Anti-communist Czechs retrace trek to Berlin

1st November 2005, Comments 0 comments

1 November 2005, PRAGUE - Former communist resistance fighter Milan Paumer was clean and combed Monday when he reached Berlin after a nine-day trek, mostly on foot, northward from the Czech Republic border through eastern Germany.

1 November 2005

PRAGUE - Former communist resistance fighter Milan Paumer was clean and combed Monday when he reached Berlin after a nine-day trek, mostly on foot, northward from the Czech Republic border through eastern Germany.

In 1953, however, Paumer and two compatriots were utterly filthy when they arrived in Berlin after 29 days of walking the same 260-kilometre route, fleeing for their lives.

"There were 20,000 (police officers and soldiers) looking for us," Paumer said in a phone interview Monday with Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

"When we arrived at the Berlin police station we were dirty, we smelled and our hair was long," he said. "But we were alive and in the free part of the world."

This time without risking any lives Paumer, 74, and four friends retraced the steps of his famous escape with brothers Ctirad and Josef Masin to what was then West Berlin from communist Czechoslovakia, via the former East Germany.

The re-enactment lacked the drama of the original flight but drew attention to the continuing controversy in Prague surrounding the so-called "Masin Brothers Uprising" against the Czech communist regime between 1951 and 1953.

The controversy stems from the fact that, as far as the Czech government is concerned, the members of the Masin Brothers group do not qualify for the honours heaped upon other anti-communist figures of the past, such as former President Vaclav Havel.

Some opponents even call them criminals, as did the communists and the communist press from the 1950s until the country returned to democracy after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Supporters of Paumer and the Masins, who live in the United States, have been lobbying for years to win official recognition from Prague for what they consider an heroic feat of communist resistance.

However, Havel as well as current President Vaclav Klaus have refused to honour the group. Last year the Czech Senate approved, but Klaus rejected, an official award.

So far the only honorary recognition for the Masin Brothers has come from an association of Czech and Slovak expatriates in Canada.

The "uprising" was inspired by the Masins' father, who fought the Nazis during the World War II occupation. Six people including Czech and East German police officers were killed by the group as they tried to incite an armed rebellion against the Soviet-backed regime that seized power in Prague in 1948.

They were labelled criminals after raiding two northern Czech police stations for weapons. They also had a bloody shootout with East German police during the flight to Berlin.

It was after realizing their movement was doomed that five of the group members snuck across the Czech-East German border in the autumn of 1953 and started walking to Berlin. Paumer and the Masins made it, but two other men were captured and later executed.

"Three times we got a little help from friendly natives in East Germany," Paumer recalled. "They let us stay in their barns, in the hay."

After weeks on the run, Paumer and the Masins were just 10 kilometres outside Berlin when they were spotted by police near a railroad station. Paumer was shot, yet all three men managed to jump on a freight train which carried them safely across the border to the American sector.

The three were given asylum in the United States. The Masins never returned to what's now the Czech Republic, although Paumer recently moved back and works with other anti-communist groups toward clearing the reputation of the Masin Brothers movement.

The 180-kilometre walk and 80-kilometre train ride that ended Monday, a journey from the Czech mountains to now unified Berlin, was Paumer's latest effort to keep the Masin Brothers memory alive.

DPA

Subject: German news

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