Archive of Přemysl Pitter and Olga Fierzová
Without love, without humanity, without compassion of human to human, nothing can succeed.
Přemysl Pitter

P. Pitter's journey to England in autumn 1938

On 29th September, 1938 in Munich, representatives of 4 countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy) agreed that Czechoslovakia must cede the border area with the German population by 10th October. The efforts of K. Henlein (Sudeten German Party) and A. Hitler to break down democratic Czechoslovakia culminated in the Munich Agreement.

In the Sudetenland, German anti-fascists and Jews were persecuted and Czechs were expelled, while those who stayed in the border area were deprived of nationalities and some civil rights by the Germans. P. Pitter understood that Sudetenland refugees would need help. He applied for a visa to England and flew to London on 8th October. He tried to get for these refugees support and material help from his friends.

In the Archive of P. Pitter and O. Fierz, the interesting notes from this two-month trip are stored. P. Pitter made about fifty speeches in thirty-six cities. The result was not satisfactory, public in England did not understand much of what was happening in Czechoslovakia before and after Munich and perceived the split of Czechoslovakia rather as a finished thing and the guarantee for world peace.

 

Notes from P. Pitter's journey to England in autumn 1938

Examples:

The year 1938! It was a terrible time. Seven months of tremendous tension. Daily new hope, daily new disappointment. Not surprisingly, many people lost their mental balance and paid by health and life. Strong stayed those, who did not lose faith in God and his guidance.

Against the British Government with its dual-faced policy, but especially against France, the nation was extremely angry; "The Nazis," they said, "are our enemies, but the French, who still reassured us with the most fervent emotions and we loved them, we were sincerely determined to put our lives on their defence - they cheated us."

After the first diktat on 21st September, the Czechs were, of course, deeply shaken, but it was soon heard: "If we failed to live in peace together with the Sudeten Germans, well, they should go and follow their heart." Perhaps the loss of thousands of Czech people living in the Sudeten districts was perceived as a victim of worldwide peace, and the nation confidently prepared to rebuild on a more modest but honest basis. Somebody saw also benefits in this new arrangement.

However, a major change occurred after Friday, 7th October. Against all Hitler's assurances, there was a second diktat. Czech towns and regions were occupied by the German army. There was an escape of the Czech people and Germans, who were feared by Nazi revenge. Czech civil service had to leave occupied territories without delay. 860,000 Czechs were suddenly in the Third Reich, and with them tens of thousands of Germans and Jews who did not want to experience the Hitler's regime. I saw many crying people on the streets that day. Suddenly for the first time, I heard the message about the occupation of the Czech country in the tram. Nobody from passengers could hold back tears.

Thousands and thousands of refugees, including mothers with children, were running from the occupied territory. Policemen and soldiers chased them back. We hoped that, according to Hitler's promise, there would be a vote in those regions to decide whether to be part of the Empire or the "Second Republic". So the Czech votes were needed. Later it turned out that the Hitler’s promise was not based on true. I saw trains and stations crowded with refugees carrying all their belongings in their rucksacks.

We offered the hall of the Milíč House to the central social office to set up a shelter for refugee children. We wanted to take care of the children by ourselves. Our offer was not accepted. So we decided to accelerate the completion of our children's sanatorium in Mýto and to accept especially children in very bad conditions. However, our own sources were not enough to do so, and in general confusion and depression there was no thought of getting public money immediately.

I received letters from friends from abroad, in particular from England, in which they showed warm sympathy for my nation. They felt humiliated for the shameful conduct of their governments, and showed their willingness to offer some help for us.

At this critical time, my friend Corder Catchpool - Quaker who managed a catering event in the Sudeten counties, lived in Prague. He had me to go to England and to ask for the help of my friends there, so that the sanatorium could be quickly completed, provided with everything needed and the operating costs secured for the worst time.

I took all steps to get permission to leave the country. However, with my request, I was abruptly rejected everywhere. When I gave up my hope of leaving, I suddenly received some help. One of our supporters unexpectedly became a minister and I had permission in two days.

All train connections were stopped, only travelling by plane remained. Let my letters to tell you more about my other experiences. These letters I sent to my friends in Prague.


