The expulsion of the inhabitants of central Bohemia between 1942 and 1945 during World War II by the occupying German army and the SS
The German occupiers did not hide their plans of Germanisation from the Czech inhabitants or their political representatives. A year or two after the outbreak of World War II, rumours surfaced among the inhabitants of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia – nourished by the Nazis – that military training areas were being built on the territory of existing Czech settlements. The plan would allow the Nazis on the one hand to meet the need for continuous military exercises on the secure home front, and on the other to intimidate the Czech public consciousness about the present and the future. This entailed the expropriation of Czech land and its handover to the German administration, and mainly involved military training areas which the Czechoslovak Army was forced to abandon (Milovice, Vyškov, Brdy, etc.), but other purely Czech territories were selected as well.
The establishment of new military training areas was to be only temporary (completion of Germanisation was planned for 31 December 1945), then the armed forces were to abandon the premises to make way for colonisation. It was particularly important that Czech territories be selected with a higher population density.
The most important project was adopted already in the summer of 1939 in the form of a new military training area in the very heart of Bohemia between the Vltava and Sázava rivers. From the beginning there were three variants, one of which proposed several connected spaces where one training area would be used by the Wehrmacht and another by the Waffen-SS. The territory was described as strictly agricultural land, reportedly with 356,000 inhabitants of whom only 400 were “Volksdeutsche”. The expulsion would therefore apply to Czech territory and the exclusion of Czech influence would significantly weaken the Czech resistance.
While State Secretary K. H. Frank resolutely promoted the establishment of the military training areas, Reichsprotektor von Neurath opposed it unequivocally – it was a power struggle. Neurath promoted the idea of gradual Germanisation with an emphasis on order and the needed labour output especially in arms production. By contrast, Frank – who was supported by Himmler and Heydrich and was known for his pathological hatred of Czechs – wanted a radical, rapid and violent Germanisation and, above all, the physical eradication of the Czech intelligentsia regardless of the political consequences.
Negotiations on creating the military training area were delayed, however. Only in late October 1941 did the first meeting take place at SS headquarters. According to a received report, a military training area for one division (20,000 men) was to be established west of Benešov with the possibility of peacetime billeting. The total period for expropriation was set at six years. In this connection, the sanatorium in Prosečnice was to be expropriated in the first phase to make way for an officer school.
The works for establishing the training area proceeded slowly primarily because not only the SS, but also the German army was interested in the facility. According to certain documents, two independent military training areas with a common border were to be established in the Benešov-Sedlčany region: one for the SS in the north and one for the Wehrmacht in the south. For a long time it was not clear which should be given priority. There were also financial difficulties.
The Sanatorium First
At the beginning of March 1942, the establishment of the training area was initiated with the evacuation of the sanatorium in Prosečnice. The Germans simply released the 300 patients and moved the equipment to the Velichovka spa. This dirty work of expulsion and relocation was under the control of Czech authorities in accordance with their statutory regulations – although obviously under the close supervision of the occupiers. The massive relocations fell under the Interior Ministry’s newly established Relocation Office, headquartered in Benešov.
Landowners were obliged to hand over their properties to the Land Authority free of legal defects, i.e. settled with respect to all proprietary claims. The appraisal values were set by the Germans and owners were paid out 80%. These values varied in individual judicial districts with the highest in the Benešov, and by the end of the war a total of 297,392,367 Protectorate crowns had been paid out. As a result of the exchange rate imposed between the crown and the German mark, however, these sums were indeed ridiculous in view of the value of the properties. Cadastral deletions were made at the court emphasising that the German Reich had taken over the seized territory without defects and “for all time”.
The evacuation of the premises took place between 1942 and 1944 in several phases, or rather in several territorial plans. Acquiring substitute accommodation was difficult, however, due in part to insufficient capacities after the appropriation of the Czechoslovak border lands and in part to the ban on construction in effect from 1943. It is alleged that that 60 percent of inhabitants left; while the remaining 40 percent remain in the training area, they were later forced to relocate within its premises, sometimes repeatedly. The demand for new housing was disproportionately high – sometimes several dozens of people were interested in a single substitute accommodation unit.
On 25 April 1942 the Relocation Office ordained that all harvest work must be completed and all crops gathered prior to handover of the confiscated properties. Wealthy farmers from the evacuated territory were selected to administer the work and were promised that they could remain on their farmsteads. These administrators often became collaborators.
