The German Bohemia Province

by Lubor Kunc

Revised version of September 2000, first time published in the Czechoslovak Specialist No. 4/ 1999

 

český obsah:

Tento text se zabývá historickými i poštovními aspekty existence německé provincie “Deutschböhmnen” (Německé Čechy) vzniklé v severních a západních Čechách v roce 1918 stejně jako situaci vzniklé po její porážce.

 

The German Bohemia Province (in German called Provinz Deutschböhmen) was located in part of Northern and Western Bohemia near the German borders. The most important places belonging to the Province were: Liberec (Reichenberg) , Ústí/Labem (Aussig) , Teplice (Teplitz-Schönau) , Duchcov (Dux) , Cheb (Eger) , Mariánské Lázne (Marienbad) , Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) , Jablonec/Nisou (Gablonz a.d. Neisse) , Litomerice (Leitmeritz) , Most (Brüx) , Žatec (Saaz) . The existence of The German Bohemia Province lasted only 3 months from Oct. 27 to Dec. 27, 1918. Its history is as follows:

However the area was a part of Bohemian Kingdom for many hundred years, majority of people living in this area was German origin. During WWI the German population of the area supported Austria and its emperor in collaboration with Germany and common fighting with France, United Kingdom, Russia and USA.

In October 1918 all people knew that Austria and Germany will lose the WWI, but they were afraid of situation after lost war. When on October 14 Czech inhabitants of whole Bohemia took part in general strike and in few villages was declared the independence of Bohemia, the fear of German people was bigger than any time before. The last Austrian emperor Charles I. tried to calm the situation by Federalist Act issued on Oct. 16, but in this Act the area was separated of Bohemia, but this fact incised the Czech population.

On October 21 was held a Congress of German deputies of Austria. The congress decided to join all areas with German inhabitants in whole Austrian part of the Monarchy in one state, which had to join Germany after war. On Oct. 27 the area of Cheb (Eger) declared its independence of Bohemia . The deputies of Czech population (Národní výbor) declared independence of Austrian Monarchy in Prague on next day.

On Oct. 29 the German deputies in Vienna declared formation of the state of German inhabitants of Austrian Monarchy. This new state consisted of areas with German population of whole Monarchy. In Bohemia and Moravia existed four areas declaring their affiliation to the new state : The German Bohemia Province, The Böhmerwaldgau Province, The German Southern Moravia Province and The Sudetenland .

The first head of Government of The German Bohemia Province was Mr. R. Pacher, Member of Parliament of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. On November 1, 1918 he was relieved by Mr. Selinger. The capital of the Province was Liberec (Reichenberg). The town was seat of Parliament as well as Government of The German Bohemia Province .

On Nov. 12 the Government of the Province asked U.S. President Wilson to support the self-determination of German population of Bohemia . The answer was negative, because United States, France, Italy and United Kingdom declared that all German areas in Bohemia and Moravia have to become a part of Czechoslovakia.

The Czechoslovak Government had never recognized independence of German provinces. Late in November 1918 the Czechoslovak army started occupation of the area of The German Bohemia Province by occupation of Most (on Nov. 29). During December 1918 the Czechoslovak units occupied whole area of the Province, probably the last town occupied by Czechoslovak army was Litomerice on Dec. 27, 1918. The Province had own army called “Volkswehr“, the Czechoslovak Government used the legionary units from Italy and Czech volunteers.

Thanks to very bad economic situation caused by war and hunger rebellions in the Province there are known examples, when German municipal authorities asked Czechoslovak army to occupy their towns, e.g. Ústí / Labem. A proof of poor situation are the stopgap bank notes (Notgeld) issued by City Hall of Liberec on October 30, 1918 thanks to lack of the legal tenders Similar stopgap bank notes were issued in another towns of The German Bohemia Province as well.

On December 11, 1918 the Government of The German Bohemia Province left Liberec for Germany (Zittau and Dresden) and later for Austria (Vienna), however the town was occupied by Czechoslovak units on December 16. The final stop of “independent existence“ of all four German provinces of Bohemia and Moravia was made by Peace Treaties between Czechoslovakia and Germany (signed on July 28, 1919) and between Czechoslovakia and Austria (signed on September 10, 1919). Both Peace Treaties declared that the areas belong to the Czechoslovak Republic. On other hand the Czechoslovak Government granted a pardon for all activities aimed against Czechoslovak interests. Unfortunately, the standstill between Czech and German population lasted only until 1938, when the area (but not only this one) was annexed by Germany. But this is another story.

