. The Czech underground had many Jewish members and leaders. Heydrich arrived in Prague in September 1941 to implement the Final Solution and transports left the large cities for Theresienstadt every week. Uncertainty rules as regards Czech knowledge of Germany’s plans for the Final Solution. Heydrich’s assassination gave rise to a massive dragnet and investigation of five million persons, arrest of 13,000 and execution of 1,300. One thousand Jews were transported to Poland and murdered. The local population was not prepared to shelter Jews and not keen for Jews to be permitted to return at the end of the war. The Czech government-in-exile maintained ties with Jews in the Free World and with Yishuv leaders. If measured by their relations to their Jews, the Czechs did not live up to their reputation as a model democracy.