London, Saturday, 8th October

… A police officer at the airport had read letters of recommendation from my British friends and allowed me two months of stay. Then he questioned me for a long time because of his personal interest – what is the current state of affairs in our country. He was extremely kind. The car took me to the Victoria Station and from there I went straight to Mrs. Catchpool. But for a long time I was looking for the street in which they lived, sending me back and forth, so sweated and tired I finally got to the place. Mrs. C. welcomed me very warmly and said that she had just received a message from her husband. He was coming to London tonight as well. He left Prague just a few days ago. Indeed, he had just arrived, very tired of the adventure trip.

I have a cosy and comfortable room and above all also warm friendship of the hosts.

Tomorrow I will be thinking of you, while you have the morning event and the parents’ session in the afternoon. ...


London, 10th October

… On Sunday morning I attended a religious gathering of Quakers in Hamstead. I had already a number of friends who voluntarily contributed to each child by ten crowns. In the evening next to the fireplace I listened to Prague Radio - they broadcast Smetana's symphony. I forgot I was so far from my homeland.

Today I was at Friends-House, Headquarter of Quakers, and I met a number of good old friends. Everyone willingly promised to help. I will need to do a speech tour, and we will get families that would be willing to take the children we send them here.


London, 15th October

... I've been here a week. The time is running so fast because of all this work and visits. On Thursday I went to Cambridge at the invitation of canon Raven. I was a guest at Christ College, one of the oldest. The building is Gothic, about 500 years old. I sat at honour place among the professors at dinner tonight. They were very attentive and kind to me. Then I had a meeting with the leaders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In the evening I had a speech in Friends-House at Jesus Lane. I slept in the dorm, having breakfast with the canon Raven. …

On Friday I returned to London. I had a meeting after meeting. There is genuine interest and will to help. …

How poorly people here understand the Czechoslovak problem, proves that they are still talking and writing that Sudetenland was returned to Germany. They believe that these regions were formerly Germany, and were connected to Czechoslovakia after the war, and now that the Czechs were forced to return it. Therefore, a large part of the public is not affected by our problems, even though the fate of refugees and emigrants provokes their compassion.


Gerrard’s Cross, 17th October

... I speak here tonight in the Group of the League of Nations. Tomorrow I will return to London to speak in another peace society. I've been busy this whole week. I have an invitation from Henri Rozer to come to Paris. I'll go there. Then he flies to Prague.

On Saturday last week I went to Swington to visit the "Bruderhof" of Eberhard Arnold in Cotswold. It is 97 miles from London, closer to Bristol. … Nowadays, the community has 245 members, plus 18 refugees from Vienna. Others are waiting. Besides the Germans there are 30 Swiss, 40 English, 10 Dutch, 1 Cherkes and others. …

Then I spoke in the company of those who were interested in our problem. All emigrants and part of the leaders of the community were present. I answered many questions of all kinds: about the general situation, social tasks, religious beliefs, etc. The event had no end, I was constantly asked new and new questions. However, I was still thinking about the Milíč House, where there was held also some special occasion and children's festive celebration at the same time. The immigrants wanted to talk to me directly, so they brought me to their house. The political and existential issues are the questions they are interested in. …


London, 19th October

The most dedicated and successful helper is builder Brown and his secretary Grace Beaton. It is impossible to list all what they are doing to help Czechoslovak refugees. How many have already been placed here with the children, and how many have been provided at least the necessary living conditions! However, we are faced with reluctance of officers. One would despair of their sluggishness and bureaucratism, which destroy many excellent suggestions and offers. …

After returning to London, I had the presentation together with Doc. Royden ("Peace Army") about Hus, Chelčický and Comenius and I tried to transfer it to this time we are living in. Some of them are so interested in our country that they want to come at Christmas.

How little our nation is known shows that even educated evangelicals know only about Hus - he was a forerunner of Luther and was burned. … Teachers don't know about Comenius either. Therefore, Chamberlain talked about the "unknown, distant country" - and he was right...


London, 24th October

The public is becoming saturated with Czechoslovak issues. I have heard annoying answers that Czechoslovaks must not think they are the only ones in the world with their pain; and it's actually true, even though the British should feel some remorse.

I feel that I provide service to my nation and to others by revealing the highest ideas that the Czech nation has lived and will be living. The Czech nation was always great in not thinking about itself, but sacrificing for higher goals. I wish they would remain faithful to this goal even in the present...


