The design for the Czech Pavilion featured “bold, modern lines.”   More information

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The Czech Pavilion site in the Foreign Zone.   More information

The day after occupation the U.S. Treasury Department acknowledges Germany’s “assumption of control” of Czech lands.    More information

The Fair’s Czech exhibit director vowed to “continue with my work until I am ordered to stop.”   More information

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The Chief Engineer affirmed that funding and exhibits had been received, and that the pavilion could be completed.   More information

City officials, citizens, and the press urged that the Czech Pavilion continue as a “monument to a murdered republic.”    More information

The United Czecho-Slovak Societies was one of the sponsors of the "Stop Hitler" parade on March 25, 1939.   More information

Even Germany was said to be willing for the pavilion plans to continue, provided there was “no anti-Nazi propaganda.”   More information

Several works of art lived beneath "Joe the Worker" outside the USSR Pavilion, including a bas-relief of Lenin.    More information

The "present" Ministry of Public Works in Prague tried in vain to stop the opening of the Czech Pavilion.   More information

Many, including the Commissioner General for Czechoslovak Participation, were grateful for the Fair's stand.    More information

Dr. Edvard Beneš (center) makes his first visit to the Czech Pavilion.   More information

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As the lower inscription reads, the Czech Pavilion “though unfinished" is "maintained by its friends in America.”   More information

The Czech Pavilion displayed the Czech Coat of Arms, with the motto Pravda vítězí or “Truth prevails.”    More information

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Flag-raising ceremony at the Czech exhibit; on the pavilion’s opening day, its flags flew at half-staff.   More information

The New York Evening Journal described the opening ceremonies, noting the display of the crown jewels of old Bohemia.    More information

The former Minister of Czechoslovakia to Washington points out the entrance hall mosaic work.   More information

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New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia celebrates the opening of the Czech Pavilion.   More information

The former Czech Minister to Great Britain views a bust of his father, the founder of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.   More information

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Czech folk dancers in traditional dress, with a gas mask.   More information

A Czechoslovakian chef prepares "Prague goose."   More information

“Plenty of Pilsener” flowed in the tap room of the Old Prague Restaurant; dancers from the Czech Ballet appeared nightly.   More information

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"Another 'orphan' European nation" to return: the Commissioner of the Czech Pavilion signs on for the 1940 Fair.   More information

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The “Reichsprotektor for Bohemia and Moravia" lays claim to garnet jewelry meant for display in the Czech Pavilion.   More information

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War and the Czech Pavilion

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Building a "Monument to a Murdered Republic"

"Now an Orphan"

A "Shrine for Democracy"

The Pavilion Opens: "Truth Prevails!"

"Made in Free Czecho-Slovakia"

Return of an "Orphan" European Nation?

The building of the Czechoslovakia Pavilion at the World’s Fair proceeded amidst political uncertainty and intense negotiations; the fate of the country hung in the balance as Fair planning progressed. Intimations of the unfolding conflict in Europe can be found in the files, correspondence, and photographs related to the status of the pavilion and of Czechoslovakia itself.
Throughout 1938, Czechoslovakia was under threat from Nazi Germany to cede its western border areas, known as the Sudetenland. In September, the Munich Pact — agreed to by Britain, France, Italy, and Nazi Germany — guaranteed its dismemberment. But even as the nation faced annexation and occupation by Hitler, construction continued on the Czech Pavilion, which would grow in symbolic importance as a “monument to a murdered republic.”
By the time the Fair opened on April 30, 1939, independent Czechoslovakia was no more. But the Czech Pavilion stood, with its emblazoned message: “After the tempest of wrath has passed the rule of thy country will return to thee O Czech people.”
“This Pavilion,” said Czech President Edvard Beneš, “is the free and independent Czechoslovakia of the near past, and the free and independent Czechoslovakia of the near future.”

By 1939, the total German occupation of Czechoslovakia had become inevitable. On March 16, 1939, Hitler’s armies were in Prague. The next day, the United States State and Treasury departments announced that the U.S. was “constrained by force” to regard the provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia of Czechoslovakia “as now being under the de facto administration of the German authorities.” Hitler called the Czech lands the “Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia.”
“The World’s Fair now has a contract with a country that no longer exists,” said The New York Times. Those at the Fair were left wondering what to do with the nearly-completed building and the hundreds of thousands of dollars Czechoslovakia had invested in its pavilion, plans for which had already been “radically revised” with less floor space at half the cost.

With the Czech Pavilion already largely built, calls came from all walks of life urging that plans proceed for the building to stand as a “monument to a murdered republic" … a “shrine for democracy” … a "monument to the memory of Czecho-Slovakia” … even if left unfinished.
New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia denounced the “betrayal” of Czechoslovakia. “The Czecho-Slovak building,” said the Mayor’s executive secretary, “should remain unfinished as a silent monument to the tragedy of the Czecho-Slovak Republic. That will be a much more stirring message than to complete the building. It was initiated by a republic and not by the present totalitarian rulers.” This, wrote a woman named Alice Gray, would “show to visitors from all over the world the sorrow and sympathy of New York for a brave little country which can have no share in 'The World of Tomorrow.'"

The Czech Pavilion opened on May 31, 1939 with a 15-gun salute and Czechoslovakia President Edvard Beneš making the dedicatory address: “The Czecho-Slovak nation ... proud and dignified in its temporary distress, sends to you — to the great American people — its cordial greetings and its profound and sincere thanks for your kind hospitality, unforgettable for us in the face of the conditions under which we are forced to live today.
“The time seems dark for us and for the fate of all small nations in Europe. But thanks to this great land of freedom and its democratic government, we Czechs, Slovaks, and Carpatho-Russians still can show to the world how a humble yet free and democratic people can work — and why that people will never die....
“On the one side, we see in this pavilion the results of a free and democratic regime. On the other hand, we see the conditions of a nation under the rule of brute force. It is not necessary to make any other comment.”
Beneš expressed thanks “to the American people and to its government which refused to recognize the occupation by military force of the Republics of Czecho-Slovakia,” to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, to the World’s Fair Administration, and to “all our friends who contributed in various ways, materially and morally.”
In closing, Beneš stated, “We believe that a nation which knows how to create — as seen in this pavilion — a nation which continues to work and to fight so ardently for the survival of its spirit in its democratic traditions — we believe that such a nation cannot die.”
“Our national life,” he said, is based “on eternal moral principles, the principle of which is displayed in the coat of arms of the free Czecho-Slovak Republic. It reads, ‘Truth prevails!’”

The Czech Pavilion drew politicians, dance audiences, food lovers, and more. “All you see around you,” said President Edvard Beneš at the opening, “was made in free Czecho-Slovakia. We wish to show to the millions of visitors to this Word’s Fair the fruitful and creative effort of the Czechs, Slovaks, and Carpatho-Russians — although recent events have made it practically impossible to do everything that was planned during the period of our free existence. One can compare these achievements with the news which we receive daily from the occupied territory.”

By the end of the first season of the Fair, World War II had begun, with Germany's air and land forces having invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and Britain and France declaring war on Germany two days later.
Despite a contract having been signed to renew the participation of the “orphan nation” at the Fair, the Czech Pavilion did not re-open for a second season in 1940.
Czech President Edvard Beneš soon created a provisional government-in-exile in Great Britain.

 

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