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Published in: New York World-Telegram March 15, 1939
Hitler Crosses Czech Frontier--Defiant Crowds in Prague Chant Republic's Anthem, Sob as 'Protectors' Arrive
By Edward W. Beattie, Jr.
United Press Staff Correspondent
PRAGUE, March 15--German troops, occupying the Czech provinces in the name of Adolf Hitler, entered Prague in triumph today to the hisses and catcalls of the people, who sang the Czech national anthem.
The Germans immediately imposed an 8 P.M. curfew, fearing an outburst of popular hatred.
The German troops carried riot guns in addition to their ordinary arms and were reported to have mounted machine guns at points where they could command crowds.
During the night, when the people first heard that Hitler was to be their "protector," the city had been demoralized.
By the time the advance guard of the Germans arrived, residents began to come out into the streets.
When they saw a German soldier some of them would put their hands before their faces in sign of disgust and turn away. This was noted even in front of the German minority headquarters, where large groups of Germans gathered and cheered wildly.
But the Czechs' attitude was one of white-hot patriotism. They gathered in the Wenceslas Sq. by thousands to sing their anthem.
Hundreds of times groups of Czechs burst into the anthem, interspersing howls of rage, jeers and cries of "Pfui!" at the Germans.
By 12:30 P.M. (6:30 A.M. New York time), two hours after the German occupation, the situation had become dangerous.
Czech police, who had wept as the Germans entered, feared an outbreak. As the German troops held their riot guns at the ready, the police cleared the streets. Mounted police rode upon the sidewalks, but the streets refilled as soon as they were emptied. Those who did not join crowds climbed on top of street cars, the better to jeer the Germans.
The boos and hisses that greeted the German troops were broadcast throughout Germany as microphones picked up the unexpected sounds of hostility which were in contrast to the cheers which radio listeners heard during the occupation of Austria and the Sudetenland.
One German motorcycle soldier was buffeted by the crowds as he attempted to ride along in the street. He started to seek out a man who had pushed him but after a look at the crowd he changed his mind and rode on.
The Germans had crossed the frontier twenty miles away in a blinding snowstorm shortly before 7 A.M. (1 A.M., New York time). They entered Prague at 10:20 (4:20 A.M., New York time). Motorcycles leading the way, they entered Wenceslas Sq., in the center of the city, and drew up in formation.
Troops in the first contingent included bicyclists, motorcyclists, and anti-tank gun units. Then came light motorized units and many light tanks. German planes flew over the city.
About 5,000 persons massed so tightly at the foot of the square that the motorcyclists leading the advance could hardly pass.
[The Associated Press said two persons were hit by German military cars as the German troops entered Prague.]
As the Germans entered the square hundreds of persons burst into tears. They sobbed for a few moments. Then someone started singing the Czech national anthem. Others took up the strains. In a few minutes thousands of people, tears running down their faces, joined in the ringing anthem.
Isolated in the crowd, at various points, groups of minority Germans, wearing Swastika armbands, gave the Hitler salute and threw little bouquets of violets at the troops.
Fist-fights broke out but Czech police stopped them.
General von Gablenz, one of the commanders of German troops who marched in, was appointed military governor of Prague.
Crowds jammed banks and travel bureaus, getting money and trying to arrange passage abroad. None could be obtained.
Jews telephoned foreigners, begging for asylum, or sat or stood hopelessly about waiting to see what the Germans would do to them.
The occupation was effected without resistance.
Czech troops had been ordered to offer no opposition, and the only Czech troops to be seen were unarmed.
I motored to the frontier to meet the German troops and accompanied them to Prague.
As they made their way along the highway, women with shawls over their heads, workmen in shabby clothes and children on their way to school with their knapsacks on their backs ran out from houses and stood silently, in small groups as they passed.
Both men and women occasionally burst into sobs.
The German columns moved leisurely. It was an easy triumph over the remnants of the little Czecho-slovak Republic. Nazi officers made their first drastic change in the country's old order when, as they advanced, they forced all civilian traffic to the right sides of the roads. Czechs have been accustomed to the keep-left system.
As the troops advanced farmers stooped their work, watching silently.
In Prague loud speaker trucks were sent through the streets repeating:--
"People of Czechoslovakia! This morning at 6 A.M. German soldiers occupied our fatherland. You can best serve your fatherland by perfect quiet--not one incident or one untoward act. Maintain calmness when you see the swastika raised as it will be over our city."
Early this morning the Prague radio announced:--
"The slightest resistance will cause the most unforeseen consequences and lead to intervention which would become utterly brutal.
"All army commanders must obey the orders of the occupying army. Various units of the Czech army are being disarmed. Military and civil airplanes must remain at airdromes and none must attempt to take the air."
Complete popular demoralization followed this announcement. Those who had hope of starting life anew in another country sought to escape. Others who had been in politics sought to go into hiding until they knew the nature of the "protection" the Nazis intended giving.
Things began to return to normal about the time the Germans entered.
Signs of careful Nazi preparation for Hitler's new triumph also became apparent. Loud speakers blared out announcements:--
"All German comrades who have received special assignments from Sudeten headquarters of the Nazi party or the secret police must observe correctness in their attitude toward the Czech population."
The announcements told the people to obey the orders of German military authorities and to continue normal work.
Soon the city was outwardly normal. Street car traffic proceeded and snow sweepers came out.
The travel bureaus could offer no hope to those who wanted to escape. One train left for Paris twenty minutes before the Nazi troops arrived, but nobody know whether it would get through and many of its desperate occupants feared arrest when the train crossed German territory. Most other trains were not running.