Thursday, October 6, 2016

This Week in Holocaust History: The Munich Agreement and German Occupation of Sudetenland

The week of October 1st 1938 marked the beginning of the German occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The signing of the Munich agreement in days prior allowed this to occur.

In modern politics, the Munich Conference, held from September 29 to September 30, 1939, by Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier, remained a remarkable example of failed geo-political intentions to keep peace for the sake of small European nations. Appeasement of Nazi-German territorial expansion resulted in dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and by no means prevented the outbreak of the Second World War, one year later.

From 1918 to 1938, after disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and until October 1938, more than 3 million ethnic Germans lived in the Czech part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia.

Konrad Henlein, pro-Nazi leader of Sudeten Germans, founded the Nazi-oriented Front of Sudeten German Homeland (SdP) in 1933. By 1935, the SdP became the second largest political party in Czechoslovakia. Shortly after the Anschluss of Austria, Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, where he was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government led by President Edvard Beneš. On 24 April, the SdP issued a series of demands upon the government of Czechoslovakia that were known as the Carlsbad Program.

On September 12th 1938, Hitler denounced Czechoslovakia as being a fraudulent state that was in violation of international law's emphasis of national self-determination, claiming that it was a Czech hegemony where neither the Germans, the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Ukrainians nor the Poles of the country actually wanted to be in a union with the Czechs. Hitler accused Czechoslovakia's President Edvard Beneš of seeking to gradually exterminate the Sudeten Germans, claiming that since Czechoslovakia's creation over 600,000 Germans were allegedly intentionally forced out of their homes under the threat of starvation if they did not leave. Hitler accused the government of Czechoslovakia of being a client regime of France, claiming that the French Minister of Aviation, Pierre Cot had said "We need this state as a base from which to drop bombs with greater ease to destroy Germany's economy and its industry."

A deal was reached on September 29th at about 1:30 am on September 30th 1938 Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The agreement was officially introduced by Mussolini although in fact the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in the German Foreign Office. The German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by  October 10th 1938 and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas.

Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, reluctantly capitulated (30 September) and agreed to abide by the Agreement. The settlement gave Germany Sudetenland starting 10 October and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further.

Czechoslovakian were greatly dismayed with the Munich Settlement. With Sudetenland gone to Germany, Czechoslovakia lost its defensible, well-fortified border with Germany. Czech sovereignty became more nominal than real.

Neville Chamberlain, announced the deal at Heston Aerodrome upon arrival to Great Britain as follows:

"... the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ' ... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again."

Historians continue to speculate whether or not the war remained inevitable had Poland succumbed to German demands and ceded the Danzig Corridor to Germany in August of 1939. 

From the events mentioned above, the following proverb fits this narrative: 
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 
Women from the City of Cheb saluting German soldiers
Hitler and Chamberlain shaking hands

Thursday, September 18, 2014

These Days In History: On September 17, 1939 the Soviet Red Army crossed the border with Poland.

By mid-September, the German army had invaded most of the Polish territories. Although Polish armed forces, encircled by the superior forces of Wehrmacht, continued combat operations all over Poland. A number of Polish counter-offences rendered a temporary success. The defenders of Warsaw fought until September 22, 1939.

The Red Army entered Poland under the pretext of the protection of the non-Polish national minorities in Eastern Poland. In reality it was a planned operation, provisioned by the Secret Protocol signed on August 23, 1939 and attached to the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. A precondition to the Soviet invasion of Poland had to be the fall of Warsaw. German government communicated to Stalin that Warsaw had fallen, although it was not true.
Poles did not expect that the Red Army would join the German suit. The Soviet marched in the Eastern Polish territories. The result was disorganization of Polish defense, which made the further resistance inconceivable. Soviet and German troops met in amicable way on the earlier provisioned demarcation lines, at the Rivers San and Buh. A number of German units had gone father, over the earlier agreed demarcation lines and approached Lviv and Brest.

In geopolitical sense, the German and Soviet invasion of Poland meant the Forth Partition of the country. Both Hitler and Stalin had settled their old scores with the independent Poland. The Soviet zone of occupation included Eastern Galicia, Western Volhynia and Polesije regions.

