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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia: The Case of General Heliodor Pika and his Prosecutor Karel Vas

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Totalitarian Movements and Political
Religions
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Crime and Punishment in Communist
Czechoslovakia: The Case of General
Heliodor Píka and his Prosecutor Karel
Vaš
Milan Hauner

a

a

University of Wisconsin–Madison
Published online: 13 Oct 2008.

To cite this article: Milan Hauner (2008) Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia: The
Case of General Heliodor Píka and his Prosecutor Karel Vaš , Totalitarian Movements and Political
Religions, 9:2-3, 335-354
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14690760802094925

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Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions,
Vol. 9, No. 2–3, 335–354, June–September 2008

Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia:
The Case of General Heliodor Píka and his Prosecutor
Karel Vaš1

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MILAN HAUNER
University of Wisconsin–Madison
MilanHauner
Totalitarian
10.1080/14690760802094925
1469-0764
Original
Taylor
9202008
mhauner@wisc.edu
00000June
&
Article
Francis
(print)/1743-9647
Movements
2008
and Political
(online)Religions
FTMP_A_309658.sgm
and
Francis

ABSTRACT Shortly after the Communist Putsch in February 1948, General Heliodor
Pika, deputy chief of the general staff and former head of the Military Mission in the
USSR, was arrested by the Communist-controlled security services and accused of high
treason as a British spy. He was to be sentenced on trumped-up charges and executed in
1949. This was the beginning of bloody purges in Czechoslovakia under the Communist
regime. The story becomes more complex, allowing a rare insight into the mechanism of
pseudo-justice in that country, by the fate of Pika’s prosecutor, Karel Vaš , who alternates
in the role of crime perpetrator and crime victim.

The trials of Heliodor Píka and of Karel Vaš
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On 15 June 2001, the Czech Press Agency (ČTK) briefly noted that Karel Vaš, a
former military prosecutor, had been sentenced to seven years in jail. The senate
of the Prague City Court found the 85-year-old man guilty of having forged
evidence against General Heliodor Píka, accusing him of collaboration with the
British secret service. This announcement seemed to indicate an extraordinary
and singular moment in the post-communist jurisdiction of the Czech Republic
(the former Czechoslovakia). For the first time a prominent perpetrator of
communist repression had been successfully tried and sentenced. Other culprits,
however, like the notorious torturers and interrogators of the 1950s, could not be
prosecuted because either they had died, or their crimes had lapsed in the meantime because of the 50-year barrier, or, since they had already been punished
(mildly) in the late 1950s, their lawyers could now successfully claim the old
Roman Law principle – as happened, as we shall see, in the Vaš case – that one
should not be prosecuted twice for the same crime.2
The victim, General Heliodor Píka (1897–1949), the head of the Czechoslovak
Military Mission in Moscow during World War II and deputy chief of the General
Staff after the war, had been selected as the prime target in the purges, initiated
inside the Czechoslovak officer corps in the immediate aftermath of the communist takeover in February 1948. Karel Vaš, by contrast, epitomised the group of
perpetrators of judicial crimes, regardless – and here his case becomes slightly
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Correspondence Address: 5013 Risser Road, Madison, WI 53705, USA. Email: mhauner@wisc.edu
ISSN 1469-0764 Print/ISSN 1743-9647 Online/08/020335-20 © 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14690760802094925

336

M. Hauner

complicated – of the fact that he himself had become victim in the 1950s under the
same deadly mechanism of justice he helped to lubricate.
The seven year sentence against Karel Vaš, mild in itself, was considered as a de
facto life sentence in view of the defendant’s advanced age. In fact the presiding
judge justified the relatively low sentence given to Vaš by referring to the
advanced age of the defendant as a mitigating circumstance. His sentence, too,
has been regarded as symbolic atonement for past crimes committed during the
communist rule. It has been well received in the Czech Republic, though voices
were heard sympathising with the aged defendant suffering from Parkinson’s
disease. However, most commentaries understood that the outrageous miscarriage of justice in the name of ideology of hatred, whether National Socialist or
communist, had to be punished, even if it happened more than half a century ago,
and the frail former prosecutor appeared to be, if not the first, then certainly the
most important symbolic representative of the repressive communist system
established since 1948.
Hearing the verdict, Vaš declared himself innocent. He and his counsel, Dr
Čestmír Kubát, immediately dismissed the sentence as politically motivated and
protested against the portion of the verdict that denied legal validity for the period
of communist rule. Through his lawyer Vaš also rejected the charge that the
evidence against General Píka was intentionally fabricated, maintaining that it
reached him unblemished through legal channels. Both repeatedly said that they
would appeal. The Czech Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetský, himself a lawyer by
training, told the press that the sentence sets a moral and political precedent in that
the same legal standards as applied to Nazi prosecutors and judges could be
applied to communist crimes. Although almost 60 years have passed since General
Píka’s execution and another 40 years since the first attempts to rehabilitate him,
the former resilient prosecutor of ‘the enemies of the Soviet Union’ looked as if he
would not give in whatever the political circumstances. Admittedly, he was a hard
nut to crack, but the Píka–Vaš interlocked case is one of the most intriguing in the
entire postwar period of the Czechoslovak Republic. The Píka case still ranks first
among military trials during the communist era, just as if Milada Horáková3
became the symbol for the casualties among politicians, and Rudolf Slánský et al.4
turned out to be the chief martyr for the communists and a sordid example of how
communists had settled accounts among themselves.
Predictably, it was not the last word we have heard from Karel Vaš. Given the
emotional involvement of the public, each judicial confrontation with the former
military prosecutor Karel Vaš was perceived as a retrial of General Píka, whose
rehabilitation trial of 1968 needed a symbolic end through imprisoning Vaš. In that
respect the Vaš trials could be compared with the recent trials of octogenarian Nazi
judges and prison guards, or Vichy administrators who had been accused of
maintaining the façade of legality during World War II while collaborating closely
with the German security services. In the case of Karel Vaš, however, he did not go
to prison where he might have been allowed to die, which could have been interpreted as the crowning act of General Píka’s incomplete rehabilitation.
Nevertheless, it was not Vaš’s continuous illness and his very advanced age
that prevented him from entering the prison to start his seven years’ sentence.
With the help of his energetic legal counsel, Dr Kubát, he exploited every paragraph of the law by inserting half-truths and full lies, never ceasing to appeal
against the sentence, claiming that he himself was the object of a major miscarriage of justice – not General Píka.5 Vaš and his lawyer went far beyond the legal
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 337
norms re-established after the so-called Velvet Revolution of November 1989.
They questioned General Píka’s rehabilitation verdict from December 1968,
making several outrageous hints that Píka’s sentence of high treason for espionage in 1949 had been with all certainty justified since Píka himself, by signing the
final protocol, de facto admitted that he had passed information to the British. In
December 2001, Vaš and Kubát even had the impudence to call a press conference
to present their brochure and to demonstrate Vaš’s innocence. Moreover, no one
could deprive Vaš as a World War II veteran of his pension with the ‘liberation
supplement’, which has recently been increased. Naïve voices in the media, lacking the dialectical understanding of historical development that only Marxism
could provide, were wondering whether Vaš received his supplementary ‘liberation benefits’ as a reward for the judicial murder of General Píka. As part of the
campaign of catching the eyes and ears of the public Vaš has been seen participating quietly at numerous veteran parties and commemorations as if he was one of
those selected for rewards rather than for condemnation. Survivors among the
veterans have accused Vaš of being directly responsible for at least 12 death
indictments, including that one of General Píka, and later in his capacity as
military judge for more than 120 long-term sentences.6
Thus, the constant noise Vaš and his lawyer Kubát were making following
the June 2001 sentence paid off. One year after passing the sentence on Vaš, on
15 January 2002, the Prague Supreme Court ruled that in 2001 the City Court had
applied the wrong legal clauses in sentencing Vaš. It should have applied a certain
military penal law of 1855, surviving from the Imperial Austrian era, but still valid
in Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s. According to this penal law, Vaš’s prosecution
became barred under the statute of limitation introduced in 1994.7 Before the
assembled Czech media his lawyer triumphantly declared ‘absolute victory’.
The former prosecutor Vaš obviously knows the value of studying law and its
interpretation. Moreover, his lawyer has masterfully exploited ad nauseam the
combination of old age and the incredible twists of his client’s legal metamorphosis, frequently changing from the position of a perpetrator of crime into that of a
victim. Can the free Czech society find means to resume legal proceedings against
such notorious cases like Karel Vaš, which threaten otherwise to make the whole
process of ‘reckoning with the past’ a travesty of justice?
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Ne bis idem crimen iudicetur: General Píka and his Iron Prosecutor8
Who was General Heliodor Píka (1897–1949), whose judicial murder in 1949 fulfilled
a similar function in launching the purges inside the Czechoslovak officer corps as
the arrest and subsequent execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky in 1937 had done
for the Red Army? General Píka was a professional officer loyal to former President
Edvard Beneš and his London-based government in exile, who served, between
1941 and 1945, as the chief of the Czechoslovak Military Mission in Moscow. His
was a most difficult job, since the able officer had to maintain a modicum of efficiency within the Soviet system of wartime exigency, under constant criticism of
communist agents, while remaining loyal to the distant authority of President
Beneš. How difficult this must have been can be illustrated by the example of the
wireless communication between Moscow and the outside world, since the Soviets
did not allow the Czechoslovak Military Mission to send out wireless messages; they
had to be first decoded and delivered by hand to them. When Píka’s request for an
independent wireless continued to be ignored, he turned to British colleagues in
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338

