Photograph: occupation of Czechoslovakia 1939
German troops during the occupation of the city of Brno in March 1939
Bild 183-2004-0813-500 / Fotograf: unbekannt / CC-BY-SA 3.0


Wir – das ganze verfolgte Deutschland, das intellektuelle, das freiheitliche, waren in dem einzigen Lande nicht nur teilnahmslos geduldet: Prag empfing uns als Verwandte. Wie nahe verwandt, sollte sich 1938 furchtbar erweisen.

[We – the entire persecuted people of Germany, the intellectuals, the freedom-loving, were not merely tolerated indifferently: Prague welcomed us as family. How closely related we were was something that became terribly clear in 1938. (ed. trans.)]

Heinrich Mann in his memoirs Ein Zeitalter wird besichtigt, 1946

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, many of those who were politically persecuted first of all fled to the neighbouring Czechoslovakia. As Germans did not require a visa, it was relatively simple to enter the country. By 1938, between 10,000 and 20,000 exiles had fled into Czechoslovakia, among them about 5,000 Jews. The majority of the refugees were non-Jews persecuted for their political beliefs.

Czechoslovakia provided ideal conditions for artists, journalists and writers. Culture there was greatly influenced by the German language due to the country’s long association with Austria-Hungary. What is more, the press and other publications were not subject to censorship in the ČSR. In addition to authors like Heinrich and Thomas Mann or Oskar Maria Graf, many communist artists and writers settled there. The graphic artist John Heartfield created his photomontages for left-wing newspaper, the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung there. And the publisher Malik-Verlag, which was run by Wieland Herzfelde, printed publications by communist writers. In this way, Czechoslovakia became a centre of resistance against Nazi Germany. Not only the exile SPD had its headquarters in Prague, but many publications that were banned in Germany – newspapers, magazines and books – were produced there and then smuggled over the border.

Following the 1938 Munich Agreement and the German annexation of the Sudeten territories, most exile fled into other, mainly non-European countries. The last refugees left when Germany occupied the Czechoslovakian territories in March 1939.

Further reading:
Becher, Peter. Drehscheibe Prag zur deutschen Emigration in der Tschechoslowakei 1933 - 1939. München: Oldenbourg, 1992.
Brinson, Charmian. Exile in and from Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.
Krohn, Claus-Dieter (Hg.), Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933 - 1945. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges., 1998.