How Bohemians Organized

By Vojta Beneš
(Organizer, Bohemian National Alliance of America)

[The Bohemian Review, September 1917]

The Bohemian people declared war to the death upon Austria and all Czechs and Slovaks beyond the frontiers of Austria-Hungary had to be mobilized.

Moltke, the Prussian general, said many years ago: War takes three things—money, more money and still more money. Let me quote in this connection what Professor Masaryk stated in an address at Petrograd, May 18, 1917: "I left Bohemia with practically no money; the Austrian government took exceptional care that no considerable sum should get across the line. I was to be isolated so that I could do no harm. All the banks in Bohemia were strictly watched so that the officials might know who is getting money from home, and soon no more money could be sent out from Prague. It was self-evident, and the people at home took it for granted that America would help. I wrote to America, and the Bohemians there, all honor to them, are financing in a satisfactory way our movement I need not tell you that a great deal of money is needed."

There are no rich men among the Bohemian people in America who could afford to give large amounts; besides more than money was needed. It was necessary that the fight for the Czech nation should have the moral support of all the emigrants from Bohemia, of all whose mouths were not shut by superior force. The fight for independence had to be backed by Bohemians in every Allied and neutral country. The war made it the duty of the scattered fractions of the Czech people to finance the struggle for liberty and to speak for those who were not allowed to speak for themselves. To ask for money from others would have been a lasting shame for the Bohemian name.

Bohemians in France and England, and especially in the United States, took in hand the construction of the Bohemian National Alliance. This organization was created since the war began, but it has grown so wonderfully and has accomplished so much that it enjoys the respect and devotion of every Bohemian-born man and woman in these countries. The only sore spot until recently was Russia. Personal bickerings interfered with the smooth working of the "Svaz" of Czecho-Slovak people in Russia and much harm was done at the very time, when it was supremely necessary to present a united front and give proof of political capacity. But even there matters have been straightened out. Bohemians in Russia are now making an earnest effort to make up for lost time.

The Slovak people in the United States which had been organized for some time in the Slovak League, joined the fight for freedom from the start and the League works with us for the liberation of the sorely oppressed Slovakland.

Over all these organizations in the different foreign colonies presides the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris to give direction to the fight of the nation against Austria-Hungary and to speak in our name and in the name of the people of the Bohemian lands. Its head is Thomas Garigue Masaryk, professor in the University of Prague, scholar and statesman, deputy in the Reichsrat, member of the Austrian delegation, a man of international renown, and of spotless character, who hates empty words, but who can fight to the end in a righteous cause. A noted French astronomer, Dr. Milan Štefanik, son of the Hungarian Slovakland and proud of his descent, a man who had been honored by the French Academy for his scientific achievements and by the French Government for his daring exploits in the French flying corps, became the representative of the Slovak people in the Council. Dr. Edvard Beneš of the University of Prague is the secretary of this body. The Council enjoys the confidence of the Czeeho-Slovaks everywhere, because Masaryk, the grand old man of Bohemia, is known by all to be the ideal leader of the nation at a time, when its fate is in the balance.

Masaryk resides most of the time in London, being a lecturer in the School of Slavonic Studies of the University of London. Dr. Štefanik, a high French officer, generally travels in the Allied countries on diplomatic and military business. Dr. Beneš is in charge of the work in Paris and France. In Russia there is now a branch of the National Council under the direction of whatever member of the Council happens to be in Russia. At present Masaryk is there in the interest of Bohemian independence.

This almost world-wide organization is an eloquent testimonial to the idealistic and self-sacrificing spirit of the Bohemian people. It grew up spontaneously, for no law, no force, no compulsion could weld the sons and daughters of Bohemia, scattered through many lands, into this unique body and make them submit cheerfully to discipline.

The Bohemian National Alliance is the pride of our people in the United States. Three years ago there was no such thing in existence; today it has over 200 branches and some 120,000 members who contribute directly or indirectly toward its high aims. What are the aims of the Bohemian National Alliance? In the earlier period of the war, before the United States declared war upon Germany, the big task of the Alliance was to furnish money for the political, diplomatic and journalistic activity of the Paris National Council. But even then the Alliance endeavored to inform the people of the United States of our aspirations and our difficult struggle. But after President Wilson made his memorable address to the Congress and after our country as a result of it joined the European Allies in their fight on German aggression, the Bohemian National Alliance of America was faced with new tasks of the very greatest importance: to convince the official and political circles of the United States that Bohemia is entitled by every rule of justice to become an independent state, and that it is in the interest of America and its Allies to grant this demand.

In our constitution we expressed the aims of the Alliance as follows: "The Bohemian National Alliance works with all honorable means for the liberation of the Bohemian lands and the Hungarian Slovakland. It collects a fund which is to be employed so as to give to our suffering people the most effective assistance. It is now and will remain the political center of the Czechoslovak immigrants in the United States."

When I left the old country, one of the leaders of Bohemia impressed upon me this message: "Tell our friends beyond the sea that we ask them to finance our action. Here we are allowed to give millions for the orphans, but not one cent for our nation's liberation. We rely on Bohemians in America." America did not disappoint these hopes. And I am sure that as soon as the treaty of peace is signed, the Bohemian National Alliance will employ all its great strength to give substantial relief to the widows and orphans of Bohemia.

In any case, whatever may be the outcome of our fight for independence, our organization intends to remain the center of the Bohemian-speaking people in the United States. If our fight is not crowned with success, we are going to keep up our opposition to Austria. As Masaryk said in Petrograd: "I can say this much now that in any event we shall be better off at home, not worse. Because we showed our teeth. Should the worst come to pass, I believe that our organization in foreign lands will be preserved. We shall have to keep the Bohemian question continually before the international forum so that the radical movement at home might have a support abroad. When I say radical, I mean against Austria-Hungary, against the Habsburgs." Nevertheless our hope is firm, and so is Masaryk's, that our work and our sacrifices will not be ill vain.

The Bohemian National Alliance will have a great influence upon our people in America. As soon as our great task will be over upon the conclusion of a just peace, this great organization will serve as the cultural center of Bohemians in the United States. Our first care will be the schools for the teaching of Bohemian, and we shall endeavor to have the study of Bohemian introduced into the curriculum of high schools and universities. Care of the immigrant during: his first difficult days in the new country will be our special task. Lectures will be given and our remote settlers, as well as our large colonies in the large cities, will be kept in touch with the best there is in the spirit of American democracy. We shall also keep up economic relations with Bohemia and try to establish profitable commercial relations between our old country and our new home.

Today branches of the Bohemian, National Alliance are found in almost every state of the Union and every province of Canada. They are gathered into twelve districts: New York, Bridgeport, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Paul, St. Louis, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Texas, San Francisco, and Winnipeg. The district committees are subject to the directions of the Central Committee at Chicago. This committee is composed of the representatives of the district committees and of delegates from the principal Bohemian fraternal and other organizations of national scope. Since the Alliance of Bohemian Catholics has become a part of our body, men and women of the most varied religious political, and economic convictions sit in the executive council of the Alliance—Sokols, Catholics, Protestants; socialists, delegates of women's relief organizations, all work in complete harmony for liberty of Bohemia.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.



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