Across the United States, events have been taking place to recognize the 100th anniversary of Czech independence.
“This is truly a very special year for all Czechs back home in the heart of Europe as well as around the world. It represents a great opportunity not only to pop the cork but also to explore where we are heading, while reflecting on the twists and turns of the past hundred years. Here, in the United States, it is a special occasion for the hundreds of thousands of those who feel their heart beat in Czech rhythm and for the crucial role the United States has played in the story of Czech independence in the past, the present, and will surely play in the days to come,” wrote Hynek Kmoníček, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States of America.
In Cedar Rapids, IA, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library recognizes the 100th anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia with an exhibition called Guts & Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation. The exhibition opened April 7, and will remain open through December 31, 2018.
It’s the most epic, heroic World War I story you’ve never heard. The exhibition is inspired by Kevin J. McNamara’s book, Dreams of a Great Small Nation. As World War I ends in 1918, political leaders in Europe and America create the new nation of Czechoslovakia. Crucial to that decision are 70,000 brave Czech and Slovak soldiers who support the Allies, seizing the Trans-Siberian railroad, and fighting their way across Siberia—and eventually reaching their new homeland in Europe.
|Guts & Glory exhibition||Guts & Glory exhibition||Guts & Glory exhibition|
Author Kevin J. McNamara explained, “This story is the classic epic of history. It involves multiple countries and many world leaders. The Czechs and Slovaks didn't like being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and while they were in POW camps in Russia, an exiled old professor from Prague, Tomas Masaryk (a fugitive at this point)came to them and said, “boys, if you want to join an army I can take you to France, we will fight for the Allies ... and if we do so, they'll give us our own country.”
The Guts & Glory exhibition highlights the story of the Czechoslovak Legion, whose fierce fighting helped secure the independence of the Czechoslovak nation. In 1917, this legion—a band of 60,000 Czech and Slovak POWs and deserters—found itself trapped in Russia. They used trains to travel across the country to the port city of Vladivostok where they hoped to find ships waiting to take them home. These trains were like rolling military posts, with cars designated as a post office, a medical office, a bakery, a tailor shop, and other necessities of living. Along the way, the Legion challenged the authority of Russia’s communist regime, took control of a land corridor thousands of miles long, came within mere hours of rescuing the Tsar and the royal family and literally made off with a king’s ransom.
“It is really a story of determination, perseverance, and really a triumph of the human spirit,” commented exhibition interpretive materials illustrator Rachel Marie-Crane Williams. The exhibition brings to life the stories of how the soldiers felt during the war, and the virtual reality portion allows visitors to become part of that experience for themselves.
Creating Guts & Glory involved a remarkable collaboration with high school students and teachers at Iowa BIG and Metro High School, both based in Cedar Rapids, IA. Iowa BIG students created and programmed the interactive virtual reality stories, and Metro students created replicas of some of the typical railroad cars that the Czech and Slovak Legion occupied as a rolling community in their trek across Siberia.
|Guts & Glory train car interior.||Guts & Glory train car and soldiers in uniform.||Guts & Glory train virtual reality experience.|
Major support for Guts & Glory comes from: Western Fraternal Life, Rockwell Collins, Aegon Transamerica Foundation, ITC Midwest, and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.
Czech Centennial Gala featuring concert and art exhibition, Union League Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL
The St. Cyril and Methodius Slavik Heritage Festival, Knights of Columbus Hall, Houston, TX
Czechs and Slovaks on Their Difficult Road to Peace and Independence (exhibition), Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC
Centennial Oktober Festival, Czech Center Museum, Houston, TX
The Czech Philharmonic, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, DC
History on the 8's Lecture, NCSML, Cedar Rapids, IA
Guts and Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation exhibition information and photos are provided courtesy of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
Embassy of the Czech Republic and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. Press Release, January 24, 2018.
Call 877-935-2467 to speak with a Western Fraternal Life Representative.