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.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Russen ohne Gewehre

Extract from Hašek's Vormerkblatt which
reports him as missing in action.
This blog entry is partly historical and partly a travel letter. It revolves around Jaroslav Hašek's final farewell to the k.u.k. Heer on 24 September 1915 and the region where it all happened; Volyn in current Ukraine. But I will start with a few notes about some very important documents that have decidedly influenced the contents of the last 3-4 letters.

The reader may by now wonder how I could have produced two detailed historical blog entries about the history of the k.u.k 91st infantry regiment in just a few days in late July 2010, while still travelling and with limited access to internet.  The simple answer is: in fact I didn’t. The blog is now 18 months behind and I go on “cheating” by back-dating the entries to the approximate stage of the trip the letter deals with. The delay is not only for the bad though. Although my experiences from the road are less fresh in my memory in April 2012, I have in the meantime got my hand on valuable historical material that I hadn’t read at the time or even was totally unaware of. Without this, the previous two blogs would not have been possible.

obalkaThree of the new discoveries have been on particular value. The first is a book I was aware of in 2010 but hadn’t read: Jaroslav Křížek’s solid but ideology-infested “Jaroslav Hašek v revolučním Rusku” which Michal Giacintov kindly gave me after my return to the Czech Republic in October 2010. The author was associated with the army and had privileged access to  the Central War Archive in Prague (VÚA). This book was published in 1957 and contained a wealth of hitherto unknown material. His account about Hašek’s period in the Austro-Hungarian army is by far the most detailed I have seen in any book. It is well researched, and  when the reader has filtered away the ideological varnish, what remains is an extremely valuable piece of work. I wrote in an early blog that Pavel Gan’s book was “more important than Lonely Planet”. Křížek’s book is much more than that: it is a must for any haškolog and I really wish I had read it before I set off.

Nor should “Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg” be forgotten. It is a mammoth seven-volume account published in Vienna in the inter-war period, extremely detailed and with excellent maps as Beilage. Nowadays these sell for 250 Euro per volume! I managed to get my hands on volume II which covers 1915 until the fall of Brest-Litovsk (August 25), and the rest I downloaded. The 91st regiment is not explicitly mentioned but the book gives a good overview of the events that determined the movements of its parent units: the 17th infantry brigade which was part of the Prague based 9th infantry division.

Page one of the IR91 chronicle
The third discovery is not a book, but a nearly finished manuscript. I visited VÚA (Central War Archive) in Prague for two days in November 2011 and photographed almost 250 pages detailing the history of IR91 from May to November 1915. The title is Das Infanterieregiment Nr. 91 am Vormarsch in Galizien. The author seems to have been an officer in the regiment, it was written in German in České Budějovice around 1927, probably intended for publication but somehow it didn’t materialise. The story is typed on paper from a 1927 Czech calendar, and the typewriter must have been German as Czech diacritics were added by hand afterwards. It gives an unusually detailed account, with dates, places, order of battle, lists of personnel etc. There are even some unique photos, but unfortunately few of them can be related directly to the text. If I had seen these documents before I set off, the route through the Ukraine would definitely have been different, more detailed but it would have taken longer.

On the bus from Lutsk to Dubno
As it was I took a short-cut, more due to ignorance than by intent. I was already aware of Żdżary  but didn’t bother to go there this time. The village was destroyed by UPA in 1943 and is not to be traced on contemporary maps. Instead I set off from Sokal on July 20 after bidding farewell to my hosts Ivan and Maria Strilets. I was determined to go to Dubno, but still hadn’t decided which route to take, so I jumped on a mini-bus to Červenohrad to wait for the first and best. I took the first but not necessarily the best option. It was a customary minibus marked Lutsk. The packed and steaming hot vehicle moved at snails pace along the borders of Lvivski oblast and Volyn, the driver skilfully manoeuvring between the thousands of pot-holes as if he had been doing nothing else all his life. He probably hadn’t. The bus even went back through Sokal!

Map of Khorupan:
Russen ohne Gewehre
When crossing to Volyn the bus started to empty and the journey became almost tolerable. I didn’t stop long in Lutsk and jumped on the first bus to Dubno. This was a much more comfortable journey but it was still a relief to arrive at the comfortable hotel on the square. The room was huge, affordable, but basic necessities (for me, that is) like Wi-Fi was missing. Never mind the unimportant luxuries like 6 towels and variations of soap. The reason for choosing Dubno as my base for the next three days was two-fold: its proximity to Chorupanwhere Jaroslav Hašek was captured and to Zdolbunov where the author in his novel refers to a certain Czech brewer Zeman. Pavel Gan also deals with Zeman’s brewery in his book, although there to my knowledge exist no historical evidence that Hašek ever was there.

