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By Francis D. Raška


Der Author (geb. 1971) ist Doktorand am Lehrstuhl für amerikanische Studien, Fakultät für Sozialwissenschaften der Karlsuniversität Prag.


Refugee Camps in Bohemia and Moravia after the Munich ”Diktat”


The transfer of the German minority from Czechoslovakia remains the topic of ongoing discussions and detailed historical research by Czech as well as German historians. Even though opinions often differ sharply, a productive dialogue among leading historians from both countries has resulted in significant progress in the state of research.

Much less is known about the mass exodus of the Czech population from the frontier regions ceded to Germany during the period of the Second Czechoslovak Republic. Basic and, at present, the most extensive documentation containing demographic, social, and economic data on the refugees from the frontier regions following the German and Polish territorial annexations was published in 1945 by Jaroslav Šíma, who had worked at the headquarters of the Institute for Refugee Assistance.1 In 1994, on the occasion of a common meeting of the Bernard Bolzano Foundation and Ackermann Society, Jaroslav Macek reminded the audience of the importance of this issue.2 Although Macek’s paper presents imprecise data on the number of ”refugee camps”, Macek cites an important document on the number of refugees recorded by the Interior Ministry up until 3 December 1938, which stood at 151, 997.3 Fritz P. Habel published a polemical study in 1996, which attempts to idealize the position of the Czech population in the occupied frontier regions by citing complex statistical data.4 However, Habel’s simple conclusion that the Czechs in the frontier regions profited from the war economy because they were not subject to conscription and, therefore, did not have to go to war is incorrect. In reality, the situation was completely different. The Czech population gradually lost its representation in political and economic bodies. Czech newspapers and periodicals were nonexistent and the Czech education system was severely curtailed.5 In 1998, Zdeněk Radvanovský published an extensive study on the issue of refugees 6 based upon the materials published by Šíma as well as documents located in the Central State Archive (Státní ústřední archiv). In addition, materials from archives in Chrudim, Chomutov, Ervěnice, and Ústí nad Labem are cited. Most recently, Jan Gebhart summarized the state of research by citing both Šíma’s work as well as materials from the Ministry of Social and Healthcare Administration located in the Central State Archive.7 Gebhart stressed that this issue deserves further detailed historical analysis.

At the moment, the historical literature contains minimal factual information on the organization of refugee assistance, the construction of mass accommodation facilities, and the prevention of epidemic diseases during the first three months following the Munich ”Diktat.” Access to original materials that shed light on the issue of 150,000 refugees that arrived in Bohemia and Moravia from territories ceded to Nazi Germany and, later, from the territory in northern Moravia annexed by Poland has enabled me to attempt to fill partially this gap.8

The Organization of Governmental Assistance to Refugees and the Activities of the Epidemiological Unit

 

The process of the departure of the population from the frontier regions actually began already after the first mobilization of 20 May 1938, but it became massive after 1 October when the German army began occupying the frontier regions ceded in accordance with the Munich Agreement. In the first wave, the main group of refugees was comprised of people who rightly feared persecution because of their activities in Czechoslovakia before Munich. The Gestapo had at its disposal lists of political functionaries, members of left-wing political parties, antifascists, and members of patriotic organizations. Many German antifascists were included in this first group. The second group contained government employees whose positions had ceased to exist and were thus eager to move to what remained of Czechoslovakia as soon as possible. People who were neither threatened, nor faced the loss of their jobs formed the third group. Those in the third group simply had no desire to live in a foreign country and they harbored doubts as to what the future might bring. The refugees were often labeled ”border people”, fugitives, refugees, and, later, migrants. Úřední list Republiky Československé of 2 February 1939 defined a refugee as anybody who left territory ceded to Germany, Poland, or Hungary after 20 May 1938 or anyone who might leave it in the future and was a Czechoslovak citizen on 20 May 1938, regardless of whether or not he or she was registered in ceded territory or in what remained of Czechoslovakia.9

Citizens in the interior of the country observed crowds of strangers who often arrived with much freight and quickly filled up their towns and villages. At first, charitable organizations such as the Czechoslovak Red Cross, regional youth organizations, Charita, and České srdce reacted to the humanitarian crisis. In some places, district and municipal offices also helped. Daily newspapers contained pleas by charitable organizations for help and temporary accommodation facilities. 10

At the beginning of October, refugees were housed by relatives or friends and sometimes even by complete strangers. Groups of ”border people” stayed in schools, guesthouses, old factory halls, storage depots, or in unused train cars. The number of refugees steadily rose and there was no central organization on the part of Government organs. The first person to speak openly about the need for such an approach was the director of the State Institute of Public Health (Státní zdravotní ústav), Professor Hynek Pelc, M.D., who feared outbreaks as well as the spread of infectious diseases that often accompany mass movements of people housed in primitive conditions.

