2nd March 2022
4 minutes read
Biography of a Black-and-White Lamb
translated by Alex Zucker
2nd March 2022
4 minutes read
The District Military Administration for Prague 6 was located right next door to the local police precinct and the district court. Across the street loomed a spacious palace, built in historicist style during the First Republic, between the First and Second World Wars, for the Ministry of Defense, which was still located there. Around the corner, on Czechoslovak Army Street, the block continued with the buildings of the Local National Committee. The whole microcosm and macrocosm of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic’s armed might rubbed shoulders here, self-assured and self-adulatory, all within a few blocks of urban agglomeration.
At the entrance to the building that housed the DMA, Václav reviewed the letter he had received, noting that it said for him to report to a Major M. Kosina. A soldier sat in a booth inside the vestibule, whose interior walls were painted the same unremarkable color as those in the garrison band’s quarters. Václav handed his letter to the soldier, who quickly scanned it.
“Up the stairs to the third floor and make a right. You’ll see a sign with an arrow: Political Division. It’s in there. Room number 317.” The soldier returned the letter. Václav thanked him, proceeded down the corridor, and started up the stairs. On reaching the third floor, he saw two arrows pointing in opposite directions with accompanying signs. Political Administration was to the right; DMA Chief of Staff to the left. Václav headed right and knocked on the door at room 317. The officer who opened the door was a major, Václav guessed, based on his stripes. The officer glanced at Václav, and nodded: “You must be Čaisl, right?”
“Yes,” Václav replied.
“The letter. Have you got the letter?”
“Right here,” Václav said, handing it over. The officer lifted the sheet of paper to his face and looked it up and down. Then he announced: “I’m Major Kosina. Wait out here while I get the chief.”
Returning to his office, the major took a set of keys from the desk drawer, locked the door behind him, and walked away. Václav paced up and down the hallway, which was lined with glassed-in bulletin boards celebrating the valor of the Czechoslovak People’s Army and its military traditions in a series of mostly black-and-white photographs. There were lots of references to Buzuluk, base of the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Field Battalion, which fought alongside the Red Army in the Second World War; General Ludvík Svoboda, who commanded the battalion; and Jan Žižka, a radical follower of Jan Hus who defeated the army of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hungarian Kingdom in the Battle of Kutná Hora in 1421. On the opposite wall, a long banner declared:
We will never allow another act of treason like Munich! We will not hesitate to take up weapons to defend our beautiful socialist homeland!
A short way down the hall was another set of bulletin boards bearing the names of towns where the Nazis had massacred Czechoslovak civilians—Lidice, Ležáky, Javoříčko—with a sign beneath them declaring: Never again! A few feet further hung another banner: The battle for peace – our highest duty!
The sound of footsteps echoed down the hallway as Major Kosina returned, accompanied by another officer who gave Václav a cursory glance. Major Kosina unlocked the door to his office and stepped aside to let the chief of staff enter first. Then he turned to Václav: “Come in,” he said, and waved his hand toward the center of the room to indicate where Václav should stand.
The major sat down at his desk, and the officer sat beside him. He opened a drawer and took out a grimy yellow file folder. Even with the writing upside down, Václav could make out his name and date of birth, handwritten in thick black letters. There was no chair on his side of the desk, so he just stood there and gazed around the room. Major Kosina opened the file and slid it across the desk to his silent companion, who shrugged and began leafing through the file.
Major Kosina barked: “Comrade Chief of Staff, I present to you Čaisl, Václav, recruit!”
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Tomáš ZmeškalMore about the author
Alex ZuckerMore about the translator