Prague’s experience under Nazi domination was unique in Central Europe. Czechoslovakia was one of the few territories in Europe that was swept up into the Third Reich without any major battles. Six months after Czechoslovakia’s border regions known as the Sudetenland were annexed to the Third Reich, German forces marched relatively unopposed into Prague and established it as the capital city of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, a pseudo-independent state under direct control of the Hitler regime. This was nearly six months before the German invasion of Poland that launched World War II. For the duration of the war, Prague and the surrounding territories remained subject to Nazi rule until their liberation by the combined efforts of allied forces and local resistance groups in the spring of 1945.Since the city did not see any major military conflict until the last few months of World War II, it managed to escape the devastation that ravaged every other city of its size in Central Europe. Nevertheless, although most of the cities architectural gems remained intact after the war, the population of the city and the surrounding territories suffered terrible human tragedy and the scars of the period remain in the Czech psyche and in the streets of Prague. As the recent controversial reality show “Dovolená v Protektorátu” (Holiday in the Protectorate) has demonstrated, the nation continues to be fascinated with this period– and that it is still working through the repercussions of this dark episode from its history. This three-hour tour traces the history of the Protectorate, from sites of Nazi oppression and local collaboration to places of heroic resistance and triumphant liberation.
The tour begins at one of the central theaters of the Protectorate, on Wenceslaus Square. Here you will learn about Czechoslovak society prior to the invasion of German troops, the steps leading up to the establishment of the Protectorate, and the first days of the Nazi occupation. [We will also discuss the cultural history of the German population in Bohemia and Moravia and examine how the Nazis built upon this tradition as a means of legitimizing the present regime.] Then we will move on to consider the more oppressive measures that Hitler’s occupational forces used to terrorize and subdue the local population. We will visit the former Gestapo headquarters, locations where informers and collaborators aided the Nazis, and the former residences of those deported to concentration camps.
From here we will shift our focus to Reinhard Heydrich, one of the cruelest members of the Hitler gang, who assumed the most powerful position in the Protectorate in the fall of 1941 only to be assassinated by Czech paratroopers several months later – the highest ranking Nazi target successfully killed by resistance forces anywhere in Europe. We will visit the church where these paratroopers made their last stand against German forces.
While Nazi reprisals for Heydrich terrorized the general population and Jewish deportations reached peak levels, the tide of war had turned against the Reich by 1942. At this point in the tour, we pass by several locations that were destroyed by Allied bomb attacks and discuss some of the lasting consequences of the Holocaust on the fabric of Prague life before ending at the Old Town Square, where we learn about the heroic uprising of local resistance fighters and the arrival of Allied forces in the city. The tour concludes with a brief consideration of the consequences of the war for Czechoslovakia, [including the expulsion of its German inhabitants and the foundation for the Communist takeover in the late 1940s].