The rapid development of events following the Munich catastrophe completely overwhelmed the state administration and the result was that the rump Czechoslovak state was unprepared to cope with or to regulate the flight of refugees from the frontier regions. Overnight, Czechoslovak Government offices were faced with the need to provide food, accommodation, and healthcare to tens of thousands of refugees who had arrived inside the besieged state without regard for the economic capability of individual regions to provide the needed assistance. The largest number of refugees was concentrated in poor regions of southeastern Bohemia and in the Czech-Moravian highlands.

The position of General Syrový’s Government was influenced by the changing international situation. Governmental commissioners participated in the negotiations of the International Committee for the Implementation of the Munich Agreement, which ordered Prague to cede territory with a predominantly German population. The task of the Committee was to determine which territory would belong to the so-called fifth zone of German annexation and plebiscite. The Czechoslovak delegation was confronted with the German demand that the sole criterion for deciding whether an area contained a majority of Germans should be the results of the 1910 census. The ambassadors of Great Britain, France, and Italy acceded to this German demand.11 At first, the Czechoslovak Government tried to limit the flight of Czechs from contested localities. This position is evident from a circular of the Regional Land Office (Zemský úřad) dated 7 October 1938, which directed all municipal offices to urge refugees to return home within twenty-four hours. Even the daily press contained such advice. České slovo wrote on 4 October that ”the citizenry had heeded the advice of the municipal offices and was returning to their homes in order to fulfill its duties, namely to vote in the plebiscite to remain in Czechoslovakia.” 12 Several thousand people did in fact heed this advice and returned only to return to the interior of rump Czechoslovakia almost immediately.

The first discussions concerning ”extraordinary measures during mass movements of population” took place in central government organs at the beginning of October 1938. Professor Pelc correctly stated that the civil administration is unable to undertake such an extensive action and suggested that very close cooperation be established with the Medical Corps of the Czechoslovak army, which had not yet been demobilized. The army had the most experience with organizing mass accommodation and food provision and with the prevention of communicable diseases in emergency conditions.13

On 11 October 1938, the Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education initiated discussions with the Defense Ministry on cooperation. The military administration promised that garrisons at its disposal as well as all military doctors would provide assistance. According to reports from the Interior and Social Welfare Ministries, around 60, 000 refugees were on Czech territory, who were camping out in the open air in the South Bohemian evacuation zone, which was originally intended for the evacuation of Prague in the event of war. Due to the fact that there were no military personnel in this region near Německý Brod, the Minister of Public Health and Physical Education decided on 12 October to create a Mobile Epidemiological Unit by merging the mobile unit (autokolona) of the Regional Land Office in Prague with the Mobile Laboratory of the Defense Ministry. The unit was to receive mobile sanitary resources from military units that had been present in annexed territory. This task was to fall under the joint leadership of the Regional Land Office in Prague and the State Institute of Health who were to determine how to accommodate the evacuees and solve all personal and technical problems associated with accommodation. The minister’s report states that in the Blatná, Milevsko, Sedlčany, Kamenice nad Lípou, Ledeč, Týn nad Vltavou, Královice, and Jílové regions, the situation is especially dire and it will be necessary to have assistance from nurses of the Czechoslovak Red Cross, the Samaritans, and social workers suited for this purpose.14

The Interior Ministry and the Prague Regional Land Office immediately sent circulars, decrees, and guidelines to security organs and regional offices designed to achieve the registration of the refugees, ascertain the reasons behind the flight from their homes, social conditions, and relationship to the Republic. It was necessary to provide accommodation, food, and basic healthcare to insecure refugees. As of 13 October 1938, it became mandatory that all refugees register with the police. The Government provided rail transportation for the refugees free of charge and the Social Welfare Ministry issued instructions concerning basic healthcare and social assistance to refugees, including financial aid for accommodation and food. 15

The Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education along with the Society of the Czechoslovak Red Cross agreed on 21 October 1938 to organize anti-epidemic measures for the movement of civilians in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.16 The Committee for Refugee Assistance, which released 150,000 crowns to the Red Cross, financed the action. Already on 22 October, the Mobile Epidemiological Unit of the Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education was created on the basis of a ministerial decree that contained ”instructions for the leading physician of the Mobile Epidemiological Unit.” 17 The first paragraph significantly limited the authority of the head physician of the unit: ”The powers of the head physician and the assigned personnel are strictly limited to consultative and assistance activity to the state healthcare administration (the Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education, the Health Department of the Regional Land Office and health officials of the regional offices concerned).” The second paragraph stated that the Unit is under the auspices of the Ministry. This document testifies mainly to concerns that the bureaucratic ladder be maintained and also indicates a lack of understanding of the situation on the part of the Ministry. Only ten days earlier, Minister Zenkl wrote in his report of the catastrophic situation in the threatened regions where public health was in the hands of contractual doctors whose services were ”in many respects inadequate.” 18 It is perfectly clear that the role of the Unit could not be ”merely consultative” because the refugee problem required active action. On the morning of 22 October 1938, Dr. Karel Raška, a captain in the Medical Corps, was appointed to command the Unit. He had recently returned from an interrupted research stay at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. 19 Raška was initially assigned the following personnel: Second Lieutenant Dr. Jiří Málek (who was in active military service), a sergeant of the Medical Corps, a nurse from the Czechoslovak Red Cross, and two corpsmen who were performing their national military service. As later events would show, luckily the Unit was financed by the Red Cross, which did not concern itself with bureaucratic matters and enabled the Unit to perform its work efficiently and without delay. Already on 22 October, the Unit vaccinated children in Vlachovo Březí against diphtheria.

