A Brief Czech History
Compiled by John Rynes
“Who are we and where did we come from?” are questions asked by poets, scholars, theologians, scientists and ordinary people since humans first discovered the ability to wonder, reason and think.
“Who are the people named “RYNES”? What is their origin? How did they come to be in the United States of America? And where are they now?” are questions we have researched and attempt to address in this book.
We know, for example, that there are very few RYNES surnamed people living in the United States today. Best estimates place the number at less than one thousand persons. Almost all of these, it seems, trace their ancestry to emigrants from Bohemia, a region of central Europe that is currently part of the Czech Republic. These original Bohemians came to the United States in the mid to late 1800’s when Francis Joseph I was “emperor” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They settled in the mid-west, some in Nebraska, others in Wisconsin. Most came as farmers, yet others came as city dwellers—most descendants have by now, left the farms for city life.
We know also that their descendants have married people with German, French, Hispanic, Irish, English, and many other surnames. They have become priests, teachers, doctors, business executives, lawyers, farmers, and carpenters. And yes, some have been outlaws or criminals as well. Some spouse’s ancestry can be traced back to the American Revolution, others to the Irish potato famine. Spouses are descendents of Lapland reindeer drivers, Australian pioneers, as well as American frontiersmen.
We RYNES’S have integrated into our new homeland. We are part of its progress and success.
We have become Americans.
But still, who are we? What is Bohemia and what are Bohemians? How did we come to be here? And where are the RYNES descendents now?
To answer these questions, it is helpful to take a brief look at the area of the world containing Bohemia and the history of the Czech people.
Bohemia comprises a mountain-girt plateau, which averages about 6oo feet above sea level. The land slopes towards the north where it is dissected by the Labe river (also known as the Elbe river) and its tributaries. On Vltava, one of the tributaries stands Prague, which has always been a "capital" city for Bohemian people. The lower slopes and the low-lying plain of the Labe River are fertile farmland.
In the west, Bohemia is defined by the Krusne Hory and Cesky Les Sumva mountains/hills, which today form the border with Germany and Austria. In the northeast Bohemia is defined by the Krkonose Hory Mountains, which today constitute a boundary with Poland. The Krkonose Hory are the highest mountains in the Sudetes Mountain range, with Mt. Snezka, the highest rising to 5,259 feet.
To the south east of Bohemia is an area known as Moravia, which is mainly a lowland region under 1,000 feet above sea level. It is a water divide and a traditional crossing between north and south Europe. Moravia, throughout history, has often been closely affiliated with Bohemia. Today, the two regions of Bohemia and Moravia constitute the Czech Republic.
Although the land is generally poor in minerals, it is one of the most industrialized in Eastern Europe. The chief mineral resources are brown coal and lignite, iron ore, uranium ore and magnesite. Heavy industry has been traditionally based in Prague, Plzen, and Ceske Budejoice the three largest cities.
About 4o% of the total area is cultivated, 30% forest and a further 16 % is pasture, with the balance being occupied by cities and towns. Intensive agriculture (maize, wheat, beets, fruit, potatoes, and fodder crops) is practiced in the fertile plains of the chief rivers. There are timber industries. Bohemia's road and railway networks are dense. The lower reaches of the Vltava and Labe are navigable.
Figure 1: Bohemia in the Context of Today’s Geography
It is difficult to talk about Bohemia with out talking about the rest of Europe because she has rarely stood alone as an independent or autonomous country.
Today, Bohemia and Moravia together comprise the Czech Republic. For 74 years prior to January 1, 1993 however, these two regions along with Slovakia were united as Czechoslovakia.
And before that, Bohemia was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. In the 9th and 10th centuries the Great Moravian Empire governed Bohemia. In fact, at one time or another, she has been ruled and/or governed by almost every European nation. Even tiny Luxembourg has had a turn supplying Bohemia with her rulers:
"Though independent, the country, and later the Duchy of Luxembourg, was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
" In the 13th century, countess Ermesinde is justly admired for her reforms as she was vividly concerned by the social and general welfare of her subjects.
"Her great-grandson, Henri VII was the first Count of Luxembourg to be elected to the throne of the German Empire. His son, John, known as "John the Blind", who became king of Bohemia, is still the most popular figure of our history for his courage and bravery.
"But the greatest son of the dynasty was Charles IV, Emperor and King of Bohemia who devoted most of his efforts to his eastern possessions".
Figure 2: Czechoslovakia in 1970
Before studying our own family tree, let's take a brief look at the history of the Czech people. Perhaps we will better understand who we are and how it came to be that we are here, in the United States of America.
The first trace of human activity in the Czech lands dates back at least 600,000 years, but the trace is so small that it's hardly worth mentioning. More substantial are the findings of the so-called "mammoth hunters," whose effects from 22,000 years ago have been unearthed in and around South Moravia.
Sometime around 500 BC Celtic tribes began wondering into the Czech lands. One of those tribes, called the Boii, gained the attention of Rome, and the area in which they settled received the Latin appellation of Boiohemum, later translated into German as Bohmen and into English as Bohemia. Strangely enough, the Czechs have never used this name when referring to their country or themselves, opting rather for the Slavic name Cechy.
