The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/Deputy Klofac's Prison Memoirs
Deputy Klofac’s Prison Memoirs.
Vaclav Klofac, leader of the Czech National Socialist party, was arrested shortly after the outbreak of the war and kept in military prison as a “preventive” measure until summer of 1917. He writes in the “Narodni Politika” of his experiences in prison. The part translated here deals with the rule of the sergeant in Austrian military prisons.
A civilian finds it difficult to get accustomed to military discipline. He finds it still more difficult to get used to the discipline of military prisons. For it is not always a matter of discipline, but sometimes of chicanery, torture, arbitrary acts of men with little intelligence and less conscience. In Prague a prison is a prison; the military regime impresses upon the inmates its evil sides, but at that the regime there is not altogether devoid of humaneness and justice. But it’s very different in Vienna.
The entire world occupies itself with problems of the greatest importance. And we, the prisoners, were concerned all that time with trifles, with insignificant details which assume a tremendous importance for the man in jail. You outside talked about Lloyd George, Bethmann-Hollweg, Sazonov, Tisza, Wilson; while we thought continually about “adjunct” Papritz. A jail is a little world in itself, an island in the middle of an ocean, governed by regulations and principles peculiar to itself and terrible to untamed spirits. It is a society without contact with the outside world and consequently lacking any great thoughts. The daily life in the prison brings little change or novelty. What it does bring are matters purely personal and insignificant. They have to do with this or that “superior”, with this prisoner or that “preventively” detained citizen. Under other circumstances, if we had our liberty, such matters would not claim our attention for a minute. But in our jail there was nothing else for the mind to get hold of. A man deprived of liberty and the exercise of free will becomes very touchy. The least act of good will gives a hundred fold pleasure; any humiliation or roughness increases our suffering.
The regulations, it is true, enjoin upon the administrative officials and the guards the duty of taking into account the individual character of each prisoner. In the new military penal code it is even ordered that “preventive”” prisoners should enjoy all possible comfort and that their honor and their social position should be taken into consideration. But what good are regulations in these recent years? The Slav political prisoners detained in Vienna as possibly dangerous persons can tell at great length, how these regulations were being violated intentionally out of pure malevolence. It was the essence of the famous system of Papritz that these political prisoners against whom no charge was lodged should be picked out for special humiliation, should be convinced of their absolute unimportance, should be taught that any guard may with impunity make them suffer and poison their life.
Of course, there are exceptions; there are even honest and good men. We like to remember the good-hearted German Beschliesser or turnkeys. But in the end these men had to suffer for their honesty. The man who really ruled the prison was not the lieutenant-colonel nor even the chief inspector, Dal’Aiglio, a hardened and unfeeling man. In some strange fashion administrative “adjunct” Papritz gathered all power into his own hands. Whenever a guard or jailer showed any regard for our feel- ings, the all-powerful influence of Papritz made itself felt at once. He was a lucky man who was not promptly sent away, for Mr. Papritz, who managed to keep away from the front, was able as a rule to have the good-natured guards ordered to join their depot and thence to the battlefields.
We, who spent a long time in the military prison of Vienna, can best appreciate the joke coupled with the name of Hindenburg. They say that when Hindenburg got all his orders and distinctions, he was asked whether he desired anything else. Yes, said Hindenburg, to be an Austrian sergeant. We know from our experience in the Vienna prison what Feldwebelwirtschaft (Sergeant regime) implies. Ordinances, recommendations, regulations, restrictions, even if they come from the ministry of war, have not a particle of validity. Adjunct Papritz does not permit this, or he requires that, and there you are. All that uncontrolled and arbitrary power of an adjunct has many times been experienced by me. In April I beseeched deputy Staněk to intervene for me with the commander of the prison, Lieutenant-Colonel Werner, against Papritz. The measure of his wrongs was full and over-flowing. The colonel was furious. He promised to put an end to different matters, but that same night he had a stroke of apoplexy and fell dead. Mr. Papritz’s rule went on. At the end of June I preferred charges against him in a most energetic manner. But the authorities apparently placed much more confidence in the protestations and gestures of Mr. Papritz.
An execrable name. It is written indelibly with pain into the records of Czech martyrdom in Vienna. Perhaps today, when the situation is different, Papritz would act differently; perhaps he may realize that it is a serious crime to outrage human dignity, which ought to survive the loss of liberty; perhaps he may realize that it would have been a noble thing to use his opportunity to do good even within the prison walls. But it is too late. What is past, cannot be changed. It is impossible to bring back to life those whom the regime of Papritz drove to suicide.
The arbitrariness of that person knew no limits. A prisoner needed clothing or underwear. Mr. Papritz simply refused to bother about it. Men of a good social position who had been roughly and without warning torn away from their families were obliged to wear the same shirt for weeks. It was the same with additions to the meager prison fare. Prisoners from Vienna got theirs. But whatever came by mail, Mr. Papritz sent resolutely back. The relatives bought at great cost some meat, pastry, tobacco. But the men who looked for the present with so much hope, who needed this food badly, because they were continually hungry, never received it. Most of the eatables sent back were spoiled. But what did a man like Papritz care about it? He made the Czech political prisoners feel his power. If repeated protests brought a certain reform of abuses, in a few days the old order of things was back in full force. Papritz delighted in misery. His name will always be pronounced with disgust by those who have lived in the military prison of Vienna. It is what it deserves.
Cyril Dušek, editor of the “Čas”, was seriously ill. It was difficult to get in prison the necessary medicines. His wife forwarded them therefore to the chief doctor of the prison, stating for whom they were intended. The doctor sent the medicines to our sick friend. Papritz had no business to concern himself in any way about this matter. Nevertheless he took it upon himself to send the medicines back. No appeal was possible. Mr. Papritz, a man without heart and without conscience, was the supreme authority for all the unfortunate men detained in the military prison of Vienna.