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Jan Bata’s Underground Railroad Rescues Czechoslovak Jews By John Nash This research paper explores the organized exodus of Bata employees (technicians and refugees) and an estimated halfbillion

dollars

in

machinery

and

finished

goods

from

Czechoslovakia through 1940; and the reassignment of all Jan Bata’s Jewish employees to jobs overseas to protect them from Hitler.

Dr.h.c. Jan Antonin Bata1 was the Chief Executive Officer and visionary business leader of the largest Czechoslovak-based international concern in the world, employing nearly 100,000 people throughout the world at the onset of WWII2 from a level of 17,000 at the height of the worldwide depression in 1932. The first alarm bells began to ring during the Nazi Anshluss in Austria in March of 1938 and continued to ring louder and louder as the Munich Crisis approached. Dr. Bata thought that the people who had openly made a stand against the Germans before Munich had to get out, regardless of their politics or religious beliefs. The decisions at Munich made it apparent that Czechoslovakia would cease to exist as an independent country. Documents confirm that it was Jan Bata’s decision to transfer all of his Czechoslovakian Jewish employees to jobs overseas, as the German threat increased in scope and intensity.

1

Jan Bata was given a doctorate for developing a revolutionary earth moving method using water jets to level an area adjacent to Zlin, and then building the city of Batov (now Otrokovice) in 1933 on that location. This led to the further development of the Bata Canal (nearly 50 kilometers long) in 1934 in order to prevent Batov from being flooded during the rainy season. 2 When Jan Bata formally took over the Bata business from his brother Tomas Bata in 1932, Bata and its affiliates around the world employed less then 17,000 people and of that total, less than 800 people worked outside of Czechoslovakia. Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


Jan Bata’s exodus plan evacuated somewhere between three and four hundred Jewish families, paying for transportation, living, and start-up expenses, as well as providing jobs all over the world. The central planning took place at Bata headquarters in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, and a network of Bata companies throughout Czechoslovakia and the world served as bases of operation. A Czech trading company founded by Jan Bata called Kotva, had been organized several years before Munich for moving large numbers of people and resources to destinations throughout the world, handling all of the logistical aspects of the exodus. In 1948, Dr. Bata recalled that about a dozen of his Jewish employees and their families were sent to New York including Julius Morgenstern (hired for the purpose of aiding his escape), Ernest Meisler, the Jellineks, the Rezniks, the Zimas, Grolls, Weis, and the Politzers. Charles and Marie Morgenstern ended up in the U.S.A. and Otto Heilig (in Brazil) spoke out about Jan Bata’s actions. Before the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the exodus was centrally planned by Jan Bata from Zlin, Czechoslovakia. One must bear in mind that an operation of this nature had to be as discrete as possible in order to not alert the Germans of its purpose, which would have brought about disastrous consequences against the remaining Bata people, especially those in Zlin who were left behind. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the exodus activities transferred to the Bata satellite operations in Yugoslavia, Belgium, Holland, and France; then, to more remote staging areas in London (for destinations throughout the British Empire) and the United States of America (for destinations in North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean). The affidavit of Otto Heilig (photo right from U.S. Holocaust Museum file), currently in the archives of the United States Holocaust Museum, testifies to the actions of Jan Antonin Bata on behalf of his Jewish employees in Czechoslovakia. Heilig admits that the number of Jews employed by the Bata Company was relatively small. “If we look at the figures of Jewish employees at Bata's... we find it rather difficult to understand that only about one per cent of the tens of thousands of workers and office staff were of Jewish origin. But if you think of the state of mind of the Middle European Jews between 1918 and [19]38 you will agree that they preferred jobs in similar but absolutely free enterprises...”i In the Bata enterprise “it was a known fact that religion was about as important in a candidate's qualifications as was the color of his eyes.”ii Heilig tells the story of the two Moisl brothers who were friends of Thomas Bata Sr., and who were both employed by the Bata company. One of the brothers became a corporate lawyer with his office in Vienna. “In March [19]38, hours after the 'Anshluss', a Bataowned private plane [was sent to take] Dr. Moisl out of Austria, to safety. The Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


