George F. Kennan on antisemitic sentiments in Czechoslovakia in 1939



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[...] Indeed, it is characteristic of Bohemia, where nationality

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is a matter of language rather than of blood, that speech rather than origin is the distinguishing characteristic of friend or foe. Such resentment of the Jews as exists in Bohemia thus centers largely on the German-speaking Jews – particularly those who have come to Bohemia since the war.

Among the Czechs themselves, there is comparatively little anti-semitism. Only the small Czech fascist groups and certain sections of the nationalist-conservative element are anti-semitic. This applies particularly to the younger element in the New National Unity Party , which is being organized as a government party. All these elements together, however, make up only a small minority of the Czech population. The mass of the people appear simply to have very little interest in anti-semitism.

The present talk of anti-semitic measures and the general anxiety of the Jewish population is due principally to the pressure which is being brought to bear on the Czech Government by Berlin in the direction of an anti-Jewish policy. There is no doubt of the existence of this pressure. [...]

Very little has happened in Prague thus far to justify the panicky atmosphere which has prevailed in Jewish circles here since the Munich agreement. The vast majority of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia have remained up to the present quite unmolested both in their private

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lives and their economic activities. [...]

In Slovakia, other conditions prevail. Here the percentage of Jews, in the first place, is higher than in Bohemia. The Slovak Jews are not only prominent in the cities but, in contrast to the situation prevailing in Bohemia, are scattered in large numbers throughout the countryside and play a conspicuous part in the economic life of the Slovak village. They are the object of widespread resentment on the part of the Slovak population. Many of them are of the poorer orthodox type. Their dress, their manners and their habits are conspicuous and – to many Slovaks – offensive. They are prominent in the villages as money-lenders, lawyers, saloon-keepers, druggists, merchants, etc. In the larger cities they form a wealthy class which makes up a good part of the intelligentsia and controls a very large proportion of the capital of the country.

Many of the educated Jews are Hungarian-speaking and have always looked to Budapest for cultural inspiration.

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A smaller but by no means insignificant number have had a German cultural orientation. This doubtless explains to a large extent the feeling prevalent in many Slovak circles to the effect that the Jews have always sided with the oppressors of the Slovaks, against the native population. [...]

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As will have been seen from the above discussion, the Jewish question in Czechoslovakia presents a highly confused picture. The Jews themselves fall into many different categories, varying from the highly cultured intellectuals of Prague to the pious and primitive orthodox Jews of the Slovak and Ruthenian villages. They are divided among various cultural tendencies: Yiddish, German, Hungarian, Polish and Czechoslovak. The attitude of the Aryan population toward them varies again, between city and country, between the various classes and professions, between the different provinces. In these circumstances, it is scarcely to be expected that any clear-cut policy or attitude on the part of the responsible authorities will emerge. It seems evident that if Czechoslovakia existed in a vacuum the Jews, despite their considerable number, would not present any problem which could not be solved with relatively humane and painless methods. The country does not contain in itself the basis for a really serious and widespread anti-semitic movement.


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