The Unit’s activities took place between 22 October 1938 and 1 February 1939. In the end, the Unit consisted of five doctors and was divided into two groups, which provided care in collective accommodation facilities throughout Bohemia and Moravia. The Unit’s activities are connected with the names of three physicians, Karel Raška, Jiří Málek, and Dionýz Blaškovič. The oldest of these three men was 28 years old. During the first phase of diphtheria control, Sergeant Dr. Fikejz and Corporal Dr. Karen worked for the Unit and Dr. Vladimír Wagner of the Pathological Institute of Charles University Medical School helped at his own expense. Later Sergeant Dr. Špaček, Corporal Dr. Skotnický, and corpsmen Boula, Brdek, Čáp, and Liepold worked in the Unit. Their activities were not limited to assistance and consultations for the health administration, but also the organization of collective accommodation facilities in economic and security matters. The group worked military-style, that is, quickly and without unnecessary bureaucratic delays. It placed the interest of the cause and the common good above personal interests. Therefore, any problems that could not be solved immediately by the group were immediately reported to the appropriate Government authorities. Of course, this approach resulted in indignation and unhappiness on the part of some incompetent regional bureaucrats. The group completed its activities in a total of 65 camps (collective accommodation facilities) in Bohemia and in 63 camps in Moravia and Silesia. In the three months of its existence, the group traveled 25,000 kilometers by car and train and suffered two automobile accidents. During this period, 9,631 refugees were vaccinated against typhoid fever, 495 against smallpox, and 10,736 children against diphtheria. Also, an additional 3,000 children among the local population were vaccinated against diptheria. 20

The Prime Minister, General Syrový, mentioned the refugee problem in a parliamentary speech on 17 November. ”We must ensure accommodation and employment for thousands of our brothers who lost their homes. We must prudently solve the problems faced by our emigrants.” 21 The Czechoslovak Government formed the Institute for Refugee Assistance already in October 1938 and on 11 November 1938 it resolved to create a central organ, which would coordinate refugee care. The statute establishing this new organization was enacted in Government Regulation 292/1938. 22

On 1 December 1938, General Syrový’s Government was replaced by a new administration headed by Rudolf Beran. The Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education was merged with the Ministry of Social Welfare in the new Ministry of Social and Healthcare Administration and Vladislav Klumpar replaced Petr Zenkl. Minister Klumpar was an acknowledged expert in the field of social insurance and one of his new priorities became ensuring that refugees would receive adequate assistance. Attached to the ministry was the already mentioned Institute for Refugee Assistance, which consisted of four departments. The Social-Healthcare Department was to regulate assistance to refugees from the standpoint of police matters, healthcare, and transportation, and provide official accommodation, food, and other social help. This Department’s task was also to keep records on all refugees, coordinate public charity assistance, and supplement such assistance with Government resources. The Settlement Department worked to integrate refugees into normal life and secured employment for them. Other related activities were the responsibility of the Emigration and Financial Departments respectively. The head of the Institute was Lev Zavřel. The Mobile Epidemiological Unit was placed under the new Ministry and closely cooperated with the Social-Healthcare Department. Prime Minister Rudolf Beran proclaimed in his parliamentary speech of 13 December 1938 that the Government considers as its ”honorable task to secure a home and existence to all those who were or will be forced to abandon their homes, which already are in a foreign country.” In addition, Beran stressed that it would be necessary to assume that public funds alone could not solve the refugee issue and he informed of the Government’s decision to organize a wide voluntary action called National Assistance (Národní pomoc) in order to help alleviate not only the problem of refugees, but also that of unemployment. 23

The private sector created the Committee for Assistance to Migrants whose representatives were representatives of certain large firms. For example, Professor Jan Kapras, Vilém Pospíšil, and Jaroslav Preiss participated in this committee’s activities along with other specialists. 24 The Committee for Assistance to Migrants collected money nationwide and placed it in a fund containing several million crowns that allowed for plans to provide extensive help to refugees.

Refugee Camps, Living Conditions, and Their Maintenance

On 21 October, the Interior Ministry issued a special decree concerning the creation of refugee camps.25 According to data from the Institute for Refugee Assistance, there existed 131 camps in Bohemia and 154 in Moravia. 26 The refugee camps, as collective refugee accommodation facilities were called, were divided into four categories on the basis of their utility, the quality of accommodation, and sanitary standards. 27