In the first phase, the then Benešov regional governor issued a public decree ordering the evacuation of the municipalities and settlements of Krňany, Teletín, Vysoký Újezd, Větrov, Tuchyně, Lhota, Maskovice, Blaženice, Měřín, Dalešice, Jablonná, Nebřich, Rabiň, Loutí, Nedvězí and Vensov by 15 September 1942. More public decrees ordering the evacuation of other municipalities were then issued at intervals of approximately one month.
The movement of persons who did not have permanent residence on the premises during the first phase was significantly limited. Summer guests, owners of summer cottages and tourists were prohibited from staying on the premises. The owners of cottages had to hand over their keys to gendarmes and the cottage furnishings could be retrieved only with the permission of the area headquarters. This naturally applied to camping settlements as well.
On 10 June 1943 – contrary to the sequence specified in the expulsion maps – the order was given to evacuate the town of Sedlčany by 1 August of the same year. More expulsions followed in the second half of 1943 – the second through fifth phases – which also applied to the town of Neveklov. Workers throughout the territory were informed that they could either be taken over or employed further. If possible, in view of the needs of the training area, they would stay in their current homes and would be issued special papers. This applied in part also to craftsmen and tradesmen.
It is interesting that this gradual expulsion took place without any significant resistance, practically without difficulties. The Nazis were very concerned about popular unrest; they intentionally gave the Protectorate authorities and the gendarmerie a leading role in the process so that the citizens could direct their malice at them. With the exception of several suicides, however, the evacuation was peaceful. Despite this, news about the expulsions spread around the world and especially the influential American dailies characterised it as an act of violence.
The headquarters of the training area – the Kommandantur des SS-Truppenübungsplatz Beneschau – was first located in Benešov and, after the seizure of the Konopiště Castle on 15 March 1943, it was moved here. On 1 October 1943 it was renamed SS-Truppenübungsplatz Böhmen.
Although Czech civilian companies worked intensively constructing the military facilities on the premises of the training grounds, this was still not enough for the Germans, who consequently opted for a proven method – the use of forced labour. From September 1942, so-called education and labour camps were established, and starting in October 1943 prisoners from new branches of the Flossenbürg concentration camp were used for labour. Such use of concentration camp prisoners for labour had been suggested in SS proposals as early as 1942.
Concentration Camps also for the SS
Additional education and labour camps were gradually established in Hradišťko, Jírovice, Břežany, Bukovany and other locations. A camp in Bystřice u Benešov was established for people of mixed-Jewish origin, etc. For example, the education and labour camp in Hradišťko was not designed as a death camp, but the prisoners’ living conditions there were extremely harsh. Each day consisted of 10 to 12 hours of physical labour while the alimentation was absolutely insufficient, with even smaller portions than in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Despite the fact that the SS were considered an elite organisation, there was misconduct every day in their ranks – drunkenness, brawling or desertion. Over time, various penitentiaries and corrective SS units were established for offenders. Already on 1 January 1941 the so-called testing platoon was created, detached and stationed in a military training area in the Protectorate.
Various training facilities were built on the premises, e.g. artillery watchtowers, machine gun nests, machine rooms and the like with various degrees of fortification.
Following the reduction in agricultural production, the idea appeared to establish SS-Hofs, or “chivalric farmsteads”, under the administration of the SS by merging existing farms and settlements. Buildings were to be grouped into a circle around the village centre and the spaces between them were to be built together. The Hofs were to be allocated as a reward to deserving members of the SS and the Czech residents were to be used only for manual labour. Soon these original intentions came to nought with developments in the war, however, and the Germans tried to maintain at least some agricultural production.
A total of 39 SS Hofs (only 24 according to some sources), 8 forest districts, several pond districts and special facilities designated for strawberry cultivation and sheep breeding were established on the seized territory. In general, the above-mentioned SS Hofs were very unproductive and amateurish because of their lack of expertise in farm management and lack of a suitable labour force.
The entrance to the military training area was guarded by both the Protectorate and German gendarmeries and inside by a field gendarmerie platoon, usually consisting of 1 officer and 26 men. The number of SS throughout the Protectorate was estimated at 24,000 in April 1944, 9,000 of whom were in the military training area. Already in November, however, the number of SS in Bohemia and Moravia was exactly 56,635 soldiers, 29,766 of whom were in the military training area, and by April the number had risen to 67,053 soldiers, 29,946 of whom were in the military training area. Shortly before the outbreak of the Prague Uprising, members of the resistance estimated that there were between 20,000 and 25,000 SS in the training area.
The training area occupied over 43,000 hectares, a significant portion of which comprised target zones, i.e. areas where live ammunition was directed. Evacuated municipalities served as targets or as temporary housing for troops undergoing training.
