Formal presentation of the Václav Benda Award

On 16 November 2010

, the Václav Benda Award and commemorative medals “For Freedom and Democracy” were formally presented at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. The commemorative medal “For Freedom and Democracy” of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes was awarded to the following people:

Gen. Karel Mejstřík (in memoriam)

After the outbreak of the First World War, Karel Mejstřík fought at the Serbian front. After recovering from being wounded, he was sent to the Russian front, where he was captured in 1915 and subsequently joined the Czechoslovak Legion. As an officer in the army of the free Czechoslovak state, he completed two years of study at the Ěcole Militaire in Paris, and he subsequently attained the rank of Brigadier General. At 37 years of age, he retired to civilian life after a serious illness and settled in Zbraslav. He worked for the resistance during the Second World War, and he arranged support for those who had been deported to the ghetto in Terezín. He actively participated in preparations for the anti-German uprising. On 5 May 1945, he became military commander for the town of Zbraslav and a member of the Revolutionary National Committee. After the capitulation of the town, he was murdered on 6 May 1945 by SS officers. The medal was accepted by the director of the Military History Institute Col. Aleš Knížek.

Gen. Jaroslav Untermüller (in memoriam)

At the start of the First World War, Jaroslav Untermüller fought at the Russian and Serbian fronts. In 1916, he linked up with Serbian military units in Russia and subsequently joined the Czechoslovak Legion, where he attained the rank of major in the engineer corps. He remained loyal to the military services even after returning to his home country. In 1936, he was awarded a general’s rank and became commander of the engineering units in the seventh army corps. After the occupation of the Czech lands, he as pensioned off in September 1939 and he became involved in resistance activities. In the early hours of 9 May 1945, he was mistakenly shot dead in his own house in Prague by Soviet soldiers. The medal was accepted by the deputy director of the Military History Institute Lt. Col. Eduard Stehlík.

Oldřich Pecl (in memoriam)

After graduating from the Faculty of Law at Charles University, Oldřich Pecl pursued a career as an attorney. During the German occupation, he collaborated with the “Parsifal” resistance group. After February 1948, he supported the national socialists, cooperating in particular with Antonie Kleinerová. He maintained contacts with representatives of the émigré community and he gave them reports on economic problems, the collectivisation that was underway, the crusade against churches, and the first political trials. He is also credited with writing a “Memorandum from the Czechoslovak Democratic Opposition”, which was sent abroad in the autumn of 1949 with the aim of drawing attention to the totalitarian conditions in Czechoslovakia. Oldřich Pecl was arrested, interrogated and condemned to death in a fabricated trial as a member of a so-called “seditious conspiracy against the republic”. He was executed together with Milada Horáková, Jan Buchal and Záviš Kalandra on 27 June 1950. The medal was accepted by Oldřich Pecl’s nephew Vladimír Pecl.

Rastislav Váhala (in memoriam)

Rastislav Váhala joined the anti-Nazi resistance during the Second World War after the execution of his father in 1942. In 1944, he became a liaison officer for General Vojtěch Boris Luža. He was a member of the illegal Avala – Modrý kruh (“Blue Circle”) group. In the spring of 1945, he was a military advisor to the Intelligence Brigade, with whom he took part in the Prague Uprising. After the Second World War, he worked as a defence counsellor at the state courts. In defending General Heliodor Píka, he strived to save the life of this war hero. He filed a complaint for a mistrial and also appealed to the president of the country for clemency. After the execution of General Píka, he closed his lawyer’s office and made his living from manual labour. Even despite constant attention from State Security, he spent the rest of his life trying to clear General Píka’s name. His book entitled “The Death of the General” (“Smrt generála”) about the fabricated trial could not be published until after his demise in 1992. The medal was accepted by Rastislav Váhala’s daughter PhDr. Lea Rathauzová.

Štefan Buček (in memoriam)

Štefan Buček went into exile in 1949. In Austria, he established contact with the American Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) and transferred people from Czechoslovakia. After making several journeys behind the Iron Curtain, he was arrested in the spring of 1950 while transferring the agent-couriers Tomáš Chovan and Rudolf Pčolka. He was physically and mentally abused during his interrogation by State Security investigators. He was sentenced by the State Court in Bratislava to 20 years imprisonment and was also divested of his property and stripped of his civil rights for 10 years. He served his sentence in Leopoldov and Jachymov at the Prokop, Barbora and Bytíz labour camps. He was not released until 1962. After the collapse of the communist totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia, he was one of the founding members of the Confederation of Political Prisoners. The medal was accepted by Štefan Buček’s wife Anna Bučeková.

Štěpánka Baloušková (in memoriam)

As the wife of a member of the anti-Nazi resistance, who was persecuted and imprisoned by both the Nazi and communist regimes, Štěpánka Baloušková managed to establish contact with one of the civilian employees at the forced labour camp in Vykmanov. Despite considerable personal risk, she acted as a go-between so that 12 detainees could communicate in writing with their families and receive supplies of medicines, essential foods, money and cigarettes. She obtained the money required for this activity by moonlighting as an accountant. The medal was received by Štěpánka Baloušková’s grandson Libor Baloušek.