M. Hauner

Moscow who did not want to know the cipher and dispatched his coded messages
promptly without questioning. When this was reported to the Soviets, their reaction
was predictable. Surrounded by NKVD agents, Píka had to be constantly on his
tiptoes. They would try to take away soldiers from the Czechoslovak unit without
asking his permission to train them as special agents for sabotage and terrorist activities, and then parachute them behind the lines. Owing to inadequate training and
lack of contact with underground organisations, practically all these agents
perished.9 Píka’s professional criticism of Soviet practices in recruiting agents for
what practically amounted to suicide missions, his close personal contacts with
British officers in Moscow and the respect his objective reporting from the German–
Soviet battlefront earned him within the British Government,10 his opposition to
political agitation by Czech communists within the Czechoslovak army unit, his
continuous loyalty to President Beneš’s Government, his resistance to Soviet harassment and frequent attempts at blackmail to force him to collaborate with the
communists against Beneš and his military superiors in London, all made him into
a marked man after the communist 1948 February Coup.
When the war ended and Píka returned to Prague, he was promoted by
President Beneš to deputy chief of General Staff. However, in May 1948, shortly
after the communist takeover in Prague, he was arrested without a warrant by the
communists on charges of espionage for British military intelligence. He was
interrogated for the rest of 1948, during which time Reicin and Vaš collected
evidence from the military archives and from witnesses until they had enough
material to fabricate the indictment.11 Píka was accused of working for British
intelligence and for undermining the fighting qualities of the Czechoslovak armed
forces in the Soviet Union during the war as well as after the war in his new position as the deputy chief of general staff. Indicted as a traitor and subsequently
sentenced to death on charges of high treason in January 1949, Píka was executed
six months later after all requests for clemency had been rejected by the highest
executive organ in communist Czechoslovakia, the so-called ‘fiver’ [Pě tka].12
During the Prague Spring Píka’s case was reopened and on 13 December 1968
the general was finally rehabilitated and acquitted of all charges contained in the
20-year-old death sentence.13
The institution that carried out the arrest and was in charge of the interrogation
was the Army Security Intelligence Office, known under the Czech abbreviation
‘OBZ’. It was run by communist officers who could be trusted by the NKVD. At
the head of OBZ were Bedřich Reicin (1911–52) and his deputy Karel Vaš (1916–),
who had both harboured a grudge against Píka since their first encounter in
Russia during the war. Reicin arrived in the USSR under obscure circumstances
some time in 1940 from the Protectorate, where he was registered at the Gestapo
as a communist and a Jew.14 Nevertheless, he was permitted to join a transport of
Czechoslovak Jews, which travelled across the USSR to China. In Moscow he
stepped out from the train and was arrested by the NKVD who refused to believe
that Reicin was a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Since he spoke
German and his name sounded German, the Soviets concluded that Reicin must
be a German spy and had him promptly dispatched to a labour camp. If anything,
this life experience made him more cynical and subservient to the pressure of the
NKVD. A similar fate had befallen Karel Vaš, when he tried to illegally cross into
the USSR. Born in 1916 in Užhorod as son of a Jewish lawyer from the easternmost region of interwar Czechoslovakia, Subcarpathian Ruthenia (Ukraine), he
became radicalized at a precocious age. Although Vaš claimed to be member of
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 339
the Czechoslovak Communist Party since his student days, the Soviet authorities
could not trust him and dispatched him to a Gulag camp like Reicin.
After the July 1941 agreement between Beneš and the Soviet Government,
Czechoslovak citizens subjected to conscription who had been detained at the
time inside the Soviet Union were released in order to join the Czechoslovak
Army unit to be formed behind. First came former Czechoslovak soldiers who
had been captured and interned by the Red Army following the collapse of
Poland in September 1939.15 Later former Czechoslovak citizens scattered in
labour camps and captured Slovak soldiers who had fought along with the
German troops were added. While Píka was in faraway Kuibyshev or Moscow,
propaganda and intelligence matters at the newly formed Czechoslovak Battalion
(Later Brigade and Army Corps) had been from the beginning in the hands of the
communists like Reicin and Vaš, supervised by the NKVD.
When the war ended Píka was on the one hand promoted but on the other he
became the target of a secret manhunt by the Reicin–Vaš team. His telephone
conversations were tapped and he was shadowed by OBZ agents whether he was
at home or travelling abroad. In early May 1948, shortly after the communist
coup, General Píka was arrested, literally in a military hospital where he was
undergoing surgery. Inhe beginning, Reicin himself conducted the interrogation.
When he could not make any breakthrough, he angrily asked Vaš to take over
and compel the general to admit his guilt that he was working for British intelligence. After a pause of four months Vaš thus started as chief investigator, and
finished, in a serious breach – and as a lawyer he must have been aware of that –
of legal practice, as the assistant prosecutor at the Píka trial.16
So complete was communist control of the military and judiciary apparatus soon
after the February cup, and so weak the authority of the ailing President Beneš, that
not even a warrant was required for the arrest of one of the most senior army officers.
The Soviet-trained henchmen of the OBZ simply moved around and arrested
whoever caught the attention of their chiefs,17 and these were Reicin and Vaš at the
time, both enjoying swift promotion from the ranks of lieutenants to colonels. Securing the military archives of the Beneš Government from London when the boxes
arrived in Prague, Reicin began to sift carefully General Píka’s correspondence with
Gen eralIngr, Beneš’s Minister of Defence. In parallel with the preparations for the
Píka trial, Reicin assembled many disjointed sentences from the Píka–Ingr correspondence, which he started to serialise immediately after the announcement of
Píka’s sentence on 28 January 1949 in the army weekly Obrana Lidu. Under the
pseudonym of Josef Bartovský it was to be published later as a propaganda brochure
entitled: The Path to the Bottom of Betrayal. The brochure opened the assault against
the pro-Beneš officers with a broadside against General Píka: ‘although the [CP]
Secretary General Rudolf Slánský warned of reactionary machinations against the
Soviet Union already in the spring of 1946, it was only … when the former General
Píka faced the tribunal that the hideous crimes of this clique were unmasked …
which were carried out under the veil of military and resistance activities’.18
Vaš himself has described for obvious reason his strained relationship with
Reicin in his reminiscences rather differently. Carefully avoiding the admission
that he was Reicin’s first deputy and over-emphasising the conflict-side of their
relationship, he explains19:

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At the beginning of 1947 I was removed from counter-intelligence for
conceptual disagreements with Bedřich Reicin, the chief of the 5th departo
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340

