Jan Antonin Bata was a man of mixed fortune: a man of wealth and influence who stood at the head a shoe empire, but also a man forced to flee his homeland where he was labeled a Nazi collaborator and sentenced to 15 years in prison. But now, more than four decades after his death, the Czech judiciary has cleared his name.
In the 1930s Jan Antonin Bata – co-founder of the famous Bata Empire – was one of the most influential figures of pre-war Czechoslovakia. The war abruptly changed his fortunes – he was forced to flee his homeland and in 1947 he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for allegedly failing to support the anti-Nazi resistance. He was branded a collaborator and the company’s Czechoslovak assets were seized by the state. Although the Bata shoe empire flourished, with companies and outlets around the world, the smear remained. In 1965 Bata died without having been given the chance to clear his name, but his descendants never let up in their efforts to see justice done. In June of this year Prague’s Municipal Court overturned the 60-year old verdict, asking the State Attorney’s office to review the case. Five months later – on November 15th - Jan Antonin Bata’s name was finally cleared. His grand-daughter Dolores Bata who lives in Brazil said it was a great day for the Bata family.
“We are all overjoyed to hear the news, it is something we have long waited for” Dolores said, adding that the family clan would now get together to consider further possible steps. The head of the clan 92-year-old Tomas Bata junior, son of the company’s founder, has long fought to clear his uncle’s name and he has not ruled out that the family would seek compensation for the company’s property confiscated in 1947.
State attorneys who worked on the case in the last five months said that even back in 1947 the court had plenty of evidence in Jan Antonin Bata’s favour but chose to ignore it. Far from being a collaborator, Bata helped finance the Czechoslovak government in exile and helped 300 Jewish families to escape the Holocaust by sending them to Canada, the US, Mexico and Chine to work in Bata factories. The media are now speculating what was behind the 1947 verdict – the desire to confiscate the shoe king’s extensive property, his open conflicts with then-president Eduard Benes or pressure from rivals on the shoe market.
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