History of Censorship in Bohemia
Part Four - Up to 1945
An independent, democratic Czechoslovak Republic was founded in 1918, lasting until 1938-39, when it was destroyed by Hitler. Article 113 of the Czechoslovak Constitution from 1920 stated expressly that "the freedom of the press as well as the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteeed. This is why it is in principle impermissible to subject the press to preliminary censorship." Article 116 of the 1920 Czechoslovak Constitution said that "the secrecy of correspondence is guaranteed".
The citizens of the inter-war Czechoslovak Republic enjoyed extensive freedom of expression in all spheres of the human endeavour. Literature and the arts flourished in this period. After the accession of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933, Czechoslovakia gave political asylum to a number of German writers, including Thomas Mann. In 1930, a Czech translation of James Joyce's Ulyssees by Ladislav Vymětal and Jarmila Fastrová was published in Prague six years before a complete and unexpurgated edition of the work could be printed in Britain. It was the third foreign language translation of Ulyssees, after the publication of a French and a German translation in 1927.
With the appearance of political extremism, in 1923 Czechoslovakia promulgated a Law for the Protection of the Republic, which punished acts of subversion, directed against the constitutional and republican system of Czechoslovakia, the betrayal of state and military secrets, law and order offences, the dissemination of unfounded, alarmist news and verbal and physical assaults directed against holders of some constitutional posts, including that of the President. Article 26 allowed the authorities to remove from public places "anti-state monuments, inscriptions and other objects". These included monuments to the members of the dynasties which ruled Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1914. On the basis of this law, the Czechoslovak authorities could suspend the publication of periodicals. A daily newspaper could be suspended for the maximum duration of one month, other periodicals could be suspended up to six months.
In 1933, the courts were given the right to enforce the publication of a press corrections on periodicals in justified cases. Periodicals which came out more often that three times a week were also forced to publish, for free, without cuts and without insertions, official government and presidential statements up 800 words, on page 1 or 2. Periodicals carrying advertising were dutibound to publish official government decrees at the usual advertising rates. The periodicals were not allowed to comment on these decrees in the same issue. Political leaflets could be displayed in public places only with official permission. The distribution of printed materials, subverting the constitutional integrity and the republican and democratic system of Czechoslovakia, as well as of materials of obscene nature could be banned. The distribution of some foreign newspapers, periodicals and books could be prohibited by the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry.
Until September 1938, the State Prosecutor's Office and the Press Department of the Czech government carried out censorship. Periodicals were confiscated after publication, on the basis of proposals by district authorities or by the police. Copies of periodicals with unacceptable articles were withdrawn from circulation. After confiscation a new, corrected edition could be printed. This usually included a blank space in place of the suppressed article with a note saying that the text had been officially prohibited.
After mobilisation in Czechoslovakia in September 1938, preliminary censorship was reintroduced and a Central Censorship Commission was set up by the government. This commission was run by the Interior Ministry and inspected all periodical as well as non-periodical publications, theatrical performances and film screenings, telegrams, telephone conversations and radio communications. The censors worked in printing offices where proofs were submitted to them. The proofs were subsequently also sent to the Central Censorship Commission for approval. It was the task of the censors "not to pass the information which could harm our state". In December 1938, the government decreed that newspapers should no longer appear with blank spaces.
Two days after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany on 15th March 1939, a new Central Press Service was set up as part of the Press Department of the Government Office. Its employees worked in the editorial offices of individual newspapers. Editors-in-chief received special instructions what line to take. The Nazis used newspapers and periodicals fully for their propaganda purposes.
The first three Czech heads of the government Press Department (Zdeněk Schmoranz, Arnošt Bareš and František Hoffmann) were arrested by the Nazis and were executed or died in concentration camps. The task of the Cultural Section of the Press Department was to inspect new titles intended for publication. It also made lists of "harmful and undesirable literature and music".
August von Hoope, former editor of the Czechoslovak government newspaper Prager Presse, became the head this Cultural Section. From 1941, it was the task of this office to direct Czech literature and culture in such a way that it would serve the interests of Nazi Germany. In 1942, the section became party of the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and employed 84 people.
In 1940, the authorities ordered the closure of seventy per cent of small bookshops. Nazi censorship was antidemocratic, racist and anticommunist. Blacklists of titles contradicting the interests of Nazi Germany were published. Works by Jewish or half-Jewish authors were not allowed to be published even if they were not included in the lists.