The marks of above history are possible to find in postal operation, too . I have found following philatelic material showing the situation in the The German Bohemia Province :

1/ A part of parcel dispatch note. The parcel was sent from Karthaus in Tirol (today in Austria) on Oct. 24, 1918 to prisoner of wars´s camp located in Duchcov. The parcel arrived to Duchcov on Oct. 28, 1918. However on this day the independence of Bohemia was declared, the cancel is no Czechoslovak first day cancel, because the area was not under care of any Czechoslovak authority. The parcel was one of the last parcels arriving the camp, because the camp was dissolved on Oct. 28 or Oct. 29 and the prisoners (Russian and Italian soldiers) were released. Some of the prisoners took part in Czech mass meeting supporting the independence of Bohemia held in Duchcov on Oct. 29.

 

2/ Mixed franking of Austrian postage due stamps used on a settlement sheet in post office Litomerice 1 on Nov. 9, 1918.

3/ A money order sent to Liberec (Reichenberg) arriving on Dec. 11, 1918 , when the Government of The German Bohemia Province moved from Liberec to Germany.

4/ Austrian stamps cancelled in Lovosice on Dec. 18, 1918. At the moment the town was one of the last places belonging to The German Bohemia Province, it was occupied together with Litomerice at the end of December.

5/ In the area of The German Bohemia Province were only the Austrian stamps valid. Also the places occupied by Czechoslovak units used the Austrian stamps - I can prove it by an Austrian postal card Charles I. upfranked with Austrian express stamp (but here used as definative stamp) sent from Most on Dec.13, 1918 , that means only 14 days after Czech occupation of the town .

Thanks to the very limited quantity of existing letters and cards it not possible to say, when were the first Czechoslovak stamps “Hradčany“ used in this area. I know only two cards coming from the area franked with the Hradcany stamps - one card was mailed in Most on Dec.29, the another card was sent from Žatec on Dec. 31, 1918. It seems that some of the postal offices got the Hradcany stamps in face values 5 Hellers (light green) and 10 Hellers (red) in December 1918, but I am sure that the majority of the post offices got the stamps in January 1919 (6) .

7/ A money order with mixed Czechoslovak-Austrian franking sent from Kadan (Kaaden) to Kraslice in February 1919.

8/ The Austrian stamps were valid in this area as well as in whole Czechoslovakia until Feb. 28, 1919. From Feb. 26 to March 9, 1919 the monetary reform replacing Austrian currency with the Czechoslovak one proceeded - I saw a part of money order sent on Feb. 25 (a day before monetary reform) from the post office Cheb 1 to the post office Cheb 2. Thanks to the reform it took 4 days to transfer the money (on the back there is a cancel dated Feb. 28, 1919).

9/ The Austrian postal stationery remained valid until Oct. 14, 1919 (in this area as well as in whole Czechoslovakia). Sometimes you can find them - as I found an Austrian letter card Charles I. upfranked with Hradcany stamp sent from Bor (Haid) on April 22, 1919.

10/ An interesting part of history of The German Bohemia Province is its connection to the areas non-belonging to the Province. While the military units of both sides fighted, the postal connections remained observed. A nice example is the business post card addressed to Teplice mailed in Pieštany (Postyén) on October 30, 1918. On this day the Slovak deputies declared Slovak independence of Hungary and expressed the wish to create a common state with Czechs, so this card relates not only to the German Bohemia’s history.

 

The open question remains, who managed the postal operations in area of The German Bohemia Province. The head of all post offices in whole Bohemia was the Directorship for Post and Telegraphic Offices in Bohemia located in Prague (“Ředitelství pošt a telegrafů v Čechách“). The organization tried to manage also the postal operation in the area, but there is question, if it worked.

11/ A service postal card free of any postage (German - Czech version) sent by the above mentioned Directorship (with a big cancel without German text and Austrian Eagle) to the postal office Litomerice 1 in November 1918, but at this moment Litomerice was a part of The German Bohemia Province, so the Directorship’s influence was limited.

12/ Similar card (German version) sent by the postmaster of Dolina (Dörnsdorf) to the Postal Directorship in Ústí / Labem (Aussig). This Directorship was the head of post offices in Northern Bohemia and it tried to become the alternative head of postal operations in whole Province. The letters “D.Ö.“ mean word “Deutschösterreichische“ , in English “German Austrian“. The German Austria was the name of Austria at the time. It seems that some postmasters accepted influence of the Directorship in Ústí / Labem and another accepted the Directorship in Prague.

