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Czechs In World War

(Part 1)

Jos. T. Votava

   Soon after the beginning of the World War (1914-1918) a Bohemian National Alliance was formed in the United States, its object being to gather funds to help in the work of freeing Bohemia from its three-hundred-year-old subjection to Austria. The mid-western district of this alliance, with headquarters in Omaha (F. J. Kutak, and later J. T. Votava, President, Stanley Serpan, Secy. and Matt. Votava, Treas.), succeeded in raising from Czechs--individuals and organizations--in the following Czech towns in Nebraska: Abie, Barneston, Beemer, Brainard, Bruno, Burwell, Clarkson, Crete, David City, Dodge, Dubois, Dwight, Exeter, Friend, Hemingford, Howell, Humboldt, Lincoln, Linwood, Lynch, Milligan, Morse Bluff, Niobrara, North Bend, Odell, Omaha, Ord, Pawnee City, Plattsmouth, Prague, Ravenna, Schuyler, South Omaha, Spencer, Table Rock, Thurston, Tobias, Ulysses, Verdigre, Wilber and Wymore, the following amounts:

1914 $ 174.50 1915 1,000.00 1916 6,000.00 1917 25,799.00 1918 100,881.00 1919 16,500.00 A total of $150,354.50

   To this should be added the Czech Fund, collected by the Hospodar and Osveta Americka (published by the National Printing Company) from its readers, $8,345.96; the amount collected in the state by the members of the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association, $5,000; National Alliance of Bohemian Catholics, $65,000.00; the proceeds of a bazaar held in Omaha in September, 1918, $65,109.20, or a total of $293,809.66. Besides this, individuals sent to their relatives and friends in money and clothing, etc., an amount it would be difficult to estimate, but which undoubtedly may be reckoned close to $100,000.00.

Vac. F. Jelinek

   In 1917 the Czech Catholics in this country established an organization similar to the Bohemian National Alliance, called the National Alliance of Bohemian Catholics in America (Svaz Ceskych Katoliku v Americe) and collected, for the same purpose, $65,000.00 from the Czech inhabitants of the following towns and vicinities: Abie, Bee, Brainard, Dodge, Dwight, Geranium, Howell, Milligan, Omaha, Ord, Plattsmouth, Ravenna, Verdigre and Wahoo. Of the states where Czech Catholics live in the United States, Nebraska held first place. The headquarters for the committee for the midwestern district were in Omaha and the following served: John Vana, Pres.; Joseph Nejepinsky, Vice-Pres.; V. F. Jelinek, Secretary; N. C. Mlejnek, Treasurer. Later Joseph F. Krejci also served as Secretary. Mr. Jelinek is still Secretary, for the Alliance has not disbanded, but continues as an organization, although not for the aims for which it was founded.

   An auxiliary of the Bohemian National Alliance was established soon after, called "The Bees" (Vcelky). The women made knitted articles, underclothing, kits, etc., and sent these, with tobacco, first to the Czech soldiers fighting in France with the French and with those of their compatriots who had escaped from Austria's clutches. Later many of these supplies were sent to Siberia, where Czech soldiers, who Mrs. F.A. (Anna) Sedlacekvoluntarily surrendered to the Russians, when they could, to avoid the duty of fighting for Austria, had made their dreary way. The headquarters for the midwestern division of The Bees also were in Omaha, with Mrs. Anna Sedlacek as President, Miss Rose Rosicky and later Mrs. Emma Serpan Secretary, and Mrs. Anna Mulac, Treasurer. These women collected $5,176.84 for material and $619.19 for tobacco and reading matter. This division of The Bees was the only one that, in true western fashion, gave freely not only of their services, but the officers personally paid postage and other expenses connected with their office and the National Printing Company of Omaha donated stationery and printing matter, so that every cent collected was expended for material or transportation charges, one hundred percent. All women, regardless of creed, worked together. Mrs. Julia Stenicka of Omaha, wife of Charles Stenicka (manager of the mammoth bazaar of which mention follows) also gave of her services and donated the use of her store, where work was given out and received and the boxes packed.

Mrs. Charles (Julia) Stenicka        Chas. Stenicka

   The mammoth Liberty Bazaar held by the Czechs of Omaha and Nebraska, September 1 to 8, 1918, in the Omaha Auditorium, the proceeds of which ($65,109.20), were given to the work of helping free Bohemia, was not only the greatest undertaking achieved by the Czechs of the midwest, but was the largest affair of its kind accomplished by Bohemians anywhere in this country. Charles E. Stenicka was general manager, with Joseph J. Pavlik as assistant. The chairman of the bazaar committee was Vaclav Tesar, secretary J. E. Ptak, assistant secretary F. C. Sindelar, treasurer Vaclav F. Kuncl, assistant treasurer John S. Kramolis and the following served on various assisting committees: V. F. Jelinek, Jos. H. Tetiva, Joseph Jelinek, George Vana, James Urban, Fr. S. Kolouch, Stanley Serpan, John H. Killian, Walter Korisko, Jos. H. Proskocil, Cyril Hromek and John G. Rosicky. From the Omaha donors, in money and articles, was collected the sum of $22,585.26; Ansley, $26.00; Atkinson, $261.50; Beemer, $500.00; Cheyenne County, $275.00; Clarkson, $500.00 (and 200 ladies' aprons); Dodge, $1,861.00; Elba, $30.00; Farwell, $155.00; Hartington, $81.50; Hemingford, $406.00; Milligan, $5,006.00; Morse Bluff. $828.50; Pierce, $953.35; Plattsmouth, $1,161.40; Ravenna, $529.65; St. Paul, $505.00; Stanton, $250.00; Sumner, $175.50; Wausa, $10.50, and various others $3,406.50. The bazaar was opened on Sunday afternoon, September 1st, by our war governor, Keith Neville. Among the many gifts received was one from Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, wife of the president of the United States, a framed and autographed etching of the White House.