Ivana Tigridová (in memoriam)

After the putsch of February 1948, Ivana Tigridová became a hostage of the communist regime, because State Security tried to use her to force her husband (the journalist Pavel Tigrid for whom an arrest warrant had been issued) to return from abroad. Upon leaving the country, she became involved in émigré life and later worked as an editorial secretary of the prominent émigré journal “Svědectví” (“Testimony”). She was subjected to a number of indiscriminate operations by communist security corps, including anonymous letters, telephone calls and falsified orders of merchandise. In the 1970s, she published the magazine “Help and Action”. She participated in the smuggling of literature into Czechoslovakia and she organised financial assistance for the dissident movement. She also availed of every opportunity to draw attention to breaches of human rights in the Soviet Bloc. Ivana Tigridová died in 2008. The medal will be presented to Ivana Tigridová’s family via the Czech Republic’s consular office in France.

Pavel Knihař

At 17 seven years of age, Pavel Knihař and his friends established the Organisation of Free Students (Organizace svobodných studentů). They also published the illegal magazine “Free Voice” (“Svobodný hlas”) in which they expressed their conviction that the free world would not hesitate to help liberate Czechoslovakia. After being arrested in June 1948, he was released upon being granted an amnesty as a minor. He took advantage of this and crossed the border to Germany shortly afterwards. In the middle of November 1948, he joined the Foreign Legion in France, with whom he disembarked in Saigon in the spring of the following year. He survived fierce battles with Vietnamese partisans and regular divisions of the Viet Minh. He was subsequently stationed in Algeria. He left the legion with the rank of captain in 1978. On 5 July 1978, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. The medal was accepted by Pavel Knihař in person.

Evžen Seidl

After the putsch of February 1948, Evžen Seidl got involved in anti-communist resistance activity with the MAPAŽ group, which operated primarily in the Lounsko and Mělnicko regions. The group printed and distributed illegal flyers. Several members of the group received death sentences in a trumped-up trial in October 1949. Evžen Seidl was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for treason and espionage. He was given an amnesty while working in the Jáychymov labour camps in 1960. The medal was accepted by Evžen Seidl in person.

Růžena Krásná

After the Second World War, Růžena Krásná was regional secretary of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party in Liberec. She was arrested in 1949, and sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) with the MP Emil Weiland in a public show trial. She was finally released on the basis of an amnesty in 1960. After 1989, she became one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Confederation of Political Prisoners. In the 1990s, she was chairwoman of the National Social Party – the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party. The medal was accepted by Růžena Krásná in person.

Ján Zeman

After the Second World War, Ján Zeman worked in the construction division of the Povážské strojírny machine works. At the beginning of 1949, he was contacted by the courier Štefan Gavenda from František Bogotaj’s intelligence group with a proposal for cooperation, which consisted of passing on enciphered messages via dead-letter boxes behind the Iron Curtain. After being arrested in August 1949, he was physically and mentally abused during his interrogation. In the trial of Ján Zeman et al, the State Court in Bratislava sentenced him to death and confiscated his property. After the intervention of the US consular office, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The medal was accepted by Ján Zeman in person.

Irina Sajenková-Kodešová

Irina Sajenková was born in Tambov near Moscow. After the death of her father, she returned to Czechoslovakia. In 1945, she got married and gave birth to a daughter. She subsequently obtained Czechoslovak citizenship. In 1950, however, she was arrested by State Security officers and handed over to the Soviet KGB. She was taken to a reception camp in Vienna and subsequently transferred to Moscow. On the basis of enforced self-incrimination, she was sentenced by a military tribunal to be deported to a gulag in Siberia. She was released in 1956 as a result of political changes and later rehabilitated. Nevertheless, she did not manage to establish contact with her family until 1969. She became a member of the Memorial organisation, which is involved in helping those who have been prosecuted illegally. She did not regain her Czechoslovak citizenship until 2000. . The medal was accepted by Irena Sajenková-Kodešová in person.

František Vojtásek

In the 1950s, František Vojtásek joined the Czechoslovak People’s Army and became an officer of the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, which participated in operational activities against Germany. In 1968, he began working as deputy resident for Czechoslovak military intelligence in Paris. After the occupation of his country in August 1968, he began collaborating with the French intelligence service SDECE. He was exposed by the Soviet KGB and was monitored and investigated by military counterintelligence units. After his arrest in February 1978, he was extensively interrogated and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. He was incarcerated in Valdice Prison and was not released until March 1990 after the fall of the communist totalitarian regime. He was not fully rehabilitated until 2006, when he was reinstated with his original rank of Lieutenant Colonel with the right to wear an army uniform on important occasions. The medal was accepted by František Vojtásek in person.

