The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/From Austrian Secret Archives

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4418498The Czechoslovak Review, volume 3, no. 3 — From Austrian Secret Archives1919

From Austrian Secret Archives

Now that the war is over, secret documents are beginning to appear that shed much light on things only suspected or whispered, while the fighting went on. On December 14th the press bureau of the new German Austrian Republic published ten documents taken from the secret archives of the War Ministry in Vienna; a number of these papers have a special interest for the Czechoslovaks, for they describe the attitude of the Czech people in the early days of the war.

On November 26th, 1914, Archduke Frederic, commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian Army, addressed a note to the Austrian premier, Count Stuergkh, with reference to treasonable sentiments and acts in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. This document is of sufficient interest to be given in literal translation:

“From numerous reports of military commanders, from anonymous complaints and confidential communications I have received the impression that the military and patriotic feelings of several classes of Czech population of Bohemia and Moravia in these difficult times are not what one would desire and that Russophile currents make themselves felt here. A memorandum addressed by me to the minister of the interior on November 1st with reference to this matter under No. 9082 has not yet been answered. I am convinced that these conditions may be traced partly to the slow ordinary procedure before criminal courts in cases charging high treason or crimes against the military power of the state; it would be different, if the state administration would see to it that the state police supervising societies, meetings and the press, public corporations, as well as supervision of mails, would do their duty zealously. In the matter of criminal trials I am addressing a petition to His Majesty that he would place the courts of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia under the General Army Command and that he would most graciously order the introduction of field courtmartial procedure. I feel compelled to request your excellency most strongly that you would give your special attention to the above described conditions which already have an effect on our military power and may be of the very greatest importance; you are requested to call forth all the powers of the state to put a stop to the above described treasonable efforts. In any case it is necessary to extend special provisions, decreed on account of the war, to Bohemia and to that part of Moravia and Silesia which is not in the war zone. This refers to the ministerial decree of July 31st, relating to the possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives. The principal thing however, is to carry out the existing orders energetically and purposefully for the suppression of the above described evils. Persons who make themselves in any way suspicious or spread secretly discouraging reports in public places should be placed under observation or interned. The right of house search should be exercised against all who are suspected of hostility to the state with thoroughness and without any regard to political influence or to the sentiments of a particular locality. Letters in my opinion are not censored with sufficient strictness. (In this connection it may be mentioned that in 1916 and 1917 Czechoslovak soldiers in Russia received postal cards from relatives in Bohemia addressed directly to A. B. 3rd Czechoslovak Regiment, War zone, Russia. These cards frequently read: We know what you are doing and God be with you. And next to the censor’s stamp the Austrian censor who was a Czech himself added: God bless you, and signed his name). It would also be desirable to issue a general order that only open letters may be turned in at the postoffice and forwarded. The activity of all societies, even when no political tendency may be shown in it, should be suspended or greatly circumscribed in all cases where it does not serve strictly patriotic purposes. No meetings should be allowed except for the same purpose. A more intensive exercise of the press police I hold absolutely necessary. The power to stop the publishing or distribution of printed matter should be used most widely. All newspapers with tendencies hostile to the state should be completely supressed and the re-appearance of the suppressed newspapers under another name should not be permitted. The dissolution of municipal and country councils and the substitution of state commissioners is in many cases a desirable measure, increase in the number of gendarmes is highly desirable . . .

On the same day the supreme army command addressed a report to the emperor in which the same subject is taken up, the intention being to compel action by premier Stuergkh.

On December 5th, 1914, the army command renewed its representations to Emperor Francis Joseph over conditions in Bohemia. After references to previously reported disloyal sentiments the document says:

“Reports received since as to the conduct of troops recruited from the above named provinces and the reports over the progress of pan-Slav and anti-military agitations make it unfortunately clear that means heretofore suggested will no longer suffice. The defeat of the 21st Landwehr Division of Prague during the first offensive in Serbia, during which a surprisingly great number of men were captured by the enemy, is partly to be explained by the lack of patriottic feeling on the part of the men . . . For the garrison of Cracow we originally selected the 95th Landsturm Brigade of Prague and then the 4th and 11th Landsturm Territorial Brigade of Prague and Jičín. The conduct of the first named unit during the operations of the army group of General von Kummer and the behaviour of the other formations in the fortress compelled the chief army command to send them away, especially in view of the report of the commander of the fortress that he was doubtful about successful defense with such troops. The 95th Brigade is at best available only for service in the interior. Clear lack of morale accounts also for the poor showing of the 6th Landsturm Territorial Brigade during the crossing at Semendria, where this brigade during its first contact with the enemy lost great numbers of unwounded prisoners in spite of slight Serbian opposition. Events that occurred near Jaroslav in the early hours of October 29th seem to indicate that several companies of the 36th Infantry Regiment of Mladá Boleslav and the 30th Regiment of Králové Hradec surrendered to the enemy without any real fighting; and this suspicion is strengthened by the fact that several days later Russian reports spoke of expressions hostile to the monarchy and to the war on the part of 1500 Czech soldiers who had been recently captured by the Russians. Otherwise the 9th Army Corps gave little reason for complaints until recently. Through the introduction of strong detachments of newly raised soldiers whose sentiments could not be sufficiently influenced during their brief military training it seems that the spirit of the troops suffered so much that great numbers of men ran away to the enemy at every opportunity; the corps commander is of the opinion that the only remedy is to infuse into his command large numbers of German or Magyar soldiers. In nearly all the army corps which draw their men from Czech districts events happened which indicate that the men cannot be relied upon . . .