M. Hauner
ment in the Army General Staff (intelligence). Among others I criticized
his negative attitude toward officers who served in the west. After oneyear service in the army judicial corps, I was entrusted in June 1948 with
the investigation, of the case, among others, of General Heliodor Píka
because there was justified suspicion that he had committed high treason.
In the course of interrogating him I strictly followed the letter of the law.
Neither physical nor psychological pressure was used against the general
from myself; I would absolutely rule out that some one else should have
tried it. I did not knowingly insert into his file any documents that might
have been considered forgeries. I gathered impartially documents speaking for and against the general. In the draft summary of my charges against
General Píka, which I had prepared following the advice of the deputy
state prosecutor, I proposed a heavy jail sentence. I was at the time a mere
assistant to the state prosecutor without the privilege of carrying out acts
of prosecution. I did not wish the general’s death. However, the selection
of evidence … including the final verdict were solely decisions taken
appropriately by the court. It was not me who sentenced Gen.Píka to death
in January 1949 but the State Court, in contradistinction with the proposal
drafted by the deputy state prosecutor during the main hearing.20

Vaš then sums up in a telegraphic style what happened to him and Gen. Píka
thereafter, mixing up his own rehabilitation with that of his main victim in 1968:
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Eventually Gen.Píka was executed. He was then rehabilitated in 1968
under very problematic circumstances as a victim of the Communist
regime. The judicial resumption of his case was however politically
manipulated. It was preceded by the illegal negotiations of Píka’s defense
lawyers with the General’s son with the President of the Republic in the
presence of the prosecutor general and the president of the court. I
happened to be arrested in 1951. Just like today I was accused of having
tried unlawfully to impose capital punishment on Gen. Píka … They were
trying to force me to admit deeds, which I have never committed; besides
I was to testify under false pretences in the contemplated Slánský trial. I
then spent a year and half in solitary confinement. There was no beating
but I suffered hunger. When they thought I was done I began hunger
strike. They capitulated but in July 1953 they managed to sentence me in a
political trial. I received a life sentence. But that could take place only
after the execution of Reicin in December 1952 … After six years of
imprisonment I was released … and achieved full rehabilitation.21
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The documents do not reveal whether the OBZ had acted upon the direct
advice of Soviet ‘counselors’ in the Píka case. However, it is known that during
his interrogations of General Píka, Vaš used to meet almost daily the resident
NKVD agent in Prague, Mikhail Makarevich Khazanov, whose official function
was ‘legal counselor’ at the Soviet Embassy in Prague. Khazanov requested and
received every copy of the Píka interrogation protocol prepared by Vaš. He
seemed to have unofficially advised Vaš how to conduct interrogation, according
to Vaš’s own testimony, since ‘Moscow was eminently interested in Píka’s indictment so that he should be prevented from fleeing to the West carrying with him
all the Soviet military secrets he knew’.22
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 341
The close Khazanov–Vaš relationship continued throughout the period
when Vaš was officially in charge of interrogating Píka – i.e. from 9 June to
17 November 1948 – in spite of the fact that at this time there was no official agreement between the OBZ and NKVD regarding the prosecution of Czechoslovak
army officers considered pro-western, and that Vaš was in serious breach of the
existing Czechoslovak Army regulations. Indeed, one is justified in asking who
was in fact acting here as a foreign agent? Although Gottwald had made a request
to Stalin in writing already in September 1949, it was not until the summer of 1950
that Soviet counselors (e.g. Makarov, Likhachev and others)23 were brought in to
assist with interrogations, such as the notorious Slánský group, in which the
communists turned against their own ilk under the pretext of cleansing the party
of ‘Zionists, imperialist agents and other enemies of the Soviet Union’.24 Reicin, as
a suspicious ‘cosmopolitan’ communist, because of his Jewish origin, would
figure as one of the prominent defendants in the Slánský trials. He was to be
‘unmasked’ as an ex-Gestapo and Anglo-American super agent in succession,
who was at the time controlled by Píka. In order to protect himself and Slánský
from also being ‘unmasked’, Reicin and Vaš had to prosecute Píka. Their ‘Zionist’
plot however, was uncovered two years later. Like Slánský, Reicin received the
death sentence and was executed in December 1952. Now came the moment when
Karel Vaš as Reicin’s close collaborator must have felt the whiff of death as the
merciless wheel of communist Nemesis threatened to entangle him as well.
Charged with espionage and high treason, Vaš was arrested in August 1951 and
spent over one year in solitary confinement. At his trial in July 1953, hoping that it
would be a mitigating circumstance, Vaš boasted of his decisive contribution in
the Píka case and mentioned that Moscow had been informed through Khazanov
and highly appreciative of his handling the prosecution of Píka. No written
evidence was produced and no Soviet witnesses called in at the Vaš trial.
However, the former prosecutor must have impressed his judges because he
received a ‘mere’ life sentence, which was further commuted after 1956. He was
subsequently released from prison and in 1963 fully rehabilitated: his Communist
Party membership was restored, his military rank returned and he was to receive
a substantial financial compensation.. From then onwards Vaš never stopped
declaring his innocence with regard to his involvement in the Píka trial, referring
to his rehabilitation in 1956 according to the principle that ‘no one should be
punished twice for the same crime’. In 1968, during the Prague Spring, General
Píka’s surviving son Milan and his defence lawyer requested a revision of the 1949
trial. A military court declared the dead general rehabilitated, but left Karel Vaš
unpunished, which he has cleverly exploited as evidence that the Roman legal
principle ‘Ne bis in idem crimen iudicetur’ must have been applied in his case.25
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The Transition from one Totalitarian System to Another
The Postwar Retributions
The modern history of Czechoslovakia is full of paradoxes. Its judicial system is no
exception. The notorious miscarriage of justice in the 1950s, effectively a replica of
the ‘Great Purges’ in the Soviet Union, could have hardly taken place had it not
been for its relatively smooth transition between May 1945 and February 1948,
from Hitler’s into Stalin’s empire. Whatever remained in the judicial system that
would be reminiscent of the enlightened and liberal framework founded and

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perfected during the late Habsburg monarchy was to be eroded during the two
dictatorships. In the Píka case, for instance, we have already noticed the deliberate
manipulation of evidence under Reicin, the exclusion of witnesses for the defence.
Furthermore, we have seen Vaš, while dealing with the same case, switching his
function from interrogator to prosecutor at the whim of his communist superiors,
something that even the rumoured Nazi Volksgerichtshof never did.
Comparative assessments of the infamous political trials of the 1950s in Czechoslovakia have suffered from a number of unnecessary overstatements. One of the
most glaring ones, from the pen of the perhaps most knowledgeable chronicler of
the purges, Karel Kaplan, stands up when he had literally written that the great
show trials in Czechoslovakia, even if they started later than in other East European
countries, ‘resulted in more deaths than the trials in all other popular democracies
taken together’.26 This statement has been uncompromisingly challenged by
Muriel Blaive, a French sociologist, who has accused the ‘regime historian’ Karel
Kaplan of distorting the facts, and the remainder of Czech historians for having
produced inaccurate statistics concerning the key years of communist repression.27
Political scientist Jacques Rupnik believes that regarding its communist past the
Czechoslovak case constitutes a double paradox. On the one hand, the decommunisation in Czechoslovakia (and since 1993 in its successor state, the Czech Republic)
has gone further on both legal and rhetorical levels than in any other country of
post-Soviet east-central Europe (perhaps with the exception of East Germany). On
the other hand, the country still has one of the most conservative and unreconstructed Communist Parties of the former Soviet bloc, represented in the parliament
and a faithful membership exceeding in numbers that of any other political party.
Moreover, none one of the former communist leaders has been sentenced and sent
to jail so far for the past crimes, including the charges of high treason for explicitly
inviting the Warsaw Pact armies to occupy the country through that infamous ‘letter
of invitation’, sent by a group of old communist die-hards to comrade Brezhnev
and the Soviet politburo. The second paradox, still according to Rupnik, consists
of the persistently wide gap between the persecution of historians during the 1970s
and 1980s and the absence of a critical debate about the communist past among
Czech historians. Paradoxically, the absence of a genuine Czech Historikerstreit does
not seem to stop the prevalent legal decommunization.28
How Czechoslovakia accumulated so many paradoxes may be partially related
to the close and rapid transition from one type of totalitarian system to another. In
the pursuit of our subject it might be more instructive, rather than to start with the
assessment of the political trials of the 1950s (as Muriel Blaive does), to look first
at the earlier retribution period during the months immediately following the
collapse of the ‘Greater German Empire’ in May of 1945.
Regulated retribution, according to the ‘Great Decree No. 16’, known as the
‘Retribution Decree’, which was to be primarily directed against Germans and their
Czech collaborators, allowed Czechoslovakia to reach the contentious first place
among European nations pursuing retribution at the time. Czechoslovakia is, for
instance, comparable with France, the country that sentenced the highest number
of collaborators to death but executed a mere 11 per cent of them (out of 7037 capital
sentences there were 791 executions). Not counting Slovakia, where on the whole
a milder judicial prosecution prevailed, the Czech provinces, with one-quarter of
the French population, executed almost as many defendants as France, namely out
of 723 death sentences 686 were carried out, by far the highest rate (95 per cent) in
Europe (in Slovakia out of 65 sentences there were 25 executions).29