Figure 3: Map of Eastern Europe, AD 250 - 800 -- Original Home of the Slavic People
In the 5th century, during a period known as the Migration of Nations, the first Slavic tribes flowed into the Slovak and Moravian lowlands and into the Bohemian basin, driving out the Germanic tribes who had replaced the Celts. But the mighty Avars, a tribe of Turko-Tartar origin, who occupied most of present-day Hungary and waged arbitrary assaults against the Slavs, soon followed the Slavs. Rather than live under the constant threat of their belligerent neighbors, the Slavs unified, crushing the Avars under the leadership of Samo, a Franconian merchant who went on to build the first western Slavic empire, which included Bohemia, Moravia, parts of Slovakia, and a bit of Bavaria. But that empire, which was a loose federation of tribes, devoted to one man, died with Samo sometime around 659 A.D.
The Great Moravian Empire also gelled from a group of Slavic Moravian tribes, taking as their first leader Mojmir I (830-846). By the time he and subsequent rulers finished conquering neighboring lands, the empire spanned across a great deal of Central Europe, including Moravia (of course), Bohemia, Silesia, Slovakia, southeastern Poland, northern Hungary, and parts of eastern Germany. The Czechs and Slovaks have argued for years over where the capital of the empire was located, as each says it was in their own respective territory. But most archaeologists believe the political and cultural center was in one of two possible towns - Mikulcice or Stare Mesto (both located in South Moravia near present-day Uherske Hradigte).
Mojmir's successor, Rostislav, first made the initiative to bring Christianity to the empire, requesting from the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople (and not the pope in Rome) that he dispatch a mission to Moravia. The emperor sent two Greek brothers by the names of Cyril and Methodius, who arrived in Moravia in 863 bearing a Bible translated into Old Church Slavonic, an artificial language based on a southern Slavic dialect that was readily understood by the disparate Slav tribes in the empire. It was the first time that the Slavs acquired a written language. But Svatopluk, Rostislav's nephew, put an end to the Old Church Slavonic liturgy when he ousted his uncle and allied himself with the Latin-based Catholic Church.
Squabbling among the tribes that made up the Great Moravian Empire set it on the road to dissolution. The biggest blow came when the Czechs broke from the empire and swore allegiance to the Eastern Franconia King Arnulph. And when the Magyars (Hungarians) invaded in 907 and captured most of Slovakia, the empire crumbled, setting in motion the separate cultural and social development of the Czech and Slovak nations.
Sometime around the year 870 Prince Premysl Borivoj, ruler of the Czech tribes, moved his residence from Levy Hradec (where he had established the first church in Bohemia) to a certain hill above the Vltava River, an event that went down in history as the founding of the Prague Castle. Though it took a century after the founding of the castle to unite the Czechs, the Premyslid princes managed to emerge as rulers of Bohemia despite conflict within the family that reached its peak when the pagan Boleslav the Cruel had his devout brother, Prince Vaclav I (Wenceslas), assassinated in 929, an event which later made Vaclav the country's patron saint, not to mention its "eternal ruler."
By the time Boleslav the Pious (son of the Cruel) ascended the throne in 967, the Czech lands had come under the jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire, which was so loosely organized in those days that the Premyslids were able to maintain a high degree of autonomy. Under Boleslav, the Czech principality expanded by leaps and bounds, as the rest of Bohemia and all of Moravia became its territory. Not long after the death of Boleslav however, the principality was eaten up piecemeal by the Poles, leaving the Premyslids with only Bohemia proper. But the Czechs, under Prince Bretislav I (1034-1055), rallied back in the llth century and recovered Moravia, tied from then on to the Czechs and ruled by the youngest son of whomever sat on the throne in Prague.
It was during the 13th century that the Premyslid dynasty truly came into its own. Taking advantage of an ebb in the Holy Roman Empire's command over Europe, Otakar I persuaded the pope to issue Bohemia the Golden Bull of Sicily (1212), a formal edict that accorded Otakar I and his heirs the royal title and, in effect, promoted Bohemia from principality to kingdom.
These were indeed happy times for Bohemia. Newly-discovered gold and silver deposits boosted the kingdom's wealth, as did the development of trade-center towns such as Stare Mesto in Prague, Ceske Budejovice in South Bohemia, and Znojmo in South Moravia. It was also during this time that Germans, Flems, and Jews began to settle in the Czech lands, bringing with them the much-needed legal and financial know-how to help make these towns flourish.
By 1273, the Bohemian Kingdom had come to include Austria and the Alps. Riding this wave of economic and territorial expansion, King Premysl Otakar II set his sights on being elected Holy Roman Emperor. Not only was he denied the crown, but also he was ordered to cede Austria and the Alps to the man who became emperor, Count Rudolf von Hapsburg, whose family until then held little political sway. Infuriated, Otakar rebelled, declaring an ill-fated war against the newly elected emperor, a war that took Otakar II's life in 1278.
The political situation in Bohemia got messy after Otakar's death, but expansion continued nonetheless under Otakar's successor, King Vaclav II, who managed to become King of Poland. His brilliant statesmanship, used also in obtaining the Hungarian throne for his son Vaclav III, came as too big of a match for the heir, who had to renounce the Hungarian crown soon after his father died and concentrate his efforts on Poland, a country that didn't take well to being ruled by a Czech. In 1306, Vaclav III was murdered in Olomouc by an unknown assassin. With no male heir left to take the throne, the Premyslid dynasty came to an abrupt end.
