54 years after death of Czechoslovakia's first Communist president his place of birth remains mystery

Klement Gottwald

In this week's Czechs in History, we look at an unsolved mystery in Klement Gottwald's past as this Wednesday marks the 54th anniversary of the death of Czechoslovakia's first communist president.

"I have just come from the castle, where I have seen the president of the republic, and I can tell you that he has accepted all of my proposals without making any changes."

The famous words of Klement Gottwald, who made this speech on Old Town Square in 1948 shortly before the then president Edvard Benes resigned and Gottwald became Czechoslovakia's first Communist president in June. Klement Gottwald was born on November 23rd 1896 and died 54 years ago on March 14th 1953. But although he died in Prague as a famous and powerful figure there is one mystery in his past that remains unsolved to this day - his place of birth.

Until he moved to Vienna to work for his uncle at the age of twelve, Klement Gottwald lived with his mother in the South Moravian village of Dedice. But his mother was a poor peasant woman who served on the estate of a local farmer. She never revealed who Gottwald's father was. It is most probable that Klement Gottwald was born in the village of Dedice but locals can only speculate where exactly the birth took place. To cover this up, the Communist regime tried to have the nation believe that the estate farmhouse where Gottwald's mother worked was where Klement Gottwald was born:

"They thought this up because Gottwald held such an important function - he was the highest representative of the Communist Party. The local communist functionaries strived to honour and celebrate him somehow and the best way was to pick a building that would represent his birthplace. But in order for it to fit their ideology, it had to look simple. So, the building was reconstructed to remind people that Klement Gottwald was born into poor conditions."

...says Frantisek Korvas - the head of the Vyskov Museum, near the village of Dedice.

"Everybody knew that it was not true but of course everyone was silent and no one dared to object. Even Gottwald himself avoided being involved in this. He was not there when they worked on the building and he didn't even take part in events that were held there in his honour. So, it was really just an initiative of all those around him to score points and prove their political loyalty. It was a mere glorification. Before he went off to work for his uncle, Gottwald's childhood wasn't very nice. Imagine a single mother, no father - he surely had to endure a lot. We have information that he faced some rather rough treatment."

About a year after Klement Gottwald died, the family for which his mother had worked was forced out of their manor house and a major reconstruction took place. The ceiling was changed, the building was lowered by one floor, and the windows were made smaller or completely walled over. The interior was also changed to fit that of a working-class home:

Klement Gottwald
"Since the village is in the Hana region, the building was originally a large manor house and all profit that was made was put into its appearance. But unfortunately, to be in line with the Communist ideology, because of Gottwald's working class background, it had to undergo massive renovation. So they put in a black kitchen, which in our opinion wasn't even used anymore in the buildings in that area at the end of the 18th century. The furniture was also put there with a purpose. We still have the cradle in our depository but it's just one of those regular wooden cribs and was taken from a completely different place and naturally had nothing to do with Gottwald. There was a small area with a tiled stove that came from our depository and was passed off as a living room."

While locals merely had to tolerate Gottwald's fake birthplace, others had to pay it a visit:

"They would take scouts there and workers from around the country and they would be told about Klement Gottwald and his life and what he had achieved. So it was used to spread the Communist ideology. These visits were pretty much obligatory. They would hold scouts' oaths there and so on."

Today, local residents don't even give the building a glance and most visitors pass by it unaware of its history. What once was a shrine to communism now serves is now just a storage building for the Vyskov Museum.