The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren in German, or Protektorát Čechy a Morava in Czech) was a majority ethnic-Czech protectorate of Nazi Germany established following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia by annexing Sudetenland territory of Czech Lands as a Reichsgau. Following the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic on March 14, 1939, and the German occupation of the Czech rump state the next day, the protectorate was established on March 16, 1939 by a proclamation of Adolf Hitler from Prague Castle. The Protectorate was an autonomous Nazi-administered territory which the German government considered part of the Greater German Reich. The state’s existence came to an end with the surrender of Germany to the Allies in 1945.
The German government justified its intervention by claiming that Czechoslovakia was descending into chaos as the country was breaking apart on ethnic lines, and that the German military was seeking to restore order in the region. Czechoslovakia at the time under President Emil Hácha had pursued a pro-German foreign policy; however, upon meeting with German Führer Adolf Hitler, Hácha submitted to Germany’s demands and issued a declaration stating that in light of events he accepted that the fate of the Czech people would be decided by Germany; Hitler accepted Hácha’s declaration and declared that Germany would provide the Czech people with an autonomous protectorate governed by ethnic Czechs. Hácha was appointed president of the protectorate the same day.
While Hácha remained as technical head of state with the title of State President, Germany rendered him all but powerless, vesting real power in the Reichsprotektor, who served as Hitler’s personal representative. To appease outraged international opinion, Hitler appointed former foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath to the post. German officials manned departments analogous to cabinet ministries, while small German control offices were established locally. The SS assumed police authority; Reichsführer-SS and Reich police chief Heinrich Himmler named the former Sudeten German leader Karl Hermann Frank as the protectorate’s police chief and ranking SS officer. The new authorities dismissed Jews from the civil service and placed them outside of the legal system. Political parties and trade unions were banned, and the press and radio were subjected to harsh censorship. Many local Communist Party leaders fled to the Soviet Union.
The population of the protectorate was mobilized for labor that would aid the German war effort, and special offices were organized to supervise the management of industries important to that effort. The Germans drafted Czechs to work in coal mines, in the iron and steel industry, and in armaments production; some young people were sent to Germany. Consumer-goods production, much diminished, was largely directed toward supplying the German armed forces. The protectorate’s population was subjected to strict rationing.
German rule was moderate — at least by Nazi standards — during the first months of the occupation. The Czech government and political system, reorganized by Hácha, continued in formal existence. The Gestapo directed its activities mainly against Czech politicians and the intelligentsia. The eventual goal of the German state under Nazi leadership was to eradicate Czech nationality through assimilation and deportation, and the extermination of the Czech intelligentsia; the intellectual ėlites and members of the middle class made up a considerable number of the 200,000 people who passed through concentration camps and of the 250,000 who died during the German occupation.
In 1940, in a secret plan on the Germanization of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia it was declared that those considered to be racially Mongoloid and the Czech intelligentsia were not to be Germanized and about half of the Czech population were suitable for Germanization. The Czech intellectual élites were to be removed not only from Czech territories but from Europe completely. The authors of Generalplan Ost believed it would be best if they emigrated overseas, as even in Siberia they were considered a threat to German rule. Just like Jews, Poles, Serbs, and several other nations, Czechs were considered to be untermenschen by the Nazi state.
The Czechs demonstrated against the occupation on October 28, 1939, the 21st anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. The death on November 15, 1939, of a medical student, Jan Opletal, who had been wounded in the October violence, precipitated widespread student demonstrations, and the Reich retaliated. Politicians were arrested en masse, as were an estimated 1,800 students and teachers. On November 17, all universities and colleges in the protectorate were closed, nine student leaders were executed, and 1,200 were sent to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen within Nazi Germany; further arrests and executions of Czech students and professors took place later during the occupation.
