Czechoslovak Baptist Preachers in Prison
By W. O. Lewis, Associate Secretary,
Baptist World Alliance
On June 29, 1953, a news agency in Prague announced that four Czechoslovak Baptist pastors had confessed to following instructions from the Baptist World Alliance to carry on espionage and sabotage in Czechoslovakia since the close of the war in 1945. A sentence of 12 years was imposed on Dr. Henry (Jindrich) Prochazka, for many years the principal of the Czechoslovak Baptist Seminary in Prague; of 18 years on John (Jan) Ricar, president of the Czechoslovak Baptist Union; of seven years on Cyril Burget, for some years pastor of the First Baptist Church of Prague; and five years on Michal Kesjar, chairman of the Baptist District Association in Slovakia. Ricar is accused of sending information to the outside world through Miss (not Mrs.) Mary Selody. All of us who know these persons believe they are innocent of the crimes they are charged with. And if they confessed we believe it was under torture.
The Communist rulers of Czechoslovakia are not very familiar with Baptist organizations. The Baptist World Alliance a federation of Baptist Unions, conventions and societies in the entire world for fellowship. It has defended religious liberty and has been the channel through which much of the relief work of the denomination has been done. The Alliance is not a missionary society. Its headquarters are in Washington, D. C., but it has also an office in London. So far as I know the only time the Baptist World Alliance had anything to do directly or indirectly with getting money into Czechoslovakia was during the terrible years after the World War I. The Baptist World Alliance inspired and coordinated the raising of about $1,000,000 for relief. Some of that money went to help the poor in Czechoslovakia. Baptists worked with Hoover’s American Relief Administration and the Nansen Committee of the League of Nations, when over 11,000,000 starving Russians were fed. Was that a crime?
Baptists at a conference of their leaders called by the Baptist World Alliance in London in 1920 recommended that British and American Baptists should help the Baptists of Czechoslovakia train their young preachers and also help in building chapels. This recommendation was accepted by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society with headquarters in New York, and the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Dr. J. H. Rushbrooke on behalf of the British Baptists and I as representative of the Baptists of the northern states of America went often to Czechoslovakia from the early 1920-s to the outbreak of the second world war. We did what we could to help our friends in Czechoslovakia. This arrangement ended when Hitler took Czechoslovakia. Was it a crime to help our brothers in Czechoslovakia in this way?
A few words about some of the persons involved may be in place. I have known Dr. Henry Prochazka for 30 years. He holds the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Prague. He studied at Regent’s Park Theological College in England. He also spent a year in the United States before the war studying in the University of Chicago and visiting Baptist schools. He went to the Baptist World Alliance congress in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1939 and could not return home because Hitler dominated his country. While waiting in the States for Czechoslovakia to be freed from Hitler, he taught religion and philosophy in Shurtleff College in Alton, Illinois. Was this a crime?
After the first world war, Miss Mary Selody, a citizen of the United States, of Russian origin, went to Slovakia and with funds given by her friends gathered poor orphans into a home and cared for them. When Hitler took Czechoslovakia she returned to the States as her work was impossible. After the Nazis were driven out of Czechoslovakia, she returned to the country and served as matron of an orphans’ home in Ceklis near Bratislava. Baptists in Czechoslovakia andBaptists in America established this home. She was forced to leave that work after the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia. Then for a while she worked in Germany helping displaced persons to emigrate from camps in Germany to Canada and the United States. Was the unselfish work of this good woman a crime?
I am in a position to state that the visits of British and American Baptist leaders to Czechoslovakia were for religious purposes only and had nothing to do with politics or espionage. As a matter of fact since the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, our friends have written us few letters and we have seldom communicated with them because we knew that persons in correspondence with the outside world were suspected of treason. No information that could possibly be of any use to a government hostile to Czechoslovakia has reached us.
We call on our Baptist people everywhere to pray earnestly for our brethren now in prison in Czechoslovakia. Some of them may die in jail before they serve their full sentences. The God who heard the prayers of the early disciples for Peter (Acts XII. 1-19) still lives.