He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Prisoner of war

For this "Putzfleck" it was a long way
from Dubno to Darnitsa.
From September 24 1915 all traces of Jaroslav Hašek temporarily disappeared. Two of the people who were captured the same day also seem to have lost track of him: František Strašlipka and Jaroslav Kejla. The latter, who later became a general in the Czechoslovak air force, wrote an account about the capture, but to my knowledge little about what happened after. What IS beyond doubt is that Hašek appeared in the transit camp at Darnitsa by Kiev some time later, which he indicates also in Švejk. This is in the story about the officer servant who dragged his superior's luggage with him all the way from Dubno to Darnitsa beyond Kiev, a distance of 350 km!

Did Hašek visit Dubno and Zdolbunov in 1915?

The web site of Dubno council and the museum in the castle both claim that Hašek was there after his capture. This claim sounds somewhat dubious: Dubno was abandoned by the Russians on September 8 and I have so far found no evidence that they reconquered it before the Brusilov offensive in June 1916. It may possibly have changed hands again during the Russian counter-offensive in mid-September, but why would the Russian march their prisoners to a place which was at best right in the front-line? Perhaps Hašek is taken too literally (he might have meant Dubno region) or a there has been a hasty conclusion drawn from Jaroslav Křížek's statement that "the distance between Dubno and Darnice is 350 km"? Note that Křížek never says that Hašek ever was in Dubno, he merely states something about the distance between two points... It should however be added that he could have visited Dubno in the period before his capture. IR91 was positioned in the area north of Dubno from September 9 1915.

Khorupan, Zdolbuniv, Zhytomyr, Darnitsa
a distance of 350 km. 
The likelihood that the prisoners were taken away from the front is much greater: i.e. in the direction of Zdolbunov or Rovno. Alexandr Drbal later told me that Hašek had worked at the Zeman brewery in Kvasyliv, a few kilometres north of Zdolbuniv, and Pavel Gan devotes a section in his book to a recruitment meeting that is supposed to have taken place in the nearby Zeman brewery. But none of them have mentioned any first hand source, and curiously Jaroslav Křížek and Radko Pytlík don't mention Zdolbunov at all. Still all logic dictates the the convoy of prisoners must have gone past this spot. Perhaps they waited for railway transport at this important junction?

Cecil Parrott, "The bad bohemian", page 155

Bitter disillusionment lay in store for all those Czechs and Slovaks who had sighed with relief when they found themselves in Russian captivity and hoped that their tribulations were at an end. The fate which awaited them was far worse than anything they had yet experienced. First, their expectations of a warm and brotherly welcome were sadly disappointed: the Russians received them coldly and eyed them with suspicion and jealousy. As fellow Slavs they had hoped to enjoy most favoured treatment: in the event it was no better than that accorded to Germans, Austrians and Hungarians, in some respects indeed even worse, because the Russians deliberately burdened them with the hardest labour in the confident belief that they would be too loyal to complain. But their crowning grievance was the reluctance of the Russians to allow them to fight for the Allied cause. There were soon to be two hundred thousand Czechs and Slovaks languishing in camps and longing to help the war effort, and only a trickle of them were being freed.

Rude awakening

Václav Menger, actor and
film director
The quote above shows the the prisoners were in for a  rude awakening. Most biographers even note that they had to walk all the way to Darnitsa. Křížek is one of them, but he was not the first. In Václav Menger's book "Jaroslav Hašek zajatec číslo 294217" from 1934 the same claim can be found. This source should however be taken with a pinch of salt. Menger's book is a novel and not necessarily a factual account. There are very few places and dates mentioned, and probably contains a lot of mystification. Still it should be recognised that Menger and Hašek met in Russia, so Menger has surely used some first-hand information. Menger also went through the same ordeal: taken prisoner, spending time in POW camps, then to become a member of the Czechoslovak Volunteer units.

