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.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Marching on without Švejk

“With the Bezirkshauptmann we always used to say: Patriotism, fidelity to duty, overcoming one’s self, those are  the real weapons in war! I am reminding myself of  it especially today when our military troops will in foreseeable time cross the borders.”

In an abandoned vicarage in Klimontów, these final passages of the Švejk novel were uttered by the perennially moronic Lieutenant Dub, a caricature of a Czech monarchist, albeit one with a certain position in society. His final words makes one think of Samuel Johnson’s famous sound-bite: “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Whether Hašek here was building up to a Johnson-like ridicule of patriotism in general we will never know. The likelihood is that it was the Austrian patriot in particular he mocked, not the dis-united patriots of (the rest of) the  world. Hašek was himself a Czech patriot but was not adverse to shitting in the nest of other patriots (or in anybody's nest  for that matter).

After this abrupt and tragic end of Švejk it was time to wonder: What is the likely direction the novel would have taken if the author had lived on? Hašek did leave some clues. The advertising posters for the first instalment of Švejk reveals that the plot was also to take place in Russia during the civil war, so we can safely assume that Švejk would continue to follow his creator’s journey, more or less accurately. Another important indication is the farewell scene in Királyhida between Švejk and Vodička. Here it is clear that the author intends his hero to return home safely. An even more direct statement is found in the introduction to Book One. Here Hašek writes that “Nowadays, you can run into a shabby man in the streets of Prague who himself has no idea of the significance he actually has in the history of the great new era”. So Švejk had obviously returned. But where apart from Prague did the author intend his hero to appear? There is only one other place that is mentioned explicitly: Sokal. This is stated both in the chapter header “From Bruck an der Leitha to Sokal” and also later when the soldiers are skinning the “unskinnable” cow in Liskowiec (chapter Marschieren Marsch). This is, however, only part of the story; the pure geographical direction the plot. Just as important (or even more so) is: Who would have been at the receiving end of the authors biting satire hereafter? He had almost left his bête noire Austria-Hungary and there were still nearly three more volumes planned ...

Naturally Sokal was to become my next stop although I didn´t follow Hašek´s route in detail. That would have meant quite a cumbersome detour via Holohory to Kamianka-Buzka and several smaller places the soldiers stopped at when walking from Holohory to Sokal between 11 July and 22 July 1915. The battle by Sokal raged from 15 to 31 July and Hašek's regiment arrived in the region on the 22nd (more on the battle itself in the next blog entry). The route is described in some detail in Jaroslav Křížek´s Jaroslav Hašek v revolučnim Rusku, but I didn't have the information available at the time.

Ivan and Maria Strilets.
Instead of trying to retrace too much of the author's chequered journey, I did a short-cut. From Lviv´s Автостанція 2. I took the by now familiar mini-bus route 80 km north to Sokal. Along the roads there were signs to a few places which readers of Svejk might recognise: Rava-Ruska, Velyki Mosty, Kamianka-Buzka and Sokal itself.

When I arrived in Sokal that baking hot afternoon I even managed to jump off at the wrong bus-stop. But with remote assistance from Munich (and a huge phone bill), I found my destination in the end. It was Petruševska 47 and the good people receiving the visitor there were Ivan and Maria Strilets.

This was my third visit to their home. The first was in 2004 on my make-shift Švejk-trip. Their house is on the southern outskirts of town, right by Sokal Hora where some of the fiercest fighting took place in July 1915. I even had a room with a view across to the former battlefield. Although the name suggests a mountain, it is actually a low hill which reaches 254 metres above sea level. The fact that I was staying in this particular house had everything to to do with Pavel Gan who I had visited in Munich back in early May (see More important than Lonely Planet). Maria and Ivan are in fact his parents in-law. The lady in Munich who had guided me there by phone was their daughter Larissa.

Sokal hora
Sitting there watching cooling rain-showers sweep across Sokal Hora, it was time to ponder the improbable chain of events that led me to this spot on earth in the first place. These are important events as they also (partly) explain why I’m doing this six-month trip at all.