Faced with a kingless kingdom, the Czech nobles elected the first Hapsburg to the Bohemian throne, Albert I. But Albert hardly had a chance to settle into Prague Castle before he was murdered by his own nephew. The crown fell to his son Rudolf I, but he too died an early death. So once more the Czechs were in the market for a king.
This time the crown fell to John of Luxembourg, husband of Vaclav III's sister and nothing less than Holy Roman Emperor. But John stayed out of Bohemia's internal affairs, and contented himself instead with expanding the Czech lands, adding Silesia and Upper Lusatia. His first- born son and successor, Charles IV (Karel), would prove to be the most praised king in Czech history.
Educated in the court of the French king and fluent speaker of five languages (including his mother's native tongue of Czech), Charles IV was, if anything, a brilliant leader and statesman. Needing help in managing his Czech affairs, his father appointed Charles joint ruler of Bohemia, and from the beginning Charles proved himself extraordinarily qualified for the job, kicking off his rule by landing an archbishopric in Prague. By the time John of Luxembourg passed away, which happened next to his son in the Battle of Crecy, Charles had already become a shoe-in to succeed his father as Holy Roman Emperor, which occurred in 1346.
The list of Charles' achievements is too long to detail, but his most formidable accomplishment was turning Prague into a city worthy of its status as capital of the Holy Roman Empire. During his reign, Prague and the rest of the Czech lands experienced its Golden Age, in which they became the recipients of a wealth of Gothic architecture. St. Vitus Cathedral was erected, the Charles Bridge built, Prague's district of Nove Mesto laid out, and Karlstejn Castle constructed. To top it off, Prague became the home of Central Europe's first university, appropriately called Charles University.
When Charles IV died in 1378, Bohemia unfortunately slipped into a decline heralded by an onslaught of the plague, which claimed up to 15 percent of the Czech population. What Bohemia desperately needed but didn't have was a strong leader. Charles IV's son, Vaclav IV, proved to be incompetent, taking to drink more often than to his responsibilities as King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. During Vaclav's decadent reign, in which he was deposed from the Holy Roman throne and twice jailed, Czechs who had enjoyed the flowering of Bohemian life under Charles IV could only assume that God was punishing them. And with one man claiming the papacy in Rome and another doing the same in Avignon, France (in what was to be called the Great Schism), Czechs undertook a serious reevaluation of the religious and political powers of the day.
The voice of conscience during these troubled times was none other than Jan Hus (sometimes anglicized as John Huss), Rector of Charles University and preacher at Prague's Bethlehem Chapel. Heavily influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe, a 14th-century English reformer who opposed the authority of the Pope, Hus propagated the idea that Czechs and the Czech language have priority in Bohemia, an idea that earned him the resentment of Prague's large German minority and incurred the wrath of the Catholic clergy, which had serious objections to the priest delivering his sermons in Czech (the language of the masses) rather than in Latin.
When Hus spoke out against the Catholic practice of selling indulgences (pardons given by priests to repentant sinners) in order to finance the Great Schism wars, the church responded by ordering Hus to the Council of Constance in 1415, where he found himself brought up on charges of heresy. Hus refused to renounce his beliefs, and, as a result, was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, even though Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund had promised him safe passage back to Prague.
The martyrdom of Jan Hus sparked a religious and nationalist uprising back in Prague, from where it spread like wild fire throughout the Czech lands. In the eye of the storm was Jan Zelivsky, a fiery preacher whose mad-as-hell sermons triggered Prague's first defenestration, in which a mob of Hussites (as Hus's followers became known as) hurled several Catholic councilors from a window in Prague's New Town Hall. King Vaclav IV perhaps saved himself a similar fate when; upon hearing he had a revolution on his hands, suffered a heart attack and died.
By the time Vaclav passed on, the Hussites had already gathered overwhelming support throughout the Czech lands, which they managed to seize control of in no time. Under Emperor Sigismund (Vaclav IV's brother and next in line to Bohemia's throne), the Holy Roman Empire mounted an all-out crusade against the Czech nation, which they perceived as a heretical threat to the stability of Catholic Europe.
But before the Hussite Wars got underway, a division within the Hussite movement had already begun to undermine its organization. On one hand were the radical Taborites, who wanted to rid the world of Catholicism and so proved it by going around burning churches and killing priests. On the other hand were the conservative Utraquists, mostly made up of Czech nobility (the Estates) who found the Taborite call to surrender all earthly possessions rather disturbing. Whatever the conflict might have been, it didn't prevent the Hussites, under the ingenious military command of the one-eyed Jan Zizka, from giving the bigger and better-armed Holy Roman forces a series of whippings.
With no hope of beating the superior military of the Hussites, Emperor Sigismund was forced to the bargaining table, held at the Council of Basel in 1433. The Utraquists handed over the Bohemian throne to Sigismund in exchange for religious tolerance in the Czech lands. The Taborites, who saw this agreement as a sell-out on the part of the Utraquists, went on wreaking havoc on Catholic institutions across Central Europe, but that came to an end when the Utraquists and Catholics joined forces to crush the Taborites at the Battle of Lipany in 1434.
