Number of Soldiers: 5,500
Number of Fallen: 50
Number of Medal Holders: 43
Czechoslovakia, established as a Democratic Republic after World War I, was an independent State until the Munich Pact, signed in September, 1938, in which it was agreed, with the consent of Britain and France, to hand over to Germany the Sudetenland Regions, areas that were populated by a German minority.
Thereafter, more territories were torn off this Country and transferred to its other neighbors, Poland and Hungary, and also to Slovakia, which became an independent State. In March, 1939, the liquidation of this Country was completed when the German Army invaded what was left of it – the Bohemia and Moravia Region – took control of it without a fight and established there a German Protectorate Rule.
The Czech Army, numbering about a million Soldiers and well equipped and prepared to fight against Germany, was abolished, and President Edvard Benes, who had been fired earlier, following the annexation of the Sudetenland Regions, set up a Government-in-Exile in London.
In Slovakia, there were approximately 140,000 Jews.
The German occupation’s policies towards the population gradually brought the forming of organized resistance against the occupation Forces, beginning in early 1940, with the assistance of the Government-in-Exile. The movement became famous with the assassination of Heydrich, Chief of the Secret Police and Deputy Governor, in May, 1942, something that brought about an also famous German retaliation – the massacre of residents of the small town of Lidice.
This Underground movement, called “The Central Committee of Home Resistance” (UVOD), comprised a number of different Bodies, including the Communist Party. Among other things, it excelled in gathering Intelligence for the Allies and the U.S.S.R. jointly, and in May, 1945, it organized the Uprising in the Capital, Prague.
An Underground was also established in Slovakia, reaching some 60,000 members by August, 1944.
In 1940, a Czech Division was raised in France. Several thousand Jews served in it. This Division took part in the Battles against the invasion of the German Army, and it covered the Forces of the French Army during their withdrawal.
Among the 12 Czech Soldiers who received the French Cross of War (Croix de Guerre) on account of this Campaign were 5 Jews, and among the 50 recipients of the Czech War Cross were 18 Jews.
Following France’s surrender, about 3,000 Soldiers, most of them Jewish, of the Czech Division that had fought in France, crossed over to Britain. They were the basis on which the Czech Government-in-Exile established a Force approximating an Armored Brigade of 5,000 men; this Brigade fought in Normandy. Four Air Squadrons – 3 Fighter and 1 Bomber – were created as well and operated by Czech Airmen.
Also raised in Britain, in 1940, was a Czech Infantry Battalion, and many Jewish Refugees who were in Eretz Israel at the time came to join it. The Battalion participated in the Battles of Tobruk.
Czech Units were raised in the Soviet Union as well. Their nucleus was remnants of the Czech Legion, under the command of Svoboda, which had been formed in Poland before the German invasion and then reached the U.S.S.R. About 260 Jews served in these Units and 25 of them were decorated with Soviet awards.
In the summer of 1943, the First Czechoslovak Parachute Brigade was raised on the basis of Ukrainians who had lived in Czechoslovakia. A Second Czechoslovak Parachute Brigade was raised on the basis of freed Slovak Prisoners-of-War, and Jews served in it too. This Brigade supported the Uprising in Slovakia, in August, 1944.
Under the command of General Svoboda, a Czechoslovak Army Corps was established, and it fought on the Russian Front within the framework of the “Red Army”. A large number of Jews who had managed to escape from Czechoslovakia joined Svoboda and served in his Army (about 10% of the manpower where Jews were found). Many of them were killed in the course of the Battles.
A Czechoslovak Air Division was also formed in the U.S.S.R. and it operated within the framework of the Soviet Air-Force.