A poignant reminder - a man who fought his way to freedom

Milan Paumer, photo: CTK

After the communists came into power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, a small group of military-trained men formed a resistance group led by the brothers Josef and Ctirad Masin. The story of the Masin brothers and their fight for freedom is one of the great controversies of 20th century Czechoslovak history. Some deem the men heroes while others perceive them as criminals, as they took six lives while shooting their way to freedom through Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The man regarded as the "third brother" in the group is Milan Paumer and on Monday night he talked about the events surrounding their escape in October 1953 at a seminar held at Prague's Charles University.

Milan Paumer,  photo: CTK
The evening began with a documentary mapping the events fifty-one years ago. After the film Milan Paumer described in detail the bravery that bonded the members of the group, such as their vow not to cry out, even if they were shot, as any noise would put the others in danger. Mr. Paumer himself survived a bullet wound to his abdomen. After escaping into West Germany the brothers served in the US army until 1959 and then started a new life in the United States. The Masin brothers still live there, but at 71 Milan Paumer sold his home in Florida and moved back to his hometown of Podebrady in the Czech Republic just over two years ago.

"I came over here so I could get involved with rebuilding this new system we have over here. I'm not saying what kind of system it is but it's a new system that needs rebuilding because justice over here is worth nothing."

You mentioned earlier that there has been no other revolution that hasn't shed blood except for the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Do you think it takes blood to cause a real revolution?

"Everything is pointing to it. Let's say that maybe I wouldn't want to be the one who would shed the blood. I would say okay I want a revolution but I don't want to shed blood. But do you think that the other people on the other side of the barricade would just give up. Everyone, everyone the other ones and us were defending our beliefs. We were defending a free democratic system. They were defending their communist system and socialist system."

Opinion remains deeply divided in the Czech Republic as to whether the men were justified in taking the lives of the six people they shot on their path to freedom. Martin Nerva is from the Group of Young Conservatives who organized Monday's event. He argues that it is wrong to see people who took up arms to resist communism as anything other than heroes.

"Communism is the same as Nazism. It's the socialist ideology that is against people. They want to keep power and they want to keep power with guns in their hands."

Martin Nerva claims that some of the posters inviting people to the evening with Milan Paumer were torn down. Whether or not this was a deliberate political act, the level of emotion that the whole case arouses remains high, touching a raw nerve as Czechs try to come to terms with their recent past.