The idea for our maze games came from the country in which we grew up: In particular with the history of democracy in Czechoslovakia (founded 1918, destroyed 1938/39, renewed 1945 and dissolved 1993). The renewal after World War II was not complete because the easternmost part of the country, Carpathian Ukraine which covers 12,000 sq km and has a citizenship of nearly one million and its capital Uzhgorod, was annexed by the Soviet Union. Today most nations recognize this area as part of Ukraine. The rest of what was once Czechoslovakia became dependent on the Soviet Union after the war. In 1948 the Moscow-bound communists smashed the last remnants of democracy. Political dissidents were systematically persecuted and exterminated. In the 1950s, show trials were staged with a total of over 260 death sentences and hundreds of thousands were separated from their families and imprisoned in so-called TNP labour camps because of politically motivated administrative decisions. These decisions were made by the 19 Czech regional administrative Communist Party (b5) security commissions in meetings held once or twice a month. As a whole, countrywide, they implemented 400-600 long lasting labour camp internments per month. The minutes of a b5 session in the Brno district on March 25, 1950 are given as an example at the end of this text.
GULAG AND ITS 1948 OFFSHOOT
Banishing political dissidents has been done for centuries. Largely in Tsarist Russia, where it was easy to isolate dissenters thousands of miles from their audiences and families. It also happened in Central and Western Europe with a purpose of isolation, rather than a personal harm.
The imprisonment of dissenters in penal camps developed on from their straight banishment. Despots throughout history have banished their opponents to prevent them influencing the public. As a thoroughly desirable side effect, the family of the punished suffered as well. Banishments in the Russian Tsarist Empire were to distant inhospitable areas remote from civilization. With hard work, hunger, cold and special punishments to make this a terrible punishment. The overseers could make hell on earth for the defenseless.
The Gulag was a Soviet system of hybrid prison and labor camps in which opposition figures were imprisoned and used as cheap labor. Unfortunately, the gulags are constantly being perfected, as are the repressive system and borders of the despotically ruled countries.
In 20th century camp systems of enormous proportions were made first in the Soviet Union and then also by the Nazis. After the defeat of the Nazis, some old camps found were repurposed. Post-war Czechoslovakia first used them during the expulsion of German-speaking families from the Sudetenland to separate men and use them as cheap labour. Many were sent to labour camps where uranium ore was mined exclusively for the Soviet Union. Shortly after the end of the war, on November 23, 1945, a long time concealed contract was signed in Prague, obliging the “liberated” country to deliver all nuclear material extracted on state territory to the Soviets. With the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the strategic importance of the uranium deposits in Jáchymov (Joachimstal) became clear to all those in the know. Soviet experts had the say when labour camps with shafts were built in this and new sites in Czechoslovakia, in Příbram (Freiberg in Bohemia) and in Horní Slavkov (Schlaggenwald). The distance from Moscow was nothing those days. The strategic raw material should be given cheaply, en masse and completely to the communist power.
After the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état that culminated on February 25 the communists gained unlimited power in Prague. Camps with the uranium mines, in which many Sudeten Germans were initially imprisoned, were then filled with German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union. During the communist dictatorship, these were gradually replaced by political prisoners and plain criminals. At the same time, in February 1948, the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs established special camps, special facilities of the Gulag camp system camp system for political prisoners.
The effectiveness of the construction of prison systems for opposition figures in the satellite states in the eastern half of Europe was reflected in the reluctance to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was manifested in the UN vote in December 1948. Almost 75 years have passed since that vote, in which the Soviet Union and its vassals abstained.
Between 1948-1953 the communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia executed over 260 political opponents. On average, one execution every week. With nasty applause from fanatics and the conformist media.
Towards the end of the rule of the dictators Stalin and Gottwald, in 1953, there were over 17,000 prisoners in the dozen uranium ore mines or penal camps in the three sites mentioned, who had to help under inhumane conditions to turn the eastern bastion of communism into a dreaded nuclear world power. Many of the political prisoners were sentenced to prison terms of more than 20 years. Some have been released halfway through, but in poor health or near death.
Attempts to escape the camps have mostly failed or resulted in the deaths of those who tried. It would only have made sense if it were possible to leave the country. However, the whole country has been fenced off like a camp. A system of controls, obstacles, watchtowers and fences has been erected on the border with western countries and well in front of it. In 1953, eight years before the Berlin Wall was built, a high-voltage wire fence was erected on Czechoslovakia's western, Austrian and western German borders. The game "To Freedom" refers to the fact that escaping from prison can actually only be successful if the fugitive can find a loophole in the national border.
THREE CZECHOSLOVAK RESISTANCES
Striving for independence, sovereignty, democracy and freedom were the sources of three resistances of Czechoslovaks in the 20th century. The first one culminated in WW1 through actions of the Czechoslovak Legions fighting against the Central Powers and then against the Bolsheviks. The other two were fighting against and resisting the Nazi fascists and the Czechoslovak communists in the periods of 1938-1945 and 1948-1989, respectively.