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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 343
Regarding the customary judicial procedure the Czech Retribution Decree had
already broken ranks when Beneš and his advisers conceived it in London. It was
not produced under communist pressure. The president desired trials to be as
short as possible and for defendants to have no right to appeal. Moreover, against
the verdict of the Extraordinary People’s Courts, handling the retribution cases,
there should be no legal redress. Compared with other judicial systems in Europe,
the Czech postwar court system developed into a something of an efficient killing
machine – banning appeals, limiting the mitigating circumstances to a bare minimum and ruling that the death sentences must be carried out within two hours of
the pronouncement of the capital verdict. In theory, the president had the right to
grant the plea for clemency. If the president did not respond positively within the
mandated three hours, the execution proceeded as planned. Frommer concludes
that, aside from Bulgaria, where Stalinist justice had liquidated thousands before
the war even ended, Czech retribution courts sent more defendants to death per
capita than anywhere else in Europe.30
The picture of the passage from Nazi to communist dictatorship through a brief
period of multi-party co-existence between the immediate end of the war and prior
to the February 1948 coup, would not be complete without mentioning the darker
side of the brief presence of the Red Army, which involved kidnapping and deportation of persons whom the NKVD considered particularly dangerous. These were,
in the first place, members of the ‘Russian Liberation Army’, (ROA), raised by
German military authorities from former Soviet prisoners-of-war. In the last days
of the war they tried to reach U.S. troops in Western Bohemia by changing sides
and fighting the Germans, to no avail. The U.S. Army handed them over to Smersh.
Thousands of them were executed on the spot and the rest deported to Siberia.
Their commander General Andrei Vlasov was taken to Lublyanka, the NKVD
Headquarters, where he was summarily tried and executed in August 1946.31 It is
estimated that Smersh deported about a further 500 persons from Czech territory,
of whom 300 perished.32 About 6000 were abducted from Slovakia, of whom nearly
half were Slovaks; about 2000 of them survived. Furthermore, from Subcarpathian
Ruthenia, a former province of Czechoslovakia but since 1945 attached to the
USSR, an estimated 40,000 persons were deported to Soviet labour camps.33

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The Political Processes of the 1950s (1948–54)
When the communists took control of the justice sector, existing ‘bourgeois’ legislation was found inadequate to go after the omni-present ‘class enemy’. The new
Law no. 231/1948, promulgated on 6 October 1948, provided the communist
regime with an instrument of terror to strike against every manifestation of antistate activities, ranging from attempts to leave Czechoslovakia to spreading
hostile rumours.34 This law in fact introduced brutal terror, reminiscent of the
worst excesses of the Great Terror period of the French Revolution with its
dreaded Loi des suspects (1793). In fact, as aptly characterized in a recent study,
Law no. 231 legalised the conduct of civil (class) war by one segment of the society against the other.35 The chief historian of the repression era, Karel Kaplan,
estimates that, with regard to ‘political crimes’ specifically, the Czechoslovak
courts sentenced 95,600 citizens during 1948–54 and in the following period,
1955–69, imposed a further 54,749 sentences. By contrast, ‘a mere’ 47,887 persons
were sentenced during the ‘normalization’ twinge of 1970–72.36 Between October
1948 and January 1953 the State Court passed 232 death sentences, of which 178

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were carried out. Obviously, many more persons died in detention; Kaplan, puts
the figure at 1157 persons.37
Further repression occurred through the labour camps, which absorbed over
22,000 persons. Unreliable soldiers and conscripts, almost 10,000 of them, were
sent to special Construction Battalions (‘PTP’ for ‘Pomocné technické prapory’). A
particularly brutal category were camps at uranium mines like Jáchymov, which
had a very high death rate and were nicknamed the ‘Czech Gulag’.38
In the early 1950s Czechoslovakia counted 32,638 prisoners of whom over
11,000 were serving sentences for anti-state activities, implied in the all-embracing
article 231, but almost the same number, 10,000 were still ‘retributionary’ detainees, serving sentences for crimes of collaboration with the Nazis. A country with
12.5 million inhabitants had 422 labour camps and prisons.39 Thus, the lawenforcing landscape of Czechoslovakia, a liberal democratic country following the
western tradition until 1939, was modified by the early 1950s into one resembling
the countries of the Soviet bloc. It was a gloomy landscape, excessively filled
with military barracks and labour camps, one that men like Karel Vaš helped to
reinforce and preserve.
If Muriel Blaive was right in criticising the exaggerated and blown-up Czech
figures for communist victims in the 1950s as reflected in the works of the main
‘regime historian’ Karel Kaplan, she would certainly be less annoyed if she looked
at the distribution of justice through both the wild and regulated retribution legislation during the period immediately following the end of the war. Here,
perhaps, seems to be rooted one of the causes for the Czechoslovak paradox.
Around 90,000 Czechoslovak citizens were prosecuted for ‘political crimes’
during the period 1948–54; of 233 death sentences 178 were actually carried out.40
According to a more recent source, during the five-year rule of the ‘First Workers’
President’ Klement Gottwald (1948–53), 237 death sentences were passed, of
which close to 190 were for alleged political crimes. Gottwald granted only 18
presidential pardons, one for a murder and 17 for those who committed ‘antistate’ crimes. Under his both successors between 1953 and 1967, a further 181
death sentences were passed.41 The last person who received capital punishment
and was executed in June 1989 was a triple murderer. The Federal Assembly of
the former Czechoslovak Republic abolished the capital penalty in May 1990.
Thus – to return to Muriel Blaive’s charges against the superficial judgment of
Karel Kaplan in both absolute and relative terms – these figures seem to be
substantially lower than those for Poland and Hungary.42 During the civil war in
Poland that raged between 1944 and 1948, if not longer, between 8000 and 15,000
persons were killed; in Hungary it is estimated that between 500 and 700 were
executed between 1948 and 1955.43
However, having tried to assemble many random figures in order to do justice
to the prevalent method of quantitative comparison between various stages of
totalitarian regimes in transition, we must not forget that too much of a concentration on quantitative analysis alone might easily lead to a kind of morbid accountancy, which can blur rather than help to identify the differences between
communist victims on the one hand and non-communist on the other.44
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Velvet Revolution and Velvet Justice: Persecution, Ostracism and Lustration
At first, it seemed as if the resumed rehabilitation of victims of the communist
oppression that followed the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of November 1989, and which

Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 345
found its legal expression in Law no. 119/1990, resembled closely the rehabilitation legislation of the ‘Prague Spring’ (Law no. 68/1968). Rehabilitation would be
the legal category into which correcting the miscarriage of justice in the case of
General Píka should fall. But ‘rehabilitation’ could be also claimed, by the paradoxical twist of historical development in communist Czechoslovakia, by the
chief perpetrator of injustice in the Píka case – his henchman, the former military
prosecutor and judge, Lt Col. (rtd) JUDr and PhDr Karel Vaš.45 Since the rebuilding of democracy was Czechoslovakia’s central preoccupation after the fall of
communism in 1989, in addition to rehabilitation the process of de-communisation, it had to find additional devices in order to verify a person’s civil background and prevent former communists and their shadow collaborators from
remaining in or reclaim position of power and influence. Such information,
however, together with the real and coded names of the suspects, figured only in
the hidden files of the Secret Police (Státní Bezpeč nost, abbreviated as ‘STB’).
According to Law no.119/1990, most of the former victims, estimated at
260,000, who had been persecuted by the communist regime through the loss of
freedom, employment, property, etc., were instantly rehabilitated, without even
having to make a request at a tribunal.46 Improvising through a brief period that
one newspaper amply called the ‘Wild Lustration’,47 the Czech legislature finally
introduced on 4 October 1991 the so-called Lustration Law no. 451/1991.48 While
most other states with a communist past have sought political justice through
direct criminal proceedings in the courts (but with very few convictions), the
Czech Republic took a distinctly non-judicial approach, based on the criterion
that any public official or civil servant, such as judges and university professors,
must give proof that during the period between 1948 and 1989 he or she was not a
collaborator or informer of the STB. To avoid revenge-seeking and legal retroactivity, lustration was sold to the Federal Assembly and the public as a defence
mechanism for the fragile new democracy. It was not meant to serve justice or
help the country come to terms with the past, as Kieran Williams correctly
observed, but to prevent a repetition of the communist coup of February 1948.49
Until 1999 the Interior Ministry issued 426,000 lustration certificates. Obviously,
the highest number of applicants turned up at the beginning: in 1992 over 209,000
people applied; between January and June 2005 no more than 3000. From 1991 to
1997 a total of 303,504 screenings took place, of which 15,166 (5%) resulted in
positive certificates. Those were transferred to less sensitive jobs or retired. The
overwhelming majority of applicants were therefore found not to be listed as
informers or employees of the secret police.50 There were gross discrepancies
among the applications of course; the higher one studied the structure of public
posts the bigger the gaps. No one was in fact surprised that the Lustration Law
overlooked some of the top jobs in the country. The then Speaker of the Federal
Parliament, Alexander Dubček, a living legend from Prague Spring of 1968,
would probably not have been allowed to run a local post-office on the grounds of
his multiple involvements with the Communist Party.51 In the most sensitive
areas, however, for which lustration was most expressly intended, sweeping
purges had already taken place before the law came into effect. Thus most of the
8900 STB officers had already been dismissed from service in 1990. Its successor,
the Federal Security Information Service (FBIS), established in July 1991, had
among its 1000 employees less than 140 old STB hands, but their numbers dwindled over the next two to three years through recruitment and training rather than
by lustration.52

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Few pieces of ‘velvet’ legislation experienced so much confusion and disunity
as lustration did. The World Labour Organisation, the Council of Europe, and the
European Parliament, criticised the Czech Lustration Law and explicitly recommended its abrogation. The Communist Party, which is still sitting in the Czech
Parliament with the support of votes from 15% votes of the electorate, went
almost berserk when the Lustration Law was introduced. President Václav Havel,
who had originally signed the law, changed his view when the Parliament
extended its validity. The Lustration Law was to remain valid only until 1995, but
– in spite of President Havel’s opposition – was twice extended, in 1995 and again
in 2000. On 7 December 2005, the Parliament voted for a third extension, which
encountered 60 negative votes (all communist and left social-democrats) out of a
total of 180. The results of the lustration are far from perfect. Muriel Blaive, a
French sociologist known for her critical analysis of the love–hate relationship of
the Czechs with communism, claims that no one has yet conclusively analysed
the impact of the lustration laws on the contemporary Czech society. She has
argued that those who felt unjustly ‘purified’ and went to court to prove the
opposite usually won their cases.53
One still wonders, however, that the ‘purification tests’ brought up relatively
modest numbers of people who had so actively supported the communist regime
in Czechoslovakia – even taking into account the usual attrition due to retirement
and withdrawal from politics. For instance, a figure of 150,000 persons is often
quoted as having been informers for the STB between 1948 and 1968.54 In 1992 a
certain Petr Cibulka, a former dissident, described by some as a fanatical anticommunist, by others as an unbalanced crackpot, obtained from obscure sources
and published a long list of approximately 160,000 alleged STB agents. What was
suspect about the list was that it gave only names, dates of birth and agents’ codenames. Judging by the follow-up discussion inside the Czech Republic, nurtured
by Cibulka’s periodical fits of pathological panic that a Bolshevik conspiracy was
lurking round the corner, in which a certain communist agent called Václav
Havel would play a chief role, one must admit that the post-velvet period of the
Czech Revolution had its irresistibly exciting moments. There is also, however,
the darker side of the lustration. Some people have complained that lustration
under the threat of the Secret Police name register evokes parallels with the
proscriptiones of the Roman dictator Sulla or those from the French Revolution and
thereafter. In 1968 a couple of unmasked communist crime perpetrators were
driven to suicide when ostracized. I am not aware of any suicide directly attributed to Cilbulka’s ostracism. However, several individuals, among them the wife
of the celebrated Czecho-Canadian writer Josef Škvorecký, were deeply disturbed
by finding their names on Cibulka’s proscriptions.55 The Škvoreckýs sued the
Ministry of the Interior, others went on trial to prevent further disgrace. The Interior Ministry felt challenged and at long last prepared its own official list that,
however, failed to provide additional details on the persons accused of being
police informers or worse. Exposed to constant public criticism, the Ministry
produced a second list, which was even worse since a number of agents and
conspirators disappeared from the list.56
In the absence of anything similar to the German ‘Gauk Institute’ or the Polish
‘IPN’ or the Slovak ‘Ústav pamäti národa’, founded by the last Czechoslovak
federal (joint) Minister of the Interior, Pavol Langoš, the virtues and sins of also
having such an institution in the Czech Republic are being discussed with no avail.
The Bureau of Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism
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[Úřad pro dokumentaci a vyšetřování zločinů komunismu = ÚDV], founded in
1991, has served a much narrower purpose, namely to prepare a list of top crime
perpetrators who ought to be prosecuted. After 14 years of investigation the list
has no more than 71 names. Out of these 51 were indicted, but a mere nine
received sentences, and out of these only a very few were actually imprisoned.
Sixty-four individuals are being still processed. Reluctant judges, coming from the
ancien regime, make speedy prosecution impossible. Firmness was certainly lacking in the case of Alois Grebeníček, a notorious torturer, whose son Miroslav
happened to be at the time the chairman of the Communist Party and a deputy in
the Parliament. Grebeníček senior simply ignored court orders under the pretext
of bad health, never turned up at trial and finally died.57
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‘Ecrasez l’Infâme’58 – or How an anti-Commuunist Blogger Attempted to Take
Justice into His Own Hands
Let us return to the bizarre case of Karel Vaš, which is central to this paper. Can
one break the vicious circle of post-communist legal rehabilitation syndrome,
with its endless delays and foul tricks and the sheer legal paralysis to bring real
perpetrators to justice? Here is one example of a genuine Czech grass-root
improvisation, which was successfully tested last year. After the mandatory
ceremony at the General Píka memorial in front of the General Staff building in
Prague on the 56th anniversary of General Píka’s execution, a small group of
uninvited anti-communist intransigents met. Their spokesman, the notorious
Jan Šinágl, suggested that he would instantly pay a visit to the old invalid Karel
Vaš (whose address he made available on his web site) to appeal to his
conscience.59
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[A man stepped in one of the bedrooms of the old peoples’ retirement
home in Prague … where a 90-year old man was resting undressed on his
bed]
Visitor: ‘How are you, Mr. Vaš? I wish you a good day. I am coming from
General Heliodor Píka’.
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Vaš: [frightened, confused]: ‘Who are you?’
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‘I am a Czech patriot’, answered the visitor, :‘It is 56 years today since you
had despatched a valiant man to death’.
‘Leave me alone, I beg you’.
‘Don’t you wish to say anything? I am coming from the memorial service
in front of the General Staff building where a valiant soldier was
commemorated today’.
‘Leave me alone’, the old man repeated.
‘How can you wear this burden on your conscience? Would you be
prepared to recant?’ That you regret what you have done in the past?
Your dreadful crimes?