The first (and best) category included facilities that had initially been utilized for collective accommodation. These facilities contained a sufficient number of beds, electric lighting, heating, flushing toilets, running water, bathing facilities with bathtubs or showers, and adequate cooking facilities. In this group were pilgrimage houses in Svatý Hostýn or Velehrad as well as hotels and hostels provided by some large firms. Decent standards also existed in manor houses adapted for the purpose of housing refugees or abandoned or lent houses. Wooden houses as well as summer camps suited for collective accommodation and equipped cafeterias formed the second group because they could be used mainly during warm periods and they were very difficult to heat. The third category, to which most camps belonged, provided much worse accommodation. These camps were basically hostels where between 25 and 110 people occupied one room regardless of whether they were men, women, or children. Usually, they were ordinary halls of guesthouses, various clubs, or gymnastics societies. Initially, people slept on straw mats and, only gradually, were beds constructed. Mostly, there were toilets, adequate water, and, in the athletic societies often possibilities to bathe. The worst conditions were in villages where refugees dwelled in abandoned farmhouses or in private houses. Toilets needed to be constructed here, safe drinking water needed to be secured, and bathing possibilities usually proved illusory. Camps for rural refugees from Žitný ostrov were another matter entirely. The standards in these camps corresponded with the primitive way of their life and were utterly inadequate. These refugees did not use toilets, refused to bathe, and were completely ignorant of hygienic and sanitary principles.

It was clear to the Social-Healthcare Division of the Institute that the camps represented merely a provisional solution and that it was necessary to disperse the refugees among the local population. The Institute for Refugee Assistance had to prepare a strict list of basic rules and regulations for the inhabitants of collective accommodation facilities. This list was very strict and consisted of nine pages of rules contained in 29 paragraphs. Disciplinary sanctions were specified, which, in the event of minor violations, included house arrest or reductions in food provision, but, in the event of more serious violations, charges were filed at regional district offices on the basis of valid laws. The rules were announced by the regional governor (okresní hejtman) who appointed a custodian in each facility. 28 The rules may have appeared overly strict, but they were nonetheless necessary. The camps contained many young men who did not serve in the army, refused to help with the maintenance and cleaning of the facilities, and spent their time playing cards and drinking. There were a number of cases of venereal disease. In some camps, young men of German nationality had numerous incidents and made complaints. When German members of the Czechoslovak parliament investigated such problems, claims made by the young Germans were often refuted by the testimony of older German refugees.

A commission led by Dr. Podzimková-Riegrová was in charge of preparing menus. The menus were issued on the basis of international norms for laborers performing moderately hard work. The cost of meals was set at 5 and one-half crowns daily. This Committee’s activities were surely praiseworthy, but, at the same time, they proved complicated. The first problems appeared when refugees were given cash allowances for food. Many simply spent the money on alcohol and their diet suffered. Once mass provision of food was organized, the food provided was better than that enjoyed by the native population of poor regions. When the news media carried reports that Government offices abused refugees by forcing young refugees to work, the reaction on the part of the native population was negative, particularly when those in question were Germans.

From the outset, it was evident that finding employment for the refugees would pose a problem. In the Institute, this was the responsibility of the director, Pelantová, whose reports were realistic and described the desperate situation. There was not enough work for all the refugees in camps. The situation was much better among those refugees who had been dispersed among the local population and thus dispersion in the shortest possible time was strongly recommended by the Institute. Dr. Milada Horáková actively worked in the Committee and she pointed to the inadequacy of a number of measures. She pointed out that the planned dispersion was hindered by high rents that the refugees simply could not pay. Horáková suggested a number of socially just measures and recommended that landlords be publicly asked to be accommodating and provide apartments to refugees. 29

Assistance to refugees was financed from various sources. The largest source of help came from the Lord Mayor’s Czechoslovak Refugee Fund, which had collected 357,459 pounds for this purpose by 31 January 1939, of which 260,000 pounds were earmarked for Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak Red Cross collected a total of 2,647,324 crowns, of which 2,201,761 came from foreign donors. In addition, the Red Cross received large material support mainly from the American and British Red Cross Societies. This support consisted of clothing, bedding, and blankets. 30

The head of the Czechoslovak Red Cross, Alice G. Masaryková, devoted much attention to the issue of refugee assistance. When the personal automobile of the head of the Mobile Epidemiological Unit was damaged in an accident near Dobříš, Alice Masaryková placed her own limousine along with a chauffeur at the Unit’s disposal. The British representative for refugees was Consul H.W. Sams, who requested the cooperation of Karel Raška in the construction of the camps, which the British planned to finance. 31

The public’s attention focused especially on camps with German refugees. This was largely due to the activities of Sudeten German deputies Wenzel Jaksch and C. Heller. A number of visitors went to those camps containing German refugees. When nobody paid heed to these visitors, they formulated biased reports that were carried by the foreign press. The biggest outcry was caused by a report in the Manchester Guardian of 20 December 1938, which sharply criticized conditions in refugee camps in Czechoslovakia. The article especially pointed out conditions in camps in Světlá nad Sázavou and Herálec without specifically naming them. The complaints mainly involved inadequate heating in the manor house at Světlá, which lacked a stove in the main hall. The complaints were also the result of a sharp discussion between Consul Sams and Karel Raška at a consultative meeting of the Lord Mayor’s Fund at the beginning of December where it was decided that Raška would again visit the Světlá and Herálec camps along with representatives of the Red Cross. The inspection at Světlá took place on 12 December and confirmed Raška’s opinion that Jaksch had exaggerated the situation and that the problems with heating had already been remedied. The inspection commission also pointed out that the local Czech population had been angered by Jaksch’s exaggerations in the public media. On the way from Světlá to the Herálec camp, Masaryková’s limousine rolled over. Nothing happened to the driver, the two Red Cross representatives, and the doctors in the large American car. 32 However, the Herálec inspection never took place. Reports from the Mobile Epidemiological Unit, however, repeatedly stressed that the organization, order, morale, and overall atmosphere were better in camps containing German refugees than in those containing Czech nationals.

