Censorship in Czech lands 1938 - 1945
by Lubor Kunc
First time published in theCzechout journal no. 2 / 2002
Tento text se zabývá různými cenzurními systémy civilní korespondence na území Čech v létech 1938 – 1945: počínaje čs. cenzurou v roce 1938 přes německé cenzurní systémy v Sudetech a na území Protektorátu v létech 1938 – 1945.
I would like to react upon outstanding query of Mr. Miller published in the Czechout No. 4/98 relating to the censorship in Czech lands at the begin of WWII. My goal is to draw your attention to whole period 1938 - 45 and not only to the begin of WWII to introduce all 3 censorship systems working in the period on our territory.
In the above period many important events influencing Czech and European history occurred . The first of them was the Munich Treaty of September 1938. Based on the Treaty Germany occupied Czechoslovak area called “Sudetenland“ as well as Hungary “liberates“ important parts of Slovakia and Poles small area in northern part of Czechoslovakia. The most important was the German occupation, so in the information I would like to discuss only this one.
On Sept. 17, 1938 the Czechoslovak censorship system started its work. The censorship was aimed at domestic and foreign correspondence, especially at the correspondence sent from / to the occupied Sudetenland territory as well as Germany and Austria (Austria was at that time yet incorporated into Germany thanks to “Anschluss“ done early in 1938) . For the censorship were established so called “Vojenská censurní stanice“ (Military Censorship Station) consisted of stations in Prague and Brno (used for censorship of international mail) and network of local stations for domestic correspondence.
Immediately after occupation of former Czechoslovak territory by Germany (Oct. 1 - 10, 1938) the postal connection between rest of Czechoslovakia and the occupied territories was interrupted and the posted mail was returned to the senders (usualy) with notice “Zpět, doprava přerušena, okupované území“ (= Return, connection interrupted, territory occupied) . After the first short period the postal connection was allowed with censorship of correspondence by the Czechoslovak authorities as it was done before the occupation. The censorship was done in September, October and November 1938. Good source of information showing some examples is web site of dr. Gebauer of Brno .
I can show you two examples from that time. Both of them are business correspondence and both were sent on the same day - November 10, 1938 (so they are late usage of the censorship) . The envelope of fig. 1 was sent from Prague (unoccupied territory) to Dubí u Teplic (Eichwald b. Teplitz-Schönau) being situated on occupied territory. As you can see, the letter was franked as per international postal tariffs, because the occupied territory become integral part of Germany, so the international tariff was used (nice paradox !) . It was censored in Prague where the cancel “CENSUROVÁNO“ was applied.
The card on fig. 2 was sent from Ústí / Labem (Aussig) to Vranov. Town Ústí / Labem was located on occupied territory and the Vranov on unoccupied one. That is why the card was again censored by Czechoslovak authorities. Interesting is also the postal cancel of Ústí / Labem post office - this is the “old“ Czechoslovak bi-lingual Czech - German cancel with removed Czech name of the town. It was franked as per international tariffs as well.
On March 14, 1939 Slovakia declared independence from Czechoslovakia and on the next day the yet unoccupied rest of Czechoslovakia was occupied and Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia was established.
After establishing of Protectorate new censorship system was created. It was not declared officially the correspondence will be censored. Nothing like this ! The correspondence was not censored, it was only checked to avoid sending of foreign currency from the Protectorate. This “hidden“ censorship was called “Devisová kontrola“ (Foreign Money Control) and it was aimed at foreign correspondence . As per Mr. Gebauer there existed following censorship stations managed by the German SS units in the Protectorate: Brno 2, České Budějovice 3, Hradec Králové 2, Moravská Ostrava 3, Olomouc 2, Plzeň 1, Praha 7, Praha 25, Praha 82 and Přerov 2 . The checked mail was cancelled with the famouse “D. K.“ cancels or similar cancellation. Not so known is the fact, the control was working in Germany as well as it used some labels to close the open envelopes. The censorship worked until Feb. 1940 .
On fig. 3 + 4 you will see two labels used for the purpose. The fig. 3 shows a letter sent from Česká Lípa (Leipa; former Czech town occupied in Oct. 1938 by Germany) to village Křinec u Nymburka (Protectorate) in June 1939. The letter was censored in Germany and it was closed by 3 labels “Zur Devisenüberwachung zollamtlich geöffnet“ (Open by Customs Office for Foreign Currency Control) . I have also to add, that the letter was franked with 12 Pfennig Hindenburg stamp corresponding to the German domestic postal rate - this change was caused by establishing of Protectorate under German influence, at the moment the postal rates between Germany and Protectorate were the domestic ones.
The fig. 4 shows a registered + expres letter sent from Ostrava (Protectorate) to German town Gleiwitz in July 1939. The letter was censored at the Moravská Ostrava 3 office and the label with text “Úředně otevřeno devizovou kontrolou“ (= Officially open for Foreign Currency Control) .
In 1940 the hidden censorship was changed to the public censorship of international correspondence. The censorship was no more done by the SS units (which probably have too much work with killing of people), the Wehrmacht (normal army of Germany) was authorized to do it. For the foreign correspondence two types of censorship cancel were used machinery cancels (like fig. 5) for normal correspondence and manual cancels (like fig. 6) for registered letters, but sometimes you can find them on normal letters as well . You can find following text on both of the cancels “Oberkommando der Wehrmacht / Geprüft“ (= Supreme Command of Wehrmacht / Censored) , both cancels are in red. The censorship system worked until 1945 .
Let´s start with fig. 5 . The picture shows a card sent on September 1, 1944 from Turčianský Svätý Martin (Slovakia) to Česká Třebová (Protectorate). The small numbers “1259“ and “7757“ belong to the Slovak censorship officers, the card was also censored in the Protectorate - see the machine cancellation. The card is very interesting from the postal historian point of view, because it was sent by a young lady from the capitol of Slovak National Uprising few days after its start. She informs her parent she is fine and she believes they will meet together. The card was for sure carefully observed by all the censors !
The fig. 6 shows a registered card sent from Lučenec (Losonc) to Prague in May 1943. Town Lučenec was belonged to Czechoslovakia until Oct. 1938, where was occupied together with another parts of Slovakia by Hungary. The mail was also censored in Slovakia ( numbers “596“ and “825“) as well as by the Wehrmacht in Protectorate - see the manual cancellation on the left side of the card.
As I mentioned, the last censorship worked until end of the WWII in 1945. Of course, in the discussed period another censorship systems were established as well - e.g. censorship of correspondence of prisoners of war, people observed by the German secret police Gestapo, people kept in the concentration camps or after the war censorship of correspondence of arrested German and Austrian military and civil people etc., but the systems were not aimed at the general public, so I don´t wish to talk about them at the moment.
I hope the information provides you with general view of the censorship in Czech lands in the period 1938 - 45 .
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