70th anniversary of Reichsprotektor Heydrich's rule over Bohemia and Moravia
Exactly 70 years ago, on 27 September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich came to Prague on Hitler's orders to take up the position of Reichsprotektor. He was 37 years old. At a gathering of Nazi officials several days before his arrival in Prague, he clearly expressed how he wanted to handle the population of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. A "final solution" awaited Jews, Roma and others in the death camps, while the Slavs were to be either murdered or Germanized and moved as far east as possible. "The Bohemian-Moravian area must never be left in such a state that the Czechs might be able to claim it as theirs... This space must be German once and for all so the Czech will have no claim to it in the end," Heydrich said in that speech.
Reinhard Heydrich was one of the direct co-authors of the Holocaust - both of the idea of murdering homosexuals, Jewish people, mentally or physically disabled people, Romani people and others, as well as of the methods for pursuing genocide - death camps, Germanization, and racial/ethnic pogroms. The tragic fate of the Czech and Moravian Jews and Roma began under his rule.
A group of children imprisoned at the Lety concentration camp. Many of them died
primarily because of cold and hunger. Romani prisoners were transported from from
Lety to the death camp at Auschwitz, where the vast majority were murdered by the Nazis.
Photo: Archive of the Lidice Memorial
Heydrich left a bloody trail in Czech history: During the four months of the state of emergency he announced after becoming Reichsprotektor, 486 people were sentenced to death and more than 2 100 Czechs ended up in concentration camps. Heydrich practically decimated the entire Czech resistance, which repaid him with assassination. As Professor Václav Černý has succinctly written: "Heydrich came to murder the Czech nation, and the Czech nation murdered him."
Heydrich was sent to Prague for both military-economic and political reasons. After a significant rise in resistance activity and sabotage in 1941, Konstantin von Neurath, then-Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, was sent on medical leave "at his own request" by Hitler. The ambitious SS General Heydrich was sent to Prague to replace him. At the end of July 1941, Heydrich was entrusted with preparing "the Final Solution to the Jewish Question".
The other reasons were economic. In addition to the Ruhr district, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia had become an important center of the German arms industry during the second year of the war. At the Škoda factories in Plzeň and the Brno-based Zbrojovce armament factory, the Germans had access to some of the highest-performing metalworking shops for arms manufacturing in the world. The Nazis also frequently transferred production from the west of Germany to the Protectorate. One-third of German tanks and 40 % of their light artillery were being produced there at the time.
Heydrich's main aims were to increase the amount of weapons produced for the Nazis by these factories in the Protectorate and to prepare the Germanization - and later, the liquidation - of the Czech nation. This involved calling for and firming up a collaborationist policy, in which he demanded not just mere consent, as Czechoslovak President Hácha had provided, but active participation, as modeled by Czechoslovak Army Colonel Emanuel Moravec.
Heydrich's short-term aim was the liquidation of the domestic resistance for the purpose of "pacifying" the situation in the Protectorate. On the day after his appointment, he announced a state of emergency and immediately took Czechoslovak Prime Minister Alois Eliáš into custody (who was sentenced to death in October for espionage and treason and executed on 19 June 1942). During this period of martial law (the second announced in the Protectorate; the first was announced in June 1939), representatives of the illegal leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, the National Defense (Obrany národa), and the Sokol organization were executed between 28 September 1941 and 20 January 1942.
Reichsprotektor Heydrich demanded the area of Bohemia and Moravia for the Germans.
Heydrich gave a speech on solving the "Czech problem" at Černín Palace in Prague on 2 October 1941 that listed the following: deportation to the east, Germanization, and the physical liquidation of all who resisted. In the interim, the majority of the Czech population should be maximally exploited for the war effort.
When martial law ended in January 1942, a policy targeting the Protectorate labor force was introduced. Workers were won over by various financial incentives and promises - for example, pensions for invalids, senior citizens, and widows rose by 75 %. Mandatory unemployment insurance was introduced. Free cinema or theater tickets were distributed, as were vouchers for vacations.
Heydrich also decided the fate of the Protectorate's Jews. Two weeks after taking office, the decision was made at a meeting in Prague on 10 October to deport some of the Czech Jews to Lodz in occupied Poland, and Terezín was chosen as an appropriate place to concentrate most of the Jews in the Protectorate. The first transport of Jews to the ghetto in Lodz left Prague on 16 October. The first transport of Jews from Prague to Terezín - the so-called "construction squad" - left on 24 November.
