In September 1938, the Munich Agreement delivered the Sudetenland to Germany. Six months later, Hitler’s troops marched unopposed into Prague and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia—the first non-German territory to be occupied by Nazi Germany. Although Czechs outnumbered Germans thirty to one, Nazi leaders were determined to make the region entirely German.
Chad Bryant explores the origins and implementation of these plans as part of a wider history of Nazi rule and its consequences for the region. To make the Protectorate German, half the Czech population (and all Jews) would be expelled or killed, with the other half assimilated into a German national community with the correct racial and cultural composition. With the arrival of Reinhard Heydrich, Germanization measures accelerated. People faced mounting pressure from all sides. The Nazis required their subjects to act (and speak) German, while Czech patriots, and exiled leaders, pressed their countrymen to act as “good Czechs.”
By destroying democratic institutions, harnessing the economy, redefining citizenship, murdering the Jews, and creating a climate of terror, the Nazi occupation set the stage for the postwar expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s three million Germans and for the Communists’ rise to power in 1948. The region, Bryant shows, became entirely Czech, but not before Nazi rulers and their postwar successors had changed forever what it meant to be Czech, or German.
Nazi Germany’s bestial cartography divided Czechoslovakia into the incorporated territories, including the Sudetenland, a ‘neutral’ Slovakia, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which were the core Czech lands. Bryant writes well about misery in the last—about, in particular, the deadly essay of the Germans and their local marionettes to apply madcap ethnic and national concepts to what had long been a hopelessly complex checkerboard of identities.
Chad Bryant’s new book reveals yet another way that the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia marks an important shift in central European history: it ushered in an era when the state determined an individual’s nationality, often with devastating implications. Prague in Black presents a compelling analysis of the Nazi regime’s nationality policies in the Protectorate and how Czechs responded to them… Bryant’s concise and illuminating study clearly demonstrates how critical Nazi nationality policies and Czech nationalism were for the lives of the inhabitants there. Moreover, this book forces us to realize that people’s decisions during the war cannot always be measured in simple terms, and it strongly challenges accepted notions of resistance and collaboration.
Chad Bryant’s study of the transformation of nationality in the Bohemian Protectorate fills an important gap in the historiography of modern Bohemia and Czechoslovakia and makes that history an essential part of the story of Europe’s twentieth century. Bryant mines a variety of rich archival sources in the Czech Republic and Germany, mostly untapped during the Cold War, to tell the story of National Socialist Germany’s occupation of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia…This book will prove essential reading for a variety of audiences… This book challenges historians to think across the boundaries of conventional disciplinary categories to reconsider what we mean by German and Czech history, how we tell national histories in general, and what the stories we tell gain and lose by the chronologies we employ. It is a challenge well worth taking up.
Chad Bryant’s Prague in Black demonstrates that the Nazis’ effort to distinguish between Czechs and Germans in the occupied east were plagued from the start—by tensions between different local administrators, who often upheld conflicting ideals of Gerrnanness; between Reich German and Sudeten German Nazis; and between different Nazi agencies and organizations. This book is thus an important investigation of the making of a racial state in a world in which, as diplomat George Kennan observed, ‘It became difficult to tell where the Czech left off and the German began.’ As the first English-language study of the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in thirty years, Prague in Black represents an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of Nazi rule in eastern Europe and to the history of nationalism more generally.
Chad Bryant’s balanced and thoughtful treatment of the evolution of Czech nationalism and of official and popular understandings of Czech and German national identity between 1939 and 1945 is a worthy addition to the spate of new books on the stormy history of Czechoslovakia in the 1940s… Bryant’s book is best at synthesizing the development of policies and laws and summarizing changing popular attitudes over the period 1939 through 1947 and well deserves a wide English-reading audience for that… Chad Bryant’s book helps considerably by telling us so much of the story of Czech and German nationality politics in Bohemia and Moravia during the tragic era of the 1940s.
The appearance of Chad Bryant’s work on the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, Bohemia and Moravia, from 1939 to 1945, is particularly welcome as it helps to fill a substantial gap in the scholarly literature. It has been well over thirty years since the last major treatments of the topic, and since then the fall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia has resulted in the availability of a wealth of archival sources. Bryant’s contribution is thus a timely one… It will set a benchmark for subsequent studies of the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia.
Superbly researched… This fine study traces and analyzes the impact of the Nazi occupation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during WW II. Bryant examines the relationship between Czechs and Germans and shows how the ideals of the interwar period were destroyed. At the heart of the book is a study in nation building, first by the Nazis, whose policies and actions forced a reinterpretation of what it meant to be ‘German’ or ‘Czech,’ then by the Czechs after the war.
Prague in Black fills a gap in the literature on Czechoslovak history not only by examining the developments from 1939 to 1947 but also by taking a close look at what constituted ‘Czech’ and ‘German’ identities in that period. Bryant significantly enriches our understanding of this challenging topic. His account of the aftermath of the Heydrich period to 1947 is a model of first-class, original research.
An impressively researched and well-written book on an important topic. This is a valuable contribution to the scholarship on Nazi German programs of racial and ethnic violence in their national, regional, and local contexts. Bryant’s arguments are insightful and compelling; no one will finish the book without being convinced that German policy toward the Czechs was confused and ever changing.
Bryant brilliantly charts two ambitious and violent attempts at nation-making in the Czech lands, first by the Nazis under the Protectorate, then by Czechoslovak officials following liberation. He meticulously details the Nazis’ destruction of civil and political life to explain why most Czechs sought a nationally homogenous state after the war. Deeply researched and cogently argued, this important new book contextualizes popular postwar Czech rejection of the values of the First Republic and support for the expulsion of the Germans and the Communist seizure of power.
This is a terrific book! With exemplary research and careful analysis, Chad Bryant examines the complex relationship between Czechs and Germans in the Protectorate during World War II. The stories he tells of occupation, resistance, collaboration, and expulsion uncover the many layers of truth when dealing with national identity, the politics of exile, and the sources of ethnic hatred in Central Europe.
- 2008, Winner of the Hans Rosenberg Book Prize
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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