Enjoying a wide degree of religious tolerance in ensuing years, the Czechs readily took up the Hussite faith, so much so that by 1458, 70% of those living in the Czechs lands considered themselves Hussites even though the pope still considered them heretics. In spite of the view from Rome, the Czech Estates put the first Hussite (and last Czech) on the Bohemian throne in 1458. This was truly a remarkable occurrence, considering that King George (Jiri) of Podebrady didn't come from a dynastic family and was regarded as a heretic by the rest of Europe.
Nonetheless, George proved to be a ruler light years ahead of his time. He reached out to the rest of Europe, attempting to form a European council that would solve international conflict by diplomacy rather than by warfare. But George's peaceful intentions were met with hostility from all sides, especially from the pope, who called Catholic countries to renew their fight against the Czech heretics. After George's death in 1471, the Czech Estates capitulated and handed the Bohemian throne to the Polish Jagiellon dynasty, who ruled over Bohemia until the dynasty went extinct in 1526.
In 1526, the Czech lands once more came under the Hapsburg dynasty, as the Czech Estates elected Archduke Ferdinand I King of Bohemia on the condition that religious tolerance be maintained. Despite his agreement, Ferdinand made the first steps towards the Counter Reformation by inviting the most radical of Catholics, the Jesuits, to set up churches and missions in the Czech lands. Ferdinand also stripped Prague of its royal charter, relegating it to a provincial town in the Hapsburg Empire.
But thanks to Rudolf II, who took the throne in 1576, Prague regained its prestige. With the Turks knocking at Vienna's back door, Rudolf transferred the Hapsburg seat of power to Prague, ushering in Prague's second golden age. Rudolf endowed the city with a magnificent collection of art and Renaissance architecture, and invited some of Europe's leading minds, such as Tycho Brahe and Johan Kepler, to conduct their studies in the royal court. Rudolf also ensured religious freedom in the Czech lands when he signed the Imperial Charter of 1609, establishing widespread acceptance of all Protestant faiths.
Unfortunately, Rudolf suffered from bouts of insanity, and was forced to abdicate the throne to his brother Matthias, who was not so enlightened. Matthias reneged on the Imperial Charter, and, with the help of his successor Ferdinand II began chipping away at the religious rights of Protestants. Infuriated at this turn of events, a group of Czech nobles marched to the Prague Castle on May 23, 1618, and threw two Hapsburg councilors out the window. Known as Prague's second defenestration, the event went down in history as the catalyst for the Thirty Years' War, a complex war in which scores of dynasties and countries were embroiled.
Following the defenestration, the Czech Estates expelled the Hapsburgs from Bohemia and put Frederick of the Palatinate, the so- called "Winter King," on the throne. But the Czechs'shaky independence came to an abrupt halt at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, in which the Hapsburg forces gave a mostly mercenary Czech army a severe thrashing. To add insult to misery, the Hapsburgs ordered the public execution of 27 Czech nobles in Prague's Old Town Square. The nobles who didn't have their heads lopped off were forced into exile, and their property confiscated and handed over to families from countries loyal to the papacy.
During the Thirty Years' War, the Swedes and Saxons laid waste scores of Czech towns (including a good deal of Prague) in their fight against the Hapsburg forces, breaking Bohemia's economy and reducing the population by one-half. After the war, the Hapsburgs made sure that the Czech populace (what was left of it anyhow) came to bear the full brunt of the Counter Reformation, a period in which the Czechs look back on as their dark ages. All Protestant religions were outlawed and education was placed in the hands of the fanatical Jesuits. On top of that, Germans poured into the Czech lands and for the next 200 years controlled all civil institutions, relegating Czechs to the lowly status of peasants and artisans.
By the mid-18th century, Czech culture and its language were on the brink of extinction. But a couple of changes, brought on by the Age of Enlightenment, prevented that from happening. After expelling the Jesuits from the Hapsburg Empire, Empress Maria Theresa made it possible for all Czechs to pursue an education. On top of that, her son Joseph II signed the Edict of Tolerance of 1781, legalizing Protestant and Orthodox faiths. He also abolished serfdom when a series of peasant uprisings shook the empire in 1775. Though power was still centered in Vienna and German firmly established as the official language in the Czech lands, these reforms nonetheless planted the seeds for the Czech National Revival.
At the dawn of the 19th century, the lucrative production of glass, iron, and coal in Bohemia and Moravia made the Czech lands the focus of the Industrial Revolution in the Hapsburg Empire. Czechs poured into towns and cities from the countryside and a Czech middle class began to form.
In the first half of the century, the Czech cause was taken up mostly in the realm of academics, as Josef Jungman and Josef Dobrovsky set out to reinvigorate the Czech language, elevating its literary value to a level on par with major European languages. At the same time Frantisek Palacky set upon reviving Czech history, reviving pivotal Czech figures such as Jan Hus and King George of Podebrady.
