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Seeking a Refuge

Jewish Refugees into and from Czech Lands, 1933-1945

The subject of the project

Thousands of Jewish refugees attempted to find temporary or long term refuge in Czech lands, fleeing the pressures of Nazi antisemitic ideology and practice. When, in the late 1930s, Czechoslovakia was no longer considered a secure shelter, the stream of refugees was reversed. The aim of this project is to describe the fate of Jewish refugees into and from Czech lands from Adolf Hilter rise to power until the end of World War II. We consider the topics of Jewish immigration and emigration into and from Czech Lands to be interconnected and would like to deal with both of them in the framework of the same project. Dealt with will be the policy of the Czechoslovak authorities towards Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Sudetenland, as well as the emigration policy of Czech and German authorities after the occupation and establishment of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia.

After World War I, restrictions on the free movement of people and stricter policies toward refugees became an all-European (if not a global) trend. Many countries enforced legal and administrative restrictions limiting the crossing of boundaries as well as the stay of foreign citizens in their territory. These measures were not usually dropped even when faced with the knowledge of German persecution of political opposition and minorities. In many instances the refugee policies were not without antisemitic motives.

In the course of this project, we would like to answer the following questions: How were these trends mirrored in Czechoslovak refugee policy, and how did the first Czechoslovak Republic deal with Jewish refugees, especially those from Germany and Austria? In what legal and material situations did these refugees live in the Czechoslovak territory? How did the Czechoslovak authorities approach the wave of Jewish refugees from the Sudetenland, and what were the fate of these refugees? How many and through what actions did Jews successfully emigrate after the occupation of Czech Lands by Nazi Germany? How many did not succeed? How was the situation of (Jewish) refugees percieved by Czech society? How was this topic both used and misused in antisemitic propaganda?

With the exception of a few articles and books, this topic has never been seriously researched or described. Most of these studies focus the fate of important personalities, mainly of communist or social-democratic backgrounds. Systematic research of the Czechoslovak refugee policy is missing altogether. In contrast to this, we would like to focus on two perspectives:

  • refugee and emigration policies of the Czechoslovak authorities and later the authorities of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia: especially in comparison with other European countries
  • options and fates of ordinary people who tried to escape from Nazi oppression
This project is a logical continuation of the efforts of the Terezín Initiative Institute to describe the fate of Czech Jews during the Holocaust. Since 1992, the fates of the Jews who were deported from Bohemia and Moravia and of other Terezín prisoners have been researched and the results incorporated into the series of Terezín Memorial Books. The Terezín Initiative Institute also currently attempts to describe the fates of those who were not deported on the mass transports but were imprisoned or were hidden. The last stone that must be placed into the mosaic of the fates of Czech Jews should be that of the Jewish refugees.

The goals of the project

There are three main goals of the project - they depend on each other. Each of these three goals will demand different output:

1. historical research and preparation of a publication: for details see below.

2. collecting of information about individual refugees: The information about individual refugees and their fates will be systematically collected and recorded in the database of the Terezín Initiative Institute. This will not only enable better statistical and demographic evaluation of the information, but will also enable us to provide information for relatives or researchers seeking information about specific refugees.

3. educational output: The approach toward refugees escaping from oppression remains an important topic and has great educational value for the younger generation. For this reason, we will attempt to use some of the results of this research project for education. We will mainly publish selected individual stories of refugees and documents that can be used in schools. These materials will be made available at the educational web-site

Main sub-topics: a short description

This research project consists of many sub-topics. The following is a short description of the main sub-topics:

A. Immigration into Czech Lands

1. Czechoslovak refugee policy: We will analyze the legal background and practical realization of the Czechoslovak refugee policy with the focus on Czech Lands. One sub-topics is the plan which was designed to concentrate all German (Jewish) refugees in four districts in the countryside. Also, the reactions to the wave of Jewish refugees after the anschluss of Austria in March 1938 will be researched, as well as Czechoslovak attitudes at the Évian conference. The Munich Agreement and the forced cession of Czech border areas to Germany created strong waves of Czech, German and Jewish refugees. We will focus on the specific treatment of the Jewish refugees, who, in some cases,were turned back by Czech police. As a reaction to this refugee disaster, the govermental Institute for Refugee Assistance was established. Its acts will be one of the main sources for the current project.

