1 – The Iron Curtain

The events of the last February decade in Prague forced many opponents of the new order to think about their future existence. The First Republic-era political representatives were deciding between resisting from home or emigrating. In the case of the latter, Železná Ruda served as an ideal gate to Western Europe. The town was a popular tourist and skiing destination and there was a rail connection from Pilsen, the final stop of which was Železná Ruda – Alžbětín, lying exactly on the national border.

One of the first people who went into exile after February 25th, 1948 was the general secretary of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, Member of the Constitutional National Assembly, professor at the Charles University and most importantly a legend of the non-communist resistance during the Second World War Vladimír Krajina. As early as February 26th, 1948 he was expelled from the university leadership and arrested. After a personal intervention by president Edvard Beneš and Vladimír’s wife Marie Krajinová (nee Závodská), he was freed on the very same day. But he knew well that the upcoming regime will take repressive steps towards him. As such, he immediately decided to emigrate west. He used the party apparatus of the National Socialists and with the help of his connections and sisters Bohunka and Vlasta he set out for Železná Ruda on the last day of February 1948 – officially to enjoy skiing. On February 29, with the help of smugglers, he escaped on skis into the Bavarian Železná Ruda. In August, his wife Marie, children Milena and Vladimír (born December 18, 1947) and his mother-in-law Marie Závodská also used the help of the National Socialist Party members to join him in Bavaria and together they emigrated to Canada. In September 1948, the new regime tried Vladimír Krajina in his absence and sentenced him to 25 years of imprisonment for alleged collaboration with and providing intelligence to the enemies of the state.

A couple days later, Železná Ruda saw another dramatic escape of a prominent pre-war politician. It was JUDr. Ferdinand Veverka, the pre-war ambassador to Cuba, Austria, Romania, USA and Switzerland, a permanent delegate of the Czechoslovak Republic to the UN. Right after the end of WWII, he was accused of collaborating with the Nazi regime and arrested. On the basis of the presidential decree no. 12/1945 his property in Dolní Lukavice was confiscated and in early November 1946 he was sentenced to be stripped of some of his civil rights (active and passive elections into public offices or organising public meetings or attending them), however the confiscation was cancelled after the local initiator of the arrest and the accuser of JUDr. Ferdinand Veverka, Josef Parlesák was himself proven to be an active collaborator and confidant of the Klatovy Gestapo. Even general Heliodor Píka stood by the experienced diplomat and so instead of losing the abovementioned civil rights, Ferdinand Veverka received “merely” a reprimand from the Foreign Affairs Ministry for his behaviour in March 1939 in Romania (he was one of the few ambassadors who, after hearing of the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, handed over the keys and all documents of his office to the Germans and returned home). After the events of 25th February 1948, this wise lawyer knew that persecution of his person would soon follow. As soon as March 5th he, his wife Kornelia, son Ferdinand and his fiancé Jitka Růžičková all set out for Železná Ruda, where they stayed in Václav Řáda’s hotel. On the same day, the new regime forbade engaging in winter sports and staying in recreational centres in the border area. It was a clear attempt at stopping the opponents of communism from emigrating. Ferdinand Veverka learned about this from the owner of the hotel, who asked him to present an official permit to stay in the town. The former diplomat assured Václav Řáda that all would be made settled at the local National Security Corps station. He then sent his potential daughter-in-law Jitka Růžičková to the station to get more information. However, officer Jirásek, who was serving that day maintained that they must leave town. Jitka Růžičková tried to convince him that they wish to stay for the sake of Kornélie Veverková’s health – she was using crutches at the time. As it was already late afternoon, there were no trains leaving Železná Ruda in the direction of Klatovy. Officer Jirásek then agreed that the family must leave on the first train the next morning, which left Železná Ruda at 10am. He still went into the hotel to check their documents and luggage. After copying down their personal data, he immedialy used the telephone to reach out to the NSC station in Dolní Lukavice to confirm everything. From there a message immediately flew to the Přeštice District National Committee, which demanded that the NSC district leadership in Klatovy immediately arrest Ferdinand Veverka and his whole family. However, the order was only sent to Železná Ruda the next morning and by a lucky circumstance it arrived at a time, when officer Jirásek went into the hotel to check that the Veverka family obeyed his order. Ferdinand Veverka asked the hotel’s owner to call them a local transport provider, who would drive him and his family to the closest station. He presented his wife’s health as a reason for this. Václav Řáda agreed and called for his relative Jiří Štěpán. Ferdinand Veverka convinced the driver to take the family to the Železná Ruda – Alžbětín station. When the family got onto the platform they headed straight for the fence, which marked the border. They climbed through a hole in it and got to Bavaria. They were seen by a member of the NSC and a financial guard. The financial guard Jan Kristek stood in such a way so that his colleague could not use his gun to stop Ferdinand’s family from escaping. Instead, he, likely in pretence, took his weapon off his shoulder and shot after the fleeing family, even though they were already on German territory. To his great surprise, Kornélie Veverková, who was leaning on her crutches, fell down after the shot. She was immediately approached by a German customs officer and an American soldier. The border guards thus could not use their weapons anymore and JUDr. Ferdinand Veverka and his family disappeared to Bavaria and later moved to France. The authorities investigating their escape long question the behaviour of the financial guard Jan Kristek and even arrested the driver Jiří Štěpán, who was accused of helping the Veverka family escape. Eventually he was vindicated thanks to witnesses who confirmed that he drove back to the hotel right after he dropped his passengers off at the station and as such was not around during the escape. Thanks to his pre-war diplomatic experience, JUDr. Ferdinand Veverka eventually became a diplomatic and law advisor to the Ethiopian emperor.