During World War II, Hitler decided that Neurath wasn’t treating the Czechs harshly enough and adopted a more radical policy in the protectorate. On September 29, 1941, Hitler appointed SS hardliner Reinhard Heydrich as Deputy Reichsprotektor. At the same time Neurath was relieved of his day-to-day duties, so for all intents and purposes Heydrich replaced Neurath as Reichsprotektor. Under Heydrich’s authority Prime Minister Alois Eliáš was arrested (and later executed), the Czech government was reorganized, and all Czech cultural organizations were closed. The Gestapo indulged in arrests and executions. The deportation of Jews to concentration camps was organized, and the fortress town of Terezín was made into a ghetto way-station for Jewish families.
On June 4, 1942, Heydrich died after being wounded by an assassin in Operation Anthropoid. Directives issued by Heydrich’s successor, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Kurt Daluege, ordered mass arrests, executions and the obliteration of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. In 1943 the German war-effort was accelerated. Under the authority of Karl Hermann Frank, German minister of state for Bohemia and Moravia, some 400,000 Czechs were used as forced labor by the German Reich. Within the protectorate, all non-war-related industry was prohibited. Most of the Czech population obeyed quietly up until the final months preceding the end of the war, when thousands became involved in the resistance movement.
For the Czechs of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, German occupation represented a period of brutal oppression. Czech losses resulting from political persecution and deaths in concentration camps totaled between 36,000 and 55,000. The Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia (118,000 according to the 1930 census) was virtually annihilated, with over 75,000 murdered. Of the 92,199 people classified as Jews by German authorities in the Protectorate as of 1939, 78,154 perished in Holocaust, or 84.8 percent.
Many Jews emigrated after 1939; 8,000 survived at Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp (which was used as a showpiece for propaganda purposes). Several thousand Jews managed to live in freedom or in hiding throughout the occupation. The extermination of the Romani population was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became totally extinct. Romani internees were sent to the Lety and Hodonín concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau for gassing. The vast majority of Romani in the Czech Republic today descend from migrants from Slovakia who moved there within post-war Czechoslovakia.
The Theresienstadt concentration camp was located in the Protectorate, near the border to the Reichsgau Sudetenland. It was designed to concentrate the Jewish population from the Protectorate and gradually move them to extermination camps and also held Western European and German Jews. While not an extermination camp itself the harsh and unhygienic conditions still resulted in the death of 33,000 of the 140,000 Jews brought to the camp while a further 88,000 were send to extermination camps and only 19,000 survived.
During the final weeks of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and most of Bohemia, including the city of Prague. U.S. forces liberated the city of Plzen and western Bohemia. Following Germany’s surrender, the nation of Czechoslovakia was re-established.
Due to the very sudden German occupation, the quick establishment of the Protectorate, and the establishment of the puppet Czech government in the Protectorate, there was no time to design and print a new series of postage stamps. As a result, beginning in July 1939, the contemporary stamps of the former nation of Czechoslovakia were overprinted for use in the new Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Scott #1-19). They are overprinted BÖHMEN UND MÄHREN at the top and ČECHY A MORAVA at the bottom. The stamps, a combination of coat of arms and landscape designs, are all beautifully engraved, and they have the same printing attributes as the original Czechoslovakian issues.
At the end of July 1939, the Protectorate began issuing their own postage stamp designs. Eight low value denominations from 5 to 50 haleru picturing a design of linden leaves and closed buds (Scott #20-26) were printed in photogravure and perforated 14. The higher denominations of 40 haleru to 2 koruna, 40 haleru were engraved and perforated 12½. These pictured various castles, cathedrals, and city views save for the 4 koruna value released in 1940 which portrayed the Iron Works at Moravska Ostrava. In early 1940, a new linden leaf denomination and three new engraved designs were added to the 1939 definitive series.
In August 1939, a set of Newspaper stamps, in nine denominations was issued, featuring a carrier pigeon with the denomination at the right (Scott #P1-9). The stamps were typographed and imperforate. Sheets of these stamps were privately perforated by various commercial firms. In December 1939, the 10 haleru denomination was overprinted in black with “GD-OT”, which stood for “Geschaftsdrucksache” – “Obchodni Tiskopis” (Scott #P10) These were issued for use by commercial firms.
