Copyright
Vladimír Nosek.

Independent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty online

. (page 5 of 13)
Online LibraryVladimír NosekIndependent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty → online text (page 5 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


starving of the prisoners. All rights of the prisoners were suspended and
they depended entirely on the will of the commander: many of these
political prisoners were imprisoned together with ordinary murderers; they
were not allowed to read books or to write letters; their families were not
permitted to visit them or even to send them provisions from home, so they
starved in prison. Such cruel treatment did not affect only political
prisoners but even people on remand, and it was nothing extraordinary for
them to be imprisoned for years on remand only. The deputies asked whether
the authorities wanted these prisoners to die from starvation.

The most interesting document is the interpellation of deputies _Stanek,
Tobolka and Co_. on the persecutions against the Czech nation during the
war. The interpellation has been published as a book of 200 pages which has
been prohibited by Austria to be sent abroad, but a copy of which we have
nevertheless been able to secure. The following are short extracts from
the volume:


The Behaviour of the Austrian Government towards the Czech Nation during
the War


"YOUR EXCELLENCY, - At a time when it proved impossible to continue to
rule in an absolute way in this empire and when after more than three
years the Reichsrat is sitting again, we address to you the following
interpellation in order to call your attention to the persecutions
which during the past three years have been perpetrated on our nation,
and to demand emphatically that these persecutions shall be
discontinued. They were not done unintentionally or accidentally, but,
as will be shown from the following survey, this violence was committed
deliberately and systematically by the Austrian Government on our
nation, which took the abominable view that the present war is the most
suitable period for realising the plans and aims of German centralism
in the Habsburg Monarchy by curing the Czechs forever of all
hallucinations about equality among nations, and about the glorious
past of Bohemia and her relationship with other Slav nations. A general
attack was made upon the Czech nation during the critical situation
created by the war: our participation in civil service was curtailed,
German was made the official language of the state, the press was
muzzled, schools persecuted, the Sokol idea declared to be high
treason, men distinguished for service in the state arrested,
imprisoned, persecuted and sentenced to death, everything reminding the
population of the famous past of Bohemia removed, the ancient Czech
aspirations for political independence or even aims for a mere
reorganisation of the Habsburg Monarchy on a federal basis were not
allowed and were suppressed, even the name of the ancient kingdom of
Bohemia, which was the foundation stone to the Habsburg Monarchy in
1526, was to disappear for ever.

"The persecutions against our nation were very cruel indeed.

"In the first place, _Dr. Kramár_ was attacked as the veritable leader
of the Czech nation. In return for his valuable services for this state
and for his nation, in return for his endeavours to educate the Czech
nation towards realism in politics, he was recompensed by being
arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death, although a member of the
delegations and therefore enjoying immunity. He was not brought up
before the ordinary tribunal, but before a judge who was absolutely
ignorant of Czech or foreign politics, so that his condemnation might
be assured.

"The same fate also met his political friends, deputy Dr. Rasín and the
editor of _Národní Listy_, V. Cervinka.

"Incredible proceedings were taken against the deputy Klofác. Although
being a member of the delegations and therefore enjoying immunity, he
was arrested on September 7, 1914, and has been imprisoned ever since.
A charge was hurriedly prepared against him on May 24, 1917, that is
when the Reichsrat was to be opened. Both Dr. Kramár and Klofác were
prosecuted by the Vienna court-martial under the direction of Colonel
Gliwitzki and Dr. Preminger in such a way that no ordinary judge would
dare to act.

"The way in which the military tribunals treated the ordinary
uneducated people is apparent from the following examples:

"The tailor Smejkal in Vienna was sentenced to six months' hard labour
for saying, 'The government does not want to give us Czech schools in
Vienna.'

"For saying, 'I do not know whether the Emperor Francis Joseph was ever
crowned King of Bohemia or not,' a boy gardener named Tesar was
sentenced to six months' hard labour, which sentence was altered to
sixteen months by the High Court of Justice (the poor boy died in
prison).