The next day I was on a pivotal mission: a visit to Chorupan where Jaroslav Hašek’s life took a dramatic turn in the early hours of 24 September 1915. I regarded myself well equipped for the trip: Pavel Gan had even given me a detailed map of the spot, even indicated where the author was captured and where Lukas and Wenzel fled. I was given two versions of the map: one in German and one in Czech. There was a text snippet on the map that is still imprinted on my mind: Russen ohne Gewehre  and on the Czech one rusové bez pušek; in other words Russians without rifles! It made me shiver; these young men were sent to die for their incompetent tsar and his family without any means of self defence. I can understand that morale was low in the k.u.k army, but it must have been even worse on the Russian side. It is no wonder that Russian soldiers surrounded in droves as early as 1915 and by 1917 simply refused to fight on.

Somewhere here Hašek and Strašlipka were captured
on September 24 1915
Chorupan (Хорупань) is located 15 km north of Dubno but there were no buses going there. So I set out in foot, at a brisk pace. So brisk that I took the wrong turning and soon found myself by the river Ikva by Ivanne, way off track. Without being aware of it, I was almost at Pogorelcy where IR91 was positioned from 9 to 17 September 1915. That was before they withdrew back across the river to Chorupan due to their exposed positions.

I corrected my poor navigation by crossing the fields, through the marshes towards Chorupan, pestered by insects along the way. I found the village but was totally confused by Pavel Gan’s map. I just couldn’t make it fit the terrain and there was no Khorupan where the map indicated. Nor was Mlynov where it was supposed to be or the road to Rovno (Rivne) for that matter. I took photos of the place all over, but was never sure what was where. Later on I found out that the map was based on an account by Jaroslav Kejla who was captured the same day. However, he might be excused for confusing the tourist with the location of Chorupan. Polish historical maps confirm that the village was where Gan put it, but there is wild confusion with regards to directions. My guess is that Chorupan suffered the same grim fate as Żdżary and many other villages in Volyn: a victim of UPA’s campaign of genocide against  Poles in 1943-44.

NB! Хорупань is spelt Chorupan in Polish and Czech, and this is also how it appears on the Austro-Hungarian Military Survey map from 1910. This spelling is also used in the "IR91 Chronicle" and in Österreich-Ungarns Letzter Krieg who both used Polish spelling for place names in Galicia and Volyn.

The smallest "mahasin" in the world is in Хорупань
It turned out to be a very long and hot day. The current village of Khorupan is drawn out on a ridge above the former village. It was obvious that they had not seen many tourists there so I received a lot of attention. I had a beer by the smallest shop in the world, another few in the cafe on the miserable square where I was invited by cafe-owner Viktor. Despite the friendliness and hospitality the visit made me sad. The village epitomised post Soviet rural decay: derelict buildings, awful roads and poverty. The walk back was long and exhausting, accompanied by cows, muck, dust and swarms of biting insects. To my left was the river Ikva where the Russians attacked on that misty morning of  September 24 1915. I should not complain about the insects. There were people who suffered worse on this forlorn spot in Volyn: hundreds of young Russians and Central Europeans fought the last battle of their lives here 95 years ago.

The railway station at Zdolbuniv,
an important hub.
On my final day in Dubno I took the train east to Zdolbuniv (ru/cz Zdolbunov), an important railway junction south of Rivne (ru/cz Rovno). The prisoners were presumably driven here on foot and that they spent some time here is plausible; they may well have been waiting for rail transport onwards. I had a look around the town, and even went to the town museum and asked for the Zeman brewery. The ladies there were friendly but looked as me as if I had just landed from another planet. I guess it is not a daily occurrence in Zdolbuniv that a Norwegian tourist asks  about the whereabouts of a long dead Czech brewer.

Only later did I discover that there was a mix-up, and that it all started with Hašek. There existed indeed a Zeman brewery but not in Zdolbuniv; it was in Kvasyliv 5 km further north. The Zeman family had also “branched off”: in Lutsk Václav Zeman ran a very successful operation that was in business until 1939. The exact connection between the Kvasiliv and Lutsk brewery was the family, but I have not established exactly who the brewer Zeman in Kvasyliv was. It could even be that both breweries were owned by Václav Zeman. The brewery was re-established in 2004, so i DID have a reason to stop in Lutsk after all. But that must be on the next trip. Needless to say the ladies at the town museum were unable to enlighten me on the Zeman brewery.

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