second Moisl brother became one of Bata's Export managers and in this function escaped Hitler.” According to Heilig, by 1938 there were only forty-five Jews employed in the Bata factories in Zlin. Heilig explains the attitude that kept these Jews in Czechoslovakia despite the Nazi threat. “The Jewish people were recognized as a national minority. We did not think of abandoning the country in its hour of need.”iii Immediately after Munich, however, Heilig decided that it would be wise to leave Czechoslovakia. “I just asked remembering 'business as usual', for a contract to represent my own machine-export-department in some overseas market. The answer came immediately: 'Yes, come and see me, choose any place you want to go.'”iv Otto Heilig was not the only Jewish employee of the Bata enterprise to be sent overseas. “When I [Heilig] came to see Mr. Hlavnicka about my problem a few days later, he told me: 'We decided to send all of our Jewish employees with their families abroad as our representatives. Everyone to a different country or city in large markets.' And so it happened that from November 1938 to February 1939 forty-five families were sent to places in Buenos Aires, London, Bangkok, Chicago, Sao Paulo etc., I, one of the 'instructors' formed the rearguard, but even so my wife and I made it to Brazil [a] mere 12 days before Prague was occupied. And just one more detail. The Czechoslovak National Bank, already under fascist management, did not allow us any foreign currency for our start abroad. Mr. Bata had a last generous gesture. He conceded to each of us $300.00 from his separate Dollar account.”v Mr. Heilig goes on to say that the actions of Jan Bata and the Bata enterprise were unprecedented acts of “humanness” on the behalf of his Jewish employees. Otto Heilig ends his affidavit by saying, “I wish do to justice and pay homage to the spirit of human solidarity of those who were in the know and had the courage to act.”vi Charles Morgenstern's affidavit is more concise than that of Otto Heilig. The affidavit is powerful in its shortness and assertiveness. It is less than two pages long, and it is not written in the first person. The affidavit states: “That to his personal knowledge, in the year 1939, just before and during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Dr. Jan A. Bata aided some 300 Jewish families to escape from the German Nazis. That the said Charles Morgenstern is a member of the Jewish faith. That Dr. Bata was always a friend of the Jewish people; he not only aided his own Jewish employees to escape but he employed others just for the purpose of aiding their escape from German-occupied Czechoslovakia.vii Marie Morgenstern, Charles’ wife expands on events with great precision and clarity: “My brother-in-law, Mr. Julius Morgenstern, who used to live in Vienna, Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


was in danger after the Nazi ‘Anshluss’ of Austria. My husband went to Dr. Bata and asked him whether he could do something for his brother, Julius Morgenstern. Dr. Bata instructed my husband to bring his brother to Zlin, Czechoslovakia, where he employed him in the Bata Company. I knew from my late husband that sometime near the end of 1938, during one of the regular Saturday staff meetings, which my husband attended personally, Dr. Bata expressed his concern about the fate of the Jewish employees in his company and said he would have to do something to help them. Shortly afterwards, he started to send most of them and their families abroad, paying their transportation and giving them employment in different parts of the world. I knew personally that seventy to eighty Jewish families were sent in this manner from Czechoslovakia before March 15, 1939. Among them were, for example: the family of Mr. Fred Kon, who now works at Belcamp, Maryland; Mr. Stern, who was sent to Casablanca; Mr. Meisel, who was sent to Canada; and of Mr. Finkelstein, who was sent to South Africa. I recall also, that five or six families were sent to New York and were employed there by Dr. Bata in the Anker [Anchor] Company. Among them were: The Kellners, Jelinaks, Wurms, Rezeks. My late husband and I were also subjected to persecution by the Nazis because of our Jewish ancestry. The Nazis confiscated our passports and also all of our property; cash, accounts, jewelry, etc. Though it was very difficult to leave Czechoslovakia after the Nazis had occupied it, we were able to do so only with the help of Dr. Bata. He instructed Mr. Hlavnicka, who was chief manager of the factory in Zlin, and the brother-in-law of Dr. Bata, to send us to Nairobi, Kenya, where my husband was supposed to start a new Bata unit. Mr. Hlavnicka secured visas for us and we left Czechoslovakia on August 19, 1939. We were unable to proceed farther than Antwerp because the war broke out and no transportation was available. We had to stay in Antwerp, but had no money with which to live. Dr. Bata instructed Mr. Fuchs, the head of the Belgium Bata Company in Brussels to pay us three hundred francs weekly and he did so until the middle of November, 1939, when we left for the United States. Dr. Bata cabled us also three thousand dollars in order that we could enter the United States, once we secured transportation. Immediately after we arrived in the United States, Dr. Bata provided employment for my husband, who worked for the Bata Company at Belcamp, Maryland, until his death on January 26, 1953.” Charles Morgenstern’s affidavit goes on to name roughly twenty families saved by Jan Bata that were personally known to him. His wife Marie also confirms eight families, and one family not mentioned in Charles’ affidavit, the Kellner family, as well detailing the assistance Jan Bata gave to Julius Morgenstern, Charles’ brother-in-law in escaping from Austria a short time after the Anchluss.

Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


As September 1939 came and passed, Jan Bata continued to evacuate his Jewish employeesviii and their families. In a letter from Tomo Maksimovic (Yugoslavian manager) on September 21st, 1939 to Jan Bata, weeks after Great Britain declared war against Germany, detailing preparations for the transportation of families from the Bata plant in Yugoslavia: “We have in Borovo 105 people in transport for abroad: Group Belcamp [USA] Canada Abex [England] S. Amerika Nodari Ronai Rojt Novosad Meisel [Canada]

People 9 4 1 7 16 5 20 25 17

Wife 1

Children

1 5 2

2 3

6 3 3

4 2

Permission in the country and passports has only units for Peru 6 people, unit Singapore 7 people, instructors Batavia 9 people, remaining are without permission.ix” Jan Bata’s evacuation plan was even operating through the end of January 1940. In Frank Kraus’ report to Jan Bata about the visa situation, Kraus describes the problems they were encountering, “We are in a position to aid our people who are with all the group managers. Our endeavor has been greatly supported by Mr. Oldson [reference to Jan Masaryk] and all other[s], as it is a natural [thing to do]…Mr. Friedman has been registered in Prague on February 1st, 1939 and he has been then told he should have to wait nearly 2 years...The whole quota is 2100 persons and upon this also applications from the rest of the world, from all the American Consulates are registered…The[y] are so much overburdened by work here that our applications will get on their table for registration only now at the end of January…[Adding] We have in no way damaged your two months work in this matter, done in the U.S.A.x” Kraus is confirming Jan Bata’s lead role in the planning and financing the of the exodus. Ralph Ketcham’s testimony to U.S. Government officials in 1942xi, points to the possibility that Maximovic, head of the Yugoslav Bata Company was rumored to have been shot. Although Ketcham’s information about Maximovic was not correct, it highlights the extreme danger associated with the humanitarian activities that Jan Bata and his organization were engaged in. Ketcham was legal representative to Jan Bata and Bata interests in the United States until June of 1942 and had intimate knowledge of Dr. Bata’s activities and plans to rescue

Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


his Jewish employees. Ketcham describes Dr. Bata’s intent: “the primary interest in the welfare of the people [primarily Czechoslovakians] was in Jan Bata’s mind, and not dollars and cents…that everything he could do to protect the lives of those 30,000 Czechs in Zlin, he would do, and to prevent the Germans, if possible, from uprooting that establishment and scattering the Czechs all over Europe…I want to say one more thing about Jan Bata. I want you gentlemen to appreciate one thing from his point of view, and that is, as I understand it, if the Nazis should ever get it through their heads that he [Jan Bata] has succeeded in getting some 20 or 25 million dollars (500 million in today’s dollars) worth of property out of their [the Nazis] reach, and establishing the greater part of their business outside the reach of the Nazis, and did it all as a deliberate putting one over on them, that in view of the representations made to the local authorities at the time these various people left Zlin and the machinery was shipped from Zlin, that he believes the Nazis would take all his head men out and shoot them the next morning.xii” For Dr. Bata, one thing went wrong with his exodus planning. The voluminous cable traffic was picked up by British Secret Intelligence Service. They misinterpreted the communications between various Bata companies around the world and with its Chief, Jan Bata as an effort to evade the British Blockade and an attempt to trade with the enemy (due to the occupation of Czechoslovakia). It is surmised that this led the British Government to blacklist Jan A. Bata and his enterprises for the duration of the war. The British inspired blacklisting had a cascading effect on Bata companies around the world, eventually placing all of them on the American and British blacklists. The financial consequences for Jan Bata were damaging for the worldwide organization. In a letter by Jan Bata to the US Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro in 1946, requested that his name be taken off of the American blacklist. In this letter, Jan Bata detailed many if the actions he took before and during the war to the benefit of the Allied cause. These actions included the transfer of his Czechoslovak Jewish employees to safety outside of Czechoslovakia. “At my expense over 400 Jewish families employed by me were removed from Czechoslovakia to points outside Europe. Only two remained.”xiii Jan Bata claimed to have rescued one more than one hundred more families than Charles Morgenstern claimed, but Dr. Bata would have had a much more comprehensive knowledge of his own businesses than Mr. Morgenstern. In addition to saving his Jewish employees, Jan Bata also tried to get as much machinery and as many skilled workers as possible out of Czechoslovakia after the Munich conference. In his own words, “After Munich until 1940 I [Jan Bata] removed everything I possibly could from Zlin.”xiv He did this despite the contrary advice of Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak government in exile's foreign minister.xv This mass exodus of Bata machinery and personnel from Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


Czechoslovakia was quite surprising to the Bata companies in other countries, and this shock is expressed quite effectively in an article printed in 1945 by graduates of the Bata School in Batanagar, India. On October 13th, 1938, the factory in Batanagar received a letter which said, “'You are aware of Munich happenings; it seems worse things will follow. Forget Zlin now, put the factory on its own footing, depend on the ability of your people and the experience of the instructors we have sent you.'”xvi It can be assumed that at this point Bata personnel may have already been sent away from Zlin due to the impending German threat. The article goes on to talk about the shock that was felt when more news reached India. In March of 1939, a steamer arrived in Southhampton, England with shipments of leather, shoes, and machinery (more than 10,000 crates). The directors of Bata factories in Manila and Singapore sent telegrams to the Batanagar (India) factory which referenced machinery that was coming or had come from Zlin. The same thing was happening in France, Yugoslavia, Canada, America, and Africa. In April of 1939, a ship arrived in Calcutta that contained machinery for the Batanagar factory, none of which had been ordered by the factory. The Port Commissioner had a very short message for the Batanagar factory, “'Do something with it.'”xvii Machinery continued to arrive throughout 1939. The author of the article says it best, “The whole world seemed to be receiving machinery from Zlin. What had happened?”xviii In June of 1939, the Bata workers in Batanagar got an answer when Mr. V. Klvac arrived from Czechoslovakia and explained about the machinery. “Everyone in Europe knew that [it]... was a matter of months now [before the Germans invaded]. Zlin, therefore, dismantled as much machinery as possible and, right under the noses of the Germans, sent its machinery and its people abroad, so that as little as possible was left for Hitler.”xix The experience of Batanagar was similar to that of Bata factories around the world. Jan Antonin Bata was determined to prevent the Germans from using Bata assets even if it meant shipping those assets to the other side of the world. According to testimony given by Thomas J. Bata in with representatives of the United States Government, stating: “Jan Bata was the staunchest enemy of the Munich surrender. His opinion was that the country ought to have fought. Then after Munich, he and I traveled to England, and possibly as a little warning, we were stopped at the boarder and taken off the train by the Gestapo. They asked if we were Jews, and when we answered that we were not, the official said, ‘why not?’ I might also mention that while I was detained six hours for questioning, Jan Bata was held for twenty-four hours.xx” Following his release by the Gestapo, Jan Bata ordered the acceleration of the exodus of Bata personnel and machinery from Czechoslovakia. Immediately after Munich, Bata personnel and machinery were moved to Bata factories Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


