- from 'The War Illustrated', 8th October, 1918
- 'Russia and the Czecho-Slovaks'
- by Lovat Fraser
East on the Trans-Siberian Railroad
Czecho-Slovak legionnaires in Siberia : photo by Donald Thompson
Even in the midst of the dramatic changes on the western front we must never keep our eyes turned too long from the obscure events which are happening in the immense regions between the River Vistula and the Pacific Ocean. Look on the map at these vast spaces. They constitute nearly half of Europe and Asia, and over them hangs a dense pall. Sometimes the cloud is riven for a moment, and we get a lurid glimpse of murder, of misery, of wholesale insensate massacres by groups of men who have sunk lower than savages. We see political perverts of the basest type hiding in fortified buildings, or scurrying to and fro in armoured cars, and daily signalising their usurpation of power by the most vile and atrocious crimes.
That any Briton, at this time of day, can find it in his heart to apologise for these sewer- rats of civilisation passes my comprehension. Again and again it has been proved that these depraved criminals are the eager agents of German masters. They are draining Russia of gold in order to send it to Berlin. Their villainous designs have been exposed afresh in the last few weeks. It is no answer to say that the Bolshevists "used German help" in order to attain their own ends.. Their only definite purpose was wholesale destruction, and they could no more build a new world from the ruins of the old than could Genghiz Khan and his slaughtering hordes. The Bolshevists have battened on blood, and that any man in this country could condone their fiendish deeds is the blackest shame that has yet come upon us.
A Shining Example
Yet no, not the blackest; for to me the worst stain on the allied cause in Eastern Europe is that the Allied Governments stooped to talk with these loathsome ruffians. They were mocked and jeered at for their pains. Their messages received insulting replies. They were told that the fine great object of Lenin and his fellow-lunatics was to reproduce their filthy orgies of massacre and rapine in every civilised country in Europe; but still the diplomatists talked and paltered with them. And while the Allies said smooth and polite things to the Bolshevists for many months, they never made the smallest attempt to rescue Russia from her hideous fate. Are they doing enough to-day in Siberia and on the borders of the White Sea and on the shores of the Caspian ? I doubt it.
It was left for the Czecho-Slovaks to set the hesitating Allied Powers a shining example, and to lead the way in the task of rescuing Russia. There is nothing more amazing in history than the meteoric insurgence of the Czecho-Slovak troops beyond the Volga and beyond the Urals, and there is no episode in the war more misunderstood by the British public.
I think the new labels borne by the various races in Eastern Europe have tended to confuse our people. In these islands we have always been a little hazy about the racial divisions of the Near East, ever since the days when Shakespeare insisted on giving Bohemia a seaboard. We knew something of the Czechs of Bohemia, but the Czecho-Slovaks, appearing mysteriously in the heart of Siberia, were rather a puzzle.
I have had several letters asking me to say a little more about the Czecho-Slovaks. They are the Slavs of Northern Austria, and must not be confused with the Jugo-Slavs, who chiefly belong to Southern Austria. They inhabit Bohemia, Moravia, parts of Austrian Silesia, and that hilly north-western corner of Hungary which lies between the Tatra Mountains and Pressburg, on the Danube. Some say-that the Czecho-Slovaks are ethnically one, only in Bohemia they are known as Czechs and in Hungary as Slovaks. Some of my friends declare, however, that there- is a perceptible difference, for the Czechs are more highly polished and cultivated, while the Slovaks are perhaps of harder fibre.
Czecho-Slovak units in France
Czech Hatred of the Hun
The Czecho-Slovaks as a whole number nine or ten millions, but their history really centres around the Czechs of Bohemia. Up to the early Middle Ages the Czechs had their own rulers, although the Germans, both from north and south, had long tried to overwhelm them. They finally lost their independence, and were brought under the complete domination of the Hapsburgs at the disastrous Battle of the White Mountain in 1620.
