Masin admirers to retrace 1953 escape from Czechoslovakia

Josef and Ctirad Masin

The fifty-year-old story of the Masin brothers still has the power to provoke passionate debate here in the Czech Republic. Should members of the group who shot their way out of Czechoslovakia in 1953 be recognised as heroes? A group of five Masin admirers clearly believe they should. This Friday they're setting out to recreate their journey to Berlin.

Josef and Ctirad Masin led a group of five men who actively resisted the Communist regime with acts of sabotage, one of the few to do so. In 1953 they made a dramatic escape from Czechoslovakia. Josef and Ctirad Masin and a third member, Milan Paumer, made it to the American zone of West Berlin, but the remaining two members were caught and executed by the Czechoslovak authorities.

The was group armed, and shot dead six people before and during the escape - two Czech secret policemen, a Czech wage clerk and three East German policemen. Members of the Masin group were obviously condemned by Communist propaganda, but even today they remain controversial; in a recent opinion poll 55 percent of respondents said they regarded them as killers. Attempts to reward them for what many say was an act of heroic resistance have failed, and when President Vaclav Klaus hands out state honours at Prague Castle next week, the Masin brothers and Milan Paumer are unlikely to be among them.

With that in mind, on Friday a group of five Masin admirers will set out from the Czech Republic to follow in their footsteps, retracing the exact route the Masin group took to Berlin. They'll be going on foot, using maps to find their way, and sleeping out in the open. They want to use the journey to remind the Czech public that the Masin group have never been properly recognised for what they regard as an act of heroism. They're due to arrive on outskirts of Berlin on Friday October 28th - when President Klaus hands out state honours at Prague Castle.

Ctirad and Josef Masin have not set foot on Czech soil since 1953, as an act of protest at fact they've never been exonerated, and both now live in Cleveland, USA. The third surviving member, Milan Paumer, now lives in the town of Pardubice, in East Bohemia.