   In the summer of 1921 Mrs. Julia Stenicka visited Czechoslovakia and while in Prague presented the following to the Revolutionary Museum of that city: A brochure describing the bazaar and containing a complete list of all donors and financial reports; the picture donated by Mrs. Wilson; the original of the cartoon made by Guy R. Spencer of Omaha and printed in the Omaha daily World Herald (pertaining to the bazaar) and a pipe donated by a Czech farmer. This pipe originally belonged to the famous Czech patriot Karel Havlicek Borovsky and for that reason was considered too valuable to sell. These articles were accepted for the museum through Lieut. Rudolph Medek.

Charles Steiger

   Among the various activities tending toward the freeing of Bohemia from Austria and setting up a republic was that of couriers, whose task it was to deliver personal messages at the risk of their lives. Several Czechs from this country were sent to Bohemia for this purpose and the only one selected from the middle west was Charles Steiger of Omaha. Mr. Steiger was born June 29 1860 in Kmentnoves near Velvary, Bohemia, and came to this country, to Chicago, in 1883, then to Schuyler, Nebr., and shortly there after to Omaha, where he has lived since. In October, 1916, he set out for London, to receive from T. G. Masaryk (now president of Czechoslovakia) messages to be orally conveyed to various prominent patriotic workers in Prague. He arrived in that city October 28, 1916. Under guise of being a representative of the National Printing Company of Omaha, sent there to buy books for its book store, he achieved his object successfully. However, the difficulties encountered in travelling in those times and the severe strain under which he labored, almost destroyed his health. He returned to Omaha in the spring of 1917. A brochure was published in Prague in 1926, written by Mr. Steiger, describing his experiences.

   The Czechs in Omaha may feel honored that from their midst issued the first call in favor of the movement which culminated in freeing Bohemia. It had its inception when Vaclav Tesar, who at the time was conducting Metz Hall (now the Catholic Sokol Home) in Vaclav Tesara conversation with John Janak, editor of the weekly Osveta Americka, on the first Monday in August, 1914, a week after the World War broke out, urged him (Janak) to awaken Czechs to action. In the Osveta Americka of August 12, 1914, an article was published, bearing the heading: "Important moments for the Czech nation. Our nation in these days is at stake--to be or not to be. "--The article began thus: 'There has never been a time in modern history so important for the Czech nation as right now. The present European war will decide not only the existence or non-existence of Austria, but also the existence or non-existence of Bohemia . . . One thing is certain: that Austria is battling for the wrong and against the greater strength of intelligent nations and that it must lose. . . The time will come, sooner or later, when the war is over, that steps will undoubtedly be taken to dismember this empire (Austria).''--The editor says further: "Martial law prevails in Bohemia. No one can leave that country, no one can enter it and it is for the Czechs in the United States to ask the parliaments of the European countries, who will decide on the future fate of conquered Austria, to raise their protecting hand over the Bohemian nation. The European powers can, when dictating the peace terms, give Bohemia independence, or at least autonomy under their protectorate. And it is for us, who live beyond the boundaries of Austria, to take the first step in that direction, in order that we be prepared to send petitions to the Russian, English and French governments, or perhaps send representatives to those countries, and for that purpose money will be needed." In that issue a popular subscription was founded, called The Czech Fund, which eventually reached a total of $8,345.96. Although even among Czechs themselves were doubters, the fact remained that the movement thus instituted soon grew to national proportions and became known as the Bohemian National Alliance.

   Vaclav Tesar was born October 22, 1870, in Chotebor, Bohemia, and in 1896 married Miss Mary Varejcka. He came to this country, to Omaha, in 1902. At present he is in the real estate business, in company with his sons. Mr. Tesar has always been active in lodge life, particularly in the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association and the Tel. Jed. Sokol, and worked hard for freeing Bohemia during the war. He was treasurer of the recruiting committee in 1917--1919 (Czechoslovak legionnaires) and chairman of the committee that carried through so successfully the mammoth Liberty Bazaar in Omaha in September, 1918.

   Lest the reader should infer that Czechs in Nebraska supported any movement favoring the freeing of their mother-country at the expense of their patriotism as Americans, it should be explained that they did their full duty in the latter respect also. Thus, it will be seen, they carried almost a double load. They contributed financially in every way required by the United States at that time and the women were very active in all American Red Cross work, where their ability to knit skilfully and rapidly (an ability common to all the older women of Europe) was very welcome. In the larger settlements Czech chapters of the Red Cross were organized. In other communities, less heavily settled by Czechs, they worked together with the rest.

Continued in next section.

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