Heydrich's policy of "carrots and sticks" enjoyed a certain success. He did succeed, to a certain degree, in terrorizing the citizens and weakening the resistance. However, he never believed the resistance movement had been completely liquidated and was convinced that only the "Final Solution" could pacify resistance. He said the Czechs were like blades of grass - when they sense danger, they submit, but they are always prepared to raise their heads once more. His remark that the Czechs are "grinning brutes" is also infamous.
However, he felt relatively secure ("Why should my Czechs shoot at me?" he said) and drove in an open car to and from his villa in Panenský Břežany. This is one reason why the assassination performed on 27 May 1942 by paratroopers Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš succeeded. Heydrich died of his injuries on 4 June. He was Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia for a total of eight months and eight days.
Immediately after the assassination, a state of emergency was announced and mass executions began. General Kurt Daluege, the head of the Nazi special forces police, was named the new Reichsprotektor. Seven paratroopers involved in the assassination were shot dead on 18 June in the Orthodox Cathedral of Cyril and Methodius on Resslova street in Prague. In June 1942, the Nazi terror culminated in the razing to the ground of the villages of Ležáky and Lidice. During this second period of martial law, which ended on 3 July 1942, more than 3 000 people were murdered. A sign marking the burial place of the victims of the razing of Lidice.
A sign marking the burial place of the victims of the razing of Lidice.
In the speech he made prior to assuming the position of Reichsprotektor, Heydrich said the following: "The Bohemian-Moravian space must not be left in such a state that the Czechs would be able to claim it as theirs... This space must be a German one and the Czech in the end will have no claim on it. Now, gentlemen, some ideas on the final solution. This space must be once and for all definitively settled by Germans. However, I am not speaking of the final Germanization of this space in the sense that we will try now, through the old methods, to Germanize the Czech scum, but I say to you quite soberly: We are setting forth on matters which we can begin already today in secret. In order to gain an overview of which of people in this space are appropriate for Germanization, I must undertake an accounting of the population from the racial point of view...."
The Reichsprotektor-to-be distinguished among several categories of Czechs in his speech and said it would be possible to move some of them to the area of the Arctic Ocean: "The middle layer which we must research precisely remains at the center. In this layer there are well-disposed people of a bad race and ill-disposed people of the good race. With the well-disposed people of the bad race, we will probably have to send them to work somewhere else in the Reich or elsewhere and make sure they do not have children... They we have the ill-disposed people of the good race. They are the most dangerous, because they comprise a rising layer of good leaders. We must consider what to do with them. There will be nothing else to do but to try to settle some of these ill-disposed members of the good race in the Reich, in a purely German environment, and attempt to Germanize and re-educate them. If that doesn't work, we will have to put them up against the wall [for execution]." Heidrych's current would-be "successor", Tomáš Vandas, chair of the DSSS.
Heidrych's current would-be "successor", Tomáš Vandas, chair of the DSSS.
With respect to "Slavs" (i.e., Czechs and Slovaks), Heydrich issued these words of warning: "One group is of those living in spaces settled by German people, i.e., people who are of our blood and therefore also marked by our character. These are people who have somehow been deformed through Jewish influence and by poor political leadership. We must gradually attract them to the principles of our current perspective... Another group is in the spaces in the East... There we must be aware that the Slav would understand any gentleness on our part as weakness, that the Slav himself does not at all want to be treated like an equal and is used to the fact that a master will not lose face to him. German masters must rule there in future. After the next military developments, this area will include territory reaching deep into Russia, as far as the Urals. This must become our base of resources, and the population must serve us as a labor force to fulfill these enormous tasks, including the cultural ones. To put it in drastic terms, they will have to serve as our slaves."
Reinhard Heydrich was born on 7 March 1904 in Halle. At the age of 18 he became a cadet in the German Navy, but his promising career was ended in 1931 by a trial at which he was charged with raping the daughter of a Navy officer. At the suggestion of his wife, Lina, he joined the NSDAP and the SS, and his meteoric career began. In July 1932 he became the head of the SS, then the head of the Bavarian Police. In 1936 he was appointed head of the security police. In 1939, he became head of the Main Office of Imperial Security. In 1941 he was appointed Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He was assassinated in 1942.
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