Prague’s glorious years, as the capital of an independent Czechoslovakia, came to a sudden and sorry halt in 1939.
In a misguided attempt to avert World War II, the powers of Europe and Great Britain, without Czech consultation, ceded Czechoslovakia to Germany. The British Prime Minister proclaimed the move “Peace with honour” while the Czechs dubbed the decision “about us without us”. Germany, which had laid claim to Czechoslovakia because of its strong German associations, occupied Prague on March 15, 1939 and the country became a corridor for the Nazis’ relentless march through Eastern Europe.
During the occupation, Czech citizens suffered abominably. Prime Minister Alois Elias was murdered, along with many other politicians and academics. Thousands were incarcerated. Prague’s Jewish community was decimated. Those who had not already fled the city were sent to the infamous Theresianstadt labour camp or death camps in Germany. Josefov became a ghost town, carefully preserved by the Germans as an example of how Jewish people had once lived. When all fighting finally ceased on May 12, 1945, 270,000 Czech citizens were dead, including 77, 297Jews whose names are inscribed on the walls of Prague’s Pinkas Synogue.
Although the German occupation had spared Prague the devastations of a blitzkrieg, the bombardments during the liberation destroyed parts of the city. A vast square of lawn, with an oddly out of place modern sculpture, at the foot of Prague Castle Hill, marks the site where and American bomb landed on February 14, 1945, killing 700 people and injuring 1200.
Mercifully, however, most of Prague’s beautiful cityscape survived the war intact.