Erstwhile enemies meet behind bars

Antonin Sum

This week is the anniversary of the Prague Uprising, which began on the 5th May 1945, in the last days of the German occupation of Prague. At the time Antonin Sum was in his mid twenties. As a young Czech patriot he was active in the uprising, which saw heavy street-fighting against the residue of the German army of occupation. In three days nearly three thousand people were killed. On the other side of the barricades was the German General Rudolf Toussaint, the chief of the Wehrmacht forces in Prague. After the war Antonin Sum became secretary to the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk, but with the Communist putsch of 1948, as a democrat, he became an enemy of the state more or less overnight. Like thousands of non-communist Czechs who had held positions of influence, Antonin Sum was thrown into prison during the show-trials of the later 40s and early 50s. By a strange twist of history, one-time freedom fighters found themselves in jail with former prominent Nazis and collaborators, and it was there that Antonin Sum had the strange experience of meeting his erstwhile enemy, General Toussaint. Here he remembers that meeting.

"After serving ten or eleven years in uranium mines in prison, I was transferred in 1960 to the big old Valdice prison - that was a former monastery - and there there was at that time a concentration of so-called "prominents", that means those who meant something in political or military or ecclesiastical life. And in prison a prominent had always a very very bad life, even in comparison with other prisoners because the communists didn't like them. I met several times the German General Toussaint, who was - and it is quite interesting - by profession a painter, an academic painter, who studied in Vienna long, long before the war most probably, and I was in Vienna in my youth for several years too - my father was Consul General there - so we had something in common. We spoke about Vienna and during the short time of our meetings - we had walks for about one hour several times during the week - sometimes - sometimes nothing at all, he was very eager to learn English words and I was very eager to know something about the German view of the Prague Uprising. So we exchanged ideas, exchanging these ideas from both sides, which was very interesting - for both sides, most probably."