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The Good Soldier Švejk

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Wenzel, Franz
*12.9.1866 Niederhanichen - †12.7.1929 Reichenberg
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Entry in the civil registry, details on birth and marriage.

Wenzel was clearly the main inspiration for Jaroslav Hašek's literary Major Wenzl. Apart from the near-identical surname, their ranks correspond and the association with Kutná Hora cements the connection further. Both served their emperor ingloriously in Serbia. Otherwise many of the biographical details differ.

Wenzel (baptised Franciscus) was born in Niederhanichen (now Dolní Hanychov), son of gardener Wolf Wenzel and Karolina, born Miethig. His Heimatrecht was in neighbouring Oberhanichen (now Horní Hanychov). Both communities later became part of urban Liberec. Wenzel is registered in army records with German (i.e. Austro-German) nationality, religion roman-catholic.

From 1882 he attended cadet school in Pressburg (Bratislava), where he had initially joined IR69 as an infantryman. From 1886 to 1902 he served with Infanterieregiment Nr. 35 in Plzeň, Prague and Prachatice. He then transferred to IR10 and subsequently spent the next nine years in Przemyśl and nearby Jarosław. During those years by the river San, he advanced to the rank of captain.

Kutná Hora
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IR21, Kutná Hora, 1914

On 30 April 1913 he moved again, and from now on it is possible to see parallels to his literary alter ego. The destination was Infanterieregiment Nr. 21 in Kutná Hora. On the very first day in his new regiment, he was promoted to major (his literary counterpart was, according to Einjährigfreiwilliger Marek, still a captain in Kutná Hora). In this assignment, he was in charge of the shooting range and had other administrative duties, information that bears remarkable similarity to Major Wenzl’s role in The Good Soldier Švejk. His army records reveal that he was unmarried in 1913, so Marek may well have invented parts of the story from Kutná Hora (where he had a Czech wife) or perhaps drawn from an incident involving someone else (Wenzel was still unmarried in 1919).

With IR 91 in Serbia
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Qualifikationsbeschreibung, 1913.

© VÚA

His transfer to Infanterieregiment Nr. 91 took place on 13 August 1914, and he was soon sent to the Serbian front, where he served as commander of the 2nd battalion. It has not been possible to confirm the story about the pontoon bridge, but it may well refer to the catastrophic invasion attempt by the mouth of the river Drina on 8 September where Wenzel was very quick to get himself into safety on the western bank of the river while many of his men were left behind and perished under enemy fire and drowning during the panic-stricken retreat. Wenzel remained battalion commander for the rest of IR 91's stay in Serbia (they retreated north of the Danube around 20 December) but had reported sick before the actual withdrawal. From then until June 1915 we have no records of his activities, but it must be assumed that Jaroslav Hašek had met him already in Budějovice.

Exposed by Kisch and Morávek
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"Schreib das auf, Kisch!", 1930

Egon Erwin Kisch.

Wenzel suffered the misfortune of being ridiculed not only in The Good Soldier Švejk, he briefly features in at least two more. Although Egon Erwin Kisch never mentions his name directly in his diary entry from 3 December 1914 it is obvious who he refers to. When Kisch's Infanterieregiment Nr. 11 met soldiers from IR 91 they heard running anecdotes underlining the stupidity of some major in the regiment (at the time there were not many majors left to choose from). Kisch indicates that this major carries a lot of responsibility for the disaster by the Drina on 8 September 1914.

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"Špatný voják", 1930

Jan Morávek.

Jan Morávek is much more direct. He served Wenzel as a messenger from 12 September 1914 onwards and delivered a damning verdict in his novel The Bad Soldier. The major is described as a madman, megalomaniac and even a coward. According to Morávek he had some crazy idea that his battalion alone could capture the entire Serbian army. He regularly pestered his subordinates with idiotic orders and was disliked even by his fellow officers. Morávek himself was ordered to keep an eye on the sun and report on sunset. For what reason remains unknown. Wenzel also ordered the arrest of an officer from IR73, thinking we was a spy!

During Hašek's time
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Wenzel(1) flanked by lt. Gleissner(2) and regimental doctor Dub(3). Wołkowyje, 1.11.1915.

© ÖStA

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Promotion dates.

© VÚA

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Wenzel returning to Bohemia from Germany

Osobní věstník čs. ministerstva národní obrany 16.7.1921.

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Reichenberger Zeitung 17.7.1929.

Wenzel plays a much greater part in Jaroslav Hašek's own story than Major Wenzl does in The Good Soldier Švejk. Wenzel was in fact commander of the author's XII. Marschbataillon that left for the front on 30 June 1915 and joined IR 91's field unit on 11 July by Łonie. On 1 July he had been promoted to OLT, a rank his literary counterpart never held. After joining the operative body of IR 91, he again took up his former position as commander of the 2nd Battalion. On 23 July the regiment was in position in the trenches by Sokal and during a fierce battle that raged between the 25th and the 31st.

Wenzel took a far from glorious part in the battle. In the Gefechtsbericht (battle report) to the division on 9 August it transpires that he inexplicably sought refuge with the 4th battalion (which formed the regiment's reserve), and let Oberleutnant Peregrin Baudisch command his battalion. Despite the incriminating evidence he was promoted to interim Infanterieregiment Nr. 91 commander from 12 to 18 September due to illness further up the command chain. He remained battalion commander until 1916 when he reported sick and then became commander of Infanterieregiment Nr. 28's replacement battalion in Bruck an der Mur. By 1918 he appeared in Wiesbaden as Aufsichstsoffizier für Beurlaubte, i.e. supervising officer for men on leave.

Bohumil Vlček confirms that Wenzel was extremely faint-hearted. He wore a soldiers cap to avoid being spotted by enemy snipers, and ordered his subordinates to cover him with their bodies during critical situations in Serbia. Still he was promoted to OBERST on 1 February 1918. The lasting impression is that Wenzel was a capable administrator but an extremely inept soldier in the field.

Retirement

Wenzel officially retired from the (now Czechoslovak) army on 1 January 1919. At the time he lived in Wiesbaden where he on 10 January 1920 married Ludmilla Stary, widowed after some Markoff. She appears to have been Czech but Einjährigfreiwilliger Marek could not possibly have known about this marriage five years in advance! In 1921 his records refer to an application that was dealt with by the Czechoslovak army, but so far it has not been possible to figure out the circumstances. It seems to be concerning his pension.

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Wenzel's death

Osobní věstník čs. ministerstva národní obrany 7.9.1929.

Wenzel returned to Reichenberg in (now Liberec) in 1921 where he died on 12 July 1929 at the age of 63. The family of Stephan Wenzel placed an advert in Reichenberger Zeitung that instead of spending on flowers, they would prefer a donation to the local German Cultural Society in Nieder-Hanichen (now Dolní Hanychov), the place where Wenzel was born. Wenzel's last known domicile (1927) was Dolní Hanychov čp. 58.

Sources: ÖStA, VÚA, MNO, Jan Morávek, Bohumil Vlček

Literature


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