One of the victims of the Iron Curtain in the western part of Šumava was František Zábřeský. This patriot fought during the Second World War as a member of the 11th Czechoslovak infantry battalion in north Africa and after an injury caused by a mine explosion he served as a radar operator with the Czechoslovak 311th RAF bomb group in Great Britain. He received a number of high state decorations for his efforts to defeat Nazism. After the war the Prague native picked a new home and began to work as a national manager in the František Welleš – Export of Jablonec Jewellery company. He worked here even in 1948. After the developments of February 1948, he immediately decided to emigrate again. He intended to leave with his secretary and girlfriend Bohumila Příhodová, who was the daughter of the Principal Administrator of the Domestic Trade Ministry. They chose the road from Železná Ruda around the Debrník castle to Bavaria. However, when they attempted to cross the border on March 30th, 1948, they came across two National Security Corps guards – František Founě and Václav Sušánek. Later, these two men gave an account of the happenings which came to pass nearby Železná Ruda. According to them, the pair did not react when asked to stop, František Zábřeský took out a gun and shot his companion. He then directed the gun towards himself and committed suicide right in front of the officers’ eyes. There are very little documents regarding this case, so their version of the story can be neither confirmed nor denied. The question of whether the war veteran truly did what was described or if the couple was really shot by the NSC officers, who were usually recruited from among supporters of the new regime, will probably remain unanswered.

After the February coup, crowds of supporters of the new regime called out slogans like: “Peroutka to the corner”. So, Ferdinand Peroutka, one of the top representatives of pre-war journalism, correctly assumed that getting expelled from all organisations (The Union of Czech Journalist, The Syndicate of Czech Writers and others) and from the leadership of the Free Newspaper was only the beginning and that his arrest would follow. He quickly decided to emigrate. He used his pre-war National Socialist contacts on his journey to west Bohemia. A resistance group made out of the members and supporters of this party, led by JUDr. Lubomír Hanák, former state delegate to Bavaria, gave themselves the code name “We shall come” (same as the title of the illegal newspaper they were publishing) and had a member in the Klatovy district, the local Scout District Leader Jan Raiser (scout nickname Honák, Honimír). At the turn of March and April 1984, Jan Raiser was visited at his former factory in Klatovy, where he was still occupying a leadership position as a trustee, by a Prague based toy wholesaler Vilém Vopršal and JUDr. Hanák with a request concerning smuggling people who felt threatened by the new regime to Bavaria. The first smuggling happened on April 13th 1948, when Vilém Vopršal crossed the border to the American-occupied zone in Bavaria. Another group which was getting ready to emigrate included Ferdinand Peroutka and eight others including his second wife Marie, nee Hulková. The date was set to 29th April 1948. All members of the group individually made their way to Klatovy, where they waited to depart in an apartment belonging to Jan Raiser, the former owner of the local marionette making factory (his business was nationalised on January 1st, 1948 because he employed 56 people at the time). For most members of the group, the journey was not a problem, but Ferdinand Peroutka was already being watched at that time. As such, he had to leave Prague with is seriously ill wife hidden in a wardrobe at the back of a moving van. Jan Reiser then took everyone to the village of Hamry, where he passed them on to Frantšek Jandík, the national manager of the local factory for making wooden bobbins. The smuggler across the border itself was officer Jan Brunner from the Hamry NSC station. Together with other colleagues, officer Jindřich Němec and officer František Kahoun, they smuggled the opponents of the new regime to Bavaria. The journey from Hamry to the nearby border was undertaken at night around the former village of Zadní Chalupy. The smooth goings of the smuggling of Ferdinand Peroutka’s group were interrupted by his wife Marie, who had learned about a love affair between her husband and Jaroslava Fenclová, a friend of his daughter from his first marriage (she was supposed to get to Bavaria via the same route a couple days later). Right after crossing the border, Marie repeatedly fell to the ground and began to loudly accuse her husband of infidelity. That naturally disturbed the peace at night and were the smugglers not recruited from among NSC officers, they would surely have gotten into big trouble. Eventually it became clear that the “We shall come” group’s smuggling activities were already known to state security authorities and Peroutka’s group thus became the last to cross to exile through this channel. The trap has sprung during the next attempt at smuggling a group of regime opponents.

