Prague court overturns 1947 verdict against "shoe king" Jan Antonin Bata
Prague's Municipal Court reopened a controversial post-war court case on Monday when it overturned a 60-year-old verdict against one of the founders of the Bata shoe empire. In 1947, a judge sentenced Jan Antonin Bata - half-brother of the company's original founder Tomas Bata - to fifteen years' imprisonment for failing to support the anti-Nazi resistance, a charge his family has always vehemently denied.
"Ladies and gentlemen. For you, citizens of the proud and great America, which, overflowing with abundance, used to be a land of promise to hundreds of thousands of Europeans year after year, during the long decades before the Great War. For you, citizens of the boundless area of the States, a small country, my country, the Czechoslovak Republic, situated now in the middle of the noisy and belching cauldron of European unrest, is almost of little interest. I have been requested to tell you a few things about the national character of Czechoslovakia, of its people..."
After the war ended, the Czechoslovak authorities tried Bata as a traitor, saying he had failed to support the anti-Nazi resistance. In 1947 he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. The company's Czechoslovak assets were also seized by the state - several months before the Communists came to power.
For the last decade his descendants, led by the sprightly 92-year-old Tomas Bata junior, son of the company's founder, have fought to clear his name. They say far from being a collaborator, Jan Antonin Bata financed the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to the tune of a quarter of million dollars in anonymous gifts.
Tomas Bata junior travelled from Canada to attend Monday's court hearing. He repeated that his uncle was innocent, and that the whole episode had been a Communist plot to blacken the family's name. The Czech authorities must now decide whether to reopen the case so Jan Antonin Bata's name can be cleared for good.