Activities regarding the securing of healthcare in Bohemia were winding down by the end of December 1938 and it was necessary to begin preparing inspections in Moravia and Silesia. Between 5 and 7 December, Sams and Raška went on an inspection trip to Moravia that had been very well prepared by Dr. Němcová of the Department of Regional Youth Care in Brno. During these three days, the inspectors visited all regions in what remained in rump Moravia and Silesia and they stated that conditions in Moravia were far better than those in Bohemia and that the Regional Land Office in Brno carried out its tasks on a much higher level than did the Prague offices in Bohemia. Consul Sams solved a number of problems on the spot with cash financial assistance for the most important actions. The Inspection praised how greatly the Government administration as well as the local population in Moravia responded to the refugee problem. The better conditions in Moravia were made possible thanks mainly to the excellent organization of regional Youth Care Departments who addressed the refugee problem in time either by themselves or in cooperation with the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations as well as better cooperation between Government offices and military personnel. The most important factor was the relatively higher living standard of the local population, which generously supported the refugees, as did a number of larger industrial firms. 33

As was the case in Bohemia, the inspection proved that even in Moravia refugees of German nationality were better looked after than were Czech ones. Out of consideration for the especially difficult situation of German refugees, the Commission welcomed the news, but recommended that the activities of Jaksch, Heller, and other Sudeten German deputies be controlled in an appropriate manner such that efforts to assist refugees of all nationalities would not be hindered. The Inspection Commission also stated that 600 Jewish refugees were very well looked after in an adapted factory facility in Ivančice, which ”could be explained by the great wealth of these people and their brethren.” 34

The number of refugees in Moravia rose following the Polish annexation. In contrast to the previous experiences following the exodus from the Sudetenland, refugees from Polish-occupied territory had often been beaten or injured. Since 1 January 1939, there existed a healthcare center for evacuees in Frýdek Místek led by Dr. Arthur Eisler, who provided outstanding care when performing his duties. 35 A second similar facility was established by the Institute for Refugee Assistance in Moravská Ostrava. The Mobile Epidemiological Unit and the Institute for Refugee Assistance formulated exact guidelines for the activities of these stations, which were inspected by regional Government offices. 36

The securing of healthcare in camps in Bohemia was completed in the first two weeks of January 1939 in southern Bohemia. What still remained to be done, however, was to do the same for camps in Moravia. Karel Raška embarked on a second inspection journey to Moravia between 10-14 January 1939 and he prepared a detailed plan of cooperation between the Mobile Epidemiological Unit and regional Government offices and the Moravian division of the Red Cross as well as regional youth care centers in Brno. 37

Instructions to two sections of the Unit as well as travel orders for their leaders, Málek and Blaškovič, were issued on 15 January. 38 Málek’s group began its activities in Jihlava, and then proceeded to Moravská Ostrava before finishing in Hranice on 30 January. Blaškovič’s group began its work in Brno and ended in Kroměříž on 30 January. The securing of healthcare in Moravia was completed in two weeks and on 31 January both groups returned to Prague. The results of the Mobile Epidemiological Unit’s activities were presented at a meeting of the Czechoslovak Society for Hygiene and Social Medicine on 8 February 1939. The Unit in its initial form was then dissolved only to be recreated and placed at the disposal of the State Institute of Health. 39

The Institute for Refugee Assistance continued its work. 40 Together with the Medical Society the Institute arranged a recommendation to physicians to provide free care to refugees and charge only for their expenses. In some districts containing many refugees, a permanent medical service was organized using physicians from the occupied territories. They were paid a salary of 1,200 crowns a month from the London Lord-Mayor’s Czechoslovak Refugee Fund for a period of three months. Children of refugees were placed into health programs free of charge. Pharmacies were instructed to provide medicines at reduced prices. Public hospitals were asked to provide free care according to conditions applicable to the poor. Trained childcare specialists from the Institute for Youth Care in Slovakia were assigned to the largest camps. Basic preventive dental care was organized first in Prague and was then expanded to other camps. The Committee for Refugees collaborated with the Czechoslovak movement Sokol in order to expand housing possibilities for refugees to include private apartments. In the Studentský domov (Student Home) building on Albertov Street in Prague, a Central Office for Refugee Assistance was created where charitable organizations such as České srdce, the Czecho-Slovak Red Cross, Sokol, and Provincial Center for Youth Care had their offices. The Central Office was to organize all support activities for refugees. Both the press and radio services were concentrated at the Ministry of Social and Health Services under the direction of the editor, Pit´ha. In February 1939, the Institute for Refugee Assistance registered support for 44, 380 people. Of these, 38,373 were of Czech nationality, 118 were Slovaks, 48 Ruthenians, 4,582 Germans, and 367 Jews. The refugees were fed and provided with clothing from funds provided by the London Lord Mayor’s Czechoslovak Refugee Fund. New facilities were planned in castles in Lysá nad Labem, Radič, and Německý Rudolec. In Nové Město nad Metují, the reconstruction of an industrial complex was planned, as was a facility for mothers with newborn children following the reconstruction of a youth center in Černovice u Tábora.

