The explanation is twofold. Either Václav Havel represents a universally comprehensible code for dissent, to which Kriegel belonged at the end of his life, and the appeal to his authority legitimizes the lifelong communist despite his (undeniable) part in building the Communist Party dictatorship.
Or, on the contrary, it is an implicit, subtle polemic with Havel’s interpretation of Kriegel as “one of the great tragic figures of our modern history”. Where Havel sees a tragic conflict between communist “faith” and one’s own conscience, Groman rather finds a continuity of both, which he relates to Kriegl’s “search for dignity for man.” Which, of course, does not mean that the author could (or wanted) to completely avoid the pathos of the “tragic character”.
Already the cover, which refers to the Czechoslovak flag, suggests that the biography of František Kriegl will not be the story of the ups and downs of an ordinary communist functionary. A casually dressed Kriegel is looking at her somewhere out of frame, his face can be read as thoughtful, perhaps doubtful.
Franz Kriegel was born in the town of Stanislavov in Galicia, Austria. Like his generational companion Stanislav Budín, who came from the Russian part of Ukraine, he went to study in Czechoslovakia, where, unlike Poland, which received Galicia after the First World War, there was no Jewish closed number. Both became Czechs by their own choice, Kriegel officially only in 1946, when he was granted Czechoslovak citizenship. However, he had already become a communist fifteen years earlier.
I prefer idealists to cynics. Martin Groman wrote a book about František Kriegl
The degree of persuasiveness of the communist idea, especially for a young Jewish intellectual, is hard to imagine today. Nevertheless, the fact that the young doctor went to Spain in 1936 to fight in the ranks of the Interbrigade against General Franco is testament to its strength. Although it would be more accurate to say that he was saving the lives of those who were fighting because he served as a military doctor in Spain.
When the interbrigades were disbanded in 1938, he was evacuated to a not-so-friendly France. After a series of vicissitudes, he got to China, where he spent, again as a front-line doctor, the entire Second World War. After returning to Czechoslovakia in December 1945, he took an important position in the Communist Party apparatus and in February 1948 commanded the People’s Militia.
At the time of the Slánský trial, he almost miraculously avoided charges, perhaps because Antonín Novotný had a protective hand over him. After several years of working in a hospital, he was sent as a consultant to Cuba, where he lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. After his return, he became a member of the National Assembly and began to advance to higher and higher political positions, until in April 1968 he sat on the chairmanship of the Communist Party.
Martin Groman can write and six hundred pages Kriegel belongs to the most reader-attractive historical biographies of recent years.
He does not aspire to draw into biographical writing theoretical devices that would expand his field beyond the telling of the life story of his actor, but positivism accessible to the reader is a better option than positivism fragmented by artificial attempts to apply unabsorbed theoretical tools.
Groman’s style is perhaps too light in places, for example when he names the Prague Spring as a “Czechoslovak attempt at liberalization” – the key term at the time was democratizationat least for the reform communists, it was mainly about “searching for the lost meaning of the revolution”.
Uncovering the 68th. Jan Géryk on the book Revolutions for the Future
It is the Czechoslovak attempt at reform that is one of the focuses of the book, and the second longest chapter is devoted to its dramas Eight spring months. It is completed by the post-occupation kidnapping of leading officials of the Communist Party of the Czech Republic to the USSR, where Kriegel refuses to sign Moscow Protocolthus making the most powerful mark in Czechoslovak history.
On the contrary, the last and most extensive chapter on Kriegl’s “dissident” years seems somewhat disproportionate. All in all, half of the book is devoted to the first sixty years of his life, up to January 1968, and the entire second half to the last ten years.
It contains remarkable places in which Groman extracts Kriegl’s written legacy, for example, polemical comments on the memoirs of Zdeňek Mlynář The frost comes from the Kremlinin which Kriegl is annoyed that Mlynář is making a fool of himself acting spirit of the reform process and glosses over the importance of those who participated in it from below. However, these passages do not cause the mentioned disproportion.
Behind it stands an incomparably more extensive source base than what exists for the earlier stages of Kriegl’s life. With normalization come the resignations of a large number of StB agents deployed to Kriegel. To extract as much of these sources as possible is a temptation that is hard for any historian to resist. At the same time, however, it is a source that reflects the difficult-to-unravel motivations of the confidants themselves and their commanding officers, which by the nature of the matter carries with it a very distorted perspective, which I think Groman could reflect on more deeply.
The tragic level mentioned in the introduction is underscored by the not-so-happy decision to place on the back of the book the question appearing in Kriegl’s notes: “Have I also been chasing a mirage all my life?” Because it unnecessarily underlines the sometimes present feeling of satisfaction in the book that we are smarter today and unlike Kriegel, we do not allow ourselves to be caught in ideological seductions. But today’s temptations will necessarily be different, and our failures will probably only be noticeable with a suitable distance.
Groman himself in the interlude asks as a fundamental question that Kriegl’s life raises, whether he “finally got it”, whether he saw through communism. As if it were not more important to understand why communism seemed to him for so long to be the right answer to the search for human dignity.
That question reflects the concern that to understand why someone enthusiastically built communism is to relativize the camps and judicial murders. At the same time, we could equally rightly ask whether Winston Churchill understood, at least towards the end of his life, that racism is wrong. Probably not, but it will hardly change anything about Churchill’s importance for the history of Britain, Europe and the world.
Book Kriegel fortunately, he is not just asking similar questions, and in many places he tries to honestly understand František Kriegl from the point of view of his time and the life he lived, and not from the perspective of someone who knows how it all turned out.
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