National Archive analysing new Milada Horakova documents

09-05-2006

The National Archive in Prague recently received new material donated by Jana Kanska, the daughter of Milada Horakova, the Czech resistance movement hero in World War II found guilty on trumped-up charges of treason and plotting to overthrow the government by Czechoslovakia's Communist regime after the war. Famously, she showed tremendous courage and calm during a preposterous show-trial that, in the end saw her sentenced to death. Recent years have seen renewed historic interest in Milada Horakova's life, and with new material donated by her daughter who lives in the US, Jan Velinger was interested in learning more. He dropped by the National Archive just a few days ago.

RP: Jan, who did you talk to and what did you see?

""Dita, at the National Archive I spoke to two specialists Dr Alena Noskova and Dr Alena Simankova closely involved the documentation of Milada Horakova's trial and sacrifice. Since the 90s new material has come to light - including a 'box' of papers now donated by Milada Horakova's daughter. The papers - received by the Foreign Ministry - apparently include correspondence by Mrs Horakova's husband who of course escaped from Czechoslovakia, family letters, photos, and even a comic book commemorating Horakova's life - that was produced by the then New York-based Committee for a Free Europe. Titled "Unconquered" this pamphlet was previously unknown to Czech authorities. Archivist Alena Simankova:

"It's interesting that this comic was produced as early as 1951. It shows that abroad Milada Horakova was not forgotten. In Czechoslovakia, [the ramifications of her trial] were still being felt: others were continuing to be sentenced for "alleged" ties to the original group."

RP: What does the pamphlet actually depict?

"From what I was able to see: key moments from Mrs Horakova's life, on the Czechoslovak National Council of Women, as an underground organiser captured and imprisoned by the Nazis, and lastly as a devoted democrat and parliamentarian in the post-war years who was criminalised by the emerging Communist regime. If I'm not mistaken, it also mentions international appeals by international figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Albert Einstein that went ignored. As a means of getting information across it was probably quite effective at time. It does show that Mrs Horakova's plight was well-publicised abroad."

RP: What about other items included in the box?

"We don't know everything yet - as the National Archive has pointed out it has only just begun studying the material - but it is clear some of the letters will probably be quite personal. There are letters especially by her husband who survived; then, there is a pamphlet marking a commemorative ceremony by an expatriate organisation in Toronto in 1953 - and there is even a fascinating letter from Mrs Horakova's family dated to the time of the Prague Spring, 1968, when Milada Horakova' sentence was struck down posthumously. Alena Noskova explains who the letter was written to:

"In the spring of 1968, Milada Horakova's family contacted playwright Vaclav Havel, associated with Prague's Na Zabradli theatre. The idea was to try to organise a series of public events remembering Milada Horakova's life and contribution. Havel replied to the letter with some suggestions but of course that summer saw the Soviet-led invasion. By December of that year it was clear that the efforts to organise any such event would come to nothing."

RP: So, Vaclav Havel, already then was well-known.

"That's right, Havel was certainly known in literary and intellectual circles, as well as the theatre. Admittedly, being able to leaf through the material to see the originals was fascinating. Alena Simankova - who has dealt with Milada Horakova's life and trial for years - told me how specific circumstances come through in the original documents, for example, the scripted quality of Horakova's trial, which was of course a mockery. And, she says that even though the elements of the story are very familiar, they are always experienced anew when viewing authentic material: an ordinary piece of paper confirming no presidential reprieve. A signature. A counter-signature by the defendant. It really makes one shudder.

RP: Do you think that we'll see even more interest now in Milada Horakova's life?

"I would say yes, I think that there is perhaps more interest now than ever. Her life is the subject, for example, of a new ambitious and multi-faceted project for schools - as well as the subject of a number of TV and radio documentaries. The latest contribution by her daughter Jana Kanska could certainly raise interest even more."

09-05-2006