Thursday, 12 May 2011

Report from the Gallows



“Look, my play is also approaching its end. That’s something I haven’t yet written. That’s something I don’t yet know. It’s no longer a play. It’s Life. And in life there are no spectators. The curtain goes up. People, I have loved you. Be on your Guard!”- Julius Fučík

Today a wave of anti-communism is being unleashed across Europe. While communists are generally attacked, ridiculed, or simply ignored by the big business controlled mass media, in Eastern Europe communist parties are being banned, leading members arrested, and in some sickening cases governments are celebrating the traitors who joined the SS while partisans, who fought for their countries, are being put on trial for alleged war crimes.

In the Czech Republic, the communist party, which has mass popular support, faces following the same fate as its youth section in being outlawed. The intensification of anti-communism in Europe is sinisterly taking place at the same time when communist parties, particularly in Greece, Portugal, France and Spain, are leading resistance to brutal anti-people austerity measures being implemented by the EU and IMF.

Last year we celebrated the 65th anniversary of the victorious struggle against fascism that our grandfathers fought. The Nazis, openly supported by sections of the capitalist class, arrested those who would stand up to prevent their plans for genocide, the trade unionists and socialists. But the Nazis were most vicious in their elimination of their greatest foes-communists.

One of the greatest heroes who stood up for freedom was the Czech communist Julius Fučík. Julius was born into a working class family in Prague at the turn of the twentieth century. He grew a keen interest in politics and literature, something that got him into trouble as he was arrested many times by the Czechoslovakian Secret Police in the 1930s. Julius traveled to Nazi Germany and the USSR and wrote extensively about the dangers of fascism and the huge advances in human progress being made in the Soviet Union.

The Czech government banned in the Communist Party in 1938, but this didn’t stop Julius joining the army in an attempt to protect his nation. The cowardly governments of the capitalist countries of Europe were keen to appease Hitler and communists increasingly found themselves being banned and having to operate underground.
After the Nazis had taken control of Czechoslovakia Julius continued carrying out communist party work and in 1942 he was arrested in a raid. He was imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and eventually taken to Berlin where he was executed in 1943.
Report from the Gallows (or Notes from the Gallows) was written about this experience. He managed to write the entire book on cigarette paper that was smuggled out of prison by sympathetic guards. These were collected together after the war by his wife Gusta Fučíková-who had also been arrested but liberated from a concentration camp in 1945. Gusta retrieved the cigarette papers from the various places in which they had been hidden and published Report from the Gallows in 1947.

The book is often very difficult to read in its graphic description of the horrors of Nazi prisons. If you read this book alone at night you find yourself there with Julius alone in his cell. You can hear the echoing screams of the other prisoners. Yet the book is even harder to put down as Julius’s continuing ability to consider a brighter future for humanity stands in direct contrast to his brutally depressing environment. Julius stands tall and defiant in face of all the evils of fascism. You can see Julius sat in his cell audaciously scribbling notes on cigarette papers. In short the book is inspirational in its depiction of the tenacity of humanity to shine through and overcome tyranny.

If Julius’s book was simply a piecemeal account of courageousness written secretly in a Nazi prison it would be a compelling read yet it's legendary status was attained by Julius's talent. Report from the Gallows is a work of art forged by a genius word smith, thoroughly planned and written down on meticulously numbered cigarette papers-rescued from oblivion only as a result of all those who gave their lives to liberate occupied Europe.

Julius’s account has been hailed by some of the world’s best writers. Pablo Neruda, Chilean communist and winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, stated that “We live at a time which in literature will be known tomorrow as the ‘Fučík period’, a period of simple courage.” The foreword of the English language edition of Report from the Gallows is written by winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Literature James Aldridge who challenges all who pick up the book:

“Read this book, you Communists, you Socialists, you Tories. Then go out and walk the wonderful real pavements and ask yourself what philosophy of life it was that kept this man’s belief in himself and in other men.”