Figure 4: The reign of Francis Joseph I, “emperor” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Palacky stood at the forefront of the revolution that was to sweep through Central Europe in 1848, organizing the Pan-Slav Congress in Prague, in which representatives of the Hapsburg-controlled Slavic nations drew up a comprehensive list of political demands. The Hapsburg, under the leadership of Francis Joseph I who was “emperor” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reacted to the congress, and to the mass protests raging on Prague's streets, by declaring martial law, effectively curbing (but not crushing) Czech aspirations for independence.
Embroiled in war against Bismarck's Prussia, the Hapsburgs, were forced to capitulate to the Hungarian demand for equality in 1867, granting them independence under a dual Austrian-Hungarian monarchy. This event, which did nothing to change the Czechs second-class status, fueled the movement for Czech independence, which at that time had splintered into two major groups - the Old Czechs (led by Palacky) and the Young Czechs. The Old Czechs strived for the same agreement reached between Austria and Hungary, which would keep them under the Hapsburg monarchy but would give them equal status as an autonomous state. The Young Czechs, on the other hand, wanted nothing more to do with the Hapsburgs, demanding nothing less than complete independence. The most eloquent voice to emerge from this camp was a Charles University professor by the name of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a man who was also throwing around the novel idea that the Czechs and Slovaks should, by virtue of their historical ties, unite.
during this time of great seething political turmoil in the region that our
RYNES fore fathers and mothers decided to leave Bohemia and come to the
As the Czechs were hesitantly fighting alongside their old Austrian and Hungarian enemies during WWI, Masaryk was in the United States drumming up Allied support for an independent Czech and Slovak federation. With the help of Edvard Benes and the Slovak Milan Stefanik, Masaryk got the approval of the US, France, and England (who were all banking on winning World War I) for the creation of Czechoslovakia - a nation of two equal republics united under one federal government. The Czechs and Slovaks agreed to their union at two historic conferences, held in Cleveland in 1915 and Pittsburgh in 1918. But the Czechs later reneged on making Slovakia a separate republic, which would cause all sorts of political havoc in coming years.
With the Austro-Hungarian Empire down at its heels following World War I, Czechoslovakia was finally realized, declaring its independence on October 28, 1918, and electing Masaryk as its first president. Having acquired nearly 80 percent of Austro-Hungarian industry, Czechoslovakia walked into an unbelievably fortunate economic situation, one that established the country as one of the ten most industrialized nations in the world.
But there were problems from the onset, most notably in the form of ethnic tension. Not only were the two million Slovaks clamoring for more rights, but also so were the country's three million Germans and 700,000 Hungarians. Holding it all together was Masaryk, under whom Czechoslovakia became one of the world's most progressive democracies, granting all citizens the right to vote and instituting bilinguality in any region where there was a strong ethnic minority. But the country began to fall apart at the seams once Masaryk finally stepped down in 1935 and the presidency was put in the hands of the Socialist Edvard Benes.
At the same time, Konrad Henlein's Sudeten German Party was consolidating its power with financial backing from Nazi Germany, gaining the most seats of any party in the 1935 parliamentary elections. By 1938, after a series of meetings with Hitler, Henlein was calling for the secession of the Sudetenland into the German Reich, a demand taken up in September 1938, by Hitler himself.
In what was perhaps the biggest sell-out in modern diplomacy, English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Daladier accepted Hitler's demands, as outlined under the Munich Agreement, without hesitation and without first consulting the Czechoslovak government. Benes, who knew all too well that the Czechoslovak army was no match for the Germans, capitulated to the agreement, resigned as president, and then took off for England, where he later formed a Czechoslovak-government-in-exile. As planned, the Nazis marched into the Sudetenland in October 1938. It was only a matter of months before they would take the rest of the Czech lands and proclaim Bohemia and Moravia a Reich Protectorate, which happened the day after the Hlinka Slovak National People's Party, under Jozef Tiso, declared independence for Slovakia.
In charge of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was Reinhard Heydrich. Jewish deportation and mass arrests climaxed under his command, which was cut short when parachutists, given their orders by Benes' London-based government, assassinated him on the outskirts of Prague in June 1942. The results of the assassination were disastrous. The Germans exacted revenge by decimating the town of Lidice and promptly uncovering and quashing whatever underground activity had previously been established in Bohemia and Moravia.
By the end of 1944, Russian troops had liberated much of the country. On May 5,1945, the people of Prague finally rose up against the Germans, and managed to rid the city of Nazi troops the day before the Red Army officially liberated the city on May 9. General Patton's Third Army had already taken Plzen, but stayed put on their side of the demarcation line, much to the chagrin of later Czech generations.
With blessings from the Americans, British, French, and Soviets, Benes reestablished Czechoslovakia with himself as president once World War II came to its conclusion in 1945. First thing on his agenda was to expel the German-speaking population from the country, with approval given for it at the post-war Potsdam Conference. Not only were the 2.5 million Germans booted from the country, but also their property confiscated and nationalized in keeping with the new Socialist programs instigated by Benes.
With Western betrayal (i.e. the Munich Agreement) and the Soviet liberation still fresh on their minds, Czechoslovaks began directing their sympathies towards Russia. Communist Party membership boomed, and in the 1946 elections the Party secured 36 percent of the popular vote, obliging Benes to appoint Communist leader Klement Gottwald prime minister and installing a number of other Party members in key cabinet positions. For the time being, Gottwald and his Party still spoke in favor of parliamentary democracy, but that tune changed after Gottwald returned from talks with Stalin in 1947.