London, 25th October

Today was a terrible fog all day long, so thick, brown that I could not leave the house; so foggy I couldn't see my own hand. However, I had arranged appointments, I went to the city for noon, but only with a big difficulty I found the subway station, which is only some 300 steps from my house. …

I was at George Lansbury´s simple house at the workers district. He welcomed me pleasantly. I opened my heart and asked him if he can talk to political decision-makers in favour of our hard-tested homeland. I showed him maps and marked occupied places with Czech inhabitants. He shook his head and said, “Those, who are sincere with your nation, have no power or influence. And those, who have the power, do not sincerely think of your nation.” To my semi-desperate and semi-indignant exclamation: “But there must be something!” He took my hand and led me next to the window. Outside was nothing but fog.

“You see? This is the air nowadays. And what can you do? Clear the atmosphere!” Those words were the last I heard from him in our world of fog. But I was leaving annoyed and dissatisfied. Today I see he was right...


Paris, 27th October

I am a guest of Henri Rozer in Aubervillier. It is the evening already. We listen to the gala performance “Libuše” in the National Theatre. Libuše has just finished singing her prophecy: "My dear nation will not die, they will gloriously overcome all horrors." I did not hold back tears.


Paris, 30th October

… I visited the leaders at the headquarters of The League for Human Rights. They listened to my speech with real interest, but they did not promise much from their interventions in the interests of our refugees. …

Member of Parliament prof. André Philippe, my old friend, received me in Parliament. “The French nation is going through a severe moral crisis. Their spiritual foundations are shaken. I am afraid they won't stay any collision. The betrayal they committed in Czechoslovakia will backfire on them. But so far very few people in our country see it. Therefore, I say to you directly: “I do not promise you any help.” …


London, 5th November

… The British headquarters of "Fellowship of Reconciliation" organizes my speech tours. … Even Swedish friends have shown interest. Pastor Greyerz in Bern presented about Czechoslovakia and sent me received money - 20 Sw. francs for our children. At Runham Brown´s there were 60 letters waiting for me!

The English are already beginning to be aware that Chamberlain has not brought peace and they are only asking, where the new crisis will appear. In France, there is fear of war and everyone is suddenly a "pacifist". My uncle, a naturalized Frenchman, was a supporter of Flandin (like many small renters), but since Flandin sent a thank-you telegram to Hitler, he is angry with French patriots.


Birmingham, 9th November

On Sunday, I spoke to twelve hundred students at Central Hall. I was talking about the spiritual culture of the Czech nation today. The constant applause, unusual in England, testified that my words were impressive. I shook the tens of hands of those, who came to express their sympathy for my nation. …

In the afternoon I spoke to students at the University of Birmingham in a seminar “for international relationships” (such a seminar exists here, and very often attended!). I concentrated on the names of St. Vaclav, Hus, Žižka, Chelčický, Comenius, Masaryk. Discussion was very lively. …


On the train to Bath (West England), 22nd November

Last week I lectured in one of the oldest parts of London, southeast of the City. Londoners pronounce it as Sapsak, written as Southwork. It's known for the scene of Dickens' novels. I was very interested in ancient buildings and medieval taverns, next to the dirty workers' houses. The meeting was also interesting. It was a circle of only about forty workers, but I liked it very much. They gave me 2 pounds for refugee children and regretted that they had no more with them.

I was invited to the USA, but I do not feel to go there. I consider my mission to work primarily at home, and this tour would take me too far.

My imperfect English do not bother my listeners at all. They are not as petulant as the French. They help me if I don't know a word and it is very exciting fun. And those great, dedicated hosts! …

The weather is almost always poor. Gail, hail and sleet. I gave up the fireplaces; they are for the mood, not for the warm-up. Every day another bed, train rides, buses, cars, searching for addresses, exhausting visits, long night discussions - the rest are actually just lectures from which I leave mentally refreshed, because I always feel the power and courage. I don't literally have a free time, they want to use my presence everywhere - and after all I like it, that's why I'm here. … I am still aware that all Czechs are judging according to me, and therefore I feel a great responsibility.


Buckhurst Hill, 16th December

I was a guest of Harold Bing at Bristol, the director of the university. He still remembers the plum dumplings he ate with us. I arrived in Bristol for two days and lectured four times. I'm glad my tour is over. Now I am very tired and I just want to write nothing, thinking about nothing, going nowhere and without talking to anyone. I had a total of 47 lectures in 32 cities, long discussions not counting. It was a hard work, really, but a good one!

Conclusion:

the best I have experienced in England is the warm hospitality;
the worst was the weather and almost every day macaroni with cooked cheese.

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