In February 1939, demands for public housing and financial assistance were increasing even though the number of refugees was not. Many of the refugees had spent their savings and the amount of time one could live in public housing was limited. It became clear that the main task would be to reintroduce the refugees to a normal productive life. This goal was summarized by Jaroslav Podhájský, an official at the Institute for Refugee Assistance, in a radio broadcast: ”Housing in centers is a temporary phenomenon until our citizens return to productive life. We know that they do not want welfare, but rather they wish to earn an honest living. They would like to prove their gratitude to the nation that did not abandon them. The financial resources of even the most generous of citizens are limited and the Government has to run economically. It will not be possible to provide care for such a great number of people indefinitely.” 41 The focused policies of Beran’s administration were somewhat successful in reviving economic activities and unemployment was decreasing. Minister Klumpar presumed that unemployment would be completely eliminated in the spring of 1939, which would prove positive for the refugees’ future. 42

After the occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, the Institute was renamed the Institute for Assistance to the Resettled. According to the records of the Central State Archive, there were 133 camps for the resettled on 1 April 1939. 43

The state administration promptly provided reimbursement for moving state employees. 44 For others, there was discounted transportation or partial reimbursement for necessary travel between provisional lodging and the camps or for healthcare. Already in November 1938, an agreement was reached with Germany on the return of movable personal property belonging to the refugees. The return of state employees’ property was started already in December 1939. Reimbursement of others began only in 1941. By the end of 1943, 23,795 cases were settled. 45

Conclusion

The problem of refugees from the occupied territories was thus not only ”a legend” as suggested in the study by Fritz P. Habel. It was, particularly during the first months, a serious organizational and economic challenge for the Second Czechoslovak Republic. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees on 1 March 1939 stood at 149,254 individuals and was increasing. 46 An analysis of these events after many years shows that Czechoslovak society met this challenge very well. The relatively slow response of the Syrový Government has to be judged in the context of governmental negotiations on the implementation of the Munich Agreement and concerns about the outcome of the plebiscite in areas with a mixed population.

The first blow was met with tireless efforts on the part of the local administration, voluntary organizations, local physicians, and the population. All offered selfless assistance. Initial difficulties with collective housing were caused by the fact that useful facilities were used by the armed forces. After demobilization, the situation improved. Additional problems were caused by the initial concentration of refugees in poor areas of southwest Bohemia and the Czech-Moravian highlands. The local population had only limited economic resources to construct adequate refugee camps. Much more satisfactory conditions could be found in Moravia. Government offices reacted better than those in Bohemia. The available documents indicate that overall conditions were better and spirits higher in camps containing German refugees who were looked after by the German Social Democratic political leadership. The German Social Democrats intervened with the Government after receiving the slightest complaints and also informed the foreign press. This activity, however well intentioned, often complicated the efforts made by Czechoslovak officials. Care for Jews was organized remarkably well by the Social Institute of Jewish Religious Organizations of the city of Prague, which, in collaboration with the Institute for Refugee Assistance, also organized Jewish emigration. 47 The excellent level of Jewish facilities is documented in the reports of the Mobile Epidemiological Unit for the Ministry of Social and Health Services or the Institute for Refugee Assistance.

Care for the refugees was also complicated by visits of representatives of various society groups, particularly ladies, whose impressions often distorted the existing realities. Cases of individuals trying to profit from the misfortune of others were very rare. The central administration took harsh measures against the most flagrant abuses. 48 Negative incidents were mainly the result of errors, misunderstandings, or incompetence of the parties involved. Despite the very difficult circumstances, there were no outbreaks of communicable diseases in the camps. The high level of civilization and personal hygiene of most people who came from the most industrialized regions of the country proved very helpful. Refugees did their best to maintain an acceptable quality of life even in the most inhospitable environment of the camps and this surely aided the continuous improvement of conditions. It is also necessary to appreciate the activities of the central administration. Despite the red tape and bureaucratic regulations, they did allow local administrative offices, the Institute for Refugee Assistance, and the Mobile Epidemiological Unit to organize and implement the entire program of refugee care during the critical period after Munich with very good results.

 

ENDNOTES
1. Šíma, Jaroslav: Českoslovenští přistěhovalci v letech 1938-1945: Příspěvek k sociologii migrace a theorii sociální práce. Prague, 1945.

