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.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Konec Švejka

“Konec Švejka” is Czech for “the end of Švejk”. It was an end that was never meant to be, but sadly happened already in Klimontów. Jaroslav Hašek had planned the novel in six volumes, but had just about started the 4th when his untimely death put his pen to silence forever. It is obvious that he still had a lot to tell his readers, and it  is a great loss for admirers of his masterpiece that he never managed to complete it. We can only assume that he intended to more or less follow his own route, and fit in a mosaic of his own experiences as he had done to great effect so far. He had in cat done enough already to secure his hero world fame, and the novel now ranks as the most translated book written in Czech ever.

From the K.u.k military survey map from 1910.
Jaroslav Hašek was terminally ill when he dictated the last chapters of Švejk in his house at Lipnice nad Sázavou. We should therefore not be surprised that there are a few geographical mysteries towards the end. The Klimontów where the novel ends can not be traced. Places with that name existed, but in parts of Galicia far from here. His description of Żółtańce seems more accurate, and from this it is generally assumed that the Klimontów in question was Kłodno, which is located 3 km east of Żółtańce.  Another  discrepancy occurs when he describes Uciszków, Busk and Derewlany as being to the west and then there is the final mystery: according to the Austro-Hungarian Military Survey Map from 1910 there was no railway here, although Hašek explicitly states that Švejk arrived by train. This latest enigma was solved when  Evžen Topinka, chairman of Česká Beseda in Lviv, confirmed that the railway was opened in 1910, and extended north to Krystonopol (now Červonohrad) in 1914.

At this stage we must assume that the Good Soldier and the author’s journeys have caught up, even time wise: that the lag of more than a month which had existed since the end of Book Two was now cancelled out. Somewhere between Budapest and Felsztyn the author let five weeks disappear without a trace. Chronological accuracy was not as high on Hašek's agenda as geographical precision. Between Sambor and Żółtańce the12th march battalion of the 91st regiment took a route which is not described in Švejk. When our hero was taken prisoners by his own troops they were looking for billeting at Stara Sól (this is also mentioned in the novel), and then continued via Sambor and Szczerce (now Щирець) to Gologory (now Гологори) where they refilled the ranks of the 91st regiment. Hašek arrived with the 12th march battalion and joined the 3rd field battalion, 11th field company on July 11. Then the whole brigade turned sharply northwards and arrived in Żółtańce on July 16 1915 (VÚA archives, Prague).

Zhovtantsi uniate church
On a scorching hot July day I set off for Avtostanitsja II on the northern outskirts of Lviv to take a minibus 30 km north-east to Zhovtantsi. The name of the place of course has changed since the era of the Dual Monarchy when Polish was the administrative language of Galicia. I opted for the frequent minibuses as there are only two trains a day on this line, and at very inconvenient hours. The bus ride was quick and other passengers helped me get off at the right place. The heat was so intense that I sought refuge in a cafe where I had a dubious Pizza Zhovtantsi. But the air conditioning more than made up for the miserable lump of dough and the even more depressing topping.

Zhovtantsi welcomed the visitor with a gleaming new church. I have never anywhere seen so many new churches as here in the Lviv oblast. The contrast to the general decay is striking, and I many times asked myself: where does the money come from? Filling in the numerous pot holes seems a much larger task than building hundreds of beautiful onion domed churches. Zhovtantsi can hardly be called a town. There is a post office, a church, a school and that's about it. The houses are spread out, the centre is little more than a crossroads with the mentioned buildings. A "square" as mentioned in "Švejk" is not in sight.

Velyke Kolodno
After my pizza delight I set out into the heat again, and walked towards Velyke Kolodno (which is what Švejk's final stop is generally known as today). This is also a track our  diligent soldier took, he had first asked about the whereabouts of his marškumpačka in Żółtańce but there he was directed to Klimontów. I crossed the railway line, just as my predecessor had done, and there was the highlight of Velyke Kolodno, the now ruined former Roman-catholic church, picturesquely set on a hill beyond a small lake. In the novel Hašek lets the officers have a Schlachtfest in a vicarage which had been empty after the Greek-catholic vicar had been hanged in a pear-tree in the garden of the school by the returned troops of Austria-Hungary. He had been accused by a Polish teacher of collaborating with the Russian occupiers, totally groundless. Behind all this was Polish-Ukrainian ethnic strife and a stolen hen. The rank and file were quartered in the school, the only decent building in the village.

Before my prototype Švejk-trip in 2004 Pavel Gan sent me a picture of the vicarage and I set out looking for it. It was to no avail. All the larger buildings in the village appeared to be of a newer data, including the school. Around the Roman-catholic church there was nothing obvious, it all seemed to be post-WW1. The ruined church was actually built in the 1930's. I walked on and saw another church, a gleaming new one. The builders were stunned that some tourist had come to this corner of the world, and they were not aware of the connection between Švejk and Kolodno, although they of course knew him and his author. The church was pravoslavna (i.e. Russian Orthodox) so this wasn't it either. I gave up, sat down for a beer in a mahasin which served draught beer, and concluded my mission on the tracks of Švejk. I phoned my friends Richard Hašek and Jaroslav Šerák in Prague and Dutifully Reported that the first part of the journey was absolved. 

Former vicarage in Zhovtantsi
I also rang Pavel Gan to verify excactly where the mysterious vicarage was. To my great surprise he directed me back to Zhovtantsi. I was puzzled because Hašek clearly located  the final scene to Klimontów, so I hastily concluded that Pavel hadn't read Švejk properly. That 91st regiment actually had a pig slaughter party in the vicarage, is mystification by the author. The regiment only had a two hour break here on July 16 1915. Nor do I know if the story of the executed Greek-catholic priest is true. Pavel Gan did his own field research here, and discovered that the Greek-catholic priest was alive even after WW2.

From Synek edition 1930, with Karel Vaněk's  continuation.
Vaněk completed the remaining 3 parts of the novel, but this
piece is regarded inferior and has rarely been translated.
Whether Jaroslav Hašek invented the episode with the priest or not is beside the point. Injustices like these could have happened, they did happen and the author may just have shifted time, place, people and circumstances. Together with his satirical genius  this method of collage was at the heart of his master creation, later to be become famous as Švejk. There is in this novel to my knowledge not a single person, name, place or historical event taken out of thin air. Most of it is derived from his own unusual experiences in life. Exaggerations abound of course (Bretschneider could not have been eaten by his own dogs), but by and large the descriptions in this novel relate to tangible points in history, geography and literature. And not to forget human life, human stupidity, and inhumanity, including the senseless slaughtering of innocent people for some political aim.

Švejk survived the madness by using has wit, just as his creator did. Their survival left the world with an unforgettable satirical novel which inspired this tourist/web-master  to spend six months on their tracks. The first part of the odyssey was solemnly concluded with two Stare Misto beers in the only cool place in Zvontantsi, the already mentioned cafe. I am sure Jaroslav Hašek would have approved. At this time 95 years ago he was was here, and he and his fellow sufferers had worse things than heat, bumpy roads and the flies to contend with... 

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