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The Untold Story of Czechoslovak Bataan Defenders

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The representatives of Czech Embassy in Manila commemorated the bravery and the dedication bestowed by soldiers and civilians who fought during the Second World War on April 9. 77 years ago, Bataan, the last fortress that became the remaining stronghold of Allied forces in the region, fell into the hands of the Japanese forces.

Unknown to many, this period in Philippine history is in fact one of the crucial aspects in the long and deeply ingrained relations between the Philippines and the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia, which split in the Czech Republic and Slovakia only in 1993). Little did the Filipinos know that alongside their compatriots and the Americans who were fighting for the Philippines, 14 Czechoslovak nationals were battling with them and defending the freedom of the country that was not theirs.

The Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered were mostly employees of the Bata Shoe Company, the first Czech investment in the Philippines, before the outbreak of the war in the country. Karel Aster, the last Czech defender of Bataan who passed on 2017, said in one of his letters on sufferings during the war: “The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them”.  His letters also revealed the motivation to join the Allied forces: “Fighting for the Philippines at that time was like fighting for the liberty of Czechoslovakia, which became the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the war.” 

Aside from the Bata Shoe employees, the other volunteers were staff of the Honorary Consulate of Czechoslovakia, which opened in Manila in 1927.

“It is not a known history but this is something that we are proud of and we always look back, remembering the deep ties of the Philippines and the Czech Republic,” says Ambassador Jana Šedivá. “The formidable valor shown by the Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered to fight with the Filipino and American forces is an emulation worthy of commemoration,” she added.

As part of the observation of the Araw ng Kagitingan, Ambassador Šedivá joined the commemoration rites at Mt. Samat National Shrine on April 9 where she laid a wreath in remembrance of those who fought and died during the war including the Czechoslovak nationals. Similarly, Economic and Defense Counsellor, Mr. Benjamin Žiga, joined the tolling of the bells in Capas, Tarlac on April 10, and visited the memorial shrine of the seven Czechoslovak nationals who passed away in the war either during the Bataan Death March or at the Japanese prison camp.

 

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