The Project

On Czech-German History in the Interwar Period

The Czech part of the ČSR in the year 1918.
The Czech part of the ČSR in the year 1918.

The Czechoslovak Republic (CSR) was created in 1918 as one of the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The new republic included Bohemia and Moravia, the so-called 'Austrian Silesia', Slovakia, and Ruthenia. CSR was a multinational state with a population of app. 13 million people (Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Poles, and Jews). Czechs and Slovaks, or rather 'Czechoslovaks' were the 'state nation'. Germans accounted for about one fifth of the population.

The German population of some 2.5 to 3 million lived mainly in the 'historical lands' of Bohemia and Moravia. From the beginning of the 20th century (1903), they were with increasing frequency called 'Sudeten Germans'. This appellation derived from the name for the border mountains but starting in 1920s was also seen as having ideological connotations. The Sudeten Germans lived in border areas of Bohemia between Lužická Nisa in the north-east, Moravská Brána (Moravian Gate) in the south east, Krušné hory (Erzgebirge) in the north, Šumava and Český les (Bohemian Forest) in the west, and near the Austrian border in southern Moravia. In addition to these areas of compact German settlement, there also existed various 'islands' of German speakers in Bohemian and Moravian interior (Jihlava, Brno, Olomouc, Vyškov); Prague had a special status.

The German Reich around 1943.
The German Reich around 1943.

The political situation of the German national group in the new CSR had undergone substantial changes in comparison with the state of affairs in the former monarchy. For centuries, Germans determined events in this region. In the new state, they felt – rightly or not – suppressed and overlooked. Continuing national egotisms led to a marked worsening of the situation. In the early 1930s, a radical movement led by Konrad Henlein (1898–1943) and organised in a 'Sudeten German Party' (SdP) increasingly started gaining popularity among the German population. In Czechoslovak parliamentary elections, this party gained app. 1.25 million votes. Though its proclaimed goal was the autonomy of areas of compact German settlement, a group demanding annexation to Nazi Germany over time prevailed in the party and SdP's aims have shifted.

Map of the 'Reichsgau Sudetenland'
Czech parts of the country which were incorporated in the German Reich in 1938.

By agreeing to the 'Munich Dictate' of September 29, 1938, European powers consented that Czechoslovakia should cede the border regions of Bohemia and Moravia to Nazi Germany. A large part of this territory, including some 22,500 km2 and app. 3.16 million people, became Reichsgau Sudetenland (further 'Sudetenland'). Some smaller areas amounting to app. 6,500 km2 and including 492,000 people were incorporated into neighbouring German regions: Silesian Province, Region of Eastern Bavaria, Reichsgau Lower Danube and Reichsgau Upper Danube. Some parts of the Czechoslovak border regions were simultaneously annexed by Poland (Poolší) and Hungary (southern Slovakia). In total, Czechoslovakia lost about one third of its territory and one third of its population, including about 1 million Czechs and Slovaks.

After the Slovak declaration of independence on March 14, 1939, German armies occupied the rest of Czech Lands in direct contradiction to the Munich Agreement. Hitler's decree of March 16, 1939, then created in the occupied territory a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which existed until the end of the WWII on May 8, 1945. Formally, the Protectorate was ruled by a Protectorate government with limited powers. This government had no real military competence or diplomatic representation. All affairs related to custom policy, mail service, etc. were directed from Germany.

Shortly after the creation of the Protectorate, German civil administration was put in place. It was headed by the newly established Office of Reich Protector (Amt des Reichsprotektors), the highest representative of German executive power in the Protectorate. The post of Reich Protector was filled by the former Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath (in 1939–1941), with Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the RSHA, serving as a Deputy Protector (in 1941–1942). After Heydrich's assassination, Kurt Daluege, chief of German police (Ordnungspolizei), became the new Deputy Protector (in 1942–1943), and Wilhelm Frick, formerly a long-serving Reich Minister of Interior with responsibility for health care, was appointed the last regular Reich Protector (in 1943–1945). An important executive and security role was also assigned to a ‘Secretary of State’. This post was in 1939–1943 occupied by the former SdP deputy leader, Karl Hermann Frank (1898–1946). The Office of Reich Protector was divided into departments, and these in turn into various groups (Gruppen). This structure was retained until early 1942, when Heydrich’s administrative reform started being implemented. The stated goal of this reform was to remove the ‘two-tiered character’ of administrative agenda between autonomous Czech and German Protectorate authorities. In fact, it aimed at increasing the effectiveness of German control over Czech authorities both on the central and the local level. In practice, it meant that German officials equipped with large authority over Czech subordinates were placed in the Czech administrative structure, and an increasing number of Czech authorities had to implement so-called 'Administration by the Authority of Reich' (Reichsauftragsverwaltung). Another important change came in 1943 with the creation of a 'German State Ministry for Bohemia and Moravia' (Deutsches Staatsministerium für Böhmen und Mähren) headed by K. H. Frank.

Healthcare Administration during Occupation and War, 1939–1945: Reichsgau Sudetenland and Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia

Healthcare administration in Sudetenland was in the competence of the newly established Office for the Health of People (Amt für Volksgesundheit), situated in Reichenberg/Liberec, whose function was then taken over by the health department of the later established 'Sudeten German Autonomous Administration' (Sudetendeutsche Gauselbstverwaltung). This office was headed by Dr. med. Karl Feitenhansl (1898–1952), who was also until 1945 a Führer of medical doctors (Gauärzteführer) in the province. On the middle level of administration, that is, by the offices of government-assigned presidents (Regierungspräsidenten) in Aussig/Ústí n. L., Troppau/Opava, Eger/Cheb, and Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary were then established healthcare administration units (Dezernaten); offices of regional counsels had their healthcare authorities too. In the Reichsgau Sudetenland applied the German Reich healthcare legislation, including the Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases, which here came into effect on January 1, 1940.

Healthcare, especially pertaining to German citizens, was within the Office of the Reich Protector in the competence of Sub-Department I6, which was in 1939–1945 directed a former Thuringian health counsel, Dr. med. Fritz Plato. Until 1941, this sub-department also had an office in Brünn/Brno, which was headed by Dr. med. Johann Gerber. On lower levels of administration were then according to the German model established so-called 'German Healthcare Offices' (Gesundtheitsämter), which were in the Protectorate incorporated into the offices of Chief State Counsels (Oberlandräte). In the Protectorate, administration of healthcare was until 1942 directed by an independent Ministry of Social and Healthcare Administration (Ministerstvo sociální a zdravotní správy/Ministerium für Sozial- und Gesundheitsverwaltung), which was headed by JUDr. Vladislav Klumpar (1893–1979). Some important functions were also carried out by the former Provincial Authorities (Zemské úřady/Landesbehörden) in Prague and Brno in their position of founders of various healthcare institutions. In 1942, the Ministry was dissolved and its competences regarding healthcare passed to the Protectorate Ministry of Interior, where a position of 'General Reporter' (Generalreferent), to which F. Plato was appointed. At the same time, individual groups from the Sub-Department I6 of the Office of Reich Protector, including groups supervising institutional care, were incorporated into the Protectorate Ministry of Interior (Ministerstvo vnitra/Ministerium des Innern).