In 1938, Czechoslovakia was a multi-ethnic liberal democracy consisting of Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians and Ruthenians including a sizeable Jewish and Roma population. They had been an independent Nation for only 20 years. Czechoslovakia had a population of approximately 14 million people and was one of the worlds top 10 industrial nations.
Czech Prezident Benes
Eduard Benes was a democratic socialist holding together a centre left coalition, and had been President of his country since December 1935. In 1938 he was 54 and only the second leader of his country since independence in 1918.
Czechoslovakia was defended by a mountainous border along which the Czechs had partially built a Maginot line in the style of France. Her army was strong, boasting 40 divisions, patriotic and well equipped by the Skoda armanents works.
Far from being a remote, unintelligible and barbarian country as described in Neville Chamberlains letters to his sisters, Czechoslovakia had a great theatrical and musical tradition, ranging from slavic folk to opera. In the 1920s, comedians Voskovec and Werich set up the Liberated Theatre (Osvobozene divadlo) which was ground-breaking in it’s style and totally anti-fascist in it’s nature.
During the crisis of 1938 both actors toured the Sudetenland with their ‘solidarity shows’ visiting Czech and German children’s camps singing songs of unity and racial tolerance. After Nazi occupation the theatre was closed down, and both actors fled to the USA. Across the Atlantic, George Voskovec achieved on-screen fame as the Immigrant juror in 12 Angry Men, while Jan Werich returned to Communist Czechoslovakia and took a leading role in building socialism in the post war environment.
Inter-war Czechoslovakia had a great jazz music tradition which lives on today. It’s outstanding composer was the Czech pianist Jaroslav Jezek. Almost blind from birth, he could only see the colour dark blue. In recent years the movie about Czech RAF Pilots in world war two ‘Tmavomodry svet (Dark Blue World) ‘ heavily featured his music. After the Nazi occupation he escaped to New York where he died in 1942.