"The shoemaker's assistant Hamouz, of Vienna, sixty-seven years of age,
ill and mentally stunted, served in his youth with the 28th Regiment.
He defended this regiment, therefore, by saying, 'It is a good
regiment.' He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

"Private Cepera from Moravia was sentenced to three years' hard labour
for saying, 'The German Kaiser is responsible for the war.'

"For saying that 'those of the 28th Regiment are our "boys,"' gunner
Purs, of Benatky, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. He was
sent in chains to the military prison in Möllersdorf.

"The wilfulness of military tribunals, culminating in many cases in
apparent hatred against everything that is Czech, is shown by the
following, out of many examples:

"The editor of _Ceské Slovo_, E. Spatny, of Prague, was arrested on
September 26, 1914, and interned in Prague, without being told the
reason. In March, 1915, he was transferred to the internment camp at
Göllersdorf, in Lower Austria. The Czechs interned there arranged on
July 5 a Hus anniversary at which the editor E. Spatny and Dr. Vrbenský
spoke about the life and importance of Hus. Being accused by a certain
fellow-prisoner, Davidovský, that they had been speaking against the
Germans and that 'the speakers expected deliverance by a certain state
but were disappointed,' they were transferred to the military prison in
Vienna, and charged with high treason according to Par. 58_c_. The
latter was discharged for want of proofs, but the editor Spatny was
sentenced to fourteen years' hard labour.

"The Sarajevo prisoners were not allowed to be visited by their
relatives in contravention of the orders of the official statutes D 6.
Out of five of those prisoners, three have already died, the fourth is
dying, and the last one, a student Cubulic, was allowed a visit after
two years when it became certain that the Reichsrat would meet.

"The extent to which starvation and inhuman treatment is raging in the
state prisons is best shown by the conditions prevailing in the prison
of Möllersdorf. In the years 1915-16, 61 prisoners died there out of
350 to 450 prisoners on the roll. Between January 1, 1917, and May,
1917, 101 prisoners were doomed to death. The majority belong to the
sixth category of prisoners. The thieves, criminals and impostors, if
they had served previously in the army, enjoy special treatment in
Möllersdorf prison. They wear civilian clothes, and are treated with
consideration and well fed. On the other hand, political prisoners,
especially those classed as second category, are dying from
ill-treatment and insufficient nourishment. The judge, auditor A.
König, famous for his arbitrary verdicts against the Czech people, was
a solicitor's clerk in civil life, and now recommends to his wealthy
defendants his Vienna lawyer friends as splendid specialists and
advocates in political matters. Thus, for instance, he forced Dr.
Glaser upon Mr. Kotik as the counsel. Kotik was sentenced to death by
König, and Glaser sent him a bill for 10,000 kronen (£400) for the
'successful defence.'

_The Persecutions of the Sokols_

"Terrible persecutions were inflicted on the Sokol Gymnastic
Association during the war. The sphere of the Sokols' activity does not
touch political affairs at all, being reserved to gymnastics and
spiritual education. Their activity was public, open to official
inquiries and supervision. But this did not save them from
persecutions. The first persecution was already committed in 1914 in
Moravia, when some branches of the Sokol Association were dissolved for
various reasons. Numerous societies were afterwards dissolved
throughout Bohemia and Moravia.

"_On November_ 23, 1915, _the Central Czech Sokol Association (Ceská
Obec Sokolska) was dissolved_ as the centre of the Czech Sokol
movement, which before the war kept up lively relations with foreign
countries and manifested brotherly feelings of sympathy towards Serbia
and Russia. It was alleged that the Central Sokol Association had had
relations with the American Sokol branches during the war through its
president, Dr. J. Scheiner, and conducted an active propaganda against
Austria. The alleged relations were founded on a communication of the
American branches to the president, Dr. Scheiner, asking him whether he
would be willing to distribute money collected in America to people in
Bohemia afflicted by the war. Dr. Scheiner was arrested and kept in
prison for two months.

