Eighty years ago, the true nature of Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia becomes inescapable as the Allies continue to go through the motions of waging a war

University students in Prague were unwise enough to demonstrate against German occupation of their country on the day of Czechoslovakian independence. Opletal became an icon of Czech resistance to German occupation. Their protest was peaceful but they found themselves facing the full force of Nazi armed power. The medical faculty was stormed in a full scale military assault. A dozen students and teachers were executed summarily which was exaggerated tenfold in foreign press reports. Over one thousand more were sent to concentration camps. Martial law was declared.  

The British and French had done well to get in their replies quickly to the peace initiative of the Belgian and Dutch monarchs. They had left no room for the Germans to depict them as the war-mongers. Von Ribbentrop had little option but to try to bury the episode as quickly as possible by stating that the western responses had killed off the proposal. There was no escaping the German commitment to aggression.

The British and French governments produced a stirring communique at the end of a meeting of the Supreme War Council to the effect that the economic resources of the two countries were to be coordinated as fully as possible so as to prosecute the war to the full. It was a threadbare mask for the absence of any serious military operations against Germany, which neither country proposed to undertake. Moreover, the good intentions announced did not translate into any significant practical moves.

Serious, aggressive military action remained the province of the Kriegsmarine. Eluding the Royal Navy the pocket battleship Graf Spee attacked commerce in the India Ocean. Its latest victim was a large oil tanker, The Africa Star. Fortunately for its crew, the practices of an earlier, gentler age still rule and they were given the opportunity to take their life boats before their vessel was sunk. They reached safety and were able to give details of their attacker.

Just as he was about to cross the frontier into Switzerland, Georg Elser who had tried to kill Hitler in the Bürgerbräukeller was arrested by the German security forces and interrogated by the Gestapo. It was plain that he had acted entirely on his own but this did not deter Heinrich Himmler from stating publicly that he had been working for the British Secret Service. He used this to explain the seizure of the two British spies, Stevens and Payne-Best, at Venlo and gloated at their delusion that they were in contact with anti-Nazi elements in Germany.  The British government naturally denied involvement in the plot but all they could come with by way of solid argument was the barely relevant fact that the arrest of Elser and the Secret Service debacle had occurred at different ends of the country. Luckily for Chamberlain, no word leaked out that the activities of Stevens and Payne-Best had been approved by the Cabinet at his behest.


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