The decisive events which were to seal the fate of Czechoslovakia for the next 41 years came in February 1948. After again securing the majority of seats in parliament, the Communist Party declared a false state of emergency, calling on workers to arm themselves against an impending counter-revolution and go on a general strike. On February 25, Gottwald presented to President Benes his all-Party nominees for cabinet positions. Considering the mass hysteria stirred up by the Party and the Soviet tanks lined up on the border of Hungary, Benes had little choice but to accept all of Gottwald's nominees. Without a drop of blood spilt, the Communist had thus staged their coup, prompting some two million people to flee to the West.
The Communists wasted no time in drafting and passing a new constitution, one that established the Party's dominance. Refusing to sign it, Benes resigned in deference to Gottwald, who thus became Czechoslovakia's first Communist president. The Czechoslovak government promptly began Stalinizing the country, initiating an all-out nationalization of industry and collectivization of farms. Party member- ship became mandatory in order to hold any position of power, as the bourgeoisie found themselves barred from good jobs and their children prevented from getting a university education. It was only a matter of time before the gulag mines were up and running, and "enemies of the revolution" sent there to do heavy labor.
During the early 1950s, the Communists held on to an economically depressed Czechoslovakia by again generating an environment of fear and intimidation. Rumors of counter-revolution, economic sabotage, and Western espionage were spread in the papers and on the airwaves - creating an appropriate atmosphere of hysteria in which to carry out Stalinist purges and show trials, climaxing when 13 leading members of the party, including Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis and Gottwald' s right hand-man Rudolf Slinsky, were executed.
When Stalin died in 1953, Czechoslovakia experienced none of the cultural and political thaw that Russia did. In fact, it took the neo-Stalinist President and First Secretary, Antonin Novotny, ten years after Stalin and Gottwald's deaths to make some very lame reprisals for the purges. He also forestalled any headway toward economic liberalization, despite a recession that was shattering Czechoslovakia's economy. Novotny's half-baked New Economic Model of 1965 did little to appease the mounting intra-Party opposition, which had gathered enough steam by early 1968 to oust Novotny (who, incidentally, was later proven to have been an informer for the Gestapo during WWII).
Taking up the position of First Secretary in January 1968, was a young, mild-mannered Slovak by the name of Alexander Dubcek. He immediately pushed through a number of reform-minded policies that promised to bring about "socialism with a human face." These policies were outlined in April 1968, when the party released its Action Program, which proposed a separate but federated Slovak republic, a democratic parliament, freedom of assembly, and, most astoundingly, the abolition of censorship. Popularly known as the Prague Spring, Dubcek's initial months in office brought about a cultural blossoming in Czechoslovakia, a period that many Czechs and Slovaks look back on as a blissful time.
But Soviet interference was imminent, as the Kremlin issued threats to the Czechoslovak Communist Party that it better bring itself back into line or else. When it became clear that Czechoslovaks wouldn't bow, the Kremlin ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia. On the night of August 20-21, 1968, Warsaw Pact forces rumbled into the country. By the end of the day 58 people had lost their lives, and Dubcek and other reformers were arrested and flown to Moscow for talks with Brezhnev, returning home broken men. For months after, people took the streets in non- violent protest, peaking when Jan Palach set fire to himself on the steps of Prague's National Museum in January 1969.
Dubcek managed to stay on as First Secretary until April 1969, when he was replaced by hardliner Gustav Husak and sent into domestic exile as a minor official with the Slovak forestry commission. Husak proceeded to wipe out all of Dubcek's reforms (except the one that made Slovakia a separate but federated republic), and he weeded out and expelled from the Party some 500,000 members and functionaries who had been in favor of the liberal reforms. As a result of Husak's efforts to "normalize" the country by reinstating totalitarian oppression, more than 150,000 people fled the country before the Iron Curtain clamped shut and once again barricaded Czechoslovakia from the western world.
Husak's virulent secret police, the infamous StB (Statni bezpecnost), kept a watchdog's eye on the country throughout the stagnating 1970s and 1980s, quelling just about any organized opposition before it could get off the ground. But there was one opposition force in the country that held Western attention, and therefore couldn't be so effortlessly weeded out.
In 1976, members of Plastic People of the Universe, a rock band at the center of the country's underground music scene, were accused of spreading subversive ideas and brought to trial. In reality, the puritanical leadership wanted to rid society of people who had long hair, played alternative music, and otherwise led "decadent" lives. An assorted group of 243 artists, writers, intellectuals, and former Party members came to the band's defense, signing a public document demanding civil rights for the band members and for Czechoslovak citizens in general.
Those who signed this document went on to form Charter 77, an organization that monitored human rights abuses in Czechoslovakia. The most prominent and most outspoken member of Charter 77 was the absurdist playwright, Vaclav Havel. Steadfast in their ideals and vigilant in their resistance, Havel and other Charter dissidents endured a decade of constant surveillance, interrogations, and imprisonment. Though Charter 77 managed to expose the corruption of the Communist regime, it unfortunately failed to rouse mass opposition and demonstrations like Poland's Solidarity movement was able to do.
