By Roy Mabasa
Unknown to many, there were 14 Czechoslovakians, who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Filipino and American soldiers in defense of the freedom of the country that was not their own against the invading Japanese forces 77 years ago.
“It is not a known history but this is something that we are proud of and we always look back, remembering the deep ties of the Philippines and the Czech Republic,” said Czech Republic Ambassador to Manila Jana Šedivá during last week’s commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan.
“The formidable valor shown by the Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered to fight with the Filipino and American forces is an emulation worthy of commemoration,” she added.
The Czech diplomat said that part of Philippine history was “one of the crucial aspects” in the long and deeply ingrained relations between the Philippines and the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia, which split in the Czech Republic and Slovakia only in 1993).
The Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered were mostly employees of the Bata Shoe Company, the first Czech investment in the Philippines, before the outbreak of the war in the country.
Karel Aster, the last Czech defender of Bataan who passed away on 2017, said in one of his letters on sufferings during the war: “The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them.”
“Fighting for the Philippines at that time was like fighting for the liberty of Czechoslovakia, which became the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the war,” Aster said in another letter where he revealed his motivation why he joined the Allied forces.
The Czech Embassy revealed that aside from the Bata Shoe employees, the other volunteers were staff of the Honorary Consulate of Czechoslovakia, which opened in Manila in 1927.
“It is not a known history but this is something that we are proud of and we always look back, remembering the deep ties of the Philippines and the Czech Republic,” Ambassador Šedivá said.
She added that the formidable valor shown by the Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered to fight with the Filipino and American forces is an “emulation worthy of commemoration.”
Šedivá joined the commemoration rites at Mt. Samat National Shrine on April 9 where she laid a wreath in remembrance of those who fought and died during the war including the Czechoslovak nationals.
Czech Embassy’s Economic and Defense Counsellor Benjamin Žiga, meanwhile, joined the tolling of the bells in Capas, Tarlac on April 10, and visited the memorial shrine of the seven Czechoslovak nationals who died either during the Bataan Death March or at the Japanese prison camp.
The shrine dedicated for the selfless and valiant commitment of the Czechoslovak nationals specifically those who died in the war namely Dr. Paul Fuchs, Jan Bzoch, Leo Herman, Fred Lenk, Josef Varak, Antonin Volny, and Jaroslav Hrdina, stands beside the Philippine Scouts and the US Memorials.