A list of literature banned on the territory of Bohemia and Moravia, dated 30th September 1940, included 1352 Czech and foreign authors and 1894 titles. On 30th April, 1941 a supplement containing 163 more banned writers and 184 banned titles was issued. The total production of eight Czech publishing houses was suppressed.
The most extensive lists of prohibited books in Germany and in Bohemia and Moravia were published on 30th September 1942 and 31st March 1944. They included some ten thousand book titles, periodicals and calendars. Most of the confiscated books were destroyed, but some Czech publishing houses masked precious books or bricked up storehouses where they were kept.
In 1941 - 1942, 1 850 535 volumes of books were confiscated in 104 Czech and Moravian districts outside Prague from publishing houses, bookshops and libraries. In 1943, 211 255 books were confiscated and in 1944 38 837 books were seized. In 1941, von Hoope decreed that publishing houses had to apply for permission if proposing to reprint any work which had appeared after 1918. These works were inspected for implicit anti-German and anti-Nazi content. Thus the number of new titles published were reduced. In 1941, 2764 titles were published in Bohemia and Moravia, in 1942 it was 1236 titles, in 1943 1436 were issued.
The government's press department and the state prosecutor's offices were manned by Czechs until 1940, so in this period, Czech publishers were still frequently able to print anti-German books, banned works or even titles written by Jewish authors. From July 1941, von Hoope's office became the central censorship for non-periodic publications in Bohemia and Moravia.
Initially, the banned titles included all books about the Czech democratic presidents Edward Beneš and T.G. Masaryk, Marxist works, anti-German works and some publications about Adolf Hitler. After the beginning of the Second World War, wholesale prohibition orders were imposed on Soviet literature, French, British and eventually also American literature. Von Hoope limited the publication of literature with Czech national themes to a minimum because he knew that such books were being used to bolster the Czech national conscience. Certificates had to be submitted to show that the authors of books to be published were of Aryan origin. This concerned even historical figures ("Please inform us whether the aforementioned author, Gaius Julius Caesar was of Aryan origin," asked the censors in one case.)
Large amounts of titles disappeared from Czech public and university libraries. Some private, institutional and corporate libraries were confiscated. Especially affected were Jewish libraries. Some public libraries were closed down.
After the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, approximately one hundred feature films, Czechoslovak and foreign, including some German ones, were immediately banned. This constituted a sharp increase, considering that in 1937 only 14 films were banned in Czechoslovakia. Just as in the texts of plays put on by theatres, many small changes were made even in entertainment films for fear that audiences could react by laughter in the darkness of the theatre auditorium to otherwise relatively innocuous statements made on stage or on the screen. In November 1940, a Filmpruefstelle in Boehmen und Maehren (The Testing Office for Film in Bohemia and Moravia) was set up on the orders of the German Reichsprotektor in Prague. This office carried out censorship of all films to be screened in Bohemia, assumed the right to preliminary censorship of films to be made and decided which films could be exported abroad. Thus Czech film production was fully subjected to totalitarian control by the Nazis. 1709 films were suppressed in 1939 - 1941. In 1939 - 1944, 113 Czech feature films were prohibited. Most of these had been made prior to 1938. The prohibition affected a third of the Czechoslovak interwar film production. No films, reminding the audiences of the existence of democratic Czechoslovakia could be screened publicly. All films whose production team included a Jew were automatically prohibited. From 1939, certain Soviet, British and American films (including the Popeye and Felix the Cat cartoons) were banned. (American cartoons for children were not shown in Czechoslovakia in the communist era, either, with the brief interlude of the Prague Spring of 1968.) After the beginning of the Second World War, all English and French films were prohibited. Goebbels was trying to limit the screening of American films even when the United States were still neutral in the war. No American films were screened in Bohemia and Moravia after 1942. Some German Nazi films were also banned in Bohemia and Moravia because they were deemed inappropriate for the Czech audiences. Before the war, 11 different newsreels were screened in Czechoslovak cinemas, after 1941, only a German and a Czech version of two official German newsreels were shown. Political reporting had disappeared and was replaced by pro-Nazi propaganda. The Nazi authorities also decreed that 60 per cent of all film screenings must be of German films, shown in the original German language.
(To be continued)