Perhaps the claim about "walking all the way" even stems from Hašek's novel, or rather from the fact that people tend to forget that Švejk is a novel, and not a historical document? It should however be noted that several legionnaires did walk from the front to Darnitsa, that is evident from the copious amount of literature  that appeared in post-WW1 Czechoslovakia. Cecil Parrott in the "The bad bohemian" adds to the confusion by stating that the prisoners had to walk 100 kilometres, without saying that this would carry them less than a third of the way. It turns out that this piece of information is directly copied from Pytlík's "Toulavé house", so Parrott has simply translated it without giving it much thought, never mind bothered to check the map (Parrot's book contains several cases of direct translations from Pytlík). Another curious piece of information from Pytlík and Parrott is that the prisoners walked through "burnt down villages" on the way to Darnitsa. This could hardly have been the case: the front had at this stage only extended to the right bank of the river Ikva so presumably there was little or no war damage beyond this line at this stage of the war. Aerial bombing was only in its infancy in 1915.

A long walk

To get an further idea how long it would have taken to walk the 350 km distance, we can compare with a account by Josef Pospíšil’s in his book “Znal jsem Haška” (1977). The author of this book was on June 10 1916 captured by Dubno and walked to Rovno, a march that took four days. The distance is around 50 km. From here they were transported by rail to Darnitsa. To judge by this pace, the prisoners march to Kiev could have taken around a month. Pospíšil also remembers talking to former prisoner Kamenský who claimed he had met Hašek at the beginning of October the previous year. Hašek was in a very bad state and that the 350 km trek was a lot for him. It would have been a lot for anyone: suffering from thirst, hunger, lice, disease and exhaustion.

That they walked all the way is of course possible, but I think Pavel Gan’s conclusion is correct: we don’t really know if they went by train or were herded on foot. Surely they walked at least the first part, at least to Zdolbunov or Rovno. The problem is verifying these events is not only the lack of reliable eyewitness accounts, but also that the time of arrival in Darnitsa is unknown. One person who would have known is Jaroslav Kejla. He was captured the same day as Hašek and if he wasn't in the same transport, he would surely have been transported by the same means. Unfortunately I have not read his *)„Jak to bylo v bitvě u Chorupan, kde se dal Jaroslav Hašek zajmout“ but if he had mentioned the transport, I am sure haškologs would have noticed it.

*) On November 26, 2012 I finally got hold of this document and Kejla's account renders my scepticism unfounded. The prisoners did walk to Kiev, and were then transported by train across the Dniepr to Darnitsa where they spent three days before being dispatched to other camps. Kejla does not say how long the journey took. He also dispels any myth that Hašek could have been in Dubno during the transport..

Transit camp horror

Darnitsa (Czech Darnice), the transit camp by Kiev
Darnitsa is on the other hand a well-documented entity, and a scary one as well. This transit camp on the eastern bank of the river Dniepr by Kiev lacked the most basic facilities. The prisoners even had to build their own huts. The sanitary conditions were terrible and prisoners died in droves from disease, hunger and frost. The mortality rates were probably higher here than at the front, so letting oneself get captured was not necessary a life-preserving decision. Hašek probably only spent a few days at Darnitsa before he was sent by rail to a camp in Totskoye in the Orenburg oblast in Southern Ural. On  the way he was lucky: he was in a wagon which carried tobacco leaves, and could barter these for food.

Surviving typhus

Totskoye (То́цкое) was another grim place. Hašek must have arrived there some time before November 8 1915; a letter to an editor in Prague is dated that day. It was sent through the Red Cross. Here he greets people back home, saying he is alive and well. It was to become worse though: during the winter typhus hit and two thirds of the 16,000 prisoners died (Radko Pytlík, "Toulavé house", Elsa Brandström quotes even higher numbers). Hašek was also hit by the feared disease but thereafter his fortunes took a turn to the better:. Some time in the spring he volunteered for service with the Czechoslovak Brigade and was given the post as secretary for the commander of the IV. prisoner battalion and had a relatively comfortable existence from then on. He remained in Totskoye until at least mid June 1916. By June 29 he was back in the Ukraine, and on July 10 an article by him appeared in Čechoslovan in Kiev. A dramatic chapter in Jaroslav Hašek's unusual life was now closed, and yet another one was to begin ...

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