Above: Czechoslovak Legion marching band, Vladivostok, 1920
A substantial collection of photographs and publications of the Czechoslovak Legions on the Western Front and in Siberia has been added to the Hoover holdings. The most valuable part of the collection is made up of Czech brochures and periodicals published in Siberia and the Far East during 1918–20.
The Czechoslovak Legion in France was composed primarily of émigré Czechs, as well as 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 most of the strategic Trans-Siberian Railroad. Slowly making its way east, the legion reached Vladivostok and was evacuated to Europe during 1920.
During its long eastward trek the legion issued a daily newspaper using a printing press on board the train; it also produced numerous brochures, books, and well lithographed bulletins in small print runs. During longer stops, such as during their time in Irkutsk and Vladivostok, a printer’s shop was set up outside the train and the operations significantly expanded. Among the newly acquired imprints published in such places as Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Irkutsk, and Harbin, one periodical stands out: the six-issue run of the satirical Houpačky (swings) published in Irkutsk between June and November 1919. This is one of three surviving complete sets and the only one in the United States. Printed in color on large leaves of good-quality paper, it was edited by Jan Rada, who composed most of the humorous texts, and illustrated by Vaca Štěpán, whose drawings poke fun at the absurd situation of Czech and Slovak soldiers fighting for a cause not their own thousands of miles from their homeland.
The 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 siekierski [at] stanford.edu