In December 1939, the Protectorate issued a pair of triangular-shaped stamps. The Scott catalogue refers to these as “Personal Delivery Stamps” (Scott #EX1-2). However, the Michel catalogue refers to the 50 haleru indigo and blue stamp as a Special Delivery stamp and the 50 haleru carmine and rose triangle stamp as a Postage Due Stamp.
The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia issued two semi-postal stamps on June 29, 1940, to publicize and raise money for the German Red Cross (Scott #B1-2). The two stamps depict a Red Cross worker tending to a wounded soldier. The stamps were printed in sheets of 50 stamps with 50 alternating labels. The labels depict the arms of the German Red Cross with the date at the sides. The inscription “For the German Red Cross” appears in German above the arms and in Czech below the arms.
Beginning in October 1940, new definitive postage stamps were issued utilizing the design types of the 1939 linden leaves and landscapes stamps. Views included those of Pardubice Castle, the Lainsitz Bridge near Bechyne, Samson Fountain in Budweis, Wallenstein Palace in Prague, and a view of Prague. These stamps have the same printing attributes as those of the 1939 issue.
April 20, 1941, saw the issue of another set of stamps publicizing and raising money for the German Red Cross (Scott #B3-4). These two stamps depict a Red Cross nurse with a patient. The label designs are similar to that of the 1940 issue, with the exception of the date. These were followed in July 1941 by eight more stamps of the 1939 linden leaves and landscapes definitive designs. The new linden leaves denominations were engraved, and the designs show open buds, instead of the closed buds shown on the original linden leaves issues. The new landscape definitives had previously used designs, but in different denominations and/or colors. These depict Prague Cathedral, St. Barbara’s Church at Kutna Hora, Pardubice Castle, Bruno Cathedral, and Pernstein Castle.
The Protectorate issued the two stamps on August 25, 1941, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), the world renowned Czech composer (Scott #54-55). These stamps were printed in sheets of 50 stamaps with alternating labels. The labels show a branch across a harp, with 1841-1941 underneath. A set of four stamps (Scott #56-59) were issued on September 7, 1941, to publicize the Prague Fair. The two low denomination (30h and 60h) depict a farming scene, while the higher values (1.20k and 2.50k) show factories.
A set of four semi-postals were issues on October 26, 1941, (Scott #B5-8) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), one of the greatest musicians and composers of all time. The two stamp designs depict the Old Theater in Prague and a portrait of Mozart. The stamps, once again, were issued in sheets of 50 with alternating labels — depicting two bars of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” on the lower values and Mozart’s piano with the higher values.
The third anniversary of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was commemorated by the issue of two overprinted stamps on March 3, 1942 (Scott #60-61). The overprint consists of the Reich Eagle emblem and the dates 15.III.1939 / 15.III.1942.
This period, from late 1941 through about May 1942, coincides with the appointment of SS officer Reinhard Heydrich as Reichsprotektor, the crackdown on Czech institutions, the reorganization of the Czech government, and finally the arrest and execution of the Czech prime minister. Until the March 1942 third anniversary issue, stamps of the Protectorate had always been inscribed Böhmen und Mähren / Čechy a Morava.
The 4-stamp Hitler’s Birthday semi-postal issue released on April 20, 1942 (Scott #B9-12) were inscribed DEUTSCHES REICH at the top and then BÖHMEN UND MÄHREN ČECHY A MORAVA in tiny letters at the bottom. All the subsequent stamp issues, through the end of the Protectorate, are inscribed in this way. It appears that during this period, sometime around April 1942, Bohemia and Moravia went from being a sovereign Czech state, under the “protection” of the Third Reich, to being one of the states of Germany! A few weeks after the issue of the Hitler Birthday set, the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich occurred, causing brutal reprisals and the first use of concentration camps within the Protectorate. The Hitler Birthday stamps depicted the Führer giving a speech and were printed in sheets of 100 with 12 blank labels.
