Uherské Hradiště: 75 years since the liberation

Welcoming the Soviet soldiers. Source: Enciklopedie Města Uherské Hradiště


May 8th is celebrated in the Czech Republic, as in other European countries, as Victory in Europe Day. This day commemorates the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies and thus the end of World War II in Europe.

Before the war came to an end, many battles were fought and little by little the territories occupied by the Germans were liberated. This is the case of Uherské Hradiště, a town in the southeast of the Czech Republic, which was liberated on May 1st, 1945 by the Red Army.

Uherské Hradiště is located very close to the Slovak and Austrian borders. For this reason it was one of the first Czech towns to be liberated. After the liberation of Bratislava, the Red Army left for the Slovak town of Trenčín and from there crossed the border into Uherské Hradiště.

The occupation

In September 1938 the governments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy signed the Munich Agreement (known in Czechoslovakia as the Munich Betrayal), which accepted the incorporation of the Czechoslovak Sudeten into Germany. In addition, parts of southern Slovakia were granted to Hungary. Previously, in March 1938, Hitler had annexed Austria. In this way, Berlin was developing its expansion plans.

The Czechoslovak government of Edvard Beneš felt betrayed by his allies, especially by France. These agreements also established the Second Czechoslovak Republic, which became a client state of Germany. As a result, the Slavic country was controlled economically, militarily and politically by Berlin.

This Republic was very short-lived. In March 1939, the Slovak Republic (now Slovakia) and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) were established. Thus, Czechoslovakia was divided in two and the German occupation officially began in this former country.

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic. Source: Wikipedia

Pavel Portl, historian at the Slovácké Muzeum, explains that German troops arrived in Uherské Hradiště on March 15th, 1939 at about nine thirty in the morning. Upon entering the town, they occupied Masaryk Square and cooked goulash (a typical Czech dish). They also bought food and clothes for the town’s inhabitants.

They took photographs of their generosity. The inhabitants of Uherské Hradiště were not starving and did not need clothes, but it was a timely use of propaganda. In fact, Nazi Germany’s propaganda was very technologically advanced, as film and radio were very important to Hitler.

Portl indicates that, despite the fact that Josef Štancl the mayor was Czech, it was the Germans who were in control.  As an expression of that control, in 1941, Sokol[1]’s activities were halted. The German forces occupied almost every public building in the town, for example, the Gestapo took the kindergarten as their seat house.

The new authorities also deported 350 Jews from Uherské Hradiště to the neighbouring town of Uherský Brod, which was then a Jewish ghetto. “From there they were taken to the Terezín concentration camp and immediately to the German concentration camps,” Portl notes. In addition they burned the synagogue, destroyed the Jewish cemetery and sold the tombstones.

The old synagogue is nowadays the municipal library. Photo: Celia Pérez

The resistance is organised in Uherské Hradiště

From the beginning of the occupation resistance groups sprung up. The most important anti-fascist organisation was the Obrana národa (Defence of the Nation), which operated throughout Czechoslovakia.

According to Portl, Uherské Hradiště was the headquarters of the regional department of the Obrana národa, led by Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Štěrba. This department included ten more towns, such as Zlín, Hodonín or Vsetín. Its activities included: sending information to the Czechoslovak Government in exile, which was in London, weapons collection and sabotage. Portl stresses that the members of this organisation were not only military, but also people from Sokol, firemen and others.

There were also communist groups active. Portl explains that there were two waves. During the first wave, the communists acted from the beginning of the war until the end of 1939. The second wave began in 1941 when the Soviet Union was attacked.

Guerrillas were present from the beginning of the occupation. From 1942 they were very active until the end of the war. They used to attack Germans soldiers and the Czech gendarmerie. They also sabotaged the transport infrastructure and helped Slovakia in its uprising against Germany in August 1944. Portl says that the partisans were supported by some local people with food and other resources.

The liberation

On September 1st, 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland took place, triggering the outbreak of World War II. The war in Europe was fought on two fronts: the Western Front (in Western Europe) and the Eastern Front (in central and eastern Europe).

The Western Front was dominated by the United Kingdom and the United States, on one side, and by Germany, on the other. Both the UK and the USA played key roles in the liberations of Italy, France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

For its part, the Eastern Front was decisive in this war, being the chess board of the Soviet Union and Germany. This front opened in June 1941 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, led by Berlin to invade the USSR.

From this moment on, numerous battles took place between Soviet and German forces. Gradually, Stalin’s forces succeeded in driving Hitler’s troops back. Consequently, the Red Army began to advance into German occupied Europe. This is why it was decisive in the liberation of several countries such as Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

Bratislava was liberated on April 4th, 1945. After that, the Red Army marched into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Portl explains that the Soviet troops split up to enter the country. One part went to Brno, liberating it on April 26th, and another went to the Slovak town of Trenčín. From there, they reached Uherské Hradiště on April 27th.

The Red Army entered the town through the Sady district. Portl points out that the inhabitants, in addition to giving the troops food and drink, also threw lilacs at them, which were in bloom at the time.

The Germans resisted until April 30th. That night they pulled out of the town, and at two in the morning, “they (the Germans) blew up the bridge[2] over the Morava River that connects Uherské Hradiště with Staré Mešto”, says Portl, therefore the town was liberated on May 1st.

Monument dedicated to the victims of World War II in Uherské Hradiště and where nine Soviet soldiers are buried. Photo: Celia Pérez

End of the war (in Europe)

It was the Battle of Berlin that triggered the end of the war in Europe. It was fought between April 16th and May 2nd, 1945, the day the German capital fell to the Red Army. A few days later, on May 8th, around midnight (May 9th in Moscow due to the time difference), German Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed an unconditional surrender to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov. This ended World War II in Europe.

However, there was still one European capital that resisted the Allies: Prague. Eventually, Soviet troops entered the city of one hundred towers wholly on May 11th. As a result, the Germans accepted their defeat.

World War II is the most deadly war to date. The number of deaths is not entirely clear; somewhere between 70 and 80 million. Of these, 20 to 25 million were military casualties, while civilian deaths ranged from 50 to 55 million. It is estimated that 345,000 Czechoslovaks lost their lives in this war, including military casualties and victims of the German occupation.

In the Czech Republic, May 8th has been known as Victory in Europe Day since 2004, as it used to be called Liberation Day. Currently, on this day commemorative events are organised and flowers are left at the memorials of the victims. However, it is not as significant a date as in the past. Instead, nowadays “people go on trips because they have a day off” Portl says. He highlights that recognition of it is associated with the communist era.

During communist Czechoslovakia there were military parades that were obligatory for all citizens to attend. It is worth noting that, according to Portl, segments of the Czechoslovak people gradually changed their mind about the Soviets after 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev brought the Stalin’s crimes to light, and due to the communist regime that was established years later.

It has been 75 years since the fall of Nazism and the end of World War II in Europe, 75 years have passed since the liberation of Czechoslovakia and of Uherské Hradiště. A town where you can easily find memories that remind you that because they were, we are, because we are, they will be.

Esta obra está bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-SinDerivadas 4.0 Internacional

[1] Sokol is a Czech sports and cultural association

[2] This bridge was rebuilt in December 1946 and the current one was built between 1952 and 1954

Deja un comentario

A %d blogueros les gusta esto: