Another significant increment of materials generated a century ago by the Czechoslovak Legions on the Western Front and in Siberia has been added to the Hoover holdings. Among the trove’s notable items, acquired from sources in Germany and Turkey, are the memoirs of a Czech Legionnaire, Bohuslav Pekárek, as well as a number of ephemeral publications and imprints.
The Czechoslovak Legion in the West was composed mostly of émigré Czechs and some Slovaks, all of whom had volunteered to fight on the side of the Entente powers during World War I. The legionnaires’ goal was to win the Allies’ support for Bohemia and Moravia’s independence from the Austrian Empire and of the Slovak territories from the Kingdom of Hungary, then all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Those territories would then be united into a new Czecho-Slovak state. Another Czechoslovak Legion, much larger than the first, was formed on the Eastern Front to support Russia’s struggle against the Germanic empires, which later would fight alongside the White Army against the Bolsheviks. Most of those soldiers, of Czech and Slovak nationalities, were former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. During most of 1918–19, the legion, some sixty thousand strong, controlled the strategic Trans-Siberian Railroad. Slowly making its way east, its units reached Vladivostok and were evacuated to Europe during 1920.
The Bohuslav Pekárek memoirs are in the form of bound 81 leaves of carbon copy Czech-language typescript, illustrated with a chromolithograph of the coat of arms of Czechoslovakia, photographs, postcards, and a large hand-drawn and colored map tracing the remarkable journey of the Czechoslovak Legion from Prague to Vladivostok and later around Asia back to Europe. They were based on notes taken during the war, and put together in 1922. Given the technical limitations of a typewriter and the nature of the illustrations, there were probably no more than 3-4 copies made. The Hoover copy is inscribed by Pekárek to the family of a fallen comrade, Jaroslav Papež. The memoirs were never published and Hoover’s is the only known surviving copy. Pekárek’s prose is suspenseful and rich in detail throughout. The author describes the fighting, the hardships, the local customs and habits. The volume is supplemented with a boarding pass for the American steamer, the “President Grant,” which carried Pekárek and his regiment from Vladivostok through the oceans to Triest.
During its long eastward trek the Legion issued a daily newspaper using a printing press on board a train; it also produced numerous brochures, books, and well lithographed bulletins in small print runs. During longer stops, such as during their time in Omsk, Irkutsk and Vladivostok, a printer’s shop was set up outside the train and the operations significantly expanded. An elaborately designed 8-page quadrilingual (Czech, Russian, French, and English) program for a Christmas 1918 concert in Omsk is an outstanding example of Legion lithographic art. Standing out among the other newly acquired publications are some two dozen colorful recruitment cards promoting the Legion and its political aims.
The Pekárek memoirs have been accessioned as a separate collection, and the other newly acquired materials have been added to the Legie česká records, 1918–1920. This collection is complemented by Hoover Archives’ existing photographic holdings on the Czechoslovak forces during World War I: General Radola Gajda’s album, the Eric Steinfeldt photographs, and items in the World War I Pictorial Collection (especially the Czechoslovak Legion in France album in box 38).
Maciej Siekierski PhD
Maciej Siekierski is curator of the European Collections at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
siekierski [at] stanford.edu