"Very characteristic was the way in which the military authorities
treated the members of Sokol societies. In many cases soldiers,
especially recruits, were questioned whether they belonged to the Sokol
Association. The authorities searched for Sokol badges or membership
cards, and those who were found to have these in their possession were
severely punished. The members of the Sokol societies as long as they
were in the army were invariably subjected to ill-treatment and
persecution. They were transferred to do heavy work, and not
recommended for promotion, and in every way treated more brutally than
other soldiers. In the case of both civil and military trials, one of
the most important questions asked, was whether the accused belonged to
any Sokol society, and if the accused did belong to a society this
always went against him.

_Bohemian History_

"Every possible means was employed to wipe out the memory of important
events in Bohemian history. Not only were historical books (like
Lützow's _Bohemia_ and others) confiscated, but even scientific
lectures on John Hus and the Hussite movement were prohibited. The
metal memorial plate with the names of Bohemian lords executed in 1621
inscribed upon it was removed from the Town Hall, and that part of the
square which showed the spot on which they were executed was ordered to
be repaved.

"In order to destroy the idea that the Czechs are of Slav origin, any
use of red, blue and white colours was prohibited. Varnishes in these
colours were not allowed to be used. The street plates of pre-war times
had to be repainted in black and yellow. Newspaper posters, match-boxes
and other articles were not allowed to be sold or exhibited, if they
were painted in the Slav tricolours.

_The Suppression of Czech Literature_

"More than two hundred books published before the war were confiscated.
The tendency of this action was clear. The government wanted to destroy
the memory of the glorious past of Bohemia, of John Hus and the Hussite
movement, of the suffering of the Czech nation after the defeat of the
White Mountain, to restrict all progressive and liberal movements and
to kill the 'Sokol' idea, and further to destroy the consciousness that
Czechs and Slovaks are the same nation and belong to the great Slav
family. The apostles of this idea were proclaimed traitors, especially
Dr. Kramár, J.S. Machar and others. These persecutions cover a great
period before the war, and the following is a list of the books
suppressed (follows a list comprising eleven foolscap columns). The
government treated the Czech nation with special brutality. The
persecutions in Bohemia were opposed not only to the liberal ideas of
Czechs, but especially to their national feelings. The anxiety of the
censor for the safety of the monarchy often bordered on absurdity. The
word 'shocking' was deleted from a play, for instance, because it was
English. _Henry IV_. was not allowed to be played 'until we reach a
settlement with England,' and it was only when it was reported by the
Vienna and Berlin papers that the prohibition was withdrawn.

_Persecution of the Czech Press_

"The Czech press was persecuted in a peculiar manner. Its editors were
not allowed to receive papers from neutral countries and to express
their own opinions as regards the propaganda of the Czechs abroad.
Under threats of suppression of the journals and imprisonment of the
editors, the journals were obliged to print and publish articles
supplied to them by the police, without mentioning the source from
whence they came. The articles had to be put in in such a way that they
appeared as if they were the editors' views. The articles betrayed the
low intellectual level of the authors who lacked any knowledge of Czech
affairs. Such articles which the Czech journals were compelled to
publish were, for instance: 'In Foreign Pay,' published March 25, 1916;
'The Czechs in America against Masaryk's Agents,' published in all
Czech papers on April 8, 1916; on January 16, 1917, the article 'Our
Answer to the Quadruple Entente.'

"The Police Directorate ordered first that such articles should appear
on the same day in all papers and in the same wording, but recognising
the stupidity of such an action, they compelled only one journal to
publish them and the others had to 'quote' from them.

"Preventive censorship was established and a number of articles were
passed by the censor for publication in Czech papers only when proofs
were supplied that the articles had already appeared in some other
journal in Austria. _Independent articles or reports were not allowed
to be published_. The _Národní Listy_ was treated with special spite by
the censorship.

"_Almost ninety important journals were suppressed by the government_,
the majority of them without any apparent reason or justification.