The unbroken urge for freedom, which unfortunately many Czechoslovaks lacked in times of oppression, was in the family, which we want to show our respect with our game. The family of General Mayor Josef Mašín (1896-1942). Josef Mašín was 18, when deserted the army of the Austrian Monarchy on the Eastern Front. He became an officer of the Czechoslovak Army and the commander in chief at the airport Ruzyně. In 1939 his superiors prevented him physically from leading his company into a fight. After the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia he went into underground. He was a founding member of The Three Kings, one of the most active underground resistance groups.
A few years later, Nazi terror was followed by communist terror. This was even more perfidious than the first and led to an almost complete resignation of the population. Immediately after the coup of February 25, 1948, the communists began a massive repression of their opponents. Many of these went into exile. Few of those who remained were able and willing to defend democracy with their lives.
The communists carried out the "class struggle" against large sections of the population. Farmers who wanted to remain independent declared them enemies. Driven by greed, envy and ideology, they tried to destroy all political resistance with malice, provocation and all violence. They practiced an almost hysterical clan-principle against the families of their adversaries armed with extreme hardness.
Mugshots of Václav Švéda taken by Gestapo (Archive of Radslav Švéda). He was 19, when he tried to escape from the Protectorate to fight the Nazis and was arrested. After an escape he was captured in Switzerland and 1942 in Berlin sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. This ended after German capitulation.
The group raided cash transports, police stations to get weapons and broke into a mine to get explosives. In several cases they killed the victims to avoid being identified. In fact, they were never caught. The core of the group planned to go into exile in the fall of 1951. They believed a new war would break out and in this they wanted to fight alongside the Americans against Communism. As a result of an intrigue, the Mašín brothers and their uncle fell into the hands of the secret police. They were interrogated and tortured for months, but the investigators had no idea what they could have been involved in. None of them disclosed and actually they should be released. Ctirad Mašín, then 22 years old, was sentenced for 2 years in a penal labour camp on a fabricated charge. He was sent to mine uranium in a camp near Jáchymov.
ESCAPE INSTEAD OF GIVING UP
The escape was postponed. The western border of Czechoslovakia, the Iron Curtain, became heavily guarded and the country resembled a huge extension of the soviet Gulag system. In the summer of 1953, Ctirad became free. The group undertook another major act of sabotage aimed at forced collectivization of agriculture. At the beginning of October 1953, five men armed with four pistols left for West Berlin via the GDR: The two Mašín brothers were accompanied by Milan Paumer (1931-2010), Václav Švéda (1921-1955) and Zbyněk Janata (1933-1955).
Mugshots of Václav Švéda taken by the communist StB. (Archive ABS č. V-2452 MV, Prague)
Václav Švéda was 32 when he fled Czechoslovakia. He was 34 when he was executed on May 2nd, 1955. The family did not receive his farewell letter while the communists were in power. The addressees were his wife Lída and their two small children. The wife brought a farm into the marriage. Four years later, in 1950, it was confiscated by the communists and in 1952 the family had to leave the farm. However, Lída lived with his parents for only a year with her husband and children. At the end of 1953 she was arrested along with her two brothers-in-law and her father-in-law. All four received prison sentences of around 20 years.
The essay Václav Švéda, the murdered idol by Jáchym Topol commemorates Václav Švéda and his family. Anyone who wants more than a glimpse of the effect of communist terror against their own population will not regret reading this strong text.
In 1955, along with the captive Zbyněk Janata and Václav Švéda, Ctibor Novák (1902-1955), an uncle of the Mašín brothers was executed. In the resistance against the Nazis, in September 1939, this man set off bombs in Berlin in front of the Aviation Ministry in Wilhelmstrasse/Leipziger Strasse and in front of the Police Presidency at Alexanderplatz. The bombs he brought in suitcases into the capital of the Nazi empire were provided by his brother-in-law Josef Mašín. Later he was seized, but not identified as the cause of the explosions. He was held in captivity till the end of the war. After the successful escape of Mašín brothers their uncle was accused of being the master mind of the group. The communists took his freedom and his life.
Novák's sister Zdena (1907-1956), the widow of Josef Mašín, and mother of the two Mašín boys and their younger sister Zdenka, was held in Nazi custody for six months in 1942. At the end of 1953 she was arrested by Czechoslovakcommunists and sentenced to 22 years in prison. She had one year more to live than her brother. She was subjected to severe torture through the investigation, then in the Pardubice penal and labor camp, while being seriously ill. After a transfer to a prison hospital she died in Prague.
The bodies of the executed Zbyněk Janata, Ctibor Novák and Václav Švéda were cremated, the urns with the ashes destroyed in Prague in 1961. Zdena Mašínová was burried in a mass grave in Prague's Ďáblice Cemetery.
With our Maze-games for freedom we commemorate the anti-communist Third Czechoslovak Resistance and call for a support of political prisoners of present day dictators.
Despots spread lies and disinformation in the free world. They declare members of the opposition to be terrorists. They are trying to cripple and destabilize our democratic systems. Together with you, we will frustrate these attempts if we succeed in convincing the majority of society that it is important and necessary to defend truth, tolerance and freedom, if we succeed in turning the young generation into democrats and defenders of the Do right to consolidate democracy.
With all freedom-loving people, we hope that today's defenders of democracy will not be forgotten, but will be supported by all of us to the best of our ability.
TNP labour camps (in Czech).