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2. Macek, Jaroslav: Uprchlíci z pohraničí v roce 1938. In: Češi a Němci: Historická tabu-Tschechen und Deutsche: Historische Taboos. Prague, 1995 pp. 133-138.

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3. ibid., p. 135.

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4. Habel, Fritz Peter: Eine politische Legende-Die Massenvertreibung von Tschechen aus dem Sudetengebiet 1938/1939. Munich, 1996.

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5. Macek, J: Uprchlíci z pohraničí v roce 1938, p. 137.

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6. Radvanovský, Zdeněk: K otázce uprchlíků z pohraničí českých zemí po Mnichově 1938. In: Radvanovský Z: Historie okupovaného pohraničí: 1938-1945, Volume 2. Ústí nad Labem, 1998, pp. 5-32.

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7. Gebhart, Jan: Migrationbewegungen der tschechischen Bevölkerung in den Jahren 1938-1939: Forschungsstand und offene Fragen. In: Brandes, Detlef-Ivaničková, Edita-Pešek, Jiří (ed.): Erzwungene Trennung: Vertreibungen und Aussiedlungen in und aus der Tschechoslowakei 1938-1947 im Vergleich mit Polen, Ungarn, und Jugoslawien. Essen, 1999, pp. 13-24.

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8. Previously unpublished documents belonging to the estate of Prof. MUDr. Karel Raška, DrSc. will be cited. These documents include original papers of Ústav péče pro uprchlíky, Mobilní epidemiologická jednotka, Ministerstvo zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy ČSR, Lord Mayor of London Fund, reports of regional offices (okresní úřady), and Zemská péče o mládež o lékaře, which since October 1938 were responsible for providing healthcare to refugees. The author would like to express his heartfelt thanks to his grandmother, Prof. MUDr. Dr.h.c. Helena Rašková for granting him access to the documents.

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9. Úřední list Republiky Československé, č. 28 (2.2.1939).

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10. Radvanovský, Z.: K otázce uprchlíků z pohraničí českých zemí po Mnichově 1938, p. 18.

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11. Biman, Stanislav: Vojenské obsazení území připojeného k Německu podle mnichovské dohody a období jeho vojenské správy (1-20 října 1938). In: Historie okupovaného pohraničí, pp. 73-76.

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12. Radvanovský, Z.: K otázce uprchlíků z pohraničí českých zemí po Mnichově 1938, p. 19.

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13. Raška, Karel: Hygienické zkušenosti z uprchlických táborů. In: Věstník česko-slovenských lékařů, č. 8 (1939), pp. 1-2.

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14. The estate of Prof. MUDr. Raška, Mimořádná zdravotní opatření při hromadném pohybu obyvatelstva. Zpráva ministra zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy, c. 41.738/38, 12.10.1938.

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15. Radvanovský, Z.: K otázce uprchlíků z pohraničí českých zemí po Mnichově 1938, p. 31.

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16. The estate of Prof. MUDr. Raška, Ujednání mezi ministerstvem zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy a Společnosti Červeného kříže o zřízení protiepidemické akce při přesunech civilního obyvatelstva v zemi České a Moravskoslezské, 26.10.1938.

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17. ibid., Instrukce pro vedoucího lékaře mobilní epidemiologické jednotky při ministerstvu veřejného zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy, 22.10.1938.

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18. ibid., Mimořádná zdravotní opatření při hromadném pohybu obyvatelstva. Zpráva ministra zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy, č. 41.738/38, 12.10.1938.

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19. Prof. MUDr. Karel Raška, DrSc. (1909-1987) was born into a teacher's family in Šumava (Western Bohemia). He attended secondary school in Sušice and graduated from the Medical Facuty of Charles University (Prague) in 1932. Afterwards, he worked as a microbiologist and an epidemiologist at Charles University and in the Czechoslovak army. During the post-Munich Republic, Raška led the Mobile Epidemiological Unit of the Ministry of Public Health and Physical Education and, after 15 March 1939, he worked at the State Institute of Public Health (Státní zdravotní ústav) in Prague. From 1 May 1945, Raška was the organizer as well as the leading figure of the Czech Help Action (Česká pomocná akce) in Terezín and the delegate of the Czech National Council and the International Red Cross for securing the Small Fortress (Malá pevnost) concentration camp as well as the Terezín Ghetto. Along with Professor František Patočka, Raška was put in charge of the health inspection process involved with the transfer of the Sudeten Germans. Raška was renowned for his great progress in controlling infectious diseases and is considered to be the founder of modern Czechoslovak epidemiology. He was a pioneer in the treatment of fetal erythroblastosis and he initiated blood transfusions in Czechoslovakia. On a global scale, Raška is recognized as one of the initiators of epidemiological surveillance, a common method used in public health, which was accepted by the World Health Organization in 1968 for disease control. While at the World Health Organization, Raška led the way to the successful eradication of smallpox in the world. He received a number of international awards for his accomplishments, the most significant being the Jenner Medal awarded by the British Royal Society of Medicine, which is awarded about once every five years for "extraordinary accomplishments in the control of epidemic diseases." However, in the last years of his life, appreciation for Raška's work was rewarded by dismissal from his job as well as the denial of his state pension by the "Normalization" regime after 1970. In 1995, on the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the State Institute of Public Health, a memorial plaque was dedicated to Raška.