These ethnic Ukrainian territories also contained the large Jewish population, approximately 800,000 people. A small number of Jews returned back to the German-occupied Poland, namely to the General Government. However, the majority remained in the Soviet-controlled territories, which by the end of 1940 were officially incorporated in the USSR.
The Jews were presented with the choice of becoming Soviet citizens. This initiative of the Soviet Government became known as the Article 11. The majority of Jews agreed to the Soviet citizenship, however there were those who refused it. In 1940 – 1941, the Soviet Government commenced mass deportation of the so-called “undesirable” from the newly gained territories. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, Ukrainians and Poles were deported to the Soviet interior and placed in forced labor camps. Intelligentsia, political elites, business entrepreneurs and those who refused Soviet citizenship were to be deported first.

It has to be said that manifold more Jews survived in the Soviet interior than in German-occupied Poland. Many of them later joined the Anders Army or the First Polish Division named after Kosciuszko. This division would become a core of the pro-Soviet forces that eventually took control over the liberated Poland in 1944 – 1945.
Eastern Poland would never become the Polish territory again. The new borders had been reluctantly approved by the Allies at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The political map of Europe had been changed forever. This border changes induced bloodshed in Volhynia where in 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacred hundreds of thousands of Poles, perceiving that this province would remain in Polish hands.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist continued to resist against the all might of the Soviet military since 1944 and until 1956. Western Ukraine, the former Eastern Galicia, that once was a home to Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, preserved its role as a Ukrainian Piedmont until Ukraine gained independence in 1991. It is still regarded to be a Ukrainian Piedmont. Only after the Soviet Perstroika, the Secret Protocol between Nazi Germany and the USSR was made public.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

These Days In History: September 15, 1935

On 9/15/35 two measures were announced to the Reichstag at the Annual Party Rally in Nuremberg, becoming known as the Nuremberg Laws.

The first law, The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between "Jews" and "Germans" and also the employment of "German" females under forty-five in Jewish households.

The second law, The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as "Aryans" were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). In effect, this law stripped Jews of German citizenship.

Between November 1935 to July 1943, 13 implementation ordinances were issued dealing with the enforcement of Reich Citizenship Law that progressively marginalized the Jewish community in Germany.

Pictured: A table used to explain the meaning of the Nuremberg Laws

Monday, September 15, 2014

These Days In History: September 13, 1944: Auschwitz Bombing

On September 13, 1944 the IG Farbenindustrie chemical plant was bombed for thirteen minutes. Few bombs fell on the area surrounding Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps. Over 40 prisoners and 15 SS men died because of the air raid and many were wounded. 

In Birkenau, bombs damaged the railroad embankment and the connecting track to the crematoria. At the chemical plant bombs caused significant  damages and approximately 300 people were killed., including many prisoners who worked there.

During the air raid, aerial photographs were taken, where Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps are visible, including gas chambers and crematoria. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

These Days In History: Benito Mussolini

On September 12, the German paratroopers freed from the Italian partisan base the Duce, Benito Mussolini. The War in Italy would continue until April 1945.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

These Days In History: September 9, 1941: Anti-Jewish Legislation is Introduced in Slovakia

When Slovak troops entered the War in the summer of 1941, anti-Jewish legislation was escalated again. 

On September 9, 1941, the legal status of the Jews was finalized with the Zidovsky Kodex (the Jewish Code), which was one of the first government regulations passed by the Slovak Republic containing a set of anti-Jewish laws. 

The Zidovsky Kodex closely followed the Nuremberg Laws for the classification of Jews; it contained 270 articles, which redefined the Jews as a racial group. It required them to wear the yellow Star of David, made them liable to forced labor and evicted them from the selected towns and districts.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

These Days In History: September 8, 1939: Germans Occupy Tarnow

On September 8th, 1939 German forces occupied a town in southern Poland, approximately 70 km east of Krakow named Tarnow.

Before the War, around 25,000 Jews lived in Tarnow (around 50% of the total population of people there). When the Germans bombed the city for the first time on Sept. 3rd, many of its Jews fled further east, while a large influx of refugees from elsewhere in Poland moved into the town. 

The Germans formally occupied Tarnow on Sept. 8th and they immediately started confiscating Jewish property and capturing men in the streets for the purposes of forced labor. 

On November 9th, 1939 Tarnow's synagogues and prayer houses were set on fire and later demolished. In the same month, a Judenrat was established. Its members made great efforts to assist the Jewish population.