Jiří Bezděk

Left for USSR as Czech teacher in 1927. Arrested in 1930. Deported to Solovetsky Islands and later Siberia. Returned to Czechoslovakia in 1936. Persecuted after war.

Jiří Bezděk was born in Svébohov on 28 January 1907. After leaving school he took casual labour. At 18 he signed up voluntarily for two-year military service at the 27th infantry regiment in Olomouc. During his time in Olomouc he began privately attending lectures at a teaching institute. He left the army with the rank of sergeant in 1926. The same year he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

Soon after returning from military service Bezděk decided to accept an offer from his acquaintance Rudof Šedý of the association Kostnická jednota to become a teacher at a Czech village in the USSR. In 1927 he took up a post at a Czech school in the municipality of Vyšehrad. A year after his arrival he married Helena Jandova and, as a committed Communist, joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. However, at the start of the 1930s living conditions in Ukraine began to rapidly deteriorate. As repression grew, so did pressure on the Czech village. The first arrests and false accusations against Czech teachers and members of the Czech minority in Ukraine over cooperation with the allegedly “religious fascist organization Kostnická jednota” had taken place at the end of the 1920s; in the 1930s contact between Czech expatriates and Czechoslovak was suddenly curtailed.

On 18 July 1930, 11 days after the birth of his first child, Jiří Bezděk, was arrested after a trip to Kiev. In the weeks that followed he was investigated at an OGPU prison in the city along with 41 other teachers, leaders of expatriate groups, farmers and others prominent in Czech communities, who had also been arrested.

The entire group of defendants were transferred on 25 August to Kharkov, where the daily interrogations continued until March 1931. In the final indictment the Czech community leaders, teachers and individuals were charged with espionage, counter-revolutionary activities in the service of Czechoslovakia and France; agitation against the Soviet government and collectivisation; and religious agitation.

The trial of the group took place on 12–14 June 1931 at the OGPU club building in Kharkov. At an extraordinary session of the Supreme Court of the USSR, 10 of the defendants, including Jiří Bezděk, received the death penalty, five got 10 years in prison and the remaining six got three. The jail terms were accompanied by further sentences of five years in exile on release. From the court the convicts were returned to solitary confinement at the prison in Kharkov. Soon afterwards, however, they were sent to a prison for political prisoners in Yaroslavl. In that period Bezděk and his wife divorced and his child died as a result of the Ukrainian famine.

After two and a half years in jail in Yaroslavl, Bezděk and the other Czech prisoners were transferred on 25 August 1933 to the OGUP’s notorious Solovki correctional labour camp, where they were assigned to forestry work on the 8th section of the White Sea-Baltic canal, near the former Savvatievo hermitage. There they encountered very harsh living and work conditions. During the journey to the Solovetsky Islands Bezděk went temporarily insane and continued to suffer from mental problems until July 1934. However, unlike the others he got lucky in the end. On 18 July 1935, five years to the day after his arrest, he was informed that his sentence had been commuted to five years in prison and five years in exile. Three days later he was able to join a transport and leave the Solovetsky Islands.

Bezděk was first taken by train to Murmansk, where he was held in a central OGPU camp for northern camps. He was then transferred with other prisoners via PetrozavodskLeningrad,Vologda, Vyatka (today Kirov), Perm in the Urals, Sverdlovsk (today Ekaterinburg) all the way to Tyumen, where he managed to secretly send a letter to the Polish Red Cross in Moscow, which subsequently informed the Czechoslovak authorities and his family in Moravia about his fate.

From Tyumen he was sent on via Omsk to Krasnoyarsk. At the start of September he and another 80 prisoners were placed on a steam boat on the river Yenisei, which was due to take them to the Kezhma district on the river Angara. After some days they reached Strelka, where the Angara flows into the Yenisei. There they were after some time put on three small boats, which were pulled by a tugboat to Kezhma. From there Bezděk travelled on in a smaller boat, this time without OGPU guards, with an Evenk and several indigenous women, until on 9 October 1935 he finally reached the village of Selengino.

The residents of the settlement did not welcome the foreigner with open arms. For the entire winter Bezděk walked among their huts, offering to work and begging for food. The fishing season, which began at the end of 1935, offered a respite from the hunger. After some time the Evenks ceased to regard him as an interloper. In the end, however, his exile there lasted just one year.

Out of the blue, on 20 August 1936, Bezděk received permission to travel to Czechoslovakia. After a month-long journey along the Angara and the Yenisei and a train ride from Krasnoyarsk he reached his homeland on 20 September 1936.

Following his return he found shelter with his parents in his native Svébohov and began to become involved in normal life once again. However, he did not return to the teaching profession and it was far from easy to find suitable work in the Zábřežsko area. He therefore soon decided to move to Prague, where he joined the State Statistics Office as a contracting officer. Alongside his work he went in for publishing, with his main focus being recollections of his imprisonment and exile in the USSR.

The occupation of the Czech lands by Nazi Germany in March 1939, like other war-time events, did not at first have a major bearing on Jiří Bezděk’s life. On the decision of the Nazi authorities he was transferred as of 1 August 1944 from the Statistics Office to the Public Information Service, whose chief task was promoting Nazi ideology and undermining pro-Soviet sentiment. Bezděk became a clerk in the office of the commissioner for the information service in the districts – specifically head of the fifth statistics section. His work chiefly entailed travelling around Bohemian cities lecturing to Czech workers about his experiences and “real” conditions in the USSR. He remained in that post until the liberation of Czechoslovakia in May 1945.

During the post-war purge from public life of occupiers, traitors, collaborators and people who had cooperated with the occupying regime Jiří Bezděk was arrested on 29 May. He was investigated at Pankrác prison for several months in connection with his war-time actions.

In October 1945 he was released from custody, though the investigation continued. In the end the criminal proceedings were halted in the middle of 1946 and Bezděk was finally acquitted. By then he was working as a teacher at a vocational school at the Pluto mine in Louka u Litvínova.

At the end of 1946 he was named head of education of trainee miners at North Bohemian Mines in Most and four years later was appointed head of the recruitment section at the enterprise. However, he only lasted 14 months in that managerial position – in June 1951 he was dismissed for political reasons (officially for failure to perform his duties). Subsequently he could only find work as a labourer.

From the early 1950s trials were held of management at nationalised mines. One of the many North Bohemian Mines experts and staff arrested was Jiří Bezděk. He was picked up on 28 January 1952 at his place of work and escorted to the remand prison in Litoměřice, where an investigation lasting several months took place.

The main trial of the group Adolf Vinkler and Co., in which Jiří Bezděk was also included, took place from 16 to 18 November 1953 at the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem. All of the defendants were found guilty by the court panel and received high sentences for the crime of sabotage. Bezděk got 18 years. He first served his sentence in Litoměřice before being transferred to Mírov prison in October 1957. Even while incarcerated Bezděk attempted to have his case reviewed, though his efforts came to nought for many years. He was finally freed on the basis of an amnesty on 9 May 1960.

For some weeks after his release he lived with his former family in Litvínov before moving to Jablonec nad Nisou, where he found work in costume jewellery production at the SVED cooperative. However, he had returned from prison with his health destroyed. Jiří Bezděk died on 16 September 1968 at the age of 61.


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