Historie – Otázky – Problémy

The persecution of Czechoslovak Jews in the Soviet Union during World War II


Abstract: Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Nazi German occupied Europe were met with various degrees of understanding and openness in many countries around the world. Those who ended up in the Soviet Union – a country still paralyzed by the “Great Terror” of the late 1930s – or in territories occupied by the USSR under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, faced specific treatment. Many of the refugees who escaped the Nazi persecution were arrested by the Soviet authorities, accused of illegal entry or of espionage, and were enslaved in Gulag labor camps. After the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands in March 1939, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War in September of the same year, more and more Czechoslovak citizens were leaving their country for the Soviet Union. Thousands of Czechoslovak Jews were among them. Soon after crossing the border or after the arrival of the Soviet occupiers, they faced the same fate as other refugees – arrests and years of hard labor in the most remote areas of the USSR. The rescue for some of them came, paradoxically, after the German attack on the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership, compelled by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, allowed the establishment of a Czechoslovak military brigade within the Soviet army and granted amnesty to Czechoslovak citizens in the Gulag in 1942. Czech Jews were strongly represented in the unit, distinguished themselves in the battles on the Eastern Front, and helped to defeat Nazi Germany and its Allies. Many of those who survived the harsh conditions of the Gulag died in these battles. Based on interviews with the survivors and their families and on recently discovered archive materials, the present study describes the stories of several Czechoslovak Jews who sought refuge from the Nazis in the USSR.

Keywords: WW II refugees; Jews; persecution; Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; Carpathian Ruthenia; NKVD (People?s Commissariat for Internal Affairs); Gulag; Soviet labor camps; Czechoslovak Army Corps in Soviet Union

Mgr. Jan Dvořák je členem skupiny orální historie Ústavu pro studium totalitních režimů v Praze a externím doktorandem na Slezské univerzitě v Opavě. Specializuje se na dějiny židovských komunit v českém Slezsku a osudy českých občanů perzekvovaných v SSSR ( jan.dvorak@ustrcr.cz).

Bc. Adam Hradilek vede skupinu orální historie Ústavu pro studium totalitních režimů. V současné době se specializuje na perzekuci československých občanů v SSSR. Od roku 2011 spolupracuje na českém projektu Muzea holokaustu ve Washingtonu ( adam.hradilek@ustrcr.cz).