Czech Republic

History

The Czech lands (Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia) were part of the Habsburg monarchy until the First World War, and of the Czechoslovak Republic between 1918 and 1938. Following the Munich Agreement in September 1938, the territories along the German and Austrian frontier were annexed by Germany (and a small part of Silesia by Poland). Most of these areas were reorganised as the Reichsgau Sudetenland, while areas in the West and South were attached to neighbouring German Gaue. After these territorial losses, Czechoslovakia became a federal state (Czecho-Slovakia). In March 1939 Germany occupied the rest of the Czech lands, creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, with its own government and administration under close German supervision. The German-occupied protectorate functioned up to the end of the war in May 1945.

In 1939, the Czech lands had a total population of about 11 million inhabitants (10,674,386 according to the 1930 census). After the Munich Agreement, most of the approx. 25,000 Jews from Sudetenland escaped or were expelled into the interior of the country. In the Protectorate, the occupiers regarded some 118,000 inhabitants as Jews. This Jewish community had modernised and had largely assimilated with German and Czech society in the Czech Lands. In the context of rising nationalism and antisemitism, first exclusive measures were taken already during the Second Republic (1938-39). After the occupation, the Germans as well as the semi-autonomous authorities of the Protectorate imposed laws and various ordinances to discriminate against Jews and confiscate their property. In autumn 1939, some 5,000 Jews were deported from Vienna and Ostrava to Nisko. Before further emigration was banned in 1941, 26,000 Jews emigrated legally and several more illegally from the Protectorate. In 1941-1942 several thousand Jews were sent to the ghettos of Łódź, Riga and Minsk, where they shared the fate of the local Jewish population. In November 1941 the Theresienstadt (Terezín) ghetto was created; over 80,000 Jews from the Czech lands, but also more than 60,000 from Germany, Austria, and other countries were deported there between 1942 and 1945. Theresienstadt became a transit ghetto, because most of the prisoners were deported to Auschwitz and other death camps. About 33,000 Theresienstadt (mostly elderly) inmates perished in the ghetto due to the harsh conditions. In 1943-44, approximately 17.500 prisoners were deported to the Theresienstadt Family Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau which was probably created for propaganda purposes. Most of the prisoners were killed in two large actions. At the end of the war there were 2,800 Jews in the Czech lands (most of them from “mixed” families), but the number of survivors was bigger (about 14,000, together with the surviving deportees). Altogether, about 80,000 Czech Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Archival Situation

The state archival system in the Czech Republic consists of the National Archives in Prague, regional and local archives. The National Archives and the 7 regional archives are subordinate to the National Archival Administration (Odbor archivní správy a spisové služby) at the Ministry of Interior. The 70 district archives are subordinated to the regional archives. Furthermore, there are five municipal archives worth emphasising, in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň and Ústí nad Labem. In addition to these state archives, there are also collections in museums and private archives.

EHRI Research (Summary)

Collections relating to the Second World War and the Holocaust can be found not only in the abovementioned state archives, but also in the Archive of Military History, the National Film Archive, the Archive of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (which holds the archives of the former communist security services and extensive materials from the Ministry of the Interior, including the criminal police) and the Prague City Archive. Furthermore, there is the Terezín Memorial in the former Theresienstadt ghetto which acts both as a state museum and research institute. Non-state institutions doing research and collecting documents on the Holocaust include the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Terezin Initiative Institute, also based in Prague, which was founded by former inmates of the Theresienstadt ghetto. EHRI has identified a number of archival guides on the Czech Republic which are listed in the extensive report.EHRI has identified a number of archival guides on the Czech Republic which are listed in the extensive report. EHRI prepared a Terezín (Theresienstadt) Research Guide which links together the fragmented collections on this ghetto, interprets their history and provides contextual information. The “Jewish Councils” Research Guide also contains data about relevant collections in the Czech Republic.

EHRI Research (Extensive)

A. EHRI approach to the Czech Republic: Pre-existing Research and archival guides, expert support

In the case of the Czech Republic, EHRI was able to rely on a number of pre-existing works, including Livia Rothkirchen’s “The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia. Facing the Holocaust” (2005), works by Miroslav Kárný, the Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente and other publications. For research on Czech archives, EHRI enlisted Alfons Adam who was associated with the Prague-based Terezín Initiative Institute. He has published widely in the field of Czech history during the interwar years, and especially on the use of concentration camp inmates as forced labour during the Second World War in what is today the Czech Republic. The research was supported by Jarka Vítámvásová, coordinator of Yerusha – the European Jewish and Jewish-related archival material research project – for the Czech Republic and Karolina Štegurová, both from the Jewish Museum in Prague from the Charles University in Prague. In order to identify relevant collections from the Czech National Archives, Alfons Adam and Jarka Vítámvásová consulted with several archivists of Division III at the National Archives, especially with Monika Sedláková and David Hubený. EHRI identified a number of resources useful for Holocaust researchers:

  • [2008] Sedláková, Monika. “Co skrývají Okupační vězeňské spisy.” Terezínské listy 36 (2008): 198–210.
  • [2005] Ptáčníková, Světlana/Vaničková, Vladimíra, Judaika v Archivu Ministerstva vnitra, in: Sborník Archivu Ministerstva vnitra 3 (2005), pp. 321-342.
  • [2005] Tůma, Oldřich/Jitka Svobodová/Ulrich Mählert, Vademecum Contemporary History Czech Republic. A Guide to Archives, Research Institutions, Libraries, Associations, Museums and Places of Memorial (Prague: Institute for Contemporary History, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, 2005).
  • [1987] Státní ústřední archiv v Praze. Průvodce po archivních fondech a sbírkách. Praha: TEPS, 1987-.
  • The central database of archival collections of the central archival administration.
  • www.badatelna.eu. An online database of archival collections, finding aids and some digitised archival material provided by the National Archives and several other archives.
  • Holocaust.cz portal provides access, apart from other materials, to the database of Holocaust victims and to a growing body of digitised archival material (mostly from the National Archives, but also from other archival institutions).

B. Characteristics of the Czech archival system and specific challenges

The state archival system in the Czech Republic consists of the National Archives in Prague and 7 state regional archives. Two other archives, in Opava and Brno, are also de facto regional archives, but are called Zemský, or Land archives, for historical reasons. Furthermore, there are 70 district archives which are subordinated to the respective regional archives. In addition to these state archives, there are also collections in private archives and museums. Furthermore, there are five municipal archives worth emphasising, in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň and Ústí nad Labem.

C. EHRI identification and description results on the Czech Republic

C. I. In the Czech Republic

Collections relating to the Second World War and the Holocaust can be found not only in the abovementioned state archives, but also in the Archive of Military History, the National Film Archive, the Archive of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (which holds the archives of the former communist security services). Furthermore, there is the Terezín Memorial in the former Theresienstadt ghetto which acts both as a state museum and research institute. Non-state institutions doing research and collecting documents on the Holocaust include the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Prague-based Terezín Initiative Institute, which was founded by former inmates of the Theresienstadt ghetto.

C. II. In other countries

EHRI has yet to determine which archival institutions and collections outside of the Czech Republic are relevant to Holocaust research on the Czech Republic. Some holdings of Yad Vashem and Beit Terezin (Israel) have been included in the EHRI research guides. The USHMM conducted an extended copying program in the Czech archives, in particular in the National Archives in Prague. Yad Vashem copied a significant amount of material from the Archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague.