Heliodor Píka

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Heliodor Píka
Karel Hlásný, 1944, SSSR.jpg
Brigadier General Heliodor Píka holds the battle flag of the Czechoslovak 2nd Airborne Brigade.
Born (1897-07-03)July 3, 1897
Štítina, Austrian Silesia, Austria-Hungary[1]
Died June 21, 1949(1949-06-21) (aged 51)
Plzeň, Czechoslovakia[1]
Allegiance Czechoslovakia
Service/branch Czechoslovak Legions[2][3]
French Army[2]
Czechoslovak Army[3]
Years of service ≈34[3]
Rank General (promoted posthumously)
Commands held Chief of mission to the USSR[3]
Deputy chief of the general staff of the Czechoslovak Army[4]:93
Awards Milan Rastislav Stefanik Order, 3rd class[5]
Order of the White Double Cross, 1st Class[6]

General Heliodor Píka (July 3, 1897 – June 21, 1949) was a Czechoslovak army officer who was executed by his country's Communist regime after a show trial.

Early life[edit]

A portrait of a young man dressed in a legionnaire's cap and uniform coat, standing at ease.
Píka as a young legionnaire.

Heliodor Píka was born in a village of Štítina in Austrian Silesia, near Opava, then Austria-Hungary. During World War I, Píka served as a Czechoslovak legionnaire in the Russian theatres.[2] He was captured at Berestechko on October 5, 1916, during the Russian campaign but by 1917 he had returned to duty as a member of the French Army and would later serve with the Czechoslovak Legions in France.[2] By 1920, when the Legion was disbanded, Píka had risen to the rank of lieutenant.[2]

After the war, Píka studied at a French military academy, graduating in 1920.[3]

Service in the Czechoslovak Army[edit]

In the 1930s, Píka acted as a military attaché to Romania and Turkey.[3][7] In 1938, in a bid to prevent the occupying German forces from using Czechoslovak Army matériel, he disposed of it by selling arms to the militant Haganah organization in Palestine.[7][8]:57–58 (Selling arms to non-state actors was forbidden by international conventions but the Czechoslovak foreign affairs department granted its approval.[8]:58) He would later travel to the Balkans, from where he arranged defections of Czechoslovaks and Hungarians from German-occupied territory.[7]

In 1941, during World War II, Píka was appointed chief of the Czechoslovak Military Mission to the Soviet Union (in Moscow).[4]:93 Loyal to the London-based government of exiled Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš, Píka supported their democratic policies despite Soviet opposition.[3][4]:93 Píka was under constant pressure from the Soviets to betray Beneš, but despite attempts at blackmail, Píka remained loyal throughout his tenure, which lasted until 1945.[4]:93

Following the war, Beneš promoted Píka to deputy chief of the general staff of the Czechoslovak Army,[4]:93 where he was responsible for the arms industry.[8] He held this position until late February 1948, when he was dismissed from the Army on the orders of Rudolf Slánský, with the assistance of Army Security Intelligence Office (known as OBZ, its Czech abbreviation) chief Bedřich Reicin (the former head of Czechoslovak military intelligence,[8]:58 who held a grudge against Píka from the time in which they served together in the USSR).[4]:94[9]:28, 44

Charges of high treason[edit]

In early May 1948, despite his status as a high-ranking military officer, Heliodor Píka was arrested without a warrant and accused of espionage and high treason.[4]:93[9]:28 The Czechoslovak authorities forged a memorandum that purported to link General Píka to British military intelligence.[4]:94 (Historian Edward Crankshaw noted that the document, written in broken English, was "the most appalling and most unimaginably inefficient bit of forgery [he had] ever come across".[4]:96[Note 1]) Despite the inadequacy of the memorandum, Píka was held through 1948 and interrogated by NKVD-trained officers of the OBZ.[4]:94

Reicin appointed Karel Vaš as chief investigator in the Píka case.[4]:94 Reicin would later, in a departure from standard practice, name Vaš the second prosecutor at Píka's trial.[4]:94 According to Reicin's secretary, Vaš told Reicin: "[j]ust tell me how much you need for Píka, fifteen years or the gallows, and the indictment can be manufactured accordingly...."[4]:96

From January 26–29, 1949, Píka was tried in secret before the Military Senate of the State Court in Prague.[10] (This court was specially created as an instrument of political repression in mid-1948.[9]:28) Charged with high treason, damaging the interests of the Czechoslovak Republic and the Soviet Union, and undermining the ability of the state to defend itself, Píka was not allowed to present a defence, and no witnesses were called.[10] Píka was sentenced to death.[4]:93

Píka unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court.[9]:28 Píka and his lawyer asked President Klement Gottwald (leader of the communist government) for clemency but this effort was also unsuccessful.[9]:28[10]

Heliodor Píka was hanged in the yard of Bory Prison (Czech: Věznice Bory) in Plzeň around 06:00 on the morning of June 21, 1949.[1][9]:28–29 In a farewell letter to his family, written the night before his execution, he wrote: "I am sure that this is not a judicial error but a political murder".[11] Offered the chance to express his last wishes as he stood at the gallows, he said: "my ultimate desire is that the nation remain united, and that everyone, without regard for their differences, work toward the unity of our people".[9]:29

He was the first of over 200 Czechoslovaks tried and executed for political reasons by the communist government of Czechoslovakia.[12] His body was never found.[12]

Aftermath[edit]

The day after Píka's conviction, Reicin, writing under a pseudonym in the Czechoslovak Army's newspaper, published a series of articles casting a politico-ideological slant upon the Píka affair.[9]:28 Reicin's articles were soon republished in a widely circulated pamphlet entitled "A Path That Leads to the Depths of Treason".[9]:45

During the Prague Spring of 1968, Píka's case was reopened at the request of Milan Píka (son of Heliodor) and the elder Píka's lawyer, and a military tribunal declared Heliodor Píka innocent of all charges.[4]:94[12]

In 2001, Karel Vaš was indicted by the Czech police's State Office of Investigation on charges of having knowingly used false evidence, falsifying a confession, exceeding his powers and using psychological violence during the Píka affair.[7] These counts would carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.[7] In June 2001, after a trial before the Senate of the Prague City Court, the eighty-five-year-old Vaš was found guilty of introducing false documents and statements, and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.[4]:93[11] Both Vaš and his attorney maintained Vaš's innocence, and promised to appeal.[4]:93

Honours[edit]

The Czechoslovak government conferred the Milan Rastislav Stefanik Order, 3rd class upon Píka in 1991.[5] On September 1, 2004, Píka was awarded the highest Slovak decoration, the Order of the White Double Cross, 1st Class.[5][6] (Píka was the first, and as of 2010, the only recipient of the military version of this award.[6]) Píka earned several French medals for his military service as a Legionnaire in France during the First World War.[7] He was also the recipient of many Soviet, American and British military decorations.[5] A street in Prague 6 (Dejvice) was re-named in his honor in 1990 (Generála Píky).

In 1992, Píka was posthumously promoted to the rank of general.[5] Following the conviction of Vaš, a June 21, 2001 ceremony was held at Czech Army headquarters in Prague to confer full military honours upon Píka.[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The entire memorandum was reproduced by Milan Hauner in Crime and Punishment in Prague: The Strange Case of Karel Vaš and Gen. Heliodor Píka.[4]:95