Even though as yet there are no well founded reports of evil intentions on the part of individuals or units, nevertheless the occurrence of so many regrettable incidents in troops composed of Czechs points to a common reason and makes it clear that their present bad conduct is due to the propaganda hostile to the state which for years had ben carried on under the eyes of the authorities . . . We must figure today with the presence of sentiments friendly to Russia in many circles of the Czech people . . . The continued existence of conditions above described, especially in the Kingdom of Bohemia, endangers the successful outcome of the war and the continued existence of the monarchy . . . Filled with serious worry over the future development of operations on both battlefronts in case the army is further exposed to the inner political difficulties, I pray Your Majesty that in the interest of sound conditions in Bohemia you will eliminate the present ill fitted administration and would appoint a high general for governor of the Kingdom giving him special powers . . .

May your majesty be graciously pleased to see to it that strong steps be immediately taken regardless of position and influence, that compromised officials of all grades be firmly deposed, that clergymen hostile to the state be turned over to criminal courts, that men who spread reports and editors who do not remember their duty be dealt with by military law, that corporations which misuse their autonomy lose it, that all political societies without exception be broken up and all secret meetings prevented, and that the population be warned of the reasons for these strict measures.”

When Italy declared war on Austria, the Austrian Army command, or rather Archduke Frederick, addressed the emperor once more on May 21, 1915, urging the necessity for a more severe regime in Bohemia:

“While it was difficult during the past months of the war to handle effectively treasonable movements in the Kingdom of Bohemia, now one must be prepared for most serious events due to the growing difficulty of the situation. Privations and exceptional measures are likely to stir up the unpatriotic population, already excited by conscienceless demagogues, to most dangerous deeds, especially as the state authorities have manifested all along regrettable weakness and the few troops remaining in the country are in no way sufficient to deprive an insurrection of all chances of success. In order that the military operations should not be further endangered by events in the interior whereby the fight of the monarchy for existence would be most unfavorably affected, it is imperative to initiate a most strict and vigorous attack upon the treasonable sentiment in Bohemia. Let his majesty accept this as the firm persuasion of the supreme army command that radical movements will be made impossible only by the appointment of a military governor.”

The next document referring to the situation in Bohemia is dated September 25th, 1915, and is again addressed by the supreme army command to the emperor. It deals with the dissatisfaction throughout Austria; only references to the Bohemian troubles are here translated:

“The treasonable and anti-militaristic propaganda that has been carried on in Bohemia for decades without opposition resulted in spite of far-reaching preventive measures in complete failure of the old troops before the enemy . . . . . Reports of the still proceeding agitation in Bohemia and Moravia hostile to the state, the objectionable behavior of the 7th Landwehr Regiment of Pilsen, the 8th of Prague and the 29th of Budweis in the recent fighting in Galicia and Volhynia . . . led to the conviction that the present efforts of the government even with the help of war measures have for the most part resulted in failure.”

The documents cited give the point of view of the Austrian Army authorities; what they lack is details. Some of these details are supplied in recent statements made by the men who carried on the subterranean war of the Czech people against Austria. The principal Prague daily the “Národní Listy”, the organ of premier Kramář, says on December 1st:

“Everything was betrayed—movements of troops, transports of ammunition, strategical plans, economic position, the feeling at court, letters of the ministers, secret military orders, instructions of the governor, orders for arms, over heard telephone conversations, stock exchange conditions, even whole pages from the notebooks of Austrian ministers. And these things were sent in cipher across the frontier, sometimes even in the original, in the wires of umbrellas, in the bindings of books, in the handle of a walking stick, inside of buttons, or written in invisible ink on silk underwear of opera singers, or in the pistons of machines. Against the Austrian beast everything was permissible . . . . Treason grew and prevailed everywhere. Czech physicians began to undertake appendicitis operations on a wholesale scale, Czech soldiers grew sick and could not get well, hospitals were overflowing and the cliniques were jammed with cases of soldiers whose sickness could not be diagnosed: on the streets of Prague there were groups of “crippled” soldiers with one or two stocks whom the military surgeons could not cure; industrial establishments demanded the return of soldiers as indispensable workmen, whether they were needed or not. When the Autrian state proceeded to collect metals, it found in Bohemia less than anywhere else . . . . War loans were not subscribed, and when a man was compelled to buy bonds, he tried to resell them as soon as possible.”

Another account of the secret warfare of the Czechs was rendered by a former deputy and university professor Dr. Drtina in a speech delivered November 29:

“When Masaryk returned in August 1914 from Geneva, he watched the events and mobilized his people. Then he went to Rotterdam where he conceived his plans. In Berlin he “informed” State Secretary Zimmermann. After returning to Prague he was at a gathering in the flat of Dr. Boudek and already drew on the map the boundaries of the future Czechoslovak state with the well-known corridor to the sea. He made known documents and dispatches of the most confidential nature. Here arose the Czech Maffia. It managed to intercept the correspondence between Prince Thun (then governor of Bohemia) and Count Stuergkh, also between the minister of the interior Baron Heinold and Archduke Frederick the Bloody. The Maffia was extremely well informed about the acts of the cabinet, as well as about the directions of the police. Good Czech patriots took over exclusively all these tasks. In Vienna the poet Machar took part in this. Nobody had an idea what a dangerous work our people there had. One of these always carried a revolver on his person, in case he should be discovered. It reads like a novel to think of the diligence of the Austrian minister in Switzerland who had Masaryk watched and sent lenghty reports of it, all of of which fell into the hands of the Maffia . . . Masaryk was called Hradecký or Hospodský, Scheiner was known as Soukal, Šamal as Strkal, Dr. Kramář as Holz, Rašín as Sin . . .

Perhaps later on some of the men who took an important and dangerous part in this secret war on Austria from within will tell their story. It will be surely of great interest.

This work was published before January 1, 1929 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 95 years or less since publication.

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