 

Very interesting (and expensive) part of postal history of the area after end of the existence of the Province are the counterfeit stamps used to defraud the post offices . We know following counterfeit stamps from 1919 - 1921 :

I. Hradčany issue :

Hradčany stamps used in Vejprty (Weipert) - 25 Hellers blue

Hradčany stamps used in Vejprty (Weipert) - 100 Hellers brown

Hradčany stamps used in Vejprty (Weipert) - 200 Hellers ultramarine

Hradčany stamps used in Vejprty (Weipert) - 300 Hellers green

Hradčany stamps used in Ústí/Labem 1 (Aussig 1) - 20 Hellers green

Hradčany stamps used in Liberec (Reichenberg) - 100 Hellers brown

II. Chainbreaker issue :

Chainbreaker stamp used in Most (Brüx) and Vejprty (Weipert) - 50 Hellers green

Chainbreaker stamp used in Teplice (Teplitz-Schönau) - 60 Hellers blue

Chainbreaker stamp used in Cheb (Eger) - 60 Hellers blue

 

The counterfeit Hradcany stamps were printed with extensive probability in Germany and smuggled to Czechoslovakia. We don’t know, where were the Chainbreaker stamps printed, but it is possible, that also in Germany. Unfortunately, the “authors“ of all above counterfeit stamps have never been discovered, but it is clear, that they had connections to the employees of the Czechoslovak Postal Administration , who helped them with distribution of the counterfeit stamps. The purpose of this activity was probably to harm the Czechoslovak State .

Another "philatelic" material relating to the German Bohemia Province is the Hradcany stamps with overprint "Deutschböhmen". There are known various Hradčany stamps with the overprint, but without clear postal cancel, only very small part of the each stamp with the overprint has been canceled (usually corners). I believe, they were not issued in the time, when German Bohemia Province existed, I can support this my idea with the fact, that the first Hradčany stamps were issued on December 18, 1918 and on the day it was possible to buy them in few post offices in Prague only. First time at end of December the Hradčany stamps were delivered to postal offices under control of Czechoslovak authorities outside of Prague If we pay our attention to the fact, that the area of the Province was fully occupied by Czechoslovak military units until end of December, we can deduce, that at the moment the Hradčany stamps were available in the German Bohemia Province, the Province was no more in existence. In my opinion the stamps are forged to defraud the Collectors.

Very interesting, but infrequent are entires coming from the province territory showing military operations of that time. We can split such covers into two groups:

  1. covers illustrating Austro-Hungarian Army and its field post of WWI ; the covers could be created only in short period October 29 – November 3, 1918 (that means in period starting with foundation of the Province and finishing with closing of Austro-Hungarian field post system of WWI) ;
  2. covers illustrating fighting between German military unit (Volkswehr) and Czechoslovak Army, they come from period Nov. 29 – Dec. 31, 1918 (from begin of Czechoslovak expedition against Most and finishing with occupation of all the territory by Czechoslovak military units).

 To make you more familiar with the military entires, I am displaying following three cards :

13/ The card sent from Vejprty (Weipert) on Nov. 2, 1918 to Austrian Field Post Office No. 494 .

 

14/ The postal card was sent on October 31, 1918 from Litomerice (Leitmeritz) by a soldier returning from WWI. Litomerice town was famous by sapper troops being situated in the military quarters close to railway station. He writes in his message, that he wass back and he believed, it took not long time to go home, but he was not sure, when it is possible. Both of the cards illustrate first group of Deutschböhmen military cards.

 

15/ The last card belongs to second group. It has been sent by a member of Czechoslovak Army (Hradec Kralove Infantry Regiment) from Ceska Lipa (Böhm. Leipa) on Dec. 21, 1918. The town Ceska Lipa was liberated by Czechs on Dec. 4, 1918 and since the date the Czechoslovak troops were present in the town.

 

At the end of this article I would like to express my thanks to employees of Historical Research Institute of Czech Army as well as of Museum of Duchcov for their important assistance.

 

Resources:

- Information from Historical Research Institute of Czech Army, Prague

- Information from Museum of Duchcov, Duchcov

- Book “Ceskoslovenské poštovní známky a jejich padelky 1918 - 1939“ by Jan Karásek

- Various articles in journals FILATELIE and Mladý filatelista

 

 

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