National security planted an agent in the “We shall come” group who reported that at the turn of April and May of 1948, a number of members of the First Republic elite and non-communist WWII resistance was meant to escape through this route. Planning the intervention was not easy, because they did not have a lot of information. That is why Ferdinand Peroutka’s escape was successful. However, when on the 1st of May a car driven by a university student Antonín Navrátil (his code name in the illegal organisation was “Petr”) was driving in the same direction from Pilsen to Klatovy, carrying people such as the Air Force general Karel Janoušek, colonel Vlastimil Chrást and lieutenant Jan Štěpán, the NSC had already set a trap. When the car got to Přeštice at around 11pm, it was stopped by an NSC watch and everyone in it was arrested. The student Antonín Navrátil then gave up the name of the Klatovy-based member of the “We shall come” organisation during interrogations. A raid in Klatovy was thus organised. Meanwhile, another group had gathered in Jan Raiser’s apartment and included Ferdinand Peroutka’s secretary and lover Jaroslava Fenclová, member of the Constitutional National Assembly and one of the main organisers of a student demonstration in Prague on February 23rd 1948 against the advance of the Communist Party Josef Lesák with his wife and three children, JUDr. Lubomír Hanák with his wife Soňa, the former director of the Free Newspaper Dr. Miloš Jiránek with his wife Eva, Vilém Sivka, Lubor Sivka, Zdena Sivková and a former law student Váslav Skýpala, who was expelled from his studies after the events of February. Because of such a large number of people, Jan Raiser decided to split them into two groups and send them in two separate cars to Hamry. But when they passed through Janovice above Úhlava in the direction of Nýrsko, there was a barrier across the road nearby Starý Láz, namely two diagonally positioned cars. Another car and a motorcycle blocked the escape route from behind, the driver of the motorcycle pulled out a gun. That was the end of one of the routes that those who opposed the new regime used to travel West. Jan Raiser happened to be arrested on the day of his 20th birthday. NSC members managed to get other names of collaborators through interrogations. So, throughout May, members of the Hamry NSC Jan Brunner, Jindřich Němec, František Kahoun and a national manager František Jadlík were all arrested. Some detainees, for example Jaroslava Fenclová, were freed after a few days, but had to report to the NSC on regular basis. Others, like Jan Raiser, were affected by the presidential amnesty of June 14, 1948, and so could go home after a couple of weeks. On the other hand, the three NSC Hamry members faced hard punishments. Jan Brunner was sentenced to nine years in prison, his colleagues to six. Jan Raiser eventually managed to emigrate in mid-September with the help of another Klatovy scout Vladimír Bláha (nicknamed “Little Dragon”), transporter Josef Kopecký and state roadman Josef Kvíčala from Hůrka by Prášily. He was accompanied by a Slovak called Vladimír Balejka (scaut nickname “Fakir”). In October, even Ferdinand Peroutka’s lover Jaroslava Fenclová managed to get abroad and even did so legally. She gained British citizenship by marrying a British national Cecil Dee and then travelled with him to London, where she met up with Ferdinand Peroutka. Josef Lesák’s family had the least luck. His wife was stopped from breastfeeding her two-month old child, which cried so hard that it caused itself a ventral hernia and died after a couple of days. Josef Lesák was sent to prison for one year.