Operation “K” (kláštery—monasteries)—Elimination of the Male Religious Orders and Congregations on the Night of 13 to 14 April 1950.

This operation was a nation-wide administrative raid of a violent character. It was ordered by the Communist Party Central Committee and by the government of the Czechoslovakian People’s Democratic Republic. The operation was carried out by police departments, but primarily by the State Security Service, in some places with the help of Communist Militia. We must underline the violent character of the action, because no Act dissolving the orders and congregations was ever passed.

The campaign was mostly carried out very roughly with a greater or lesser impact on different individuals. There were also differences concerning what brothers from various houses could take with them as personal belongings. In some places, brothers could have taken a feather bed with them, if they wanted, but in others not even the removal of a breviary was allowed. Somewhere desecration occurred in chapels, even at altars, in other places the action passed off more gently. Libraries were badly treated. After the brothers had been removed, the libraries were mostly closed and the books simply taken away to some unknown place. All machines, typewriters, cars and motorbikes that were used in parochial administration, or needed by larger houses and a large number of residents, were confiscated. Where some small farm existed (Jesuits had only two farms—at St. Hostýn and in Velehrad), all agricultural machines and equipment, stores of food and stock—cattle, pigs and poultry—were stolen.

Also all writings of the religious were destroyed, especially the teaching materials. In many cases these consisted of scientific material derived from a lifetime’s dedicated research and many valuable abstracts from books. New clothes and underwear disappeared too. Only a few things were brought to the religious in the concentration camps.

This hypocritical intervention in the life of the orders was reported in the daily press in line with the completely fabricated account of the Prague Press Agency on 14 April. It was reported that the religious had become an instrument of foreign enemies. The article said that, “The reactionary Catholic hierarchy prepared the male orders in particular for the fulfilment of its subversive ends at the Vatican’s request.” At the end of this report it was said: “The orders were concentrated in a few monasteries, where they pursue their purely religious aims in accordance with the special rules of their orders.” I will refer in the following chapter, to what life in these “monasteries” was really like.

Let me turn now to the Czech Province to enumerate the houses affected and the number of Province members who suffered. At the time of operation “K,” the Czech Province administered the following colleges or residencies: the college and grammar school with the hall of residence in Bohosudov. This hall of residence served all the dioceses of the Czech ecclesiastical province. Jesuits also served through their work in the pilgrimage shrine devoted to Our Lady of the Seven Wounds. Although this was not always the case, at the time of the operation the Krupka-Bohosudov parish was administered by a Jesuit priest.

Another house was the college and hall of residence of the Brno diocese in Brno. One hundred and forty seminarians lived there. At the time of its closure the grammar school had only three lower level classes. The advanced seminarians lived and were educated in the hall of residence, but for teaching they went to a normal grammar school.

The third house affected on the night of 14 April was the college and Philosophical Institute in Děčín. In this Institute scholastics from the Slovak Province also studied and lived together with the Czechs and, at this time, there were in fact more Slovaks than Czechs there. Jesuits taught Religious Education in a grammar school and administered the Děčín parish and many other neighbourhood parishes.

The other residency that was wound up was the residency at St. Hostýn. The Jesuit priests’ main task here was to serve pilgrims, especially by hearing confession. But the annual exercises were held here too, for both priests and laypeople. In winter, notably during advent and periods of fasting, priests travelled to parishes for popular missions or for three days spiritual examination and renewal. The priests also served yearly in many deaneries with day or half-day spiritual renewal for priests. In 1949-1950 the tertianship for the young priests of the Czech and Slovak Provinces was held there too.

And now a few words about the residency in Hradec Králové that was closed: Here a few Fathers and brothers served at the Church of Our Lady. They were dedicated to guiding the laypeople and priestly Marian Sodalities. One member of this community was a regular spiritual guide of the Diocesan Priestly Seminary.

Equally small was the residency in Opava. Jesuits served there much the same as they did in Hradec Králové—as leaders of Marian Sodalities and spiritual counsellors to boy scouts. They also assisted in neighbourhood parishes. St. Vojtěch, which was the Jesuit church, had been extensively damaged by bombs during World War II. So the Jesuits tried as hard as they could to repair the damage and the majority of this work was completed.

The main house of the Province was the Prague residency by the Church of St. Ignatius where the provincial’s office was also situated. The members of the order performed in Prague the usual good works and their preaching and hearing confession was very important. The Marian Sodalities were also resident there as was the Apostleship of Prayer. The Jesuits edited the periodical “Ve službách Královny” and “Posel Božského Srdce Páně” there. Our Fathers worked there in the press apostolate as editors—they led various Marian Sodality groups, especially the groups consisting of academics and students. They also helped by conducting holy worship in the suburbs of Prague.

The last house closed in the Czech Province was the college, grammar school and hall of residence on Vyšehrad, where the novices’ house was also located. This was in perfect shape at this time: forty-eight novices lived there, of whom eight were Brother novices and Fathers who taught at the Apostolic school. After the break brought on by World War II only six grammar school classes remained there.

The Jesuits also served the Velehrad parish and held exercises in Olomouc, in the diocese’s Stojanov retreat house. The Jesuits and the female members of the Congregation of Sts. Cyril and Methodius looked after the functioning of this house.

In the above-mentioned houses of the Czech Province, two hundred and nine religious were arrested during the night of operation “K.” One hundred and seventy four arrested Jesuits were from the Czech Province and thirty two from the Slovak Province; one priest was a member of the Austrian Province, one priest was a member of the Polish-Mazurian Province and one brother was member of the German Province.

Eight superiors of houses were deported to the strict regime of the camp in Želiv and the rest, that is two hundred and one members, were housed in the Bohosudov camp.

We must also mention seven Jesuits from the Czech Province who were arrested in Czechoslovakia, but in the Slovak Province where they studied theology. They could not avoid arrest, but were deported together with Slovak Jesuits to the Jasov “monastery” and later to Podolinec. Altogether, with these seven men, one hundred and eighty one Jesuits were arrested on this night. Only the following Czech Province Jesuits were not “centralised.” twenty three Jesuits who were studying or working abroad at this time, eight priests of the Czech Province who were already in prison, five Jesuits who were not present in the society’s houses and three who were away because of illness (in hospitals or in convalescence). One priest was a seminary spiritual advisor in České Budějovice. He was allowed to stay there till the end of the school year. It is difficult to say what would have happened to him as he did not wait to find out but, just after the end of the school year, fled abroad. One priest—a student of Charles University -was somehow told of this event. As a result he absented himself from the Prague residence and later tried to break out but was captured and sentenced to prison. Such was the turn of events for the members of the orders, concretely for the Jesuits, in this “Bartholomew Night.” It meant the loss of freedom and at the same time made it impossible to continue valuable work caring for the well-being of souls.

And now we can turn our attention to the so-called “monastery camps” and to life inside them, especially how it affected members of the Society of Jesus’ Czech Province.