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.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Švejk back with his company

Sambir railway station.
The unfinished Book Four of Švejk deals with the good soldiers return to his company after his ordeals in Przemyśl. After a narrow escape from the gallows, he was escorted back to the brigade HQ at Wojutycze  near Sambor (now Sambir). Here he had the dubious pleasure of reuniting with his adversary Lieutenant Dub. Another old acquaintance, Cadet Biegler, also reappeared. He had had  a tortured journey from the cholera wards in Tarnów, stopping at all (the no doubt smelly) railway toilets along the way, to get rid his “cholera” germs.

My own journey in 2010 again had to adapt to the geo-political reality, and that meant disregarding Švejk’s route back to his company. I had to return to the Ukraine via Medyka and Šehyni, and then by minibus down to Sambir, changing at Mostyska. Crossing the border again went smoothly; there was no three-hour wait like it was when I first visited the Ukraine in 2004. Leaving the EU, I was in an ambivalent mood; I don’t mind bus travel, but the Ukrainian maršrutky are not for those who believe in the positive effects of fresh air. The bus setting off from Šehyni for Mostyska was a prime example. The temperature soon soared and a Czech-speaking Pole with a 100 kilo suitcase resolutely grabbed a screw-driver to break open a window. It was a huge relief for everyone on board who weren’t afraid of a slight waft of air. The bus onwards from Mostyska to Sambir was less crowded and the trip could even be classed as comfortable.

In Sambir I was directed to the towns hotel, right on the rynok. It  was comfortable enough, and the staff were welcoming. When he saw my passport the receptionist even related from his ordeals in arctic Norilsk from the time of the Soviet Union. It was getting very hot now and might have thought that I was already missing my own latitudes and climate. Самбір itself was quite pleasant with a large square as a centre and focal point. The railway station is modern and this is where I set out for Wojutycze (now Воютичі) from, after having enjoyed a few good Stare Místo draught beers at the station. On the train I soon became a curiosity, both amongst the staff and the other passengers. After a few minutes they called out for Vojutyči, and off I stepped, in the middle of a field. There was no station building and not even a sign so this is a place I would never have found without help. I walked along the tracks into the large village.

On the way to Vojutyči.
I found it odd that the 17th  infantry brigade, the unit to which the 91st regiment belonged, would have set up HQ here in this small place. The 91st regiment was heading for Sambor when Švejk got lost and the historical fact is that Sambor also for a while even housed the divisional HQ. I didn’t even see any buildings in Vojutyči that would have been natural candidates for any army offices. Still, Hašek wrote a satirical novel, not a historical reference work, so a degree of mystification and inaccuracies should be accounted for. It could also be that Vojutyči was larger than it is today; the events described in the novel took place before the disastrous wars, population displacements and genocides of the 20 century decimated Galicia.

On this trip I have discovered that the author was far less accurate with facts than I had previously thought. There are numerous spelling mistakes and some place he mentions are not identifiable at all. That said, the amount of details he DID get right is still impressive, despite being seriously ill when the wrote the latter parts of Švejk. The unexpected shoddiness does not detract from the greatness of the novel unless you read it as a fact-file rather than the satirical master-piece it should be regarded as.

Another author, also familiar to readers of Švejk, knew this area and wrote about events closely related to the theme of the novel. Ludwig Ganghofer reported from the front in Galicia in May and June 1915 and in early June he visited Przemyśl and Sambor. The latter had been re-conquered already on May 15  but the Russians had defended Przemyśl until June 3 when it finally surrended. Ganghofer had a totally different perspective than Hašek. He was a German nationalist and a personal friend of Kaiser Wilhelm. Still that didn’t make him an outright bigot and in his “Die Front im Osten” he throws glowing reports not only on the victorious Central Powers but also on the local population, particularly the female part of it. So deep down he must have found the Ukrainians far more attractive than his own Bavarian stock and even today one could agree with this accurate but unremarkable observation. On June the 1 he relates from a stay in Sambor as a guest of Austrian staff officers, just before the final assault on Przemyśl is about to start.

15_07_02_galizien1Jaroslav Hašek arrived in Sambor in early July 1915 and at this stage the Russians had already been pushed beyond the river Bug. The 91st regiment had been badly decimated during fighting by Gologory and Hašek was one of those filling the ranks, getting ready for the next round of slaughter. Near Gologory he joined the IR91 (11th field company) on July 11 1915, and in this respect his own story differs from the one he created for Švejk. Švejk had also started the journey to the front around May 22 1915 whereas the author himself only left on June 30.

I only spent one night in Sambir. It was hot, and the mosquitoes were a nuisance and very early the next morning I set off for Lviv, the attractive centre of Western Ukraine. It is just about mentioned in Švejk but such a beautiful city can’t be ignored just because it doesn’t feature in a certain novel! Švejk only changed trains in Lviv, and the major part of the plot from Wojutycze onwards concentrates on his adversaries: Lieutenant Dub's and Cadet Biegler's common auto mobile trip to the front...

No comments:

Post a Comment