The training area was spared from the main military operations practically until the end of the war. It therefore served as a useful base of operations for assembling various combat formations in support of the weakening occupying power. In mid-August 1944, K. H. Frank issued the order to establish the Schill combat group, consisting of one thousand men, most of whom were instructors from the SS training area. Originally, it was concentrated in the Přerov region and designated for combating the partisan resistance in Moravia. In the end, however, it was deployed against the Slovak National Uprising.
At the End
By April 1945, it was clear even to the high representatives of occupation that the war was lost. German State Secretary K. H. Frank issued an order for the engineering school in Hradišťko – with the help of prisoners from the local concentration camp – to dig out a shelter in the steep rock near the Štěchovice dam for deposition of documents, mainly from Frank’s ministry. After the war the Americans learned of this depository and on 11 February 1946 removed the so-called Frank Archive without notifying Czechoslovak authorities. In the wake of strong objections, the archive was returned to the Czechoslovak Republic on 2 March 1946, although there is still speculation that it was exchanged for less important documents.
After the outbreak of the Prague Uprising on 5 May 1945, the German troops advanced from the military training grounds to Prague, murdering Czech civilians along their way. Bloody altercations occurred at various places, e.g. in Dolní Břežany and Zlatníky.
The situation on the railway developed adversely for the Germans. On the afternoon of 5 May, a military train with tanks, artillery and a trained crew left the premises of the military training area on the Týnec n. S. – Čerčany line. The train got as far as Mnichovice where the German head conductor was delayed, believing there was an obstacle blocking the line. Soon, partisans from Mirošovice and Mnichovice began firing on the train from the forest and demanded the crew’s surrender. The confused Germans moved the train backwards, and the partisans responded by cutting the track in several places. Later, they derailed the locomotive and three carriages at the Mrač stop. The tanks from the derailed carriages were returned to Čerčany on railroad sleepers and never engaged in combat.
They Only Wanted to Surrender to the Americans
On the afternoon of 8 May, negotiations were held at the Konopiště Castle on the unconditional surrender of the SS. The German commanders refused to surrender to the Czechs or the Russians. If they were to surrender at all, then only to the Americans. An agreement was drawn up to escort the Waffen-SS and their civilian employees from the training grounds to a location where they would be handed over to the American army.
Although Prague was liberated on 9 May, German units which had been surrounded east of Prague tried to flee westward through the area south of Prague. On 11 May, Marshal Malinovsky’s 7th Guard Army entered Tábor, Votice and Sedlčany, and crossed the Vltava at several places. Pockets of Nazi resistance were gradually subdued.
The behaviour of German commanders and prison guards in various camps at the end of the war was specially sad and condemnable. Murders were committed on death marches and even at workplaces. Several murderers were later punished judicially, although many disappeared and were never captured.
As a permanent commemoration, a five-metre wooden cross with a crown of thorns was initially erected on the site of the former concentration camp in Hradišťko. Later, half way between Hradišťko and Třebsín a monument of unworked stone was built bearing a bronze plaque and the text: “To the eternal memory of those murdered and tortured here by the SS in April 1945 far from their homes.” A second plaque was set in the stone by the bereaved of the murdered French prisoners.
In the first weeks after the war, certain inhabitants of the seized territories began to return, first those who had been employed at the SS Hofs and other buildings, and later also those from more distant places. Decree of the President of the Republic No. 5/1945 of 19 May 1945 restored the legal state of affairs prior to expropriation. Aggrieved parties were entitled to appropriate restitution.
The Return to Peace
In order to prevent unnecessary damage, a temporary body – the National Administration of Farm Enterprises at the Former Benešov Training Area – was created in order to maintain the agricultural operations of the former SS Hofs. This authority gradually returned properties and inventories to the Czechs and was dissolved after discharging its duties.
It is interesting to quote the finding of a ministry committee in the municipality of Krňany:
“The occupiers established an SS Hof in Krňany, so the municipality was partially inhabited and certain houses are thus in very good condition. The incoming owners can move back in without having to perform basic repairs. The fields are partially tilled and sowed, and are in good condition. Three families have already moved in the municipality and other owners, provided they were not indentured workers, are repairing their homesteads and are intending to move in shortly. There is no military presence in the municipality. Nevertheless, several municipalities were razed to the ground. Cottage owners and campers are returning to their recreational facilities, although in many cases they are finding their cottages and properties in a lamentable state.”
The Overall Consequences of the German “Husbandry”: 1942-1945
17,647 people expelled
188 houses destroyed
296 residential buildings severely damaged
2,475 buildings severely damaged
264 wells destroyed
Kilometres of sewerage and electrical lines destroyed
Churches and roads severely damaged