around the world and beyond Hitler’s reach. Dr. Bata made sure that almost all of his Jewish employees were evacuated as soon as possible from Czechoslovakia. The urgency for a dramatic plan for the exodus of Bata’s Jewish employees may have been formulated when Jan Bata was detained and questioned in Gestapo headquarters on November 14th, 1938. During the questioning, Dr. Bata learned, first hand, the serious danger facing the Jewish people. In the room where the Gestapo was questioning him, Dr. Bata noticed a map marking off Jewish houses in the area. The political situation from Munich was still uncertain which enabled Czechoslovak Foreign Minister to intervene and get Dr. Bata releasedxxi. The claim that Jan Antonin Bata saved Jews by giving them employment is an interesting one. The practice of employing Jews in order to save them from the Nazis is remarkably similar to the actions of Oskar Schindler a few years later. The only other group or organization to protect their Jewish members by sending them overseas was the nation of Denmark. The Danes heroically transported Danish Jews across the Skagerak to Sweden. Jan Bata, a private Czechoslovak citizen paid to transport his Jewish employees to remote points around the world. Getting nearly all of his Jewish Bata employees out of Czechoslovakia, and beyond the reach of Hitler, a feat only surpassed only by the entire nation of Denmark! Oddly, Dr.h.c. Jan Antonin Bata3 has never been recognized for his heroic efforts on behalf of the Jewish people; a kindness that until this day has gone virtually unnoticed. i ii iii iv v vi vii

Affidavit of Otto Heilig. US Holocaust Museum. Date unknown. p3-4 Ibid. p6 Ibid. p8 Ibid. p9 Ibid. p9 Ibid. p10 Affidavit of Charles Morgenstern. Aberdeen, MD. August 1, 1955 viii D424 Letter from Jan Bata to Malota-Hanik-Hlavnicka-Jaronek dated August 18th, 1939, instructing them to get people out of Czechoslovakia through Yugoslavia. A translation of a portion of the letter states “I sent cables to the leaders of the groups in different countries. They will take care of paperwork, especially visas for the people we need for Novosad, Rojt, Kraus, Meisel, Maximovic, Udrzal.” This matches up with the reply from Maximovic on 9/21/39. ix D449A Letter. Tomo Maksimovic to Jan A. Bata (opens Dear Mr. Chief), September 21, 1939. x D574B Letter from Frank Kraus of Abex to J.A. Bata, Esq., Belcamp, Maryland, on January 26th, 1940. xi Conference of Representatives of the United States Government with Representatives of the Bata Shoe Company, February 4th 1942. xii Conference of Representatives of the United States Government with Representatives of the Bata Shoe Company, February 4th 1942. xiii Letter from Jan A. Bata to William Douglas Pawley, the US Ambassador in Rio de Janiero. 1946 xiv Ibid. xv Ibid. 3

Jan Antonin Bata was born in Uherske Hradiste, Czechoslovakia on March 7th, 1898 and died on August 23rd, 1965. Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


xvi “The First Decade of Batanagar”. The Club for Graduates of Bata School, Batanagar. 1945 xvii Ibid. xviii Ibid. xix Ibid. xx D1782 Conference of Representatives of the United States Government and Representatives of the Bata Companies, February 4th, 1942. xxi PT1513 Minutes of Journey to Ostend on November 14th, 1938.

Copyright John Nash 2008. All rights reserved. John Nash, 10 Stowecroft Drive, Hampton, NH 03842 - E-mail: batanash@gmail.com


21. sz. dokumentum - Bata Assists Jewish Exodus