Remembering General Heliodor Píka, first victim of the communist show trials

In the early morning of June 21, 1949, General Heliodor Píka, a hero of World Wars I and II, became the first Czechoslovak to be executed by the new communist regime. Today, almost 60 years to the date, the Czech Republic honoured the memory of one of the greatest of heroes and most profound of victims.

A military tattoo marking a moment of silence as the Czech army, government and citizens remember the service and death of soldier and diplomat General Heliodor Píka on the 60th anniversary of his execution by the Communist regime. Among the Czech army’s top brass, veterans, and officials, was Deputy Defence Minister Jan Fulík:

“We are here to commemorate General Píka who was one of the most important heroes of the Czech army in the First and Second World Wars and it is now the 60th anniversary of his murder. We should tell the soldiers in our army about his story, we should tell them that we can’t forget the people who gave their lives for democracy in our country.”

The name of Heliodor Píka had been nearly forgotten by the end of the communist era. One of Czechoslovakia’s most highly decorated and impeccably educated officers, he served as the Moscow attaché through the Second World War. He grew wary of the Soviets’ plans for post-war Czechoslovakia however, and his wariness proved well founded. After the communist coup of February, 1948, Píka was arrested for treason, sentenced by show trial and hanged – the first of more than 200 judicial executions that continued through the early 1950s.

General Píka’s body was never found. His life and service however was resurrected when the communist archives opened and since there has been a great deal of attention given to a man who the army now recalls as one of its finest. Major General Josef Prokš:

“This commemoration has a political aspect but I want to speak as a soldier. For us General Píka is a symbol of how a general should be: educated, proud and brave in all situations. This is our heritage as modern soldiers”

In the same prison where General Píka awaited execution was his son, Milan, who had fought in the war in the Royal British Air Force. I asked the 88-year-old lieutenant colonel how he hoped his father would be remembered another 60 years from now.

“As a good man who wanted only the best for his nation and his people, nothing else. He told me then, Milan, be a good man. Be nice to other people and try to fight for freedom and democracy. And he died without hatred for his enemy. He said, god himself will judge.”