The subsequent martyrdom of the Czechs is one of the darkest pages in the story of Europe. They were massacred wholesale, their towns and villages were laid waste, their language was suppressed, and their national religion proscribed. For three hundred years the Czechs have struggled against a brutal process of obliteration. They have nourished a fierce and righteous hatred of the Germans which even Herr Lissauer, the author of the German "Hymn of Hate," would find difficult to express. Harried, despoiled, subjected to the grossest forms of tyranny, they have still kept alive their national aspirations, and the most oppressive devices of the Hapsburgs and their minions have failed to subdue their racial unity.
Long ago the Czechs perceived that education coupled with physical training were the keys which would some day open the gates and regain for them their national liberties. They kept their brains cultivated and their bodies fit. The University of Prague is held in honour in every seat of learning.
"When Austria Is Not"
When war began the Czechs had the lowest percentage of illiteracy in Europe, lower than the Germans, and I think lower than our own ; while their national athletic gathering, the "Sokol," was famous throughout the world. They knew that the time of which they had dreamed for three centuries was at hand ; and their great intellectual leader, Professor Masaryk, last' heard of at Washington, was fortunately able to find on allied soil shelter from which to direct the national movement.
How the Czech regiments deserted in large numbers on the Russian front ; how they were misunderstood in Russia at first, and only grudgingly permitted to form fresh units to fight against their hereditary German and Austrian foes ; how they stood steadfast on the Galician front in that last shameful encounter when the Bolshevist troops bolted ; how they turned their backs on the Bolshevist traitors, and sought to make their way through Siberia in order to embark at Vladivostok and stand side by side with the Allies in France ; how the Bolshevists attacked them and sought to disarm them, with the result that the Czecho-slovaks turned at bay, routed the Bolshevists in the basin of the Volga and seized the Siberian Railway are all episodes which have been recorded, though the narrative still lacks details. The Czecho-Slovaks have their reward in their recognition as an allied nation by all the Great Powers of the Entente. Their own historian, Palacky, has said : "Before Austria was, we were a nation, and will be when Austria is not." His words are coming true.
Yet it is far from clear that the Allies are helping either the Czecho-Slovaks or Russia to the extent which is undoubtedly necessary. The recognition of the Czecho-slovaks is an event which must have a marked effect upon the terms of peace. It means that Bohemia and Moravia and a slice 6f Hungary must have autonomy and independence, and unless the Austro-Hungarian Empire is practically dismembered the purpose of the Allies cannot be fulfilled. But the true nucleus of the nation is found among the gallant men who have cleared a pathway through Siberia and have dealt deadly blows at the power of the Bolshevists in European Russia. Paper declarations will not help these brave soldiers, who are doing the work of the Allies on the eastern front. They need practical aid. and are not getting it in sufficient measure.
armored train captured by the Czechoslovaks
Urgent Need of Help
Too much was made of the recent meeting of a Czecho-Slovak detachment with Colonel Semenoff's troops on the borders of Manchuria. It was an illustration of the ease with which disciplined military forces can pass through Siberia, but it brings no present assistance to the Czecho-Slovaks on the Volga. More reinforcements are urgently needed, and only Japan can furnish them promptly in sufficient numbers. Not until the allied expedition has passed Lake Baikal and linked up with the Russian and Czecho- slovak troops in Western Siberia will it be possible to say that effectual help is being rendered.
The allied forces in the Murrhan territory and south of Archangel are fighting vigorously, but their work essentially is to keep open the northern doorways into Russia. They are too remote at present to affect materially the main situation. On the Caspian, General Dunsterville, the original of Kipling's "Stalky," has been compelled to withdraw his slender force from Baku, and is now back on Persian soil.
Yet the Bolshevists are nearing their end. They are going down in a sea of blood, and on the eve of their downfall have been slaughtering wholesale the men of intellect and character in Russia; they will swiftly disappear amid universal execration. The free nations of the world have not drawn the sword in order to enthrone at the end of the war the foulest principles of wholesale murder and spoliation and class tyranny.
Czech artllery in Russia
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