Professor Masaryk in Rotterdam

Gert Andeweg Short article from the Rotterdams Jaarboekje 2014, 05.11.2015
Max Dereta

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Bohemian countries had been under Austrian rule for three hundred years. The Prague philosophy professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) had been critical of Habsburg rule within the permitted limits for many years. Since taking a seat in the Viennese Reichsrat (the Austrian Parliament) in 1907 on behalf of the Realistic Party he founded, his independent attitude has attracted wider attention. Two Englishmen specialized in Eastern European affairs, the TimesHenry Wickham Steed (1871-1956) and the historian and publicist Robert William Seton-Watson (1879-1951) contacted him. A more than business bond developed between Masaryk and the British.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Masaryk saw the collapse of the Habsburg Empire as a real outcome of the war. Masaryk sketched a map of Central Europe in words, as it might look after the war. The core of this plan was independence for the Bohemian Countries, including Slovakia. He saw it as a first task to get his plan on the table with the 'allies', namely England, France and Russia. How could he come into contact with the 'enemies' of Austria without arousing suspicion among the Centrals (Austria and Germany)? A meeting could only take place on neutral ground, but Masaryk's contacts were limited. In addition to the two Englishmen, only the Parisian professor and bohemist Ernest Denis were eligible. Masaryk eventually saw an opportunity to travel to the Netherlands with the help of his American sister-in-law who wanted to go home via Rotterdam. For example, in September 1914 he ended up in hotel Weimar. From there he sent letters directly to Denis, Steed and Seton-Watson. Answers took too long. That is why he left for Prague with the intention of returning in October. That's how it happened. Again in 'Weimar' there was contact, with Steed. However, given the war situation, the journalist could not be edited for a few days Times leave. He asked Seton-Watson to take his place. He has urgently traveled to Rotterdam and he also moved into Hotel Weimar.

Masaryk consulted with Seton-Watson for two days. The Czech was able to make clear to the Brit his entire plan. Back in London, Seton-Watson has prepared an extensive memorandum on everything that has been discussed, without mentioning the name of the sender anywhere. Seton-Watson has been able to view Masaryk's concept of the Foreign Ministers of the three Allied Powers.

It is clear that the consultation at Hotel Weimar was not without risk, if you know that The White House, the building you are standing in front of, housed the German Consulate General. Masaryk and Seton-Watson will have suspected that this was the center of German anti-British espionage in the Maas city.

Masaryk went into exile before New Year's Eve '14-' 15. His place of residence became London for a few years. Seton-Watson Masaryk has also been helpful there. He awarded him a professorate at King's College. They have often consulted when publishing the weekly newspaper The New Europe.

In 1917, X-year-old Masaryk left London and embarked on a perilous venture. He traveled across Russia and searched and visited Czech soldiers, who had deserted en masse from the Habsburg army. From Vladivostok he crossed over to the US via Japan. There he traveled to cities where many Czech and Slovak emigrants had built a new life. In Washington, he managed to convince President Wilson of his European plan. He returned to London and then to Prague. There he was named president of a new nation, called Czechoslovakia, a country that he had already accurately described in 67 at Hotel Weimar.

Related artwork

TG Masaryk and Rotterdam (2015) Hans Citroen