A Dozen Films of Czechoslovakia: World War II & the Cold War – Part II

A Dozen Films of Czechoslovakia: World War II & the Cold War – Part II

The last six films: (See previous blog for first six)

My husband Charles loved movies especially films on history and James Bond! When he died I decided to continue watching history movies (and James Bond when Daniel Craig started to play James) even though I would be viewing them alone. I searched for as many movies I could find on the Czech Resistance during World War II and the Cold War. I was amazed at how many I found for loan through my public library and statewide electronic library plus Netflix, YouTube and Amazon.  I saw two of the films  at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Following is a selected list of films I recommend for viewing if you want to get a taste of the drama of the events of the occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II and the Cold War. Get out of the heat, start up your air conditioner or fan and discover through film.

Dny Zrady (Days of Treason) – 1972

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from signing a treaty in Munich on September 30, 1939 waving his furled umbrella and proclaiming triumphantly that “we will have peace in our time.” That fact that peace was bought at the price of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler was not discussed. Further, under strenuous protests from the Czech people and politicians, this despicable treaty was entered into entirely without their participation. This movie painstakingly recreates the crucial meeting between Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and French Prime Minister Daladier. The exaggerated courtesy with which all the others treated Hitler earned his contempt, and did nothing to stop his long-planned invasion of Poland.

Hangmen Also Die – 1943

Hangmen Also Die! Is a fictionalized account of the story of the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague, also called The Hangman, as the title indicates.

Heydrich was one of Adolf Hitler’s top followers who was known for his excessive brutality. Hitler had appointed Heydrich in 1941 to govern Bohemia and Moravia, the parts of Czechoslovakia that had been annexed by Nazi Germany in 1939. Heydrich was so well thought of that Hitler considered him a likely successor and Heydrich helped plan the extermination camps advanced as Hitler’s final solution.

Fritz Lang directed the movie and as an expatriate German and ardent anti-Nazi he made a good attempt at the project but was saddled with the fictionalized story of the assassination and a supporting actor, Brian Donlevy, as his leading man.

I can’t figure out why they didn’t tell the true story. Instead the movie shows a Czech doctor (Donlevy) acting as lone assassin during the daylight attempt. The actual assassination had been performed by a pair of Czechs parachuted in by the British.  Donlevy’s escape plan miscarries and he must improvise going to the nearby house of a pretty girl (Anna Lee) he had once met. Her father (Walter Brennan) was a college professor and secret political leader of the Czech Underground. They keep Donlevy over night because the curfew is on and he would be arrested.  The film goes on to show the brutal methods of the Nazis who arrest many Czechs and begin executing them in retaliation.

The movie shows the bravery of the Czech people who are thrown together by this assassination and otherwise do not know each other, yet defend the assassin by misinforming the Germans or refusing to talk. The movie undoubtedly stimulated many patriotic feelings when it was released in 1943.

Operation Daybreak – 1975

In 1942 Czechoslovakia, SS-General Reinhard Heydrich is appointed to become the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. The terror and oppression that follow cause the Czech government-in-exile in London to authorize a secret mission to kill the man who has come to be known as “The Butcher of Prague”. The film explores the operation leading up to Heydrich’s death as well as the massive German reprisals that followed it.

Protektor – 2009

This fateful love story is set in Prague during the late 1930s and subsequent Nazi occupation. It focuses on radio journalist Emil, who is deeply in love with his glamorous Jewish movie star wife Hana. When the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia is established, Hana’s career is cut short and Emil’s radio station put under German control. Emil chooses to collaborate with the occupiers in order to survive and protect his wife. Ironically, this choice threatens to destroy the very thing he’s trying to protect: Hana.

A Trial in Prague – 2000

I am particularly interested in this movie because of Charles’ Uncle Josef’s involvement with Rudolf Slansky and still have lots more to learn about it.

At the height of the Cold War, the infamous political show trial, known as the Slansky Trial, took place in Czechoslovakia. In 1952 fourteen leading Communists, including Rudolf Slansky, the second most powerful man in the country, were tried on charges of high treason and espionage. Although they were innocent of these charges, they confessed and were convicted. Most of the men were hanged and three received life sentences. Eleven of the fourteen were Jews.

The documentary film tells the story of the trial and the paranoia of the period through testimonies, trial footage, archival films and extensive documentation. Among the people who appear in the film are Lise London,  whose late husband Artur (released from prison in 1956) wrote about the trial in a widely published memoir “The Confession.”

What led these men to their passionate belief in Communism and why did they publicly confess to crimes they did not commit? The film explores these questions, as well as the role of Moscow, the motives for the trial and its anti-Semitic thrust. It deals with the personal stories of the condemned men and the legacy they left their children, who “feel a need to live out the interrupted lives of their fathers.”

Zelary – 2004

Eliska, a nurse and her surgeon-lover are part of the resistance movement in 1940s Czechoslovakia. When they are discovered, Eliska’s lover flees and she must find a place to hide. A patient whose life she saved, a man from the remote Moravian mountain village of Želary, where time stopped 150 years ago, agrees to hide her as his wife. They live in a modest cabin for two years, waiting for the Nazi occupation to end and begin to form a bond despite their differences.

Zelary tells the story of a clash between two different worlds and two different people. It is the story of an extraordinary relationship, of fear, misgivings, suspicion and especially of the love that forms out of antagonism between Eliska/Hana and Joza; a love born of the common will to survive. Zelary is also the story of a beautiful corner of the earth where everything lives in accordance with nature and her often cruel and timeless laws that humans must adapt to and honor. Zelary is also a dramatic story filled with unexpected twists of fate that takes place in a God-forsaken part of Europe surrounded by the storm of war.


 “The Internet Movie Database (IMDb).” http://www.imdb.com.

“Michigan Electronic Library (MEL).”http://www.mel.org

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