But history would play itself out to the advantage of Charter 77. By the late 1980s, Czechoslovakia's hardline government found itself shunned by its most important ally - the Kremlin, as Mikhail Gorbachev set perestroika in motion. In 1987, Milos Jakes replaced Husak as General Secretary, introducing a watered-down version of perestroika that did little to appease the voice of opposition that was getting louder and louder as it became more and more apparent that the Berlin Wall was about to crumble. But by the time that happened on November 9,1989, Czechoslovakia had yet to set spark the revolution that would bring down their Communist government. It would take an unfortunate event to get the revolutionary ball rolling.
On November 17, the official Communist youth group held a state- approved demonstration on Prague's National Avenue commemorating nine Czech students who had been executed exactly 50 years before by the Nazis. About 5,000 of the 50,000 students who participated in the peaceful demonstration were inexplicably clubbed and beaten by the police. Incensed at this unprovoked police violence, Praguers took to the streets in protest, filling Wenceslas Square to capacity every night in the weeks that followed.
Two days after the beatings, opposition groups such as Charter 77 took the initiative to coalesce into Civic Forum (Obcanske Forum), with Havel at its forefront. Civic Forum organized the mass demonstrations of November which forced the Communist regime to the bargaining table. In addition to demanding the resignation of Communist hardline leaders, Civic Forum called for an inquiry into the November 17 beatings and an amnesty for all political prisoners. In Bratislava, People Against Violence (Verejnost' prodinasihu or VPN) took up the cause for Slovakia, putting forth the same demands and organizing Slovak protests.
After a nation-wide strike and a demonstration of 750,000 people on Prague's Letna Hill (at which Dubcek made his first public appearance since being ousted in 1969), Prime Minister Adamec promised, but failed to deliver, cabinet positions to a spectrum of non-Party members. Civic Forum and VPN reacted by calling for more demonstrations and another general strike. Wisely, Adamec threw in the towel, leaving Marian Calfa to save whatever dignity the Communist Party had left. On December 10 the day before the planned nationwide strike, Calfa announced the Government of National Understanding, which officially put an end to 42 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia.
But there was still one more goal to be met - the election of Vaclav Havel as president. Posters demanding "Havel na Hrad" (Havel to the Castle) were plastered on walls across the country. And sure enough, the Federal Assembly elected Havel by a unanimous vote on December 29, the same day on which Alexander Dubcek was elected speaker of the National Assembly. Again, the passive Czechs had staged a revolution free of bloodshed and violence - a Velvet Revolution, as it were.
On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia officially split into the Czech and Slovak republics, ending a 74-year marriage as one united country. Despite their loose association under the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries and their union from 1918 to 1992, the Czechs and Slovaks have very different histories, though both could sit down to a glass of beer and well commiserate over a past in which they were both subjected to Hapsburg rule.
Euphoria would probably best characterize the mood in Czechoslovakia going into the 1990s. But there were, and still are, mammoth problems inherited from the previous regime. First off, the country faced a devastated environment, brought on by a Communist commitment to industrialization at any cost. (To this day, parts of North Bohemia and North Moravia are considered the most polluted areas in Europe.) The industry that the Communists did build, once the envy of the eastern bloc, was a technological dinosaur. And the economy, its condition no longer hidden behind a subterfuge of propaganda, was in shambles.
The new government, mostly made up of members from Civic Forum and VPN (who had together captured 60 percent of the vote in the June 1990 elections), set about rebuilding the economy by passing a restitution law, making it possible for Czechoslovaks to reclaim property that had been confiscated from them (or relatives) after the February 1948 coup. Privatization was, of course, a priority. But just how quickly it should be done was the big question.
It was this very issue that compelled Civic Forum to split in two parties: the left-of-center Civic Movement (Obcanske hnuti or OH), led by former dissident and foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier; and the right-of-center Civic Democratic Party (Obcanska demokraticka strana or ODS), led by the Thatcherite finance minister Vaclav Klaus. OH pressed for gradual reforms, but Klaus succeeded in pushing through his radical coupon privatization plan instead, allowing all citizens to become shareholders of formerly state-owned businesses. Klaus' plan proved to be (for the most part) successful, as the Czech Republic enjoyed the fastest economic growth of any former eastern bloc country in the early 1990s. His plan also ensured an ODS victory in the June 1992 elections, which propelled Klaus to the position of Prime Minister.
Slovaks came out of the Velvet Revolution in a much less advantageous position than the Czechs, who held most of the nation's profit- making industry on their side of the country. With the dissolution of the eastern bloc and the USSR, Slovakia lost the market for its three big moneymakers of steel, agriculture, and armaments. This immediately became apparent in the Slovak unemployment rates, which had shot up to 20 percent by 1992 in some parts of the republic, as compared to three or four percent in the Czech Republic (not to mention an amazing one percent in Prague).
Understandably, Slovak resentment of their better-off cousins in the Czech Republic reached fever pitch in just a few short years after the revolution, and finally found a hard-to-ignore voice in the demagogic figure of Vladimir Meciar, leader of his own Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (Hnuti za demokraticke Slovensko or HZDS), which called for Slovak independence and a much more gradual approach to economic reform that the one Klaus had in mind.