2. The situation of Jewish refugees in Czech Lands from 1933 through the Munich Agreement: The major waves of Jewish refugees (mainly from Germany and Austria) should be analyzed to their full extent and character. We will research how they arrived to Czechoslovakia, as well as their legal status and living conditions there. If possible, we will record their personal data in the database.

3. Jewish refugees from the ceded border areas: Similar research will focus on this specific group of Jewish refugees.

4. The assistance agencies for the refugees: These were an important station for many refugees. We will research their activities, their policies (especially towards the Jewish refugees), and the ways in which these agencies cooperated with state authorities.

5. Czech society and Jewish refugees: On the basis of archival and printed materials, the reactions of Czech society, political parties and other organisations to the arrival and stay of Jewish refugees in Czech lands will be examined. We will research how the antisemitic organisations and press utilized the topic.

6. Jewish organizations and Jewish refugees: We will analyze different reactions and attitudes of the Jewish organisations of Czech lands, specifically the major currents in Jewish politics, mainly those of the Zionists and Czech and German assimilationists.

B. Emigration from Czech Lands

7. Emigration and re-emigration before the occupation: In the 1930s, large numbers of Jewish refugees into Czech lands succeeded in finding a way into other countries. Especially after the Munich Agreement, many Jews from the Czech interior joined the wave of emigrants. We will attempt to research the ways in which emigration was opened for them, and how many finally succeeded. We will analyze the attitude of Czechoslovak authorities toward the Jewish emigration and the international aspects of situation, especially the so called Stopford action, the British assistance for emigrants, not only Jewish ones, from Czechoslovakia.

8. Emigration after the occupation between German and Czech authorities: After the Nazi occupation of Czech Lands on March 15, 1939, the attempts of Jews to emigrate grew rapidly. We will analyze the policy of German occupation authorities, as well as the history and activities of the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung, which opened in July 1939. A related question is how, after the occupation, the approach of the autonomous Czech authorities was modified, and in what ways they were incorporated into German anti-Jewish measures.

9. Jewish associations and organizations of emigration after the occupation: After the occupation, all Jewish organizations realized the seriousnes of the situation and supported emigration of Jews from Czech Lands. We will mainly examine the activities of Jewish communities, of the Zionists and Czech assimilationists, and of other Jewish groups that organized themselves for the purpose of emigration.

10. Emigration to Palestine: This topic deserves special attention. We will research the activities and limits of the Palestinaamt (Zionist organization that distributed the British certificates for legal immigration into Palestine), as well as the topic of illegel immigration to Palestine (the so called Alija Beth), organized mainly by the revisionist current in the Zionist movement.

11. Emigration to other countries: We will document attempts of other Jewish groups and individuals to emigrate into countries besides Palestine and to what degree they succeeded.

12. Trapped Emigrants?: As much as possible, we would like to follow the war - time fates of the Jewish refugees from Czech Lands, and to find out how many of them were affected by the process of the German final solution of the Jewish question in other countries. For example, it is known that there were several hundred Czechoslovak Jews on the transports from France to Auschwitz.


1. archival sources: The main materials that we would like to use are: Ministry of Interior, Land Offices (zemské úřady), police directorates, Institute for Refugee Assistance, the Reichsprotektor Office, Czechoslovak refugee assistance committee in Paris, Czechoslovak Red Cross in London, Ministry of Social Care in London, Archives of the Jewish museum in Prague, of Yad Vashem and Beit Terezín in Israel.

2. printed sources: The reactions in Czech and Jewish press (and other publications) toward the refugees in the 1930s will be examined.

3. testimonies: The recollections of the emigrants and other Jewish survivors represent one of the most important and often untapped sources. We will mainly draw knowledge from the collection of testimonies in the Jewish museum in Prague, but we will also use testimonies in Yad Vashem in Beit Terezín.

4. literature: We will use a number of scholarly books and articles published abroad about the refugee policy and its effects on the final solution of the Jewish question. Books that are not available in public libraries in Czech lands and that we buy for the project, will be collected in the library of the Terezín Initiative Institute and made available for other researchers.

Time plan

The project is a long term one - a number of researchers will participate throughout several years. It should culminate in the publication of a collective volume summarizing the findings, planned for 2006. Some partial results can be published in advance as articles in Terezín Studies and Documents or on


From July through December 2002 the project has been supported by the  Endowment Fund for Victims of the Holocaust. The Terezín Initiative Institute searches for new possibilities of finantial backing of the project.

Last Update: 12. 1. 2003