Czech Artists who Fled to France during the Second World War and their Cultural Resistance in Paris (summary)

Anna Pravdová (PDF)

The article focuses on the cultural relations between the Czechs and the French during the Second World War. Czech artists fled to France after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1938 to 1945. Many Czech artists were actively involved in cultural activities that sought to bring the tragic fate of their homeland to the attention of the world public. Cartoonist and writer Adolf Hoffmeister was forced to flee the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to Paris because of his antifascist views. He arrived in Paris in the spring of 1939. Hoffmeister was tasked with setting up a House of Czechoslovak Culture in the French capital. The latter became a meeting point for the Czech cultural elite, and the plans for activities that emerged here included various cultural events and propaganda actions.

In August 1939, permanent residents settled in the Czechoslovak House. However, French police burst in, based on the mistaken impression that the Czechoslovak House was the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party in exile. They searched the house and took all its residents into custody. They were sentenced to six months in prison on charges of espionage. The works of the arrested artists convey the trauma of imprisonment.

As soon as France entered the war, a group of Czech artists led by the painter František Matoušek (1901–1961) was established in Paris. When the Germans occupied France, some Czech artists managed to escape to England, while others remained in France and joined the French resistance.

This period of Franco-Czech relations provides evidence, among other things, that Czech artists, who had taken over much from the French in the 1920s and 1930s, willingly and actively joined the French struggle against the invaders during the war, or enlisted in the Czechoslovak army, which was being formed in France and took part in the Resistance.

Keywords: occupation, France, prison, resistance, Nazi