A set of 22 stamps (Scott #62-83) all depicting the H. Hoffman portrait of Adolph Hitler were issued beginning in July 1942. A final stamp in this design, denominated 4.20 koruna was inscribed GROSSDEUTSCHES REICH and issued in February 1945. The 10 haleru through 80 haleru denominations were printed in photogravure while the 1 koruna through 50 koruna denominations were engraved. All the stamps were perforated 12½. Incredibly, none of the definitive postage stamps in this series were ever issued, either in coils, or in booklets. Large stocks of these Hitler stamps fell into the hands of the Allied occupation forces following the war. Many of them were defaced and/or overprinted for local usage by postal officials during the period between the surrender of Germany and the re-establishment of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
On September 4, 1942, Bohemia and Moravia issued its annual stamps to publicize and raise money for the German Red Cross (Scott #13-14). For this issue, instead of having labels with the Red Cross emblem between the stamps, the emblem was printed on the stamp above the denomination. As with the previous Red Cross issues, the stamps depict a Red Cross nurse tending to a very sick soldier.
A single stamp in dark rose violet (Scott #84) depicting a seventeenth century postal messenger was released on January 10, 1943, to publicize Stamp Day — an annual event for stamp collectors. On January 29, three semi-postal stamps (Scott #B15-7) were released to raise money for the German Winter Relief Fund. The three designs depict King Charles IV (1313-1378), Peter Parler (1330-1399), and King John the Blind (1296-1346). Charles IV and John the Blind were Bohemian-born Holy Roman Emperors, and Peter Parler was an architect, active in Bohemia and Germany at that time.
A new set of newspaper postage stamps was issued on February 15, 1943 (Scott #P11-19). These are similar in design to the ones issued in 1939, but with different inscriptions and the denomination name abbreviation does not appear after the denomination numerals.
A pair of semi-postals were released for Hitler’s birthday on April 20, 1943, depicting a portrait of Hitler standing at a window of Prague Castle, and looking out onto a panoramic view of the town of Prague (Scott #B18-9).
The 130th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was commemorated by a set of three stamps issued on May 22, 1943 (Scott #85-86). These depict a scene from the opera “Die Meistersinger”, a portrait of Wagner, and a scene from the opera “Siegfried”. Wagner is probably best known for his four epic mythological operas, known as the “Ring” or “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. They are: “Das Rheingold”, “Die Walküre (Valkyrie)”, “Siegfried”, and “Götterdämmerung”.
A single semi-postal — denominated 60 haleru with a surtax of 4.40 koruna — was released in black on May 28, 1943, marking the first anniversary of Reinhard Heydrich, the former Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia (Scott #B20). The design features the SS symbol and the death mask of Heydrich. This design also exists in a miniature sheet, containing one perforated stamp. The sheets were only distributed to high Nazi officials attending the ceremony marking Heydrich’s assassination. The sheets are exceedingly rare.
The annual issue for the German Red Cross was released on September 16, 1943, printed in black, with the design featuring an eagle standard with a red cross in front of it. The 1.20 koruna stamp included a huge surtax of 8.80 koruna. Beginning with this issue, all further stamps of the Protectorate are now inscribed GROSSDEUTSCHES REICH (Greater German Empire) instead of DEUTSCHES REICH. Almost all were semi-postals with added surtaxes in ever-increasing amounts, an effort by the Reich to squeeze as much money as possible out stamp collectors and the Czech citizens of Bohemia and Moravia for cash to support the German war effort.
The fifth anniversary of the Protectorate was commemorated with three stamps issued on March 15, 1944 (Scott #B22-24). Two of these stamps depict a couple wearing native costumes, and the other stamp depicts the Nazi emblem along with the arms of Bohemia and Moravia. A Czech stamp collector would need to pay 40.00 Koruna for these three stamps, which have a face value of 15 Koruna!