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20. Raška, K.: Hygienické zkušenosti z uprchlických táborů, p. 20.

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21. Kubátová, Ludmila-Malá, Irena-Soukup, Jaroslav-Vrbata, Jaroslav: Protifašistický a národně osvobozenecký odboj českého a slovenského lidu 1938-1945: Edice dokumentů, 1. díl, 3. svazek, 2. sešit, dokument č. 924. Prague, 1983, p. 108.

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22. Sbírka zákonů a nařízení státu Československého, částka 96, číslo 292, 22. listopadu 1938. Zurück zum Text
23. Kubátová, L. ad: Protifašistický a národně osvobozenecký boj, 1. díl, 3. svazek, 3. sešit, dokument č. 987, p. 44.

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24. Státní ústřední archiv, Prague, (SÚA), fond Ministerstvo sociální a zdravotní správy-repatriace (MSZS-R), karton 75, sig. R100 (175), Volné sdružení-Výbor pro pomoc vystěhovalcům.

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25. Macek, J.: Uprchlíci z pohraničí v roce 1938, p. 135.

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26. Šíma, J.: Českoslovenští přistěhovalci v letech 1938-1945, p. 47.

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27. The estate of Prof. MUDr. Raška, Zpráva dr. Karla Rašky pro schůzi sociálně zdravotního výboru Ústavu pro péči o uprchlíky, prosinec 1938.

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28. ibid., Domácí řád pro uprchlíky umíštěné v hromadných ubytovnách, listopad 1938.

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29. ibid., Zápis o druhé pracovní schůzi sociálně-zdravotního výboru Ústavu pro péči o uprchlíky, dne 12.1.1939.

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30. Mise londýnského Lord-Mayora vydala už 350,350 liber šterlinků: Jak naložil čs. Červený kříž s Vaším darem pro uprchlíky?: In: Noviny červeného kříže (3.2.1939), p. 2.

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31. The estate of Prof. MUDr. Raška, Hlášení kpt. dr. Karla Rašky velitelství 1. sboru, 29.12.1938 k č.j. 158.201/zdrav.1938.

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32. ibid., Hlášení mobilní epidemiologické jednotky ministerstva sociální a zdravotní správy o činnosti v týdnu 12.-17. prosince 1938, Prague, 19.12.1938.

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33. ibid., Hlášení mobilní epidemiologické jednotky ministerstva veřejného zdravotnictví a tělesné výchovy o činnosti od 28. listopadu do 10. prosince 1938, Prague, 12.12.1938.

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34. ibid.

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35. ibid., Zpráva dr. A. Eislera o činnosti lékařské stanice pro evakuované z 23.1.1939.

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36. ibid., Zpráva o činnosti sociálně zdravotního odboru Ústavu pro péči o uprchlíky při ministerstvu sociální a zdravotní správy v době od 13. ledna do 3. února 1939, Prague, 4.2.1939.

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37. ibid., Mobilní epidemiologická jednotka: Hlášení o činnosti na Moravě, Prague, 17.1.1939.

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38. ibid., Cestovní rozkaz pro ppor. MUDr. Málka, Praha, 15.1.1939; Cestovní rozkaz pro ppor. MUDr. Blaškoviče, Praha, 15.1.1939.

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39. Raška, K.: Hygienické zkušenosti z uprchlických táborů, p. 14; Zpráva o schůzi čsl. společnosti pro hygienu a sociální lékařství ze dne 8. února 1939. In: Časopis lékařů českých, č. 9 (1939), p. 235. Zurück zum Text
40. The estate of Prof. MUDr. Raška, Třetí pracovní schůze 1. odboru Ústavu pro péči o uprchlíky, R200-4/2, 9.2.1939.

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41. ibid., typed transcript of radio broadcast "O táborech uprchlíků", February 1939. Participants: J. Podhájský, R. Pelantová, and K. Raška.

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42. Rataj, Jan: O autoritativní národní stát. Prague, 1997, p. 146.

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43. SÚA, fond MPSP-R, 1938-1939, dok. č. 211, Ústav pro péči o o přestěhovalce, seznam hromadných ubytoven v Čechách a na Moravě k 1.4.1939.

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44. Šíma, J.: Českoslovenští přistěhovalci v letech 1938-1945, p. 54.

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45. ibid., pp. 63-68.

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46. ibid., p. 105.

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47. SÚA, fond MPSP-R, 1938-1939, dok. č. 227, Spolupráce dobrovolnických, odborných, sociálně zdravotních a zájmových organizací a sdružení; Černý, Bohumil: Emigrace Židů z českých zemí v letech 1938-1941. In: Terezínské studie a dokumenty, 1997, pp. 56-59.

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48. Radvanovský, Z.: K otázce uprchlíků z pohraničí českých zemí po Mnichově 1938, pp. 32-33. Zurück zum Text