The International School for Holocaust Studies
The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia – Facing the Holocaust
Reviewed by Dr. Gideon Greif
University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2005
On March 16, 1939, Germany annexed the Czech part of Czechoslovakia. The Protectorate under the control of the Germans until May, 1945, became known as Bohemia and Moravia. Konstantin von Neurath was appointed as the Reich Protector, all major government positions were filled by officials of the Reich, and Jews living in these areas were now under Hitler's rule. On the eve of the occupation, approximately 120,000 Jews lived in this region. The fate of this Jewish population has been lucidly and sensitively portrayed by Dr. Livia Rothkirchen, a researcher of the history of Czech and Slovakian Jewry and former chief editor of Yad Vashem Studies. This new book provides an overview about the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust based on various historical sources, some published for the first time. This volume is part of the project "The History of the Holocaust", and will take its place next to other volumes in the series.
The most impressive chapters of the book deal with the cultural legacy of Czech Jewry which was a veritable fountain of creativity. This legacy is marked by a wealth of talent in various artistic fields with considerable achievements in the cultural-spiritual domain through the generations. Even at death's door in Terezienstadt, the creative impulse was alive. The opera "Brundibar" that was written in the ghetto and performed there for the first time is but one example of the Czech Jewish cultural legacy that survived. The volume also deals with the functioning of the Jewish leadership, Jewish resistance, rescue attempts, and the attitude of the local population. Livia Rothkirchen's research centers on how, despite the general support of the population, Czech Jewry suffered such a high mortality rate. The famous author Josef Korbel wrote in his book Czechoslovakia in the 20th Century, "The sad reality is that in the Republic where Thomas Masaryk fought all his life against antisemitism, the results of the final solution were the same as in all the other areas conquered by the Germans." Rothkirchen has made an important contribution to our understanding of Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust.