General Milan Píka, whose father also held that rank and was executed following a Communist Party-orchestrated show trial, has died at the age of 96. Himself punished on false charges, the World War II veteran nonetheless managed to rise to the top of the Czechoslovak military – and eventually clear his father’s good name.
Milan Píka was the only son of General Heliodor Píka, who on 21 June 1949 became the first victim of judicial murder in Czechoslovakia. Both had been arrested and imprisoned, along with countless other servicemen who had fought against fascism abroad, on bogus charges.
Heliodor Píka had served in the Czechoslovak Legions in WWI in Russia and France. Between the wars, he was a military attaché to Romania and Turkey, and during WWII a prominent member of the anti-Nazi resistance.
After the war, President Edvard Beneš promoted him to Czechoslovak Army deputy chief of staff. But by May 1948, a few months after the Communist coup, Heliodor Píka was in jail, awaiting trial for espionage and high treason – ironically on the orders of party leader Rudolf Slánský, who would one day face his own Stalinist-era show trial.
Six months later, Milan Píka, then an army captain and aspiring lawyer at the Ministry of Defence, was also arrested. The principal charge: planning his father’s escape and defection. He recalled his November 1948 arrest in an interview for the Nation’s Memory Institute of Slovakia.
“It was like in a film. Two men in leather coats came and said: ‘Captain Píka, come with us.’ They took me to a cell at the Ministry of Defence general staff on the fifth floor. There, the interrogation began. They insisted I was preparing my father’s escape abroad and wanted to deliver him to Anglo-American Secret Intelligence Service.”
In June 1939, when still a boy, Milan Píka had fled with his mother to Romania, where his father had joined anti-Nazi resistance. He tried to join the emerging Czechoslovak Army in exile in France, but was underage. He made his way to England and joined the Czechoslovak 310th Fighter Squadron of the RAF, as ground staff.
Many servicemen with similar backgrounds would serve time in Communist prisons. Milan Píka was cleared of charges for propaganda purposes but punished nonetheless, and sentenced to hard labour, later commuted to being banned from living in Prague.
“President Gottwald said: ‘We must release the younger Píka to avoid the West accusing us of punishing entire families.’ But I got a ticket to the Jáchymov uranium mines, was demoted to common soldier, and expelled from Charles University. So, I wasn’t imprisoned, but I was punished. I lost my civic pride and the chance to assert myself in life.”
During the Prague Spring reform movement of 1968, Milan Píka succeeded in having his father’s verdict annulled. In 1970, he was himself morally rehabilitated. In time, he seized the “chance to assert himself”, rising to the rank of general in both the Czech and Slovak armies – the only person in history ever to do so.
He will be buried with full military honours.
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