April 20, 1944, saw the release of two stamps marking the 55th birthday of Adolf Hitler, bearing his portrait standing at the entrance of the City Hall in Bruno (Scott #B25-26). The 60th anniversary of the death of Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), a famous Czech composer and pianist. was marked by two semi-postals released on May 12, 1944 (Scott #B25-6). The final commemorative stamps issued by the Protectorate was a pair noting the 600th anniversary of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. These were released on November 21, 1944 (Scott #88-89).
In addition, there had been fourteen Postage Due stamps released in 1939-1940 (Scott #J1-13) and two sets of Official Stamps — Scott #O1-12 released on January 1, 1941, and Scott #O13-24 issued on February 15, 1943. In all, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia issued just 181 stamps between 1939 and 1945. These are all easily available and affordable; apart from the miniature sheet of the 1943 Heydrich issue (which the Michel catalogue values at around USD $22,000), the most expensive stamp in my 2009 edition of the Scott catalogue is Scott #19 — the 10 koruna blue overprint from 1939 — at USD $4.75 mint and $15.00 used. I currently have 121 stamps of the Protectorate in my collection, all used copies.
One stamp of Bohemia and Moravia that isn’t mentioned in the Scott catalogue is a non-denominated single released in July 1943 for use on parcels sent from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Bohemia. The design depicts pastoral landscape of trees and hills, printed in dark green on white paper, perforated 10½. They were initially issued in miniature sheets of four stamps but were later printed in sheets of 25 (5×5) stamps. Only 76,000 of these stamps were printed. Theresienstadt (Terezín in Czech), was a military fortress and walled garrison built by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) during the late eighteenth century. He named it after his mother, Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780). The fortress was built at the junction of the Ohre and Elbe rivers, near the Sudeten Mountain Range in Bohemia. Located halfway between Dresden and Prague, its purpose was to defend against any possible attack by the Prussian army of Frederick the Great. At the time, it could accommodate up to 11,000 soldiers. The anticipated attack from Prussia never materialized, and the garrison saw little use after the Austro-Prussian War.
During World War I, Theresienstadt was used as a political prison camp. The most noteworthy prisoner was Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, whose act started World War I. During World War II, the Gestapo used the “large fortress” of Theresienstadt as a ghetto/concentration camp for Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as many from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Denmark. More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, and although it was not an extermination camp, about 33,000 died in the ghetto, due to the appalling conditions caused by overcrowding. About 88,000 inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. At the end of the war, there were a little over 17,000 survivors.
Part of the fortification called the “small fortress”, separated from the ghetto, served as the largest of the Gestapo prisons in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. It was separate and unrelated to the Jewish ghetto in the main fortress on the opposite side of the Ohre River. Theresienstadt was liberated on May 9, 1945, by the Soviet Army. Today, the town of Terezín is a manufacturing center, noted for its production of furniture and knitwear. The fortress and concentration camp are still there, and they are now a historical landmark and memorial.
Scott #53C was released in July 1941, changing the color (from deep blue to olive) and denomination (from 80 haleru to 3 koruna). of Scott #41, originally released in 1940. Engraved and perforated 12½, the stamp depicts Pernstein Castle (hrad Pernštejn in Czech). This is a castle on a rock above the village of Nedvědice and the rivers Svratka and Nedvědička, 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Brno, in the South Moravian Region. Pernštejn came to be known as the marble castle because of the marble-like stone used to frame the doors and windows.
It was founded by the Lords of Medlov probably between 1270–1285. The family branch seated at the castle and adopted the then fashionable name Pernštejn, which is the Czech version probably derived of the German name, Bärenstein — the “Bear Rock”. Its history is closely connected to the Lords of Pernštejn (Pernštejnové) and their descendants. The castle has kept its intact appearance in the Gothic and Renaissance form as it was finished in the first half of the sixteenth century by the Pernštejns, then the richest and most powerful lordly family of the Czech kingdom. Today it is one of the best preserved castles in Czech Republic.