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M. Hauner
‘None of the guests at the memorial service said what I am telling you
now: Would you be prepared to express your regrets so that people knew
what went wrong and keep their eyes open in the future to avoid such
mistakes happening again? There are Communists in our country who
are active again, in the parliament, and keen to usurp power.
If you do not express regrets and if you do not ask for forgiveness for
what you have done in the past … that you sincerely regret – otherwise
you might find dying difficult’.

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…
‘Can I take a picture of you? I don’t know how many people you have
sent to death. It is said that they were hundreds of them, thousands. God
be with you’.
Corpus Delicti
The chief corpus delicti of communist prosecution that brought General Píka to the
gallows, and for which Reicin and Vaš were directly responsible, is reproduced
below. Since it is the only document in English in the huge bundle of protocols
surviving in the archives,60 the reader can assess for himself how communist
justice operated and how the standards of the legal profession in Czechoslovakia
declined after the war that such a piece of ‘evidence’ could even be admitted in a
courtroom, let alone have a defendent sentenced to death. Some years ago I
happened to inspect a huge bundle of protocols pertaining to the Píka case.
Among the protocols, mostly by fellow officers who were forced to testify against
their former colleague, I found one document which attracted my attention. It was
the only one in English, but written in strange English with unusual grammatical
errors and typos. Since it pretended to be an internal message from one British
intelligence officer to another about General Píka’s confidential conversation
while visiting London in 1946, it certainly was idiomatically suspicious. None of
the Czech forgers had the slightest idea how to replicate a British officer’s jargon,
let alone one from the special intelligence branch.
It is therefore hardly surprising to announce that this key document, allegedly
intercepted by Czech agents operating in England, was in fact entirely manufactured inside Czechoslovakia. And indeed, it was Reicin’s secretary, a certain Mrs
Ludmila Uhlířová, who had seen him drafting the original Czech text, and who
testified about the callous forgery during the first rehabilitation trial of General
Píka in 1968.61 When confronted with the forgery as a witness at the same rehabilitation trial of 1968, Vaš claimed that he did not know in 1948 that the key document used against Píka was a fake.62 Why did Reicin need this extra proof so
much that he would make an effort to use a fake of such low quality in order to
compromise Píka?
Reicin’s two previous scenarios had not been satisfactory. Even before Píka’s
arrest it was rumoured among the OBZ operators that Píka should be kidnapped
and delivered to Soviet authorities in Austria, presumably for physical liquidation.
This scheme, hastily concocted following a few hints from the NKVD resident
Khazanov, had to be dismissed as unworkable since the OBZ could not find a
Soviet counterpart at the Austrian border ready to cooperate so that the ‘goods’
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 349

Figure 1. The facsimile of the Corpus delicti presented at the Píka trial. Lt Col. Bohumír (Nitsch) Nyč,
signed at the bottom, was one of Reicin’s subordinates, who was instructed to manufacture the forged
document against Píka.64
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could be delivered without attracting attention. The second scenario, based on
laboriously collected testimonies to prove that Píka compromised himself by
working for British Intelligence during the war, since he maintained regular
contacts with the British intelligence community as part of his official duties, did
not seem to amount to death by hanging, which Reicin and Vaš by now understood
was desired from their superiors both in Prague and – one could only speculate
due to the absence of direct evidence – in Moscow as well. Even the communist
propagandists found it difficult to dismiss the fact that Great Britain and the Soviet
Union were allies fighting together against Nazi Germany. Thus, convincing
evidence of Píka’s continuing contacts with the British had to be found for the
period after 1945. Hence the importance of Píka’s official trip to London in May
1946 to celebrate the Victory Day. To quote again the witness Uhlířová, she claimed
overhearing Vaš asking Reicin: ‘Just tell me how much you need for Píka, fifteen
years or the gallows, and the indictment can be manufactured accordingly’.
Having corresponded with the late British writer Edward Crankshaw, who
during the war served as British intelligence officer in Moscow and remembered
Píka, I sent him the text of the fateful ‘document’. ‘The document you sent me’,
Crankshaw replied in March 1983, ‘is really the most appalling and most unimaginably inefficient bit of forgery I have ever come across. The whole European
communist apparatus … is lowered in my esteem if this is the kind of thing the
Czech secret police, or whoever, is allowed to produce as fabricated evidence. I
don’t think I need elaborate on that’, concluded Crankshaw. And this is my
conclusion as well.
However, the unmasking of transparently forged evidence should be only the
beginning in the restoration of the country’s judicial system after 40 years of
paralysis and decline. Given the internal haemorrhage of the judicial mechanism, there is little hope that relief will come from within the profession, stimulated by the wishes of the former victims wishing that justice should take its
course by retrying and locking up those last surviving torturers and perpetrators
of crimes, now in their eighties if not nineties. To anticipate, on the other hand,
that the initiative for the retrial could come from the outside, more than half a
century after the crime was committed, is delusive. Even a country that
produced Václav Havel with his brilliant plays, cannot expect him to act like
Thomas Masaryk in the Hilsner Affair.63 The interventions by Voltaire, Zola and
Masaryk in the affairs of Jean Calas, Dreyfus and Hilsner required a propitious
moment for ‘crushing the infamy’ – and that cannot be staged at will like a
drama.
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Figure 1. The facsimile of the Corpus delicti presented at the Píka trial. Lt Col. Bohumír (Nitsch) Ny[o
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,] signed at the bottom, was one of Reicin’s subordinates, who was instructed to manufacture the forged document against Píka.64

