Occupation and betrayal

Emil Hácha and Adolf Hitler

Sixty-nine years ago this week, on March 14 1939, the Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha spoke to the nation. He had just returned from Berlin, where Hitler had given him a simple ultimatum: face either occupation or destruction. Hácha chose occupation:

Emil Hácha and Adolf Hitler
“After a long conversation with the Reichschancellor,” he said in his radio address, “and after considering the situation, I have decided to place forthwith the fate of the Czech nation and state, with full confidence, into the hands of the Führer of the German nation.”

German troops marched into Prague the next day, on March 15. Ever since the Munich Agreement less than six months before, it had been only too clear that Hitler’s claim that the Czechoslovak borderlands, the Sudetenland, had been his “last territorial claim” in Europe, was anything but the truth. He had systematically put ever greater political and economic pressure on Czechoslovakia. The country de facto ceased to exist, when Slovakia broke away on March 14, and became a puppet state of Germany.

Franta Kocourek reports on military parade of German troops | Photo: APF Czech Radio
Four days after German troops had swept into the Czech capital, the popular Czech broadcaster František - or Franta - Kocourek was given the awful task of reporting live on a huge military parade from the top of Wenceslas Square, with an officer of the Wehrmacht by his side. His extraordinary, at times cryptic report captured the despair of the nation.

"At this moment huge anti-aircraft guns are passing, pulled on tractors, each manned by twelve soldiers. Behind them are further, smaller anti-aircraft guns and searchlights. But I would also like to talk about one thing that has nothing to do with the military. From somewhere far away, a huge, black crow has flown into Prague. I have seen it spread its wings and sweep down above the square over the searchlights and listening devices being paraded here by the German army. It must be surprised at the noise and all that is going on beneath it."

This, and similar broadcasts, quietly defying the occupiers, were to cost Franta Kocourek his life. He was later arrested and perished in 1942 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on March 13, 2008.

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