_The Suppression of Czech School and National Literature_

"Words, sentences or whole paragraphs in school books were found
objectionable, since they were alleged to propagate Pan-Slavism and to
encourage in the pupils hostile feelings against Austria's allies.
According to the official ideas about Austrian patriotism, purely
educational paragraphs were considered as wanting in patriotic feeling;
not only literary but also historical paragraphs were 'corrected,' and
official advice was issued as to how to write handbooks on patriotic
lines on special subjects, as for instance on natural history, physics,
geometry, etc. The foundations of all knowledge to be supplied to the
pupils in the public schools had to reflect the spirit of the world
war.

"Numerous folk-songs with absolutely no political tendency in them were
confiscated, merely because they expressed the Czech national spirit.
All songs were suppressed which mentioned the word Slav - 'The Slav
Linden Tree' - the army or the Allies. Even if the publishers offered to
publish new editions without the objectionable songs they were not
allowed to do so, and were asked to put in more 'loyal songs' and to
replace melancholy songs with cheerful ones.

"In every secondary school a zealous library revision was started and
many books were removed, so that these libraries lost all their value
for the students. The Czech youth must not know the principal works
either of their own or foreign literature. Certain libraries had to be
deprived of some hundreds of books. All this happened at a time when
the discussions here and abroad were taking place about the importance
of raising the standard of knowledge of the educated classes.

"The opening of Czech minority schools has been postponed since the
beginning of 1914. Consequently the Czech School Society must keep them
up and pay the expenses in connection with them, amounting to a loss of
more than two million kronen up till now. On the other hand, many
German schools have been established in Bohemia.

"The steps which are being taken against Czech schools in Lower
Austria, especially in Vienna, are not only contrary to the standing
laws but also to the decisions of the ministry concerned.

"We conclude by asking:

"Are the above facts of systematic persecution of the Czech nation
during the war known to your Excellency?

"Is your Excellency prepared to investigate them thoroughly?

"Is your Excellency prepared to stop the persecution of the Czech
nation and the wrongs suffered by us through these proceedings?

"_In Vienna, June_ 6, 1917."

[Footnote 1: For the full text of this document see Dr. Benes' _Bohemia's
Case for Independence_.]



V

HOW THE CZECHO-SLOVAKS AT HOME ASSISTED THE ALLIES

From the foregoing chapters it is clear that by continuous misrule and by
the attempt to reduce the Czecho-Slovak nation to impotence through
terrorism and extermination during this war, the Habsburgs have created a
gulf between themselves and their Czecho-Slovak subjects which can never
again be bridged over. Realising this, and seeing that since Austria has
voluntarily sold herself to Berlin their only hope for a better future lies
in the destruction of the political system called Austria-Hungary, the
Czecho-Slovaks have from the beginning staked their all on the victory of
the Entente, towards which they have contributed with all possible means at
their disposal.

1. Since they could not think of revolting, the Czecho-Slovaks at home
tried to paralyse the power of Austria in every way. Not only individuals
but also Czech banks and other institutions refused to subscribe to the war
loans. Their newspapers published official reports with reluctance, and
between the lines laid stress on news unfavourable to Austria so as to keep
up the spirit of the people. Czech peasants refused to give up provisions,
and thus the Czechs, who already before the war boycotted German goods,
accelerated the present economic and financial ruin of Austria.

2. Politically, too, they contributed to the internal confusion of the Dual
Monarchy, and to-day their opposition forms a real menace to the existence
of Austria. Czech political leaders unanimously refused to sign any
declaration of loyalty to Austria, and they never issued a single protest
against Professor Masaryk and his political and military action abroad. On
several occasions they even publicly expressed their sympathies and
approval of this action. For nearly three years they prevented the opening
of the Austrian Parliament which would have been to their prejudice. Only
after the Russian Revolution, when Austria began to totter and her rulers
were apprehensive lest events in Russia should have a repercussion in the
Dual Monarchy, did the Czechs decide to speak out and exerted pressure to
bring about the opening of the Reichsrat, where they boldly declared their
programme, revealed Austria's rule of terror during the first three years
of war, and by their firm opposition, which they by and by induced the
Poles and Yugoslavs to imitate, they brought about a permanent political
deadlock, menacing Austria's very existence internally and weakening her
resistance externally.