Notes
1. When Karel Vaš was sentenced, I wrote a brief essay under a somewhat similar title, “Crime and
Punishment in Prague”, which was published in the World Policy Journal (Winter 2001/2): 93–6.
2. Two of the most brutal interrogators from the Slánsk ý Trials, B. Doubek and V. Kohoutek, were
arrested in 1955 and tried for applying “unlawful methods” while carrying out their investigations. To mitigate his nine-year sentence Doubek volunteered to write an account of his participation in the Slánský Trials. This 460-page testimony has been edited and provided with detailed
introduction by Karel Kaplan: STB o sobě . V ýpově d vyš etř ovatele B. Doubka [“Secret Police about
Itself. Interrogator B. Doubek Testifies] (Prague: Edition Svědectví, 2002). After 1990 enough
evidence became available to charge Doubek with several cases of murder. However, with reference to his previous prison sentence he had received from communist judges in 1955, his lawyers
successfully used the legal principle borrowed from Roman Civil Law, Ne bis in idem crimen iudicetur [“Not to be judged twice for the same crime”].
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 351
3. Dr Milada Horáková, member of the Parliament, figured as the chief defendant among a group of
non-communist politicians, who had been accused of “anti-state activities”. They were sentenced
to death and executed in June 1950.
4. The Communist Party Secretary General Rudolf Slánsk ý, the driving force behind repressions in
Czechoslovakia, who pressed for General Píka’s execution, was himself arrested in November 1951.
Together with a group of high-ranking Czechoslovak Communists, he was accused of Zionism.
Twelve months later Slánský and 10 others received death sentences and were promptly executed.
5. Karel Vaš, Moje perzekuce v právním státě aneb epochální v ýlet č eské justice do 50.let XX.století [“My
Persecution in the Legal State OR a Fancy Journey of Czech Justice to the 1950s] (Prague, 2001).
This brochure, in spite of its humorous title that is a literary pun in the Czech language, was in fact
Vaš’s appeal against the verdict of 15 June 2001. It was prepared with the help of his counsel
Čestmír Kubát in December 2001 and distributed as a brochure. Antonín Benčík and Karel Richter
responded with a critique, carrying even a longer title: “Ukázkové zneu žití demokracie – aneb
Epochální pokus dvojnásobného doktora Karla Va š e a jeho obhájce JUDr.Čestmíra Kubáta o rehabilitaci
umě le vykonstruovaného obvině ní a zloč inného odsouzení generála Heliodora Píky” [“An Exemplary
Abuse of Democracy – OR a Fancy Attempt of Dr Dr Karel Va š and his Defence Lawyer Dr
Čestmír Kubát to Save the Artificially Construed Indictment and Punishment of General Heliodor
Píka”], published in Př ísně tajné – literatura faktu 4 (2002), pp.116–33.
6. ČTK (Czech Press Agency), 22 June 2005. See also the interview of the legal historian Zdenk Vali š
with Mladá fronta – Dnes, 27 June 2005, and his detailed internet article “Quid Iuri?” (www.Vas
Karel ZV 0705).
7. See The Prague Post, 27 January 2002; http://muchr.radio.cz, 16 January 2002.
8. ‘Vas’ in Hungarian means iron. Vaš was born in Uzhgorod (Ungvár) where Hungarian was
spoken.
9. Karel Richter and Antonín Benčík, Kdo byl Generál Píka? (Brno: Doplněk, 1997). For earlier accounts
on Czechoslovak–Soviet cooperation in intelligence matters, see: J.Křen and V.Kural, “Ke styků
mezi československým odbojem a SSSR 1939–1941”, in Historie a vojenství 3 (1967), pp.437–71, and
5 (1967), pp.766–70; J.Šolc, “Československá zpravodajská skupina v SSSR, duben-červen 1941”,
Historie a vojenství 5 (1997), pp. 51–52, 65–71; Col. F. Hieke-Stoj, “Mé vzpomínky z druhé sv ětová
války”, Historie a vojenství (1968), pp. 581–619.
10. Bruce Lockhart, who was the Foreign Office representative and liaison with the Czechoslovak
Government, used to translate Píka’s highly valued dispatches into English for further circulation.
See his Giants Cast Long Shadows (London: Putnam, 1960), pp.166–9; Kenneth Young (ed.), The
Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, vol. II., 1939–65 (London: Macmillan, 1980), p.222.
11. Original documents have been compiled in 1968 for the rehabilitation trials of General Píka by his
defence lawyer R. Váhala. This collection of 710 pages, entitled “Život a smrt gen.Heliodora Píky”
[“Life and Death of General H. Píka”], has been available since 1985 in the Hoover Institution
Archives, Czechoslovak holdings, Stanford, CA. Hereinafter referred to as the Píka Dossier. Píka’s
lawyer, Rastislav Váhala, has used the documents in his monograph, Smrt generála [“The Death of
a General”] (Prague: Melantrich, 1992).
12. Consisting of President Gottwald and Central Committee members Zápotock ý, Slánský, Kopřiva
and Veselý. Reicin was also invited (Píka Dossier, note 11, pp.519–620; Váhala, note 11, pp.126–36).
13. A comprehensive synopsis of the Píka case, based on the Píka Dossier and other sources, was
prepared for the rehabilitation trial by two experts, Antonín Benčík and Jaromír Navrátil: “O
životě a smrti generála Heliodora Píky” [“About the Life and Death of General H. Píka”], whose
shortened version was published as a documentary supplement in the popular weekly Reportér,
IV/8, 27 February 1969.
14. The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was the Czech portion of the former Czechoslovak
Republic occupied since March 1939 by Nazi Germany. For details on Reicin see Ben čík and
Richter (note 9), pp.168–71; Benčík and Richter (note 5), 125; M. Lichnovsk ý, “Bedřich Reicin a
Československá armada”, Historie & Vojenství, 1–2 (1994).
15. L. Svoboda, Z Buzuluku do Prahy (Prague, 1968); L. Svoboda, Cestami života. Prague: Naše Vojsko,
1971; V.V. Mariina, “Chekhoslovatskii legion v SSSR 1939–1941gg”, Voprosy Istorii, 2 (1998), pp.58–
73.
16. In fact Vaš prepared the main prosecution document himself since the nominal chief prosecutor,
Colonel J.Vaněk, admitted on several occasions that he had no time to study the script and had to
rely entirely on Vaš (Píka Dossier, note 11, pp.295, 600–2; 815–19, 829–32).
17. A special NKVD unit under Captain Bragin, whose task was to arrest and ‘remove’ unwanted
witnesses, was closely cooperating with Vaš’s unit. Cf. Benčík and Richter (note 5),pp.126–9; Vališ
(note 6), pp.4–6.
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M. Hauner