By the time the 1992 elections rolled around, Mecar had served as Prime Minister of Slovakia, but had been ousted by the Slovak National Council following revelations of his involvement with the StB (the pre- revolution secret police). But that didn't stop him and his party, which had promised Slovak independence if elected, from gaining the majority of Slovak votes in the election, once again making Mecar Prime Minister of Slovakia.
In a series of talks between Klaus and Me6ar, Klaus made it clear that he wouldn't budge from the economic reforms he had set in motion, and that if the federation were to stay together, then Slovakia would have to accept that fact. Klaus, who had previously said he supported the federation, effectively turned the tables on Mecar, indicating to Mecar that the Czech Republic would rather not carry the burden of Slovakia. In any case, they and their two respective parties agreed to a declaration of sovereignty even though - according to one poll held at the time - 85 percent of all Czechoslovaks were against the breakup.
President Havel, a strong supporter of the federation all along, called for a referendum. But it didn't happen, and Havel resigned in protest, refusing to preside over the breakup (though he would later accept his election as first president of the Czech Republic). Alas, on January 1, 1993, two new countries - Ceska Republika and Slovenska Republika - came into existence.
Since 1993, the Czech Republic has enjoyed a general boost to its overall quality of life - its economy has been on a roll, unemployment held to a bare minimum, and inflation kept to a reasonable level. Helping it along has been an overwhelming surge in tourism, indicated when the World Tourism Organization announced that the Czech Republic was the most popular tourist destination in the world for 1994 and 1995. According to its statistics, a staggering 100 million people visited the country each of these years! Not bad for a little country in the middle of Europe.
Of course, Klaus's government has vigorously been campaigning for Czech membership to the European Union. No one knows for sure just when that will happen, but everyone is banking on the Czech Republic being the first of the eastern bloc countries to get the invitation. The Czech Republic has also been rallying for NATO membership, much to the chagrin of the Russians.
all is wine and roses, however. The environment is still in shambles (though
the air is remarkably cleaner that it was a few short years ago). Crime,
especially theft and drug trafficking, is on the up- swing. And its health
system is in need of serious repairs, despite the steps that have been made
to privatize it. But all in all, Czechs have come out of their 41 -year
freeze well intact, and their future is bright.
Czech & Slovak Republics Guide, by Ted Brewer, ©1997, published by Open Road Publishing, New York, New York.
Family Tree Maker, Version 6.0 for Windows 95, February 8, 1999, Copyright © 1993-1999 by The Learning Company, Inc, Banner Blue division
The Golden Book of Luxembourg, published by the "Agence Europepne de Communication, Edition 1995
The Making Of Eastern Europe, from Prehistory to Post Communism, by Philip Longworth, ©1997, Published by St. Martin's Press, New York, New York
The Mammoth Hunters, by Jean M. Auel, ©1985, published by Crown Publishers, Inc., One Park Avenue, New York, New York, 10016.
Mormon Genealogy Web Site, http://.www.familysearch.org
The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: A Handbook, edited by George Scopflin, © 1970 in England, by Anthony Blond, Ltd., London, England, published by Praeger Publishers, Inc., 111 Forth Avenue, New York, New York 10003.
The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant, Volumes I. through XI, ©1975, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, New York.
The Wall Chart of World History with Maps of the World's Greatest Empires, drawn by Professor Edward Hull, M.A., L.L.D., F.R.S., ©1995, Facsimile Edition published by Barnes and Noble Publishing.
If you want to become involved in further research,
or just want more information, write to
 For a listing of a few Rynes people who did not come from Bohemia, see the section of this book entitled, Names from the Mormon Web Site in Salt Lake.
 Adapted from The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, A Handbook, edited by George Schopflin, ©1970, published by Praeger Publishers, Inc.,111Forth Avenue, New York, NY
 Adapted from Czech & Slovak Republics Guide, by Ted Brewer, ©1997, published by Open Road Publishing, P.O. Box 20226, Columbus Circle Station, New York, NY 10023
 Page 25, The Golden Book of Luxembourg, published by the "Agence Europepne de Communication, Edition 1995.
 This history is used courtesy of Czech & Slovak Republics Guide, by Ted Brewer, ©1997, published by Open Road Publishing, P.O. Box 20226, Columbus Circle Station, New York, NY 10023, and may not be used with out permission of the publisher ………e-mail: Jopenroad@aol.com
 For a fictional accounting of the these people who lived some 22,000 years ago, I recommend that you read The Mammoth Hunters, by Jean M. Auel, © 1985, published by Crown Publishing, Inc., One Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016.
 This map is adapted from the Making of Eastern Europe, by Philip Longworth, © 1997, published by St. Martin's Press, New York, New York.
 Adapted from "The Wall Chart of World History", facsimile Edition, by Professor Edward Hull, 1995, published by Barnes and Noble Publishing, Inc.
 This history is used courtesy of "Czech & Slovak Republics Guide," by Ted Brewer, ©1997, published by Open Road Publishing, P.O. Box 20226, Columbus Circle Station, New York, NY 10023, and may not be used without permission of the publisher ………..e-mail: Jopenroad@aol.com