I don't remember exactly when I got it into my head to do a Švejk-trip, but I recollect how I was inspired by maps in Cecil Parrott’s translation of Švejk. Preparing for the trip in 2004 I set about locating the spots I found on Parrott’s map. This proved to be an enormous challenge, particularly in Galicia. I was at the time unaware of the misspellings in the novel, and I knew little about name changes that had taken place since. Places in the Ukraine (names written in Cyrillic) further complicated the issue.

I started off by Googling, but without much luck. Still, the omnipresent search-engine led me to the web-sites of Zenny Sadlon (zenny.com and svejkcentral.com).  I sent Sadlon an e-mail and although his geo-awareness didn’t extend to Galicia of 1915 he kindly forwarded what was to prove an immensely useful e-mail address; that of Pavel Gan. I wrote to Pavel and although I didn't get the specific geographical information I asked for, I got a lot more: photos, the story of his own research on Hašek and an invitation to visit his wife and in-laws in Sokal during the course of the journey. So I did, and this invitation indeed had a lot to do with my stay at Petruševska 47 now in July 2010. It was also from Larissa and Pavel  I heard that the Hašek family had taken over Česká koruna at Lipnice. On hearing that I decided to pay the venerable hostelry a visit. Without that visit I would never have been invited to the 2008 Hašek-conference, and would never had got the inspiration to carry out this journey. The circle was complete.

Pavel Gan by Sokal hora, a few years back
Pavel Gan also has another connection to Sokal. The following information is extracted from his book “Osudy humoristy Jaroslava Haška v říši carů a komisařů”, (epilogue) where he explains how he got so captivated by Jaroslav Hašek.

Gan’s father was born in nearby Borjatyn and was a serving soldier in the k.u.k Army. Just like Hašek he was a one-year volunteer, but apart from that his career took a different course. He was loyal to the Dual Monarchy to the very end, and Gan puts in a good word for Austria-Hungary in this section. According to Gan his father and his fellow Ukrainians were far better off than in Imperial Russia where a decree from prime minister Stolypin (1910) stated that no Ukraine or Ukrainians existed. Instead there were was the interesting entity "Little Russia", which was incidentally inhabited by “Little Russians”. It should be noted that the term Little Russia was commonly used at the time, even by Ukrainians (JH). 

Gan also describes the Dual Empire’s enlightened rule of law which compared favourably to both contemporary and future regimes in the region. After the war, Gan’s father emigrated to Czechoslovakia, where Pavel was born in 1933. Due to their Jewish roots, the family had to move several times from 1938 to 1945. Gan’s interest for Hašek started in the fifties during his studies in Brno. One of his main themes is how the communist authorities filtered information about the author to make him fit the image of a good communist. Gan has himself dug out a lot of information that contradicts this view. This is evident both in his book and also in the papers he has published.

The two days in Sokal were spent walking around town and not the least eating! I felt I never had the slightest chance to even get slightly hungry. Maria complained I was too skinny and when I was starting to get full I heard the the words “ješč” and “davaj” and I understood that I was supposed to be hungry still, and had to make it good by another portion of vareniky, salat and kura
The ruined synagogue

I had plenty of time to visit the former synagogue where IR 91 had their HQ in July 1915 (not confirmed, JH 2012). Nowadays it is a sad sight and another chilling testimony to the Holocaust.

Of interest is also the Bernardine Monasterry which now serves as a prison. On 16 July 1915 k.u.k forces captured the monastery, an event which was reported even in official Berichte from Vienna. Kote 254, the summit of Sokal Hora, is still there of course. The hill is mainly scrub-land and was a very peaceful spot early that July morning in 2010.

It was hard to imagine that this was hell on earth exactly 95 years ago, a carnage which killed and maimed thousands of young men, mainly from Vienna (IR.4 "Hoch- und Deutschmeister") and Bohemia (IR91 "Papageienregiment"), not to mention the Russian 8th Army. Jaroslav Hašek was amongst the lucky ones who survived, but unfortunately he didn't lived long enough to tell his story.

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