New publications

P. Crowhurst: Hitler and Czechoslovakia in World War II, London 2013, 352 p., 978-1-78076-110-7

The history of East Central European countries has been widely rediscovered as a source of historical interest and inspiration after the collapse of Communism. This rediscovery particularly holds true for the history of Czechoslovakia in the era of the Second World War. There were numerous reasons for the outbreak of World War II, but because Czechoslovakia as a topic ties the broad fabric of historical narratives about the failure of the interwar international system, and the challenges and constraints of British and German foreign policies, makes the subject particularly popular in the English language historiography.

The book demonstrates with reference to Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia and Ruthenia just how pragmatic Hitler and German policy-makers were in the interest of realpolitik, and insists upon the centrality of economic exploitation to our understanding of German-Czechoslovak relationship during World War II. This is a persuasive argument, not least in seeking to understand Germany’s efforts not only to enforce the prosecution of Jews, and the politically unreliable, but also to exploit the resources and economy of the Protectorate for the war effort. The writer contends that both the absorption of the Sudetenland and the Czech lands were more crucial for the Nazi war machine (from as early as October 1938) than it has been previously understood by historians, and claims that the take-over of armament factories and raw materials significantly accelerated German capabilities. This argument is backed up with the analysis of numerous tables and statistics, which significantly helps understanding the complexity of the topic.

The book is chronologically and thematically organized and deals with the aftermath of the Munich Agreement in Bohemia and Moravia, the era between Munich and the final destruction of Czechoslovakia, the problem of refugees (both in Germany and the Czech lands), forced labour, the political organization of the Protectorate, and its economic exploitation by Nazi Germany during the war.

The value of this work lies primarily in its contribution to the history of the Protectorate during the Second World War, something that so far has not been available in English language. The breadth and depth of research is seriously impressive, and it is the language skills facilitating the extensive use of European archives and document collections, which really renders this book distinctive. Moreover, the author, for the first time in the English language, also analyses some of the most recent Czech and Slovak language secondary sources. However, there is a surprising absence of well-known English language secondary material relevant to the history of Czechoslovakia; and similarly the references to Hungary are dated or selective.

Introduction starts in medias res, and the reader is left guessing about the aims, focus and methodology of the book. It contains an important and useful background about the interwar history of Czechoslovakia, but lacks the use of some of the most influential works about international history.

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