Opposition to the German occupation was almost instantaneous, with strikes and protests. On 30 September 1939, on the first anniversary of the Munich Agreement, there was a widespread boycott of public transport in Prague, followed by the distribution of leaflets suggesting ways to resist the Germans peacefully on Czech Independence Day a month later. Despite pleas by the Czech government-in-exile, based in London, for no demonstrations to take place, one did occur in central Prague which led to a medical student being killed.
His funeral, which was attended by 3,000 people with another 10,000 watching on, passed peacefully despite close monitoring by the feared German SS. However, as people were leaving the protests small scuffles did break out and the car belonging to the Secretary of State was overturned. This gave Government collaborators and their German masters the excuse to tighten rules and crack down on opposition.
Initial resistance to the Germans was run through the office of Edvard Beneš, the country’s president-in-exile, who was based in London. However, before long, the leadership of the resistance was transferred to the Central Leadership of Home Resistance (Ústřední vedení odboje domácího, ÚVOD) – which acted as a bridge between the London leadership and locally-based resistance groups.
There was no initial involvement in ÚVOD from the Czech Communist Party, partly because of its position of neutrality following the Stalin/Hitler pact, but also because the other organisations involved sought a democratic nation after occupation with close links to the west.
This of course changed after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. The Communist Party, which was well-organised and had a considerable following, threw their support behind the resistance, which in turn began receiving support and logistics from the Soviets. While the Communist Party continued to remain organisationally independent of the ÚVOD, it publicly called for an antifascist front to unite all resistance groups and acted as the conduit for ÚVOD/Soviet links.
Everything changed after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union
The single most significant act of rebellion of the war came with the May 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the feared Nazi ruler of the Protectorate and a key figure in the systematic elimination of the European Jews through the Final Solution. Whilst Heydrich was the single most high profile Nazi assassinated during the war, his death led to massive reprisals, including the murder of over 5,000 citizens and the total destruction of several villages.
These reprisals signalled a new phase in Czech resistance as the horrors of the innocent deaths mobilised the population in hatred against their Nazi occupiers and swelled the ranks of the resistance groups. Most of these groups operated in forest and mountain areas and would organise raiding parties to attack Nazi installations and transport infrastructure. Many were helped by local villages, but practical support waned after the Germans continued to wage revenge attacks on those they thought were helping the resistance.
Armed resistance to the Germans reached its peak in the final year of the war. By the spring of 1945, it is estimated that there were 120 separate partisan groups operating in Bohemia and Moravia, with a combined strength of around 7,500 people. A key target of the partisans was transport infrastructure, with railway tracks and bridges regularly attacked. Between the summer of 1944 to May 1945 there were more than 300 partisan attacks on rail communications.
On 5 May 1945, in the final few days of the war, people in Prague rose up and spontaneously attacked the occupiers in what became known as the Prague uprising.
Teddy bears and flowers are pictured on 10 June 2017 in Lidice village, Czech Republic. They are arranged in front of the memorial dedicated to the local children who perished in concentration camps after the Nazi destruction of Lidice, in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. On 10 June 1942, all 192 men over 16 years-old from the village were murdered by Nazis.