During World War II, Milan Píka served in the British RAF in an administrative position. He asked in vain to be reassigned to the Eastern Front. He hoped to find himself, gun in hand, next to his father – Heliodor Píka. Thousands of Czechoslovaks owed their lives to him: as a military attaché in the USSR, he negotiated their release from Soviet concentration camps – gulags – and their enlistment into the Czechoslovak unit forming in Buzuluk.

After the war, Heliodor Píka was deputy chief of the general staff and suffering from gall bladder pains. He used the leave in March 1948, which his comrades had ordered him to take, to undergo an operation. When he was arrested by secret agents, they pulled him from his hospital bed. There was a wound on his abdomen that had not yet healed. The investigation of the man, absurdly accused of treason, took place on 11 Dělostřelecká Street, where the Soviet secret service SMERSH was based after the war.

Milan and a few friends mulled over the possibilities of freeing his father. In November 1948, the secret police came for him and imprisoned him in Pankrác, where, coincidentally, his father was also imprisoned at the time. Heliodor had a cell with a window facing the courtyard. During the prison calisthenics, Milan would shout instructions to his cell mates so that his father could hear him:

“Keep your head up! Stay strong!”

Shortly before his execution, he sent him a message: “My dearest. (…) You can’t imagine what you were to me. A star, a ray of brightness,” Heliodor Píka wrote on death row in 1949.

After his father’s execution, Milan Píka was discharged from the army. He moved to Slovakia. Thanks to him, Heliodor Píka’s farewell letter has been preserved: “This is not a legal mistake, it is so clear – it is a political murder. (…) There is no anger, hatred or vindictiveness in me (…) However, I feel a bitter regret that justice, truth – perhaps only temporarily – has disappeared, and hatred and vindictiveness have spread, any sense of tolerance has disappeared…”


After February 1948, the communists, following the Soviet model, eliminated civil liberties. They stole from everyone who owned land or other property. They imprisoned thousands of people in labor camps, where many mined uranium ore for the Soviet Union in inhumane conditions. Hundreds of those who were inconvenient were murdered or sentenced to death and executed by the communists (Píka, Horáková, Broj, Slánský, and others). They isolated the country from the free world and introduced censorship. Not everyone surrendered. Brave people founded resistance groups and smuggled refugees across the border. They resisted the incipient totalitarianism with words and deeds.

But it did not start on 25 February 1948. The Communist Party, strengthened by the authority of the Soviet Union with the halo of the “liberator from Nazism,” had already become a political hegemony, as it confirmed by winning the semi-free elections in 1946. The comrades were lying then when they assured voters that they would not go the Soviet way, that “there will be no collective farms in our country.” After the February coup they declared that “the will of the ruling class is above the law.” And this will of the workers was “represented” by the Communist Party. For forty long years the country submitted to the will of the leaders of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party was subject to directives from Moscow on fundamental issues. Soviet advisers oversaw the course of fabricated show trials. However, none of this removes the main responsibility from the domestic actors for the widespread crimes that characterized the domestic totalitarian system.