Dick Verkijk

Dick Verkijk joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement at the end of the Second World War. He later worked as a correspondent for Dutch newspapers and television stations. At the end of the 1970s, he was arrested in Czechoslovakia, where he was briefly imprisoned before being declared an undesirable person. After the establishment of Charter 77, he visited Jan Patočka in Prague with the Dutch minister of foreign affairs Max van der Stoel. This meeting with the spokesperson of Charter 77 at a time of heightened pressure from the communist totalitarian regime was extraordinarily important for the entire opposition movement. The medal was accepted by Dick Verkijk in person.

Helena Berthelonová

At the end of the 1960s, Helena Berthelonová became actively involved in émigré life after leaving Czechoslovakia. She helped organise supplies of banned literature to Czechoslovakia, and she made a considerable contribution to the editorial work of “Listy” (“Sheets”) magazine, which was published in Rome by Jiří Pelikán. She supported dissidents up to the fall of the communist totalitarian regime by raising funds and distributing them during her visits to Czechoslovakia. The medal was accepted by Helena Berthelonová in person.

Dagmar Andrtová-Voňková

As a result of her civic-minded attitudes during the 1970s and 1980s Dagmar Andrtová-Voňková was persecuted by State Security. As a member of the “Šafrán” (Saffron) unofficial association of folk singers, she was unable to perform as an artist or to release her songs. Despite substantial pressure from the totalitarian regime, she would not abandon her principled stance, which she paid for by being ostracised as an artist for many years. The medal was accepted by Dagmar Andrtová-Voňková in person.

Božena Kuklová-Jíšová

At the start of the 1950s, Božena Kuklová-Jíšová and her husband became involved in the anti-communist resistance. After being arrested in 1953, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. (Her husband was given a 12-year sentence.). Upon her release in 1960, she worked as a cleaner on a building site, a factory worker, and later a social worker. She wrote under a pseudonym for “Mukl” (“Jailbird”), a magazine published by the INTER-ASSO international association of political prisoners. She published her recollections of more than 20 fellow prisoners in her memoir entitled “The Beautiful Mute Lady” (“Krásná němá paní”), which remains an important source for the study of modern Czech history. The medal was accepted by Božena Kuklová-Jíšová’s daughter Božena Zvolská.

Jaroslav Vrzal

As an active member of the Orel (“Eagle”) Christian sports association, Jaroslav Vrzala became involved in the activities of the youth wing of the Czechoslovak People’s Party after the war in Kroměříž. Shortly after the putsch in February 1948, he went into exile with a view to getting involved in the resistance against the communist regime. In the years 1952-1960, he was vice-chairman of the International Union of Young Christian Democrats. In 1955, he became general secretary of the “Freedom Youth Council” (Rada svobodné mládeže) and the co-publisher of the “Free Youth” (“Svobodná mládež“) magazine, which aimed to inform young people about the situation behind the Iron Curtain. From 1958, he worked as an editor for the Czech broadcast service of French Radio. He also collaborated with Pavel Tigrid on the journal “Svědectví” (“Testimony”) and published the magazines “New Horizons” (“Nové obzory”) and “Advancement” (“Rozmach”). The medal will be presented to Jaroslav Vrzal via the Czech consular office in France.

Paul Lendvai

Paul Lendvai worked for a Hungarian social democratic newspaper after the Second World War. He was arrested because of his activities in 1953 and was banned from working as a journalist for three years. Because of the suppression of the anti-communist uprising in Hungary, he left for Vienna in 1957. During the so-called “normalisation” era, he maintained extensive contacts with the Czechoslovak dissident movement. In the second half of the 1980s, State Security tried to have him monitored. He became head of ORF’s Eastern Europe editorial department in 1982, and is one of the most erudite experts on Central and Eastern European issues. The medal will be presented via the Czech consular office in Austria.

Stanislav Cába

After the putsch in February 1948, Stanislav Cába became a member of the Freedom Legion (Legie Svobody) – DAAK resistance group, which, under the influence of Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, tried to establish a central leadership for the anti-communist resistance and to prepare for a conflict with communist authority. Cába was responsible for activities in the Ústí nad Labem region and, as a member of the group’s leadership, he oversaw other areas as well. According to the records of the resistance organisation, he was in charge of around 500 people. In February 1953, he was arrested, interrogated and sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. Even in prisons and labour camps, he did not stop resisting the totalitarian regime. He was not released until November 1967. The medal will be kept at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and presented at a later date.

Anna Magdalena Schwarzova

Sister Magdalena, whose civilian name is Anna Schwarzová, was born into a Jewish family in Prague. She spent most of the Nazi occupation in Terezín. After the Second World War, besides studying at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, she became involved in the Catholic Students Centre (Ústředí katolického studentstva) and the Catholic Academic League (Katolická liga akademická). After being arrested in 1953 and subsequently tried, she was imprisoned by the communist regime until 1960. Upon her release, being a Carmelite nun meant that she was monitored by State Security. Despite this, however, in the course of the 1970s, she maintained close contact with representatives of the Czechoslovak opposition movement, including Charter 77. She moved to Poland in the mid-1980s. She was later included in State Security’s index of undesirable persons. Sister Magdalena lives in a Discalced Carmelites’ convent in Krakow. The medal will be kept at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and presented at a later date.