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The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia

Facing the Holocaust

Livia Rothkirchen

Publication Year: 2006

“We were both small nations whose existence could never be taken for granted,” Vaclav Havel said of the Czechs and the Jews of Israel in 1990, and indeed, the complex and intimate link between the fortunes of these two peoples is unique in European history. This book, by one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of Czech and Slovak Jewry during the Nazi period, is the first to thoroughly document this singular relationship and to trace its impact, both practical and profound, on the fate of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust.
Livia Rothkirchen provides a detailed and comprehensive history of how Nazi rule in the Czech lands was shaped as much by local culture and circumstances as by military policy. The extraordinary nature of the Czech Jews’ experience emerges clearly in chapters on the role of the Jewish minority in Czech life; the crises of the Munich agreement and the German occupation, the reaction of the local population to the persecution of the Jews, the policies of the London-based government in exile, the question of Jewish resistance, and the special case of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto. The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia is based on a wealth of primary documents, many uncovered only after the 1989 November Revolution. With an epilogue on the post-1945 period, this richly woven historical narrative supplies information essential to an understanding of the history of the Jews in Europe.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Comprehensive History of the Holocaust

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pp. xi-xiv

For several decades now I have been pursuing extensive research on Nazi policy in East-Central Europe, perusing the mammoth accumulation of records, documentation, and literature: the degradation of humanity and the machinery of genocide. I came to realize that Germany’s system of ruling in conquered Europe varied from country to country, as did the persecution...

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pp. xv-xvi

When I embarked on this project the Iron Curtain still hung over Eastern Europe, and contacts with colleagues and friends in Czechoslovakia were limited and strained. There was no access at all to documentation held in the state archives and other institutions....

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Prologue: Prague and Jerusalem: Spiritual Ties between Czechs and Jews

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pp. 1-7

It is the ancient Jewish quarter in the heart of the city of Prague that most authentically bears witness to the checkered history of the centuries-old Czech-Jewish coexistence.1 The echoes of bygone times still reverberate in Josefov, the former Josefstadt, known also as the first district...

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1. The Historical Setting

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pp. 8-25

Throughout the centuries early Jewish settlement in the Bohemian Crownlands has intrigued many a scholar trying to determine the precise date of its beginning. The crux of the ongoing discussion appears to be the presence of Jews in the city of Prague.1Legend has it that ‘‘they had dwelt unmolested in that city from time immemorial...

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2. Years of Challenge and Growth: The Jewish Minority in Czechoslovakia (1918–38)

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pp. 26-62

A national state or a state of nations? This question touches the core and the essence of the First Republic and its fate and as such lends itself to various interpretations. The Czechs constituted but half the population of the new state; however, together with the Slovaks...

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3. The Aftermath of Munich: The Crisis of the Intellectuals

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pp. 63-97

The agony of that ‘‘once admired model democracy of Central Europe’’ in the fall of 1938 and after the Munich Diktat has been a cardinal theme in postwar historiography.1 It has provoked widespread dispute and controversy.2...

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4. Under German Occupation (1939–45)

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pp. 98-137

Ever since the late thirties Hitler’s tirades against Czechoslovakia had continued unabated. However, unlike in many other countries, in this enclave his threats signaling the day of reckoning were listened...

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5. The Protectorate Governments and the ‘‘Final Solution’’

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pp. 138-159

The role of the native, so-called quisling governments installed in Nazi-occupied countries, either upon German demand or with their blessing, is doubtless one of the most intriguing issues of World War II history...

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6. The Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London: Attitudes and Reactions to the Jewish Plight

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pp. 160-186

There is consensus that during the five years of his exile it was Benes himself who acted as the central figure and architect of his government’s policies.1 His personal secretary in those crucial years, Edvard Táborsky, wrote about him: ‘‘As of 1939 until in late 1944 nothing of political importance, insofar as it depended on the Czechoslovak Government...

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7. Jews in the Czech Home Resistance

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pp. 187-215

From the onset of the Hitler era and especially as of the late thirties Jewish intellectuals were deeply involved in the anti-Nazi campaign, together with their Czech counterparts. They participated in public demonstrations, international rallies, and discussions...

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8. The ‘‘Righteous’’ and the Brave: Compassion and Solidarity with the Persecuted

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pp. 216-232

Resentment toward Nazism was naturally more pronounced in Czechoslovakia than in other neighboring countries. Hitler’s anti-Czech tirades and the growing antagonism among the Sudeten Germans generated widespread apprehension and fear of Nazi expansion...

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9. Gateway to Death: The Unique Character of Ghetto Terezín (Theresienstadt)

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pp. 233-264

The ghettoization of the Jews within the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was part of the global Nazi policy meant to serve several interim aims. The hopes nurtured by the Jewish leadership that it would forestall deportation ‘‘to the East’’ were shattered early...

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10. The Spiritual Legacy of the Terezín Inmates

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pp. 265-283

Both revolt and spiritual resistance in the struggle against the Nazis are indisputably topics for which the parameters have become palpable only in the course of the past half century. In the immediate postwar period the glorification of armed combat persisted...

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Epilogue: Between 1945 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989

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pp. 284-296

Historians term the immediate postwar years (1945–48) the period of ‘‘pseudo-democracy’’ to indicate that the reconstructed state was not a continuation of the pre-Munich First Republic. In spite of certain similarities and the fact that President Beneˇs was reinstated, from the outset both internal and external affairs took a different turn...


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pp. 297-308


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pp. 309-310


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pp. 311-390


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pp. 391-420


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pp. 421-448

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205024
E-ISBN-10: 0803205023

Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Comprehensive History of the Holocaust