The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

Czechoslovakia’s Role in Soviet Strategy

  • Czechoslovakia’s Role in Soviet Strategy, by Josef Kalvoda, University Press of America, Pb, 382pp, $9.75.

reviewed by W. K. F. Schuldes

The author, a professional historian, was born in Czechoslovakia in 1923, left the CSR in 1948, has been living in the USA since 1951 and presently teaches at St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Conn.

Prof. Kalvoda has given us a meticulous and scholarly account of the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia. Kalvoda plowed through piles of notes, documents and books mainly of Czech, but also of Russian, Austrian and German origin. The 82 pages of bibliography are extremely valuable.

The author begins in 1914, when Czech and Slovak contingents of the Austrian army at the Russian front shot their Austrian officers and defected to the Russian enemy. In the same year, Thomas G. Masaryk, later president of Czechoslovakia, made his first contact with British authorities, seeking support in his drive for Czech independence. The British Government prefered an independent Czech state to one attached to the Russian empire. Three years later, the British sent Masaryk to Russia to organize a Czech Legion there from 250,000 Czech and Slovak defectors in that country. Masaryk immediately asserted himself as Commander-in-Chief of a 50,000 man legion which he put under French command, a purely theoretical arrangement, since the Legion never arrived on the Western front.

The history of this Czech Legion is described in detail. One is astonished to learn, that in May 1918, Leon Trotzky, following higher orders, tried to incorporate these Czecho-Slovaks into the Red army and assorted labor groups. Some American and British leaders wished that these men could have helped them in their effort to defeat the Bolsheviks, but Masaryk held stubbornly to his policy of neutrality toward the Bolsheviks and even suggested that the Allies recognize the Red regime. Thus, Masaryk was one of the first politicians to bolster Bolshevism.

Eduard Benesh, portrayed by Kalvoda as a liar, cheater, and weak character, was another self-appointed politician who played a leading role in bringing the CSR into the Bolshevik fold: a “quartermaster of Communism in Central Europe.” Or as chancellor Smutny called him: “The greatest Machiavelli of our time.” (It is known, for example, that Benesh during the negotiations for the 1919 Treaty of St. Germain presented a forged map, which minimized the German population to be incorporated into the new CSR from 3.5 Million inhabitants to 1.2 Million.)

Benesh was cold-shouldered by the other Czech exiles, but with Russian help, managed to assert himself as their leader and while in Washington in May 1943, he assured F.D. Roosevelt of Soviet harmlessness and trustworthyness. When planning for the postwar Czechoslovakia, Benesh, in agreement with British and American authorities, originally intended to make concessions in favor of Germany. It was Stalin, who, in Dec. 1943, told him that he wanted Germany completely weakened and suggested that Sudeten Germans (as well as Hungarians) be evicted from the CSR. As Benesh put it later: “The transfer of the German property will be the beginning of a great social transformation.”

Kalvoda’s descriptions and analysis are excellent. He shows that Benesh was the main grave-digger of an independent Czechoslovakia. Yet, in his final conclusion he fails to emphasize the full implications which the expulsion of 3.5 Million Sudenten Germans had on the country: namely the permanent protection by “Big Brother” against any possible “justice seeking” by Sudeten Germans that might occur in the future.

Furthermore, I cannot agree with Kalvoda’s assertions that Czechslovakia between 1918-38 had a “strong democratic tradition.” Aside from the fact that the Sudeten German, Hungarian, Polish, and Ukrainian minorities were completely outmaneuvered in the Czech parliament, incidents like the machine-gunning of peaceful demonstrators in Troppau and Kaaden on 4 March 1919, which left 54 dead and 107 wounded, were a far cry from “democratic traditions!”

Bibliographic information
Author: W. K. F. Shuldes
Title: Czechoslovakia’s role in Soviet strategy
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Spring 1982
Issue: Volume 3 number 1
Location: Page 89
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.