Prague court re-opens Bata family case
The Bata shoe company is one of the best known international symbols of the Czech Republic, while its founding family are highly respected by people in the country. But one member of the family, the late Jan Antonin Bata, has been in some disgrace since being found guilty in absentia of collaborating with the Nazis. The Bata family have for years sought to clear his name, and have just succeeded in having a Prague court reopen the case - a full six decades later.
Jan Antonin Bata took over the Bata shoe empire in 1932, after the death of his half-brother Tomas Bata in a plane crash. At the time of his death the Bata Shoe Organisation was one of Czechoslovakia's most successful industrial enterprises - Bata employed more than 16,000 people and operated factories and outlets in countries as diverse as India and the United States. The company was also known for its strong social conscience, providing new housing for its employees and building a number of model towns.
"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.
A former Jewish employee also testified that he helped her and up to 80 Jewish families escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. All of these facts, say his family, were ignored by the court in 1947. They say the post-war Czechoslovak state, buckling under Communist pressure, was primarily interested in seizing the Bata empire and its assets.
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.