The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/The Czecho-Slovaks

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3013258The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 6 — The Czecho-Slovaks1917Lewis Bernstein Namier

The Czecho-Slovaks[1].

On every front to which Czech soldiers are sent the Austrian generals fully understand what it means when a nation desires to break down the walls of its jail. From the very first day of the war it was clear that the Czech soldiers would not fight for the cause of the Germans and the Magyars against their friends—the nations of the Entente. They were therefore put at once under careful "observation" at the front as well as behind the lines. The watch increased in severity with every month of the war. “This is not a war secret”, said Prince Ludwig Windischgratz in the Hungarian Parliament on August 28th, 1916, “and the whole world sees it, how the service battalions are composed—that in every Czech service battalion at least 40 per cent of Magyar and German troops are included.”

Yet all these measures could not prevent the Czech soldiers from carrying out their purpose. Though carefully watched by their German and Magyar hangmen they continued individually and in groups, and even in regiments, to pass over to the side which, in the Austrian terminology, is that of the enemy, but to the Czechs is that of their liberators. In September, 1914, the 8th Regiment of the Czech Landwehr when ordered to march to the Russian front, refused obedience, and attacked its German officers. Thereupon the 75th German Regiment was sent against it, and the Czechs had to pay the penalty of their revolt. The 36th Regiment, recruited from the district of Mlada Boleslav, also mutinied whilst still in Bohemia, and was decimated by the Germans and Magyars. More effective was, however, the action of the Czechs at the front. The fact that several Czech regiments crossed over to the Serbian side contributed much to the ignominious Austrian defeat in Serbia in the closing months of 1914. Thus, e. g., the 102nd Regiment, recruited from Benešov, crossed over in a body to the Serbians and entered Nish with its band playing the Serbian national hymn. Similar incidents occurred also at the Russian front. Some regiments, as for instance, the 88th, from Brno, were found out when attempting to surrender to their friends, and were massacred by the German and Magyar troops; others, however, like the 35th Regiment from the town of Pilsen and the 28th Regiment from Prague succeeded in crossing over to the Russian side. Similarly, of the 11th Regiment, from Pisek, all but two companies joined the Russians.

The Czechs who surrendered to the Serbs, Russians, or Italians were soon found fighting again—but this time on the side of their friends. The services rendered by them, especially to Serbia during the two Austrian invasions, and to Russia during the Galician campaign of 1916, can hardly be exaggerated. With their thorough knowledge of the Austrian army, and in view of the very high level of their education, they form everywhere a most valuable element in the intelligence service. For obvious reasons the full story of their deeds cannot be told as yet, especially no cases of individual bravery or achievements can be mentioned. But the mere fact of men going through all the dangers of desertion at the front and then entering the ranks of the “enemy” army, with the knowledge that, if taken prisoners, they would be shot out of hand, is a sufficient test of the ardour with which the Czechs desire their liberation and fight for it. It is not the case of soi-disant aristocrats knocking about the capitals of Europe and America with big phrases on their lips about the greatness of their nation and the claims which it has on the world. Less has been heard about the Czechs during the war than their cause deserves. For big talking does not suit their nature. It was not by political intrigues or by boundless self-advertising, but by war-work performed in every allied country in which they found themselves, and by true heroism shown on every front to which they were led, that the Czechs have been working for the future of their nation.

Of the Czechs who at the outbreak of the war found themselves on neutral ground or in the States of the Entente, or who were able to escape from Austria afterwards, almost every man of military age is doing his duty. There are Czechs fighting in the French army—they have specially distinguished themselves on the Somme in the Foreign Legion. There are Czechs serving in the British army—some of them have been put into the artillery, which in itself is the greatest sign of confidence that can be shown to men who nominally are “alien enemies.” All over the world the Czechs have, by all means at their disposal, fought and counteracted the plots and rancours of their Magyar and German enemies. If at the end of this war the Czecho-Slovak nation attains its liberty and an open road to a new greatness and glory, no one will be able to say that this comes to them as a gift and that they had not done enough to deserve it. They are working and fighting in the best spirit of a modern democracy, without narrow calculation of sacrifice and immediate reward. This must be said about the Czechs, that they take always and everywhere the widest view of the interests of the Entente, and, living in the very centre of “Mittel-Europa,” in the very depths of the German-Magyar jail, they do not mind on which front they fight and in conjunction with which Power. They know that the battle-front is one and that victory and defeat will be common to all. Nor does any other nation bear a more signal testimony to the belief in the power and final victory of the Entente. Of all the nations to be liberated the Czechs are the most distant, the most deeply engulfed in “Mittel-Europa,” and yet they do not doubt that for them also the hour of liberation will come in this war. They firmly believe, as the Austrian officials put it in their indictment of Dr. Kramarzh, that theirs will be a glorious lot when the nation “rises out of darkness and humiliation to new life,” and that “after the catastrophe to which this war must lead, the Czech nation will be able to develop its strength, unity, and organization.”

  1. This article is a part of the pamphlet by Lewis B. Namier, bearing the above title. It is particularly interesting in view of the recent admission of Czech revolt by the Austrian minister of war.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1960, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 63 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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