Hoover Archives has acquired a rare album of photographs of the Czechoslovak Legion in France: volunteer units composed predominantly of émigré Czechs, as well as some Slovaks, fighting on the side of the Entente powers during World War I. The unbound album with thirty-eight photos belonged to a soldier of the first autonomous Czech army unit created in France, the Twenty-First Czechoslovak Rifle Regiment.
The volunteers’ goal was to win the Allies’ support for Bohemia and Moravia’s independence from the Austrian Empire and of 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. Beginning with one company of the Second Infantry Regiment of the Foreign Legion, the Czech-Slovak unit expanded into an autonomous force and, with the help of émigré intellectuals and politicians such as Tomáš Masaryk, Milan Štefánik, and Edvard Beneš, grew into a brigade made up mostly of former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war of Czech and Slovak nationalities. When the brigade returned home to newly independent Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1918, it was made up of nearly ten thousand soldiers. Six hundred and fifty Czech and Slovak soldiers died in France, fighting the Germans during World War I.
The Czechoslovak Legion played a significant role in Russia during the last year of the war and the Bolshevik revolution; a force of some sixty thousand, made up mostly of Czech former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war controlled most of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Legion was evacuated via Vladivostok during the winter of 1919-20. The Hoover Archives already is home to an opulently bound photo album that belonged to one of the most distinguished commanders of the Legion in Russia, “the Siberian Tiger,” General Radola Gajda; it contains more than two hundred photos chronicling the exploits of the Czechoslovak Legion in Siberia. The album from the Legion in France complements the visual documentation of the Czech and Slovak military effort already in the Archives.
siekierski [at] stanford.edu (Maciej Siekierski)