3. But the most important assistance the Czechs rendered to the Allies was
their refusal to fight for Austria.

Out of 70,000 prisoners taken by Serbia during the first months of the war,
35,000 were Czechs. Of these, 24,000 perished during the Serbian retreat,
and 8000 died of typhoid fever and cholera at Asinara. The remaining 3000
were transferred to France and voluntarily joined the Czecho-Slovak army.

Over 300,000 Czecho-Slovaks surrendered voluntarily to Russia whom they
regarded as their liberator. Unfortunately the old régime in Russia did not
always show much understanding of their aspirations. They were scattered
over Siberia, cut off from the outer world, and often abandoned to the
ill-treatment of German and Magyar officers. It is estimated that over
thirty thousand of them perished from starvation. It was only after great
efforts, after the Russian Revolution, and especially when Professor
Masaryk himself went to Russia, that the Czecho-Slovak National Council
succeeded in organising a great part of them into an army. Finally, when
Austria desired to strike a death-blow at Italy in 1918, and began again to
employ Slav troops, she failed again, and this failure was once more to a
large extent caused by the disaffection of her Slav troops, as is proved by
the Austrian official statements. Indeed, whenever Austria relied solely on
her own troops she was always beaten, even by the "contemptible" Serbians.
The Czechs and other Slavs have greatly contributed to these defeats by
their passive resistance. It was only the intervention of German troops
which saved Austria from an utter collapse in 1915, and which prevented the
Czechs from completing their aim of entirely disorganising the military
power of Austria. Slav regiments have since then been intermixed with
German and Magyar troops. The Slavs receive their ammunition only at the
front, where they are placed in the foremost ranks with Germans or Magyars
behind them, so that they are exposed to a double fire if they attempt to
surrender. Nevertheless, up to 1916 some 350,000 Czechs out of a total of
600,000 in the Austrian army surrendered to the Allies.

4. From the very beginning of the war Czech soldiers showed their real
feelings. They were driven to fight against the Russians and Serbs who were
their brothers by race and their sincere and devoted friends. They were
driven to fight for that hated Austria which had trampled their liberties
underfoot for centuries past, and for a cause which they detested from the
bottom of their hearts. They were driven to fight in the interests of their
German and Magyar enemies against their Slav brothers and friends under
terrible circumstances.

In September, 1914, the 8th Czech Regiment refused to go to the front until
threatened by the German troops. The 11th Czech Regiment of Pisek refused
to march against Serbia and was decimated. The 36th Regiment revolted in
the barracks and was massacred by German troops. The 88th Regiment, which
made an unsuccessful attempt to surrender to Russia, was shot down by the
Magyar Honveds. A similar fate befell the 13th and 72nd Slovak Regiments.

On the other hand, many Czech troops succeeded in surrendering. The 35th
Regiment of Pilsen went over to the Russians in a body half-an-hour after
arriving at the front. Soon after, the 28th Regiment of Prague surrendered
_en masse_, having been "fetched" by the Czechs fighting on the Russian
side. Immediately afterwards the Austrian commander-in-chief issued an
order of the day in which he declared.

"On April 3, 1915, almost the whole of the 28th Regiment surrendered
without fighting to a single enemy battalion.... This disgraceful act
not only destroys the reputation of this regiment, but necessitates its
name being struck off the list of our army corps, until new deeds of
heroism retrieve its character. His Apostolic Majesty has accordingly
ordered the dissolution of this regiment, and the deposition of its
banners in the army museum."

And indeed "new deeds of heroism" did follow. A fresh battalion was founded
composed of Czech youths who were sent to the Isonzo front and exposed in a
dangerous position to deadly artillery fire. Almost the whole battalion was
thus unscrupulously wiped out. Only eighteen of them survived. This was
followed by a new imperial order saying that the disgrace of the 28th
Regiment was "atoned for" by the "sacrifice" of this regiment on
the Isonzo.

As regards Italy, over 20,000 Czechs surrendered voluntarily on the Italian


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryVladimír NosekIndependent Bohemia An Account of the Czecho-Slovak Struggle for Liberty → online text (page 5 of 13)