18. Josef Bartovský, Cesta a ž na dno zrady – Rub historie druhého zahranič ního odboje (Praha, 19490, p. 6.
19. Vaš (note 5), pp.3–4.
20. That is by Vaš himself, since he was the deputy to the chief military prosecutor, Colonel J. Van ěk,
present at the main trial of Píka, from 26–28 January 1949. For Vaš’s manipulation with Píka’s
dispatches, testimonies of the witnesses, see: Píka Dossier (note 11), pp.519–54; Váhala (note 11),
pp.99–113, 126–136; Vališ, pp.14–15.
21. Vaš (note 5), 4. While imprisoned Vaš appealed several times. In the longest appeal of some 250
pages, dated 26 January 1956, addressed to the Minister of Justice, he described his activities in
detail including his close cooperation with Soviet intelligence before and during the Píka Case
(Vališ, p.8). At the age of 90, Karel Vaš agreed to give a four-hour interview to the Czech Radio, in
which he emphasized over and over that he did not wish General Píka’s death – despite the
evidence, as he claimed, that Píka pleaded guilty to acts of espionage for the British. When urged
by the reporter to be more specific, Vaš conveniently claimed weak memory and fatigue. The
shortened version, which was broadcast on 18 June and 23 July 2006, is available on a diskette
“Příběhy 20.století” [“Stories of the 20th Century”], Collection “Post Bellum” (further information:
info@hrdinove.cz). I am grateful to Mikuláš Kroupa, interviewer and editor of the Czech Radio,
for enabling me to listen to the unabbreviated version of the interviews.
22. At the time of Vaš’s recorded enrollment with the Czechoslovak unit in January 1943, he was
already ‘directed’ by the following NKVD officers: Kambulov, Myshin, Tokarenko, and from the
autumn of 1945, Tikhonov. From the end of 1946 to the summer of 1950 it was indeed Khazanov
(Vališ, pp.10–12).
23. Kaplan and Paleček, Paleček, Komunistick ý re žim a politické procesy v Československu. Brno (2001),
p.87; K. Kaplan, Sově tš tí poradci v Československu, 1949–1956 [“Soviet Counselors in … ”] (Prague,
1993); A. F. Noskova, “Moskovskie sovetniki v stranakh Vostochnoi Evropy”, [“Moscow Advisers
in E.European Countries”], Voprosy Istorii 1 (1998), pp.104–13.
24. Named after Rudolf Slánský, secretary general of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, who spent
the war years in Moscow. He was arrested in November 1951 and executed a year later.
25. The English Common Law refers to it as “Double Jeopardy”. The European Convention of Human
Rights protects against Double Jeopardy (7th Protocol, Art. 4), which has been ratified by all but
six EU members (Czech Republic is not among the six dissenting members).
26. K. Kaplan, “Zamyšlení nad politickými procesy”, [Political Trials Reconsidered …], Nová mysl 7
(1968), 15.
27. Based on Muriel Blaive’s dissertation, Le regime de terreur tchécoslovaque et l’année 1956 en Tchécoslovaquie; Blaive, “1956 – Anatomie d’une absence”, in F. Fejtö and J. Rupnik (eds), Le Printemps
tchécoslovaque 1968 (Brussells: Editions Complexe, 1999), pp.50–63; and also the Czech version:
Promarně ná př íle žitost. Československo a rok 1956 (Prague, 2001), pp.187. Although Mme Blaive may
be correct on Kaplan’s deficiency in acquiring statistics on victims of political purges in the rest of
eastern Europe, she is unfair in calling Karel Kaplan a “regime historian”. It is true that Kaplan,
who joined the CP as a teenager, served briefly prior to 1968 on a government commission for the
investigation of the judicial crimes of the 1950s. However, after the crushing of the Prague Spring
Kaplan was sacked, his research materials confiscated, and he himself compelled to leave the
country in1972. He settled in Munich and thanks to the assistance of colleagues and West German
foundations, Kaplan was soon able to resume his writing (e.g. K. Kaplan, Die politischen Prozesse in
der Tschechoslowakei 1948–1954 (Munich, 1986), Collegium Carolinum, vol. 48.
28. J. Rupnik on “Coming to Terms with the Communist Past”, Soudobé d ě jeiny [Contemporary
History] IX/1 (2002).
29. The following statistics have been mostly drawn from Benjamin Frommer, National Cleansing.
Retribution Against Nazi Collaborators in Postwar Czechoslovakia (Cambridge, 2005), p.91.
30. Frommer (note 29), pp.78–94; for the English translation of the “Great Decree”, no. 16/1945, see
pp.348–63. See also Karel Jech and Karel Kaplan (eds), Dekrety prezidenta republiky 1940–1945.
Dokumenty (Brno: USD, 1995), p.179; an earlier monograph is K. Kaplan’s, Die politischen Prozesse
in der Tschechoslowakei (1986), note 27.
31. Abbreviated from “Smert Shpionam” (“Death to Spies”) were special NKVD units raised to deal
with deserters and POWs recovered from captivity.
32. Among them were “White Russians”, who emigrated from revolutionary Russia after 1918 and
settled in Czechoslovakia, e.g. General Sergej Vojcechovsky, who belonged to the top generals of
the Czechoslovak armed forces and one of the few senior officers convinced that the army should
have fought in September 1938. When he was arrested by Smersh in 1945, President Beneš did
nothing to save his life.
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Crime and Punishment in Communist Czechoslovakia 353
33. M. Borák et al., “Perzekuce občanů z území dnešní České republiky v SSSR” [“Persecution of
Czechoslovak citizens in the USSR”]. Sborník př íspě vků. Seš ity ÚSD 38 (Prague: USD, 2003), p.125.
34. During the Prague Spring of 1968, one of the most influential new political parties and most effective pressure groups, composed of former political prisoners sentenced by the Law no. 231/1948,
called itself “Klub 231”.
35. See Petr Blažek, “Politická represe v komunistickém Československu 1948–1989”, in: Moc verzus
obč an. Úloha represie a politického násilia v komunizme [“Political Repression in Communist
Czechoslovkia, in: “Power verus Citizen. The Role of Repression and Political Violence under
Communism”] (Bratislava: Ústav Pamäti Národa, 2006), pp.8–22, here p.13. I am grateful to
Mr Blažek for showing me an earlier draft of his paper, containing the most updated and comprehensive statistics of political repression in communist Czechoslovakia.
36. Blažek (note 35); Karel Kaplan and Pavel Paleček, Komunistick ý re žim a politické procesy v Československu (Prague & Brno: USD, 2001), p.40.
37. Kaplan and Paleček (2001), p.42. Bla žek (note 35, p.12) estimates that there were 240 ‘victims of
judicial murder’ by 1960.
38. V. Pacl, Tajn ý prostor Jáchymov (České Budějovice, 1993); L. Petrášková, “Věze ňské tábory v
jáchymovských uranových dolech 1949–1961”, Sborník archivních prací 44/2 (1994), pp.335–447.
39. Blažek (note 35), pp.13–14.
40. F. Gebauer et al., Soudní perzekuce politické povahy v Československu 1948–1989 [Judicial prosecutions
of political nature …] (Prague: USD, 1993), p.64.
41. Recent figures published by the Bureau for Investigation and Documentation of the Crimes of
Communism in 2006. Information broadcast by the Prague Radio News on 9 May 2006.
42. Blaive (note 27), p.52.
43. Blaive (note 27). The Hungarian figures do not include hundreds of further executions which had
taken place during the suppression of the 1956 rising.
44. Françoise Mayer: “Vězení jako minulost, odboj jako pamět”. [“Prison as History, Resistance as
Memory”], Soudobé dě jiny 9/1 (2002), p.45.
45. In addition to his doctorate in jurisprudence(1939), Vaš acquired a doctoral degree in history after
his release from prison.
46. František Gebauer”,Základní zásady zákona o soudní rehabilitaci č.119/1990”, in: Soudní perzekuce
politické povahy v Československu 1948–1989 [Judicial Persecutions of Political Nature…] Prague,
USD, 1993. For more accurate figures see Bla žek (2006).
47. Lidové Noviny, 25.11.2005.
48. This law was after ten years modified by no. 107/2002 Law, allowing access to the police files to
any person older than 18 years. The word ‘lustration’ has two meanings. First, the obvious Latin
root meaning a kind of a purifying rite associated with washing. The second meaning is that of
extracting from declassified files information about cooperation with secret police.
49. Kieran Williams, “A Scorecard for Czech Lustration”, Central European Review 19/1 (1 XI 1999).
50. Williams (note 49).
51. According to Jan Brabec and Jaroslav Spurn ý, “Lustrace: pro & proti”, Respekt, 4 November 1991.
52. Lidové noviny, 10 February 1998.
53. Muriel Blaive, “The Czechs and Their Communism. Past and Present” (Vienna : IWM Conferences,
2005).
54. František Koudelka, Státní bezpeč nost 1954–1968. Základní údaje. [“The State Secret Police … Basic
Facts”] (Prague: USD, 1993), p.68.
55. Zdena Salivarová-Škvorecká (ed.), Osoč ení. Pravdivé př íbě hy lidí z Cibulkova seznamu [The
Vilification. True Stories of People from Cibulka’s Proscriptions] (Brno, 1993 and 2000). See also
her husband’s novel, Two Murders in my Double Life (Toronto: Publishers 68, 1999). Cibulka’s web
site, containing a more or less complete list of STB agents of various categories and service assignments, is available at www.cibulka.com
56. See the weekly Respekt, 24 March 2003 and 7 April 2003.
57. Respekt, 7 July 1999. Author’s consultation with sources inside the Czech Republic who prefer to
stay anonymous.
58. I have borrowed this famous sentence from Voltaire, who applied it to the Catholic Church during
the affair of Jean Calas, a Protestant citizen from Toulouse, accused of having murdered his son to
prevent his conversion to Catholicism. When Calas was broken on the wheel (1762), Voltaire, livid
with anger, took up the case and by his vigorous intervention obtained the vindication of the
unfortunate Calas and the indemnification of the family.
59. The following is a tape-recorded conversation by Mr Jan Šinágl, who is known in the Czech
media as the most active fighter for lost causes. He maintains an active web site
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354

60.

61.
62.

M. Hauner

(www.jan.sinagl.cz), from which the reproduced conversation has been taken down and translated by myself.
See note 12 above. The protocols of interrogation of General Píka and the proceedings of the
rehabilitation trial were copied in 1968. With the agreement of General Píka’s son Milan and the
surviving lawyer R. Váhala, one complete set was made available for the Hoover Institution
Archives, Stanford, CA.
Píka Dossier (note 11), pp.288–98, 715–17, 835–8; Váhala (note 11), pp.40–47; Vališ, p.10.
Píka Dossier (note 11), pp.815–19; Benčík and Richter (note 5), pp.132–8; F. Hanzlík and J. Pospíšil,
Sluha dvou pánů [Servant of Two Masters] (Vizovice: Lípa, 1999), p.221. Even today Va š’s counsel
refers to the fake document below as “the alleged forgery” (cf.Vaš, note 5, pp.4, 29, 34). Under
such circumstances trials and counter-trials can go on and on forever.
The Hilsner Affair of 1899 was the Austrian version of the Dreyfus Affair, in which Leopold
Hilsner, a Jew, was accused of having performed ritual murder on a Christian virgin. Thomas G.
Masaryk, a Czech university professor of philosophy, decided to involve himself in the affair. In
response, he was hounded by students and the university put him on compulsory leave. There
were several retrials and the affair dragged on until 1916 when Hilsner, whose death sentence had
been meanwhile commuted to life imprisonment, was finally pardoned by the Emperor Charles.
Colonel Nyč figured as one of the witnesses at the rehabilitation trial in 1968. He supported the
testimony of witness Uhlířová regarding the forgery, which according to her, Vaš knowingly
accepted and incorporated in the indictment text. See Píka Dossier (note 11), pp.288–92, 792–8;
Vališ, pp.10–14; Benčík and Richter (note 5), pp.133–6.
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64.

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