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Armádní generál in memoriam Heliodor PÍKA", National Archives website (in Czech) (Prague, Czech Republic: Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic), 2000, archived from the original on May 25, 2010, retrieved May 25, 2010, V kvìtnu 1948 zatèen , 28. 1. 1949 ve vykonstruovaném procesu odsouzen Státním soudem v Praze k trestu smrti. 13. 12. 1968 Vyšším vojenským soudem Pøíbram zproštìn pùvodní obžaloby. 1991 vyznamenán Øádem M. R. Štefánika a povýšen do hodnosti armádního generála in memoriam. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Detail legionáře", Military Central Archives website (in Czech) (Prague, Czech Republic: Vojenský ústřední archiv), archived from the original on May 25, 2010, retrieved May 25, 2010 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Pitkin, James (June 27, 2001), "For General Pika, justice comes far too late", The Prague Post Online (Prague, Czech Republic: Prague Post, spol. s r.o.), ISSN 1210-3934, OCLC 320470118, archived from the original on July 9, 2001, retrieved May 25, 2010, Following the Vas trial, Pika finally received full military honors in a ceremony outside Army headquarters in Prague 6 on June 21. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Hauner, Milan (Winter 2001–2002), "Crime and Punishment in Prague: The Strange Case of Karel Vaš and Gen. Heliodor Píka" (PDF), World Policy Journal (Cambridge, MA, U.S.A.: MIT Press and World Policy Institute) 18 (4): 93–96, ISSN 1936-0924, OCLC 38482151, retrieved May 25, 2010, He was a professional officer loyal to former President Edvard Beneš and his London-based government in exile, who served between 1941 and 1945 as the head of the Czechoslovak Military Mission in Moscow. It was a most difficult job, since the officer had to serve several masters. He accomplished the task with considerable success and managed to resist constant Soviet harassment and frequent attempts at blackmail to force him to be disloyal to the Benes government. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Executed General Heliodor Pika receives highest Slovak honour", CTK National News Wire (Prague, Czech Republic: Czechoslovak News Agency), September 1, 2004, OCLC 54828415, Pika was officially rehabilitated in 1968, and in 1992 was elevated in memoriam to the rank of army general. The bearer of many of the highest Czechoslovak, Soviet, American, British and other military orders in his lifetime, he received the Order of M. R. Stefanik, third class in 1991, and the Tomas G. Masaryk medal in 2000. 
  6. ^ a b c "Order of the White Double Cross, 1st Class", Website of the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic (Bratislava, Slovakia), 2005, archived from the original on October 29, 2005, retrieved May 25, 2010 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Krosnar, Katka; Binyon, Michael (February 10, 2001), "Czech show trial judge accused of murder 50 years on", The Times (London, England, United Kingdom: News International), ISSN 0140-0460, OCLC 614882534, During the 1930s he was military attache in Romania. After Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovak territory in 1938 he fought to prevent the Nazi leader from seizing army weapons by selling them abroad. In exile in the Balkans, he was ordered by Benes in London to organise defections of Czechs as well as Slovaks and Hungarians from their occupied territories. 
  8. ^ a b c d Kahan, Vilém (1990), "Vilém Kahan par lui-même (extraits des entretiens de 1984)", in Kahan, Vilém; Bartosek, Karel; Baumbruck, Gabriela; Bousoglou, Amber; Laignel-Lavastine, Alexandra; Laloë, Laurence; Palec, Ivo; Poulain, Odile, Bibliography of the Communist International (1919-1979) (in French) 1, Leiden, South Holland, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, pp. 55–68, ISBN 978-90-04-09320-1, retrieved May 25, 2010, En 1947, Le général H. Pika était l'adjoint du chef de l'Etat-Major tchécoslovaques, responsable de l'industrie d'armement. C'est lui, ce patriote, non-communiste, qui semble être au départ de la vente d'armes pour la Haganach. Il a été contacté par deux commerçants juifs qu'il avait connus avant la guerre en Roumanie, où il représentait la République tchécoslovaque en tant qu'attaché militaire. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bartošek, Karel (January 1984), "Les procès politiques en tchécoslovaquie 1948-1954", in Kriegel, Annie; Courtois, Stéphane, Communisme : Revue d'études pluridisciplinaires (in French) 4 (1st ed.), Paris, France: Presses Universitaires de France/Editions l'Age d'Homme, pp. 27–48, ISBN 978-2-13-038147-1, retrieved May 25, 2010, H. Pika déclare : « Mon ultime désir est que la nation reste unie et que chacun, sans différence, travail à l'unité de notre peuple ». 
  10. ^ a b c "Memorial ceremony held for early victim of communist repression", CTK National News Wire (Prague, Czech Republic: Czechoslovak News Agency), June 24, 1994, OCLC 54828415, A closed trial took place in front of the military senate of the state court in Prague on January 26–29, 1949. General Pika was charged with high treason, damaging the interests of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the Soviet Union and of undermining the ability of the state to defend itself. No witnesses were called and no defence was allowed. President Klement Gottwald turned down a request for mercy. 
  11. ^ a b "Former Czech prosecutor gets seven years for political murder", AFP news wire (Prague, Czech Republic: Agence France Presse), June 15, 2001, A former communist prosecutor was handed a seven-year sentence here Friday for his part in the political murder of reformist Czech General Heliodor Pika in June 1949. 
  12. ^ a b c Falvey, Christian (June 19, 2009), "Remembering General Heliodor Píka, first victim of the communist show trials", Radio Prague website (Prague, Czech Republic: Český rozhlas), OCLC 44376580, archived from the original on May 25, 2010, retrieved May 25, 2010, In the early morning of June 21, 1949, General Heliodor Píka, a